Saturday, November 10, 2007



by Thomas Hardy
The rambler who, for old association or other reasons, should
trace the forsaken coach-road running almost in a meridional line
from Bristol to the south shore of England, would find himself
during the latter half of his journey in the vicinity of some
extensive woodlands, interspersed with apple-orchards. Here the
trees, timber or fruit-bearing, as the case may be, make the wayside
hedges ragged by their drip and shade, stretching over the
road with easeful horizontality, as if they found the
unsubstantial air an adequate support for their limbs. At one
place, where a hill is crossed, the largest of the woods shows
itself bisected by the high-way, as the head of thick hair is
bisected by the white line of its parting. The spot is lonely.
The physiognomy of a deserted highway expresses solitude to a
degree that is not reached by mere dales or downs, and bespeaks a
tomb-like stillness more emphatic than that of glades and pools.
The contrast of what is with what might be probably accounts for
this. To step, for instance, at the place under notice, from the
hedge of the plantation into the adjoining pale thoroughfare, and
pause amid its emptiness for a moment, was to exchange by the act
of a single stride the simple absence of human companionship for
an incubus of the forlorn.
At this spot, on the lowering evening of a by-gone winter's day,
there stood a man who had entered upon the scene much in the
aforesaid manner. Alighting into the road from a stile hard by,
he, though by no means a "chosen vessel" for impressions, was
temporarily influenced by some such feeling of being suddenly more
alone than before he had emerged upon the highway.
It could be seen by a glance at his rather finical style of dress
that he did not belong to the country proper; and from his air,
after a while, that though there might be a sombre beauty in the
scenery, music in the breeze, and a wan procession of coaching
ghosts in the sentiment of this old turnpike-road, he was mainly
puzzled about the way. The dead men's work that had been expended
in climbing that hill, the blistered soles that had trodden it,
and the tears that had wetted it, were not his concern; for fate
had given him no time for any but practical things.
He looked north and south, and mechanically prodded the ground
with his walking-stick. A closer glance at his face corroborated
the testimony of his clothes. It was self-complacent, yet there
was small apparent ground for such complacence. Nothing
irradiated it; to the eye of the magician in character, if not to
the ordinary observer, the expression enthroned there was absolute
submission to and belief in a little assortment of forms and
At first not a soul appeared who could enlighten him as he
desired, or seemed likely to appear that night. But presently a
slight noise of laboring wheels and the steady dig of a horse's
shoe-tips became audible; and there loomed in the notch of the
hill and plantation that the road formed here at the summit a
carrier's van drawn by a single horse. When it got nearer, he
said, with some relief to himself, "'Tis Mrs. Dollery's--this will
help me."
The vehicle was half full of passengers, mostly women. He held up
his stick at its approach, and the woman who was driving drew
"I've been trying to find a short way to Little Hintock this last
half-hour, Mrs. Dollery," he said. "But though I've been to Great
Hintock and Hintock House half a dozen times I am at fault about
the small village. You can help me, I dare say?"
She assured him that she could--that as she went to Great Hintock
her van passed near it--that it was only up the lane that branched
out of the lane into which she was about to turn--just ahead.
"Though," continued Mrs. Dollery, "'tis such a little small place
that, as a town gentleman, you'd need have a candle and lantern to
find it if ye don't know where 'tis. Bedad! I wouldn't live there
if they'd pay me to. Now at Great Hintock you do see the world a
He mounted and sat beside her, with his feet outside, where they
were ever and anon brushed over by the horse's tail.
This van, driven and owned by Mrs. Dollery, was rather a movable
attachment of the roadway than an extraneous object, to those who
knew it well. The old horse, whose hair was of the roughness and
color of heather, whose leg-joints, shoulders, and hoofs were
distorted by harness and drudgery from colthood--though if all had
their rights, he ought, symmetrical in outline, to have been
picking the herbage of some Eastern plain instead of tugging here--
had trodden this road almost daily for twenty years. Even his
subjection was not made congruous throughout, for the harness
being too short, his tail was not drawn through the crupper, so
that the breeching slipped awkwardly to one side. He knew every
subtle incline of the seven or eight miles of ground between
Hintock and Sherton Abbas--the market-town to which he journeyed--
as accurately as any surveyor could have learned it by a Dumpy
The vehicle had a square black tilt which nodded with the motion
of the wheels, and at a point in it over the driver's head was a
hook to which the reins were hitched at times, when they formed a
catenary curve from the horse's shoulders. Somewhere about the
axles was a loose chain, whose only known purpose was to clink as
it went. Mrs. Dollery, having to hop up and down many times in
the service of her passengers, wore, especially in windy weather,
short leggings under her gown for modesty's sake, and instead of a
bonnet a felt hat tied down with a handkerchief, to guard against
an earache to which she was frequently subject. In the rear of
the van was a glass window, which she cleaned with her pockethandkerchief
every market-day before starting. Looking at the van
from the back, the spectator could thus see through its interior a
square piece of the same sky and landscape that he saw without,
but intruded on by the profiles of the seated passengers, who, as
they rumbled onward, their lips moving and heads nodding in
animated private converse, remained in happy unconsciousness that
their mannerisms and facial peculiarities were sharply defined to
the public eye.
This hour of coming home from market was the happy one, if not the
happiest, of the week for them. Snugly ensconced under the tilt,
they could forget the sorrows of the world without, and survey
life and recapitulate the incidents of the day with placid smiles.
The passengers in the back part formed a group to themselves, and
while the new-comer spoke to the proprietress, they indulged in a
confidential chat about him as about other people, which the noise
of the van rendered inaudible to himself and Mrs. Dollery, sitting
"'Tis Barber Percombe--he that's got the waxen woman in his window
at the top of Abbey Street," said one. "What business can bring
him from his shop out here at this time and not a journeyman haircutter,
but a master-barber that's left off his pole because 'tis
not genteel!"
They listened to his conversation, but Mr. Percombe, though he had
nodded and spoken genially, seemed indisposed to gratify the
curiosity which he had aroused; and the unrestrained flow of ideas
which had animated the inside of the van before his arrival was
checked thenceforward.
Thus they rode on till they turned into a half-invisible little
lane, whence, as it reached the verge of an eminence, could be
discerned in the dusk, about half a mile to the right, gardens and
orchards sunk in a concave, and, as it were, snipped out of the
woodland. From this self-contained place rose in stealthy silence
tall stems of smoke, which the eye of imagination could trace
downward to their root on quiet hearth-stones festooned overhead
with hams and flitches. It was one of those sequestered spots
outside the gates of the world where may usually be found more
meditation than action, and more passivity than meditation; where
reasoning proceeds on narrow premises, and results in inferences
wildly imaginative; yet where, from time to time, no less than in
other places, dramas of a grandeur and unity truly Sophoclean are
enacted in the real, by virtue of the concentrated passions and
closely knit interdependence of the lives therein.
This place was the Little Hintock of the master-barber's search.
The coming night gradually obscured the smoke of the chimneys, but
the position of the sequestered little world could still be
distinguished by a few faint lights, winking more or less
ineffectually through the leafless boughs, and the undiscerned
songsters they bore, in the form of balls of feathers, at roost
among them.
Out of the lane followed by the van branched a yet smaller lane,
at the corner of which the barber alighted, Mrs. Dollery's van
going on to the larger village, whose superiority to the despised
smaller one as an exemplar of the world's movements was not
particularly apparent in its means of approach.
"A very clever and learned young doctor, who, they say, is in
league with the devil, lives in the place you be going to--not
because there's anybody for'n to cure there, but because 'tis the
middle of his district."
The observation was flung at the barber by one of the women at
parting, as a last attempt to get at his errand that way.
But he made no reply, and without further pause the pedestrian
plunged towards the umbrageous nook, and paced cautiously over the
dead leaves which nearly buried the road or street of the hamlet.
As very few people except themselves passed this way after dark, a
majority of the denizens of Little Hintock deemed window-curtains
unnecessary; and on this account Mr. Percombe made it his business
to stop opposite the casements of each cottage that he came to,
with a demeanor which showed that he was endeavoring to
conjecture, from the persons and things he observed within, the
whereabouts of somebody or other who resided here.
Only the smaller dwellings interested him; one or two houses,
whose size, antiquity, and rambling appurtenances signified that
notwithstanding their remoteness they must formerly have been, if
they were not still, inhabited by people of a certain social
standing, being neglected by him entirely. Smells of pomace, and
the hiss of fermenting cider, which reached him from the back
quarters of other tenements, revealed the recent occupation of
some of the inhabitants, and joined with the scent of decay from
the perishing leaves underfoot.
Half a dozen dwellings were passed without result. The next,
which stood opposite a tall tree, was in an exceptional state of
radiance, the flickering brightness from the inside shining up the
chimney and making a luminous mist of the emerging smoke. The
interior, as seen through the window, caused him to draw up with a
terminative air and watch. The house was rather large for a
cottage, and the door, which opened immediately into the livingroom,
stood ajar, so that a ribbon of light fell through the
opening into the dark atmosphere without. Every now and then a
moth, decrepit from the late season, would flit for a moment
across the out-coming rays and disappear again into the night.
In the room from which this cheerful blaze proceeded, he beheld a
girl seated on a willow chair, and busily occupied by the light of
the fire, which was ample and of wood. With a bill-hook in one
hand and a leather glove, much too large for her, on the other,
she was making spars, such as are used by thatchers, with great
rapidity. She wore a leather apron for this purpose, which was
also much too large for her figure. On her left hand lay a bundle
of the straight, smooth sticks called spar-gads--the raw material
of her manufacture; on her right, a heap of chips and ends--the
refuse--with which the fire was maintained; in front, a pile of
the finished articles. To produce them she took up each gad,
looked critically at it from end to end, cut it to length, split
it into four, and sharpened each of the quarters with dexterous
blows, which brought it to a triangular point precisely resembling
that of a bayonet.
Beside her, in case she might require more light, a brass
candlestick stood on a little round table, curiously formed of an
old coffin-stool, with a deal top nailed on, the white surface of
the latter contrasting oddly with the black carved oak of the
substructure. The social position of the household in the past
was almost as definitively shown by the presence of this article
as that of an esquire or nobleman by his old helmets or shields.
It had been customary for every well-to-do villager, whose tenure
was by copy of court-roll, or in any way more permanent than that
of the mere cotter, to keep a pair of these stools for the use of
his own dead; but for the last generation or two a feeling of cui
bono had led to the discontinuance of the custom, and the stools
were frequently made use of in the manner described.
The young woman laid down the bill-hook for a moment and examined
the palm of her right hand, which, unlike the other, was ungloved,
and showed little hardness or roughness about it. The palm was
red and blistering, as if this present occupation were not
frequent enough with her to subdue it to what it worked in. As
with so many right hands born to manual labor, there was nothing
in its fundamental shape to bear out the physiological
conventionalism that gradations of birth, gentle or mean, show
themselves primarily in the form of this member. Nothing but a
cast of the die of destiny had decided that the girl should handle
the tool; and the fingers which clasped the heavy ash haft might
have skilfully guided the pencil or swept the string, had they
only been set to do it in good time.
Her face had the usual fulness of expression which is developed by
a life of solitude. Where the eyes of a multitude beat like waves
upon a countenance they seem to wear away its individuality; but
in the still water of privacy every tentacle of feeling and
sentiment shoots out in visible luxuriance, to be interpreted as
readily as a child's look by an intruder. In years she was no
more than nineteen or twenty, but the necessity of taking thought
at a too early period of life had forced the provisional curves of
her childhood's face to a premature finality. Thus she had but
little pretension to beauty, save in one prominent particular--her
hair. Its abundance made it almost unmanageable; its color was,
roughly speaking, and as seen here by firelight, brown, but
careful notice, or an observation by day, would have revealed that
its true shade was a rare and beautiful approximation to chestnut.
On this one bright gift of Time to the particular victim of his
now before us the new-comer's eyes were fixed; meanwhile the
fingers of his right hand mechanically played over something
sticking up from his waistcoat-pocket--the bows of a pair of
scissors, whose polish made them feebly responsive to the light
within. In her present beholder's mind the scene formed by the
girlish spar-maker composed itself into a post-Raffaelite picture
of extremest quality, wherein the girl's hair alone, as the focus
of observation, was depicted with intensity and distinctness, and
her face, shoulders, hands, and figure in general, being a blurred
mass of unimportant detail lost in haze and obscurity.
He hesitated no longer, but tapped at the door and entered. The
young woman turned at the crunch of his boots on the sanded floor,
and exclaiming, "Oh, Mr. Percombe, how you frightened me!" quite
lost her color for a moment.
He replied, "You should shut your door--then you'd hear folk open
"I can't," she said; "the chimney smokes so. Mr. Percombe, you
look as unnatural out of your shop as a canary in a thorn-hedge.
Surely you have not come out here on my account--for--"
"Yes--to have your answer about this." He touched her head with
his cane, and she winced. "Do you agree?" he continued. "It is
necessary that I should know at once, as the lady is soon going
away, and it takes time to make up."
"Don't press me--it worries me. I was in hopes you had thought no
more of it. I can NOT part with it--so there!"
"Now, look here, Marty," said the barber, sitting down on the
coffin-stool table. "How much do you get for making these spars?"
"Hush--father's up-stairs awake, and he don't know that I am doing
his work."
"Well, now tell me," said the man, more softly. "How much do you
"Eighteenpence a thousand," she said, reluctantly.
"Who are you making them for?"
"Mr. Melbury, the timber-dealer, just below here."
"And how many can you make in a day?"
"In a day and half the night, three bundles--that's a thousand and
a half."
"Two and threepence." The barber paused. "Well, look here," he
continued, with the remains of a calculation in his tone, which
calculation had been the reduction to figures of the probable
monetary magnetism necessary to overpower the resistant force of
her present purse and the woman's love of comeliness, "here's a
sovereign--a gold sovereign, almost new." He held it out between
his finger and thumb. "That's as much as you'd earn in a week and
a half at that rough man's work, and it's yours for just letting
me snip off what you've got too much of."
The girl's bosom moved a very little. "Why can't the lady send to
some other girl who don't value her hair--not to me?" she
"Why, simpleton, because yours is the exact shade of her own, and
'tis a shade you can't match by dyeing. But you are not going to
refuse me now I've come all the way from Sherton o' purpose?"
"I say I won't sell it--to you or anybody."
"Now listen," and he drew up a little closer beside her. "The
lady is very rich, and won't be particular to a few shillings; so
I will advance to this on my own responsibility--I'll make the one
sovereign two, rather than go back empty-handed."
"No, no, no!" she cried, beginning to be much agitated. "You are
a-tempting me, Mr. Percombe. You go on like the Devil to Dr.
Faustus in the penny book. But I don't want your money, and won't
agree. Why did you come? I said when you got me into your shop
and urged me so much, that I didn't mean to sell my hair!" The
speaker was hot and stern.
"Marty, now hearken. The lady that wants it wants it badly. And,
between you and me, you'd better let her have it. 'Twill be bad
for you if you don't."
"Bad for me? Who is she, then?"
The barber held his tongue, and the girl repeated the question.
"I am not at liberty to tell you. And as she is going abroad soon
it makes no difference who she is at all."
"She wants it to go abroad wi'?"
Percombe assented by a nod. The girl regarded him reflectively.
"Barber Percombe," she said, "I know who 'tis. 'Tis she at the
House--Mrs. Charmond!"
"That's my secret. However, if you agree to let me have it, I'll
tell you in confidence."
"I'll certainly not let you have it unless you tell me the truth.
It is Mrs. Charmond."
The barber dropped his voice. "Well--it is. You sat in front of
her in church the other day, and she noticed how exactly your hair
matched her own. Ever since then she's been hankering for it, and
at last decided to get it. As she won't wear it till she goes off
abroad, she knows nobody will recognize the change. I'm
commissioned to get it for her, and then it is to be made up. I
shouldn't have vamped all these miles for any less important
employer. Now, mind--'tis as much as my business with her is
worth if it should be known that I've let out her name; but honor
between us two, Marty, and you'll say nothing that would injure
"I don't wish to tell upon her," said Marty, coolly. "But my hair
is my own, and I'm going to keep it."
"Now, that's not fair, after what I've told you," said the nettled
barber. "You see, Marty, as you are in the same parish, and in
one of her cottages, and your father is ill, and wouldn't like to
turn out, it would be as well to oblige her. I say that as a
friend. But I won't press you to make up your mind to-night.
You'll be coming to market to-morrow, I dare say, and you can call
then. If you think it over you'll be inclined to bring what I
want, I know."
"I've nothing more to say," she answered.
Her companion saw from her manner that it was useless to urge her
further by speech. "As you are a trusty young woman," he said,
"I'll put these sovereigns up here for ornament, that you may see
how handsome they are. Bring the hair to-morrow, or return the
sovereigns." He stuck them edgewise into the frame of a small
mantle looking-glass. "I hope you'll bring it, for your sake and
mine. I should have thought she could have suited herself
elsewhere; but as it's her fancy it must be indulged if possible.
If you cut it off yourself, mind how you do it so as to keep all
the locks one way." He showed her how this was to be done.
"But I sha'nt," she replied, with laconic indifference. "I value
my looks too much to spoil 'em. She wants my hair to get another
lover with; though if stories are true she's broke the heart of
many a noble gentleman already."
"Lord, it's wonderful how you guess things, Marty," said the
barber. "I've had it from them that know that there certainly is
some foreign gentleman in her eye. However, mind what I ask."
"She's not going to get him through me."
Percombe had retired as far as the door; he came back, planted his
cane on the coffin-stool, and looked her in the face. "Marty
South," he said, with deliberate emphasis, "YOU'VE GOT A LOVER
YOURSELF, and that's why you won't let it go!"
She reddened so intensely as to pass the mild blush that suffices
to heighten beauty; she put the yellow leather glove on one hand,
took up the hook with the other, and sat down doggedly to her work
without turning her face to him again. He regarded her head for a
moment, went to the door, and with one look back at her, departed
on his way homeward.
Marty pursued her occupation for a few minutes, then suddenly
laying down the bill-hook, she jumped up and went to the back of
the room, where she opened a door which disclosed a staircase so
whitely scrubbed that the grain of the wood was wellnigh sodden
away by such cleansing. At the top she gently approached a
bedroom, and without entering, said, "Father, do you want
A weak voice inside answered in the negative; adding, "I should be
all right by to-morrow if it were not for the tree!"
"The tree again--always the tree! Oh, father, don't worry so about
that. You know it can do you no harm."
"Who have ye had talking to ye down-stairs?"
"A Sherton man called--nothing to trouble about," she said,
soothingly. "Father," she went on, "can Mrs. Charmond turn us out
of our house if she's minded to?"
"Turn us out? No. Nobody can turn us out till my poor soul is
turned out of my body. 'Tis life-hold, like Ambrose
Winterborne's. But when my life drops 'twill be hers--not till
then." His words on this subject so far had been rational and firm
enough. But now he lapsed into his moaning strain: "And the tree
will do it--that tree will soon be the death of me."
"Nonsense, you know better. How can it be?" She refrained from
further speech, and descended to the ground-floor again.
"Thank Heaven, then," she said to herself, "what belongs to me I
The lights in the village went out, house after house, till there
only remained two in the darkness. One of these came from a
residence on the hill-side, of which there is nothing to say at
present; the other shone from the window of Marty South.
Precisely the same outward effect was produced here, however, by
her rising when the clock struck ten and hanging up a thick cloth
curtain. The door it was necessary to keep ajar in hers, as in
most cottages, because of the smoke; but she obviated the effect
of the ribbon of light through the chink by hanging a cloth over
that also. She was one of those people who, if they have to work
harder than their neighbors, prefer to keep the necessity a secret
as far as possible; and but for the slight sounds of woodsplintering
which came from within, no wayfarer would have
perceived that here the cottager did not sleep as elsewhere.
Eleven, twelve, one o'clock struck; the heap of spars grew higher,
and the pile of chips and ends more bulky. Even the light on the
hill had now been extinguished; but still she worked on. When the
temperature of the night without had fallen so low as to make her
chilly, she opened a large blue umbrella to ward off the draught
from the door. The two sovereigns confronted her from the
looking-glass in such a manner as to suggest a pair of jaundiced
eyes on the watch for an opportunity. Whenever she sighed for
weariness she lifted her gaze towards them, but withdrew it
quickly, stroking her tresses with her fingers for a moment, as if
to assure herself that they were still secure. When the clock
struck three she arose and tied up the spars she had last made in
a bundle resembling those that lay against the wall.
She wrapped round her a long red woollen cravat and opened the
door. The night in all its fulness met her flatly on the
threshold, like the very brink of an absolute void, or the
antemundane Ginnung-Gap believed in by her Teuton forefathers.
For her eyes were fresh from the blaze, and here there was no
street-lamp or lantern to form a kindly transition between the
inner glare and the outer dark. A lingering wind brought to her
ear the creaking sound of two over-crowded branches in the
neighboring wood which were rubbing each other into wounds, and
other vocalized sorrows of the trees, together with the screech of
owls, and the fluttering tumble of some awkward wood-pigeon illbalanced
on its roosting-bough.
But the pupils of her young eyes soon expanded, and she could see
well enough for her purpose. Taking a bundle of spars under each
arm, and guided by the serrated line of tree-tops against the sky,
she went some hundred yards or more down the lane till she reached
a long open shed, carpeted around with the dead leaves that lay
about everywhere. Night, that strange personality, which within
walls brings ominous introspectiveness and self-distrust, but
under the open sky banishes such subjective anxieties as too
trivial for thought, inspired Marty South with a less perturbed
and brisker manner now. She laid the spars on the ground within
the shed and returned for more, going to and fro till her whole
manufactured stock were deposited here.
This erection was the wagon-house of the chief man of business
hereabout, Mr. George Melbury, the timber, bark, and copse-ware
merchant for whom Marty's father did work of this sort by the
piece. It formed one of the many rambling out-houses which
surrounded his dwelling, an equally irregular block of building,
whose immense chimneys could just be discerned even now. The four
huge wagons under the shed were built on those ancient lines whose
proportions have been ousted by modern patterns, their shapes
bulging and curving at the base and ends like Trafalgar line-ofbattle
ships, with which venerable hulks, indeed, these vehicles
evidenced a constructed spirit curiously in harmony. One was
laden with sheep-cribs, another with hurdles, another with ash
poles, and the fourth, at the foot of which she had placed her
thatching-spars was half full of similar bundles.
She was pausing a moment with that easeful sense of accomplishment
which follows work done that has been a hard struggle in the
doing, when she heard a woman's voice on the other side of the
hedge say, anxiously, "George!" In a moment the name was repeated,
with "Do come indoors! What are you doing there?"
The cart-house adjoined the garden, and before Marty had moved she
saw enter the latter from the timber-merchant's back door an
elderly woman sheltering a candle with her hand, the light from
which cast a moving thorn-pattern of shade on Marty's face. Its
rays soon fell upon a man whose clothes were roughly thrown on,
standing in advance of the speaker. He was a thin, slightly
stooping figure, with a small nervous mouth and a face cleanly
shaven; and he walked along the path with his eyes bent on the
ground. In the pair Marty South recognized her employer Melbury
and his wife. She was the second Mrs. Melbury, the first having
died shortly after the birth of the timber-merchant's only child.
"'Tis no use to stay in bed," he said, as soon as she came up to
where he was pacing restlessly about. "I can't sleep--I keep
thinking of things, and worrying about the girl, till I'm quite in
a fever of anxiety." He went on to say that he could not think
why "she (Marty knew he was speaking of his daughter) did not
answer his letter. She must be ill--she must, certainly," he
"No, no. 'Tis all right, George," said his wife; and she assured
him that such things always did appear so gloomy in the nighttime,
if people allowed their minds to run on them; that when
morning came it was seen that such fears were nothing but shadows.
"Grace is as well as you or I," she declared.
But he persisted that she did not see all--that she did not see as
much as he. His daughter's not writing was only one part of his
worry. On account of her he was anxious concerning money affairs,
which he would never alarm his mind about otherwise. The reason
he gave was that, as she had nobody to depend upon for a provision
but himself, he wished her, when he was gone, to be securely out
of risk of poverty.
To this Mrs. Melbury replied that Grace would be sure to marry
well, and that hence a hundred pounds more or less from him would
not make much difference.
Her husband said that that was what she, Mrs. Melbury, naturally
thought; but there she was wrong, and in that lay the source of
his trouble. "I have a plan in my head about her," he said; "and
according to my plan she won't marry a rich man."
"A plan for her not to marry well?" said his wife, surprised.
"Well, in one sense it is that," replied Melbury. "It is a plan
for her to marry a particular person, and as he has not so much
money as she might expect, it might be called as you call it. I
may not be able to carry it out; and even if I do, it may not be a
good thing for her. I want her to marry Giles Winterborne."
His companion repeated the name. "Well, it is all right," she
said, presently. "He adores the very ground she walks on; only
he's close, and won't show it much."
Marty South appeared startled, and could not tear herself away.
Yes, the timber-merchant asserted, he knew that well enough.
Winterborne had been interested in his daughter for years; that
was what had led him into the notion of their union. And he knew
that she used to have no objection to him. But it was not any
difficulty about that which embarrassed him. It was that, since
he had educated her so well, and so long, and so far above the
level of daughters thereabout, it was "wasting her" to give her to
a man of no higher standing than the young man in question.
"That's what I have been thinking," said Mrs. Melbury.
"Well, then, Lucy, now you've hit it," answered the timbermerchant,
with feeling. "There lies my trouble. I vowed to let
her marry him, and to make her as valuable as I could to him by
schooling her as many years and as thoroughly as possible. I mean
to keep my vow. I made it because I did his father a terrible
wrong; and it was a weight on my conscience ever since that time
till this scheme of making amends occurred to me through seeing
that Giles liked her."
"Wronged his father?" asked Mrs. Melbury.
"Yes, grievously wronged him," said her husband.
"Well, don't think of it to-night," she urged. "Come indoors."
"No, no, the air cools my head. I shall not stay long." He was
silent a while; then he told her, as nearly as Marty could gather,
that his first wife, his daughter Grace's mother, was first the
sweetheart of Winterborne's father, who loved her tenderly, till
he, the speaker, won her away from him by a trick, because he
wanted to marry her himself. He sadly went on to say that the
other man's happiness was ruined by it; that though he married
Winterborne's mother, it was but a half-hearted business with him.
Melbury added that he was afterwards very miserable at what he had
done; but that as time went on, and the children grew up, and
seemed to be attached to each other, he determined to do all he
could to right the wrong by letting his daughter marry the lad;
not only that, but to give her the best education he could afford,
so as to make the gift as valuable a one as it lay in his power to
bestow. "I still mean to do it," said Melbury.
"Then do," said she.
"But all these things trouble me," said he; "for I feel I am
sacrificing her for my own sin; and I think of her, and often come
down here and look at this."
"Look at what?" asked his wife.
He took the candle from her hand, held it to the ground, and
removed a tile which lay in the garden-path. "'Tis the track of
her shoe that she made when she ran down here the day before she
went away all those months ago. I covered it up when she was
gone; and when I come here and look at it, I ask myself again, why
should she be sacrificed to a poor man?"
"It is not altogether a sacrifice," said the woman. "He is in
love with her, and he's honest and upright. If she encourages
him, what can you wish for more?"
"I wish for nothing definite. But there's a lot of things
possible for her. Why, Mrs. Charmond is wanting some refined
young lady, I hear, to go abroad with her--as companion or
something of the kind. She'd jump at Grace."
"That's all uncertain. Better stick to what's sure."
"True, true," said Melbury; "and I hope it will be for the best.
Yes, let me get 'em married up as soon as I can, so as to have it
over and done with." He continued looking at the imprint, while he
added, "Suppose she should be dying, and never make a track on
this path any more?"
"She'll write soon, depend upon't. Come, 'tis wrong to stay here
and brood so."
He admitted it, but said he could not help it. "Whether she write
or no, I shall fetch her in a few days." And thus speaking, he
covered the track, and preceded his wife indoors.
Melbury, perhaps, was an unlucky man in having within him the
sentiment which could indulge in this foolish fondness about the
imprint of a daughter's footstep. Nature does not carry on her
government with a view to such feelings, and when advancing years
render the open hearts of those who possess them less dexterous
than formerly in shutting against the blast, they must suffer
"buffeting at will by rain and storm" no less than Little
But her own existence, and not Mr. Melbury's, was the centre of
Marty's consciousness, and it was in relation to this that the
matter struck her as she slowly withdrew.
"That, then, is the secret of it all," she said. "And Giles
Winterborne is not for me, and the less I think of him the
She returned to her cottage. The sovereigns were staring at her
from the looking-glass as she had left them. With a preoccupied
countenance, and with tears in her eyes, she got a pair of
scissors, and began mercilessly cutting off the long locks of her
hair, arranging and tying them with their points all one way, as
the barber had directed. Upon the pale scrubbed deal of the
coffin-stool table they stretched like waving and ropy weeds over
the washed gravel-bed of a clear stream.
She would not turn again to the little looking-glass, out of
humanity to herself, knowing what a deflowered visage would look
back at her, and almost break her heart; she dreaded it as much as
did her own ancestral goddess Sif the reflection in the pool after
the rape of her locks by Loke the malicious. She steadily stuck
to business, wrapped the hair in a parcel, and sealed it up, after
which she raked out the fire and went to bed, having first set up
an alarum made of a candle and piece of thread, with a stone
But such a reminder was unnecessary to-night. Having tossed till
about five o'clock, Marty heard the sparrows walking down their
long holes in the thatch above her sloping ceiling to their
orifice at the eaves; whereupon she also arose, and descended to
the ground-floor again.
It was still dark, but she began moving about the house in those
automatic initiatory acts and touches which represent among
housewives the installation of another day. While thus engaged
she heard the rumbling of Mr. Melbury's wagons, and knew that
there, too, the day's toil had begun.
An armful of gads thrown on the still hot embers caused them to
blaze up cheerfully and bring her diminished head-gear into sudden
prominence as a shadow. At this a step approached the door.
"Are folk astir here yet?" inquired a voice she knew well.
"Yes, Mr. Winterborne," said Marty, throwing on a tilt bonnet,
which completely hid the recent ravages of the scissors. "Come
The door was flung back, and there stepped in upon the mat a man
not particularly young for a lover, nor particularly mature for a
person of affairs. There was reserve in his glance, and restraint
upon his mouth. He carried a horn lantern which hung upon a
swivel, and wheeling as it dangled marked grotesque shapes upon
the shadier part of the walls.
He said that he had looked in on his way down, to tell her that
they did not expect her father to make up his contract if he was
not well. Mr. Melbury would give him another week, and they would
go their journey with a short load that day.
"They are done," said Marty, "and lying in the cart-house."
"Done!" he repeated. "Your father has not been too ill to work
after all, then?"
She made some evasive reply. "I'll show you where they be, if you
are going down," she added.
They went out and walked together, the pattern of the air-holes in
the top of the lantern being thrown upon the mist overhead, where
they appeared of giant size, as if reaching the tent-shaped sky.
They had no remarks to make to each other, and they uttered none.
Hardly anything could be more isolated or more self-contained than
the lives of these two walking here in the lonely antelucan hour,
when gray shades, material and mental, are so very gray. And yet,
looked at in a certain way, their lonely courses formed no
detached design at all, but were part of the pattern in the great
web of human doings then weaving in both hemispheres, from the
White Sea to Cape Horn.
The shed was reached, and she pointed out the spars. Winterborne
regarded them silently, then looked at her.
"Now, Marty, I believe--" he said, and shook his head.
"That you've done the work yourself."
"Don't you tell anybody, will you, Mr. Winterborne?" she pleaded,
by way of answer. "Because I am afraid Mr. Melbury may refuse my
work if he knows it is mine."
"But how could you learn to do it? 'Tis a trade."
"Trade!" said she. "I'd be bound to learn it in two hours."
"Oh no, you wouldn't, Mrs. Marty." Winterborne held down his
lantern, and examined the cleanly split hazels as they lay.
"Marty," he said, with dry admiration, "your father with his forty
years of practice never made a spar better than that. They are
too good for the thatching of houses--they are good enough for the
furniture. But I won't tell. Let me look at your hands--your
poor hands!"
He had a kindly manner of a quietly severe tone; and when she
seemed reluctant to show her hands, he took hold of one and
examined it as if it were his own. Her fingers were blistered.
"They'll get harder in time," she said. "For if father continues
ill, I shall have to go on wi' it. Now I'll help put 'em up in
Winterborne without speaking set down his lantern, lifted her as
she was about to stoop over the bundles, placed her behind him,
and began throwing up the bundles himself. "Rather than you
should do it I will," he said. "But the men will be here
directly. Why, Marty!--whatever has happened to your head? Lord,
it has shrunk to nothing--it looks an apple upon a gate-post!"
Her heart swelled, and she could not speak. At length she managed
to groan, looking on the ground, "I've made myself ugly--and
hateful--that's what I've done!"
"No, no," he answered. "You've only cut your hair--I see now.
"Then why must you needs say that about apples and gate-posts?"
"Let me see."
"No, no!" She ran off into the gloom of the sluggish dawn. He did
not attempt to follow her. When she reached her father's door she
stood on the step and looked back. Mr. Melbury's men had arrived,
and were loading up the spars, and their lanterns appeared from
the distance at which she stood to have wan circles round them,
like eyes weary with watching. She observed them for a few
seconds as they set about harnessing the horses, and then went
There was now a distinct manifestation of morning in the air, and
presently the bleared white visage of a sunless winter day emerged
like a dead-born child. The villagers everywhere had already
bestirred themselves, rising at this time of the year at the far
less dreary hour of absolute darkness. It had been above an hour
earlier, before a single bird had untucked his head, that twenty
lights were struck in as many bedrooms, twenty pairs of shutters
opened, and twenty pairs of eyes stretched to the sky to forecast
the weather for the day.
Owls that had been catching mice in the out-houses, rabbits that
had been eating the wintergreens in the gardens, and stoats that
had been sucking the blood of the rabbits, discerning that their
human neighbors were on the move, discreetly withdrew from
publicity, and were seen and heard no more that day.
The daylight revealed the whole of Mr. Melbury's homestead, of
which the wagon-sheds had been an outlying erection. It formed
three sides of an open quadrangle, and consisted of all sorts of
buildings, the largest and central one being the dwelling itself.
The fourth side of the quadrangle was the public road.
It was a dwelling-house of respectable, roomy, almost dignified
aspect; which, taken with the fact that there were the remains of
other such buildings thereabout, indicated that Little Hintock had
at some time or other been of greater importance than now, as its
old name of Hintock St. Osmond also testified. The house was of
no marked antiquity, yet of well-advanced age; older than a stale
novelty, but no canonized antique; faded, not hoary; looking at
you from the still distinct middle-distance of the early Georgian
time, and awakening on that account the instincts of reminiscence
more decidedly than the remoter and far grander memorials which
have to speak from the misty reaches of mediaevalism. The faces,
dress, passions, gratitudes, and revenues of the great-greatgrandfathers
and grandmothers who had been the first to gaze from
those rectangular windows, and had stood under that key-stoned
doorway, could be divined and measured by homely standards of today.
It was a house in whose reverberations queer old personal
tales were yet audible if properly listened for; and not, as with
those of the castle and cloister, silent beyond the possibility of
The garden-front remained much as it had always been, and there
was a porch and entrance that way. But the principal house-door
opened on the square yard or quadrangle towards the road, formerly
a regular carriage entrance, though the middle of the area was now
made use of for stacking timber, fagots, bundles, and other
products of the wood. It was divided from the lane by a lichencoated
wall, in which hung a pair of gates, flanked by piers out
of the perpendicular, with a round white ball on the top of each.
The building on the left of the enclosure was a long-backed
erection, now used for spar-making, sawing, crib-framing, and
copse-ware manufacture in general. Opposite were the wagon-sheds
where Marty had deposited her spars.
Here Winterborne had remained after the girl's abrupt departure,
to see that the wagon-loads were properly made up. Winterborne
was connected with the Melbury family in various ways. In
addition to the sentimental relationship which arose from his
father having been the first Mrs. Melbury's lover, Winterborne's
aunt had married and emigrated with the brother of the timbermerchant
many years before--an alliance that was sufficient to
place Winterborne, though the poorer, on a footing of social
intimacy with the Melburys. As in most villages so secluded as
this, intermarriages were of Hapsburgian frequency among the
inhabitants, and there were hardly two houses in Little Hintock
unrelated by some matrimonial tie or other.
For this reason a curious kind of partnership existed between
Melbury and the younger man--a partnership based upon an unwritten
code, by which each acted in the way he thought fair towards the
other, on a give-and-take principle. Melbury, with his timber and
copse-ware business, found that the weight of his labor came in
winter and spring. Winterborne was in the apple and cider trade,
and his requirements in cartage and other work came in the autumn
of each year. Hence horses, wagons, and in some degree men, were
handed over to him when the apples began to fall; he, in return,
lending his assistance to Melbury in the busiest wood-cutting
season, as now.
Before he had left the shed a boy came from the house to ask him
to remain till Mr. Melbury had seen him. Winterborne thereupon
crossed over to the spar-house where two or three men were already
at work, two of them being travelling spar-makers from White-hart
Lane, who, when this kind of work began, made their appearance
regularly, and when it was over disappeared in silence till the
season came again.
Firewood was the one thing abundant in Little Hintock; and a blaze
of gad-cuds made the outhouse gay with its light, which vied with
that of the day as yet. In the hollow shades of the roof could be
seen dangling etiolated arms of ivy which had crept through the
joints of the tiles and were groping in vain for some support,
their leaves being dwarfed and sickly for want of sunlight; others
were pushing in with such force at the eaves as to lift from their
supports the shelves that were fixed there.
Besides the itinerant journey-workers there were also present John
Upjohn, engaged in the hollow-turnery trade, who lived hard by;
old Timothy Tangs and young Timothy Tangs, top and bottom sawyers,
at work in Mr. Melbury's pit outside; Farmer Bawtree, who kept the
cider-house, and Robert Creedle, an old man who worked for
Winterborne, and stood warming his hands; these latter being
enticed in by the ruddy blaze, though they had no particular
business there. None of them call for any remark except, perhaps,
Creedle. To have completely described him it would have been
necessary to write a military memoir, for he wore under his smockfrock
a cast-off soldier's jacket that had seen hot service, its
collar showing just above the flap of the frock; also a hunting
memoir, to include the top-boots that he had picked up by chance;
also chronicles of voyaging and shipwreck, for his pocket-knife
had been given him by a weather-beaten sailor. But Creedle
carried about with him on his uneventful rounds these silent
testimonies of war, sport, and adventure, and thought nothing of
their associations or their stories.
Copse-work, as it was called, being an occupation which the
secondary intelligence of the hands and arms could carry on
without requiring the sovereign attention of the head, the minds
of its professors wandered considerably from the objects before
them; hence the tales, chronicles, and ramifications of family
history which were recounted here were of a very exhaustive kind,
and sometimes so interminable as to defy description.
Winterborne, seeing that Melbury had not arrived, stepped back
again outside the door; and the conversation interrupted by his
momentary presence flowed anew, reaching his ears as an
accompaniment to the regular dripping of the fog from the
plantation boughs around.
The topic at present handled was a highly popular and frequent
one--the personal character of Mrs. Charmond, the owner of the
surrounding woods and groves.
"My brother-in-law told me, and I have no reason to doubt it,"
said Creedle, "that she'd sit down to her dinner with a frock
hardly higher than her elbows. 'Oh, you wicked woman!' he said to
himself when he first see her, 'you go to your church, and sit,
and kneel, as if your knee-jints were greased with very saint's
anointment, and tell off your Hear-us-good-Lords like a business
man counting money; and yet you can eat your victuals such a
figure as that!' Whether she's a reformed character by this time I
can't say; but I don't care who the man is, that's how she went on
when my brother-in-law lived there."
"Did she do it in her husband's time?"
"That I don't know--hardly, I should think, considering his
temper. Ah!" Here Creedle threw grieved remembrance into physical
form by slowly resigning his head to obliquity and letting his
eyes water. "That man! 'Not if the angels of heaven come down,
Creedle,' he said, 'shall you do another day's work for me!' Yes--
he'd say anything--anything; and would as soon take a winged
creature's name in vain as yours or mine! Well, now I must get
these spars home-along, and to-morrow, thank God, I must see about
using 'em."
An old woman now entered upon the scene. She was Mr. Melbury's
servant, and passed a great part of her time in crossing the yard
between the house-door and the spar-shed, whither she had come now
for fuel. She had two facial aspects--one, of a soft and flexible
kind, she used indoors when assisting about the parlor or upstairs;
the other, with stiff lines and corners, when she was
bustling among the men in the spar-house or out-of-doors.
"Ah, Grammer Oliver," said John Upjohn, "it do do my heart good to
see a old woman like you so dapper and stirring, when I bear in
mind that after fifty one year counts as two did afore! But your
smoke didn't rise this morning till twenty minutes past seven by
my beater; and that's late, Grammer Oliver."
"If you was a full-sized man, John, people might take notice of
your scornful meanings. But your growing up was such a scrimped
and scanty business that really a woman couldn't feel hurt if you
were to spit fire and brimstone itself at her. Here," she added,
holding out a spar-gad to one of the workmen, from which dangled a
long black-pudding--"here's something for thy breakfast, and if
you want tea you must fetch it from in-doors."
"Mr. Melbury is late this morning," said the bottom-sawyer.
"Yes. 'Twas a dark dawn," said Mrs. Oliver. "Even when I opened
the door, so late as I was, you couldn't have told poor men from
gentlemen, or John from a reasonable-sized object. And I don't
think maister's slept at all well to-night. He's anxious about
his daughter; and I know what that is, for I've cried bucketfuls
for my own."
When the old woman had gone Creedle said,
"He'll fret his gizzard green if he don't soon hear from that maid
of his. Well, learning is better than houses and lands. But to
keep a maid at school till she is taller out of pattens than her
mother was in 'em--'tis tempting Providence."
"It seems no time ago that she was a little playward girl," said
young Timothy Tangs.
"I can mind her mother," said the hollow-turner. "Always a teuny,
delicate piece; her touch upon your hand was as soft and cool as
wind. She was inoculated for the small-pox and had it beautifully
fine, just about the time that I was out of my apprenticeship--ay,
and a long apprenticeship 'twas. I served that master of mine six
years and three hundred and fourteen days."
The hollow-turner pronounced the days with emphasis, as if,
considering their number, they were a rather more remarkable fact
than the years.
"Mr. Winterborne's father walked with her at one time," said old
Timothy Tangs. "But Mr. Melbury won her. She was a child of a
woman, and would cry like rain if so be he huffed her. Whenever
she and her husband came to a puddle in their walks together he'd
take her up like a half-penny doll and put her over without
dirting her a speck. And if he keeps the daughter so long at
boarding-school, he'll make her as nesh as her mother was. But
here he comes."
Just before this moment Winterborne had seen Melbury crossing the
court from his door. He was carrying an open letter in his hand,
and came straight to Winterborne. His gloom of the preceding
night had quite gone.
"I'd no sooner made up my mind, Giles, to go and see why Grace
didn't come or write than I get a letter from her--'Clifton:
Wednesday. My dear father,' says she, 'I'm coming home to-morrow'
(that's to-day), 'but I didn't think it worth while to write long
beforehand.' The little rascal, and didn't she! Now, Giles, as you
are going to Sherton market to-day with your apple-trees, why not
join me and Grace there, and we'll drive home all together?"
He made the proposal with cheerful energy; he was hardly the same
man as the man of the small dark hours. Ever it happens that even
among the moodiest the tendency to be cheered is stronger than the
tendency to be cast down; and a soul's specific gravity stands
permanently less than that of the sea of troubles into which it is
Winterborne, though not demonstrative, replied to this suggestion
with something like alacrity. There was not much doubt that
Marty's grounds for cutting off her hair were substantial enough,
if Ambrose's eyes had been a reason for keeping it on. As for the
timber-merchant, it was plain that his invitation had been given
solely in pursuance of his scheme for uniting the pair. He had
made up his mind to the course as a duty, and was strenuously bent
upon following it out.
Accompanied by Winterborne, he now turned towards the door of the
spar-house, when his footsteps were heard by the men as aforesaid.
"Well, John, and Lot," he said, nodding as he entered. "A rimy
"'Tis, sir!" said Creedle, energetically; for, not having as yet
been able to summon force sufficient to go away and begin work, he
felt the necessity of throwing some into his speech. "I don't
care who the man is, 'tis the rimiest morning we've had this
"I heard you wondering why I've kept my daughter so long at
boarding-school," resumed Mr. Melbury, looking up from the letter
which he was reading anew by the fire, and turning to them with
the suddenness that was a trait in him. "Hey?" he asked, with
affected shrewdness. "But you did, you know. Well, now, though
it is my own business more than anybody else's, I'll tell ye.
When I was a boy, another boy--the pa'son's son--along with a lot
of others, asked me 'Who dragged Whom round the walls of What?'
and I said, 'Sam Barrett, who dragged his wife in a chair round
the tower corner when she went to be churched.' They laughed at me
with such torrents of scorn that I went home ashamed, and couldn't
sleep for shame; and I cried that night till my pillow was wet:
till at last I thought to myself there and then--'They may laugh
at me for my ignorance, but that was father's fault, and none o'
my making, and I must bear it. But they shall never laugh at my
children, if I have any: I'll starve first!' Thank God, I've been
able to keep her at school without sacrifice; and her scholarship
is such that she stayed on as governess for a time. Let 'em laugh
now if they can: Mrs. Charmond herself is not better informed than
my girl Grace."
There was something between high indifference and humble emotion
in his delivery, which made it difficult for them to reply.
Winterborne's interest was of a kind which did not show itself in
words; listening, he stood by the fire, mechanically stirring the
embers with a spar-gad.
"You'll be, then, ready, Giles?" Melbury continued, awaking from a
reverie. "Well, what was the latest news at Shottsford yesterday,
Mr. Bawtree?"
"Well, Shottsford is Shottsford still--you can't victual your
carcass there unless you've got money; and you can't buy a cup of
genuine there, whether or no....But as the saying is, 'Go abroad
and you'll hear news of home.' It seems that our new neighbor,
this young Dr. What's-his-name, is a strange, deep, perusing
gentleman; and there's good reason for supposing he has sold his
soul to the wicked one."
"'Od name it all," murmured the timber-merchant, unimpressed by
the news, but reminded of other things by the subject of it; "I've
got to meet a gentleman this very morning? and yet I've planned to
go to Sherton Abbas for the maid."
"I won't praise the doctor's wisdom till I hear what sort of
bargain he's made," said the top-sawyer.
"'Tis only an old woman's tale," said Bawtree. "But it seems that
he wanted certain books on some mysterious science or black-art,
and in order that the people hereabout should not know anything
about his dark readings, he ordered 'em direct from London, and
not from the Sherton book-seller. The parcel was delivered by
mistake at the pa'son's, and he wasn't at home; so his wife opened
it, and went into hysterics when she read 'em, thinking her
husband had turned heathen, and 'twould be the ruin of the
children. But when he came he said he knew no more about 'em than
she; and found they were this Mr. Fitzpier's property. So he
wrote 'Beware!' outside, and sent 'em on by the sexton."
"He must be a curious young man," mused the hollow-turner.
"He must," said Timothy Tangs.
"Nonsense," said Mr. Melbury, authoritatively, "he's only a
gentleman fond of science and philosophy and poetry, and, in fact,
every kind of knowledge; and being lonely here, he passes his time
in making such matters his hobby."
"Well," said old Timothy, "'tis a strange thing about doctors that
the worse they be the better they be. I mean that if you hear
anything of this sort about 'em, ten to one they can cure ye as
nobody else can."
"True," said Bawtree, emphatically. "And for my part I shall take
my custom from old Jones and go to this one directly I've anything
the matter with me. That last medicine old Jones gave me had no
taste in it at all."
Mr. Melbury, as became a well-informed man, did not listen to
these recitals, being moreover preoccupied with the business
appointment which had come into his head. He walked up and down,
looking on the floor--his usual custom when undecided. That
stiffness about the arm, hip, and knee-joint which was apparent
when he walked was the net product of the divers sprains and overexertions
that had been required of him in handling trees and
timber when a young man, for he was of the sort called self-made,
and had worked hard. He knew the origin of every one of these
cramps: that in his left shoulder had come of carrying a pollard,
unassisted, from Tutcombe Bottom home; that in one leg was caused
by the crash of an elm against it when they were felling; that in
the other was from lifting a bole. On many a morrow after
wearying himself by these prodigious muscular efforts, he had
risen from his bed fresh as usual; his lassitude had departed,
apparently forever; and confident in the recuperative power of his
youth, he had repeated the strains anew. But treacherous Time had
been only hiding ill results when they could be guarded against,
for greater accumulation when they could not. In his declining
years the store had been unfolded in the form of rheumatisms,
pricks, and spasms, in every one of which Melbury recognized some
act which, had its consequence been contemporaneously made known,
he would wisely have abstained from repeating.
On a summons by Grammer Oliver to breakfast, he left the shed.
Reaching the kitchen, where the family breakfasted in winter to
save house-labor, he sat down by the fire, and looked a long time
at the pair of dancing shadows cast by each fire-iron and dog-knob
on the whitewashed chimney-corner--a yellow one from the window,
and a blue one from the fire.
"I don't quite know what to do to-day," he said to his wife at
last. "I've recollected that I promised to meet Mrs. Charmond's
steward in Round Wood at twelve o'clock, and yet I want to go for
"Why not let Giles fetch her by himself? 'Twill bring 'em together
all the quicker."
"I could do that--but I should like to go myself. I always have
gone, without fail, every time hitherto. It has been a great
pleasure to drive into Sherton, and wait and see her arrive; and
perhaps she'll be disappointed if I stay away."
"Yon may be disappointed, but I don't think she will, if you send
Giles," said Mrs. Melbury, dryly.
"Very well--I'll send him."
Melbury was often persuaded by the quietude of his wife's words
when strenuous argument would have had no effect. This second
Mrs. Melbury was a placid woman, who had been nurse to his child
Grace before her mother's death. After that melancholy event
little Grace had clung to the nurse with much affection; and
ultimately Melbury, in dread lest the only woman who cared for the
girl should be induced to leave her, persuaded the mild Lucy to
marry him. The arrangement--for it was little more--had worked
satisfactorily enough; Grace had thriven, and Melbury had not
He returned to the spar-house and found Giles near at hand, to
whom he explained the change of plan. "As she won't arrive till
five o'clock, you can get your business very well over in time to
receive her," said Melbury. "The green gig will do for her;
you'll spin along quicker with that, and won't be late upon the
road. Her boxes can be called for by one of the wagons."
Winterborne, knowing nothing of the timber-merchant's restitutory
aims, quietly thought all this to be a kindly chance. Wishing
even more than her father to despatch his apple-tree business in
the market before Grace's arrival, he prepared to start at once.
Melbury was careful that the turnout should be seemly. The gigwheels,
for instance, were not always washed during winter-time
before a journey, the muddy roads rendering that labor useless;
but they were washed to-day. The harness was blacked, and when
the rather elderly white horse had been put in, and Winterborne
was in his seat ready to start, Mr. Melbury stepped out with a
blacking-brush, and with his own hands touched over the yellow
hoofs of the animal.
"You see, Giles," he said, as he blacked, "coming from a
fashionable school, she might feel shocked at the homeliness of
home; and 'tis these little things that catch a dainty woman's eye
if they are neglected. We, living here alone, don't notice how
the whitey-brown creeps out of the earth over us; but she, fresh
from a city--why, she'll notice everything!"
"That she will," said Giles.
"And scorn us if we don't mind."
"Not scorn us."
"No, no, no--that's only words. She's too good a girl to do that.
But when we consider what she knows, and what she has seen since
she last saw us, 'tis as well to meet her views as nearly as
possible. Why, 'tis a year since she was in this old place, owing
to her going abroad in the summer, which I agreed to, thinking it
best for her; and naturally we shall look small, just at first--I
only say just at first."
Mr. Melbury's tone evinced a certain exultation in the very sense
of that inferiority he affected to deplore; for this advanced and
refined being, was she not his own all the time? Not so Giles; he
felt doubtful--perhaps a trifle cynical--for that strand was wound
into him with the rest. He looked at his clothes with misgiving,
then with indifference.
It was his custom during the planting season to carry a specimen
apple-tree to market with him as an advertisement of what he dealt
in. This had been tied across the gig; and as it would be left
behind in the town, it would cause no inconvenience to Miss Grace
Melbury coming home.
He drove away, the twigs nodding with each step of the horse; and
Melbury went in-doors. Before the gig had passed out of sight,
Mr. Melbury reappeared and shouted after--
"Here, Giles, "he said, breathlessly following with some wraps,
"it may be very chilly to-night, and she may want something extra
about her. And, Giles," he added, when the young man, having
taken the articles, put the horse in motion once more, "tell her
that I should have come myself, but I had particular business with
Mrs. Charmond's agent, which prevented me. Don't forget."
He watched Winterborne out of sight, saying, with a jerk--a shape
into which emotion with him often resolved itself--"There, now, I
hope the two will bring it to a point and have done with it! 'Tis
a pity to let such a girl throw herself away upon him--a thousand
pities!...And yet 'tis my duty for his father's sake."
Winterborne sped on his way to Sherton Abbas without elation and
without discomposure. Had he regarded his inner self
spectacularly, as lovers are now daily more wont to do, he might
have felt pride in the discernment of a somewhat rare power in
him--that of keeping not only judgment but emotion suspended in
difficult cases. But he noted it not. Neither did he observe
what was also the fact, that though he cherished a true and warm
feeling towards Grace Melbury, he was not altogether her fool just
now. It must be remembered that he had not seen her for a year.
Arrived at the entrance to a long flat lane, which had taken the
spirit out of many a pedestrian in times when, with the majority,
to travel meant to walk, he saw before him the trim figure of a
young woman in pattens, journeying with that steadfast
concentration which means purpose and not pleasure. He was soon
near enough to see that she was Marty South. Click, click, click
went the pattens; and she did not turn her head.
She had, however, become aware before this that the driver of the
approaching gig was Giles. She had shrunk from being overtaken by
him thus; but as it was inevitable, she had braced herself up for
his inspection by closing her lips so as to make her mouth quite
unemotional, and by throwing an additional firmness into her
"Why do you wear pattens, Marty? The turnpike is clean enough,
although the lanes are muddy."
"They save my boots."
"But twelve miles in pattens--'twill twist your feet off. Come,
get up and ride with me."
She hesitated, removed her pattens, knocked the gravel out of them
against the wheel, and mounted in front of the nodding specimen
apple-tree. She had so arranged her bonnet with a full border and
trimmings that her lack of long hair did not much injure her
appearance; though Giles, of course, saw that it was gone, and may
have guessed her motive in parting with it, such sales, though
infrequent, being not unheard of in that locality.
But nature's adornment was still hard by--in fact, within two feet
of him, though he did not know it. In Marty's basket was a brown
paper packet, and in the packet the chestnut locks, which, by
reason of the barber's request for secrecy, she had not ventured
to intrust to other hands.
Giles asked, with some hesitation, how her father was getting on.
He was better, she said; he would be able to work in a day or two;
he would be quite well but for his craze about the tree falling on
"You know why I don't ask for him so often as I might, I suppose?"
said Winterborne. "Or don't you know?"
"I think I do."
"Because of the houses?"
She nodded.
"Yes. I am afraid it may seem that my anxiety is about those
houses, which I should lose by his death, more than about him.
Marty, I do feel anxious about the houses, since half my income
depends upon them; but I do likewise care for him; and it almost
seems wrong that houses should be leased for lives, so as to lead
to such mixed feelings."
"After father's death they will be Mrs. Charmond's?"
"They'll be hers."
"They are going to keep company with my hair," she thought.
Thus talking, they reached the town. By no pressure would she
ride up the street with him. "That's the right of another woman,"
she said, with playful malice, as she put on her pattens. "I
wonder what you are thinking of! Thank you for the lift in that
handsome gig. Good-by."
He blushed a little, shook his head at her, and drove on ahead
into the streets--the churches, the abbey, and other buildings on
this clear bright morning having the liny distinctness of
architectural drawings, as if the original dream and vision of the
conceiving master-mason, some mediaeval Vilars or other unknown to
fame, were for a few minutes flashed down through the centuries to
an unappreciative age. Giles saw their eloquent look on this day
of transparency, but could not construe it. He turned into the
Marty, following the same track, marched promptly to the hairdresser's,
Mr. Percombe's. Percombe was the chief of his trade in
Sherton Abbas. He had the patronage of such county offshoots as
had been obliged to seek the shelter of small houses in that
ancient town, of the local clergy, and so on, for some of whom he
had made wigs, while others among them had compensated for
neglecting him in their lifetime by patronizing him when they were
dead, and letting him shave their corpses. On the strength of all
this he had taken down his pole, and called himself "Perruquier to
the aristocracy."
Nevertheless, this sort of support did not quite fill his
children's mouths, and they had to be filled. So, behind his
house there was a little yard, reached by a passage from the back
street, and in that yard was a pole, and under the pole a shop of
quite another description than the ornamental one in the front
street. Here on Saturday nights from seven till ten he took an
almost innumerable succession of twopences from the farm laborers
who flocked thither in crowds from the country. And thus he
Marty, of course, went to the front shop, and handed her packet to
him silently. "Thank you," said the barber, quite joyfully. "I
hardly expected it after what you said last night."
She turned aside, while a tear welled up and stood in each eye at
this reminder.
"Nothing of what I told you," he whispered, there being others in
the shop. "But I can trust you, I see."
She had now reached the end of this distressing business, and went
listlessly along the street to attend to other errands. These
occupied her till four o'clock, at which time she recrossed the
market-place. It was impossible to avoid rediscovering
Winterborne every time she passed that way, for standing, as he
always did at this season of the year, with his specimen appletree
in the midst, the boughs rose above the heads of the crowd,
and brought a delightful suggestion of orchards among the crowded
buildings there. When her eye fell upon him for the last time he
was standing somewhat apart, holding the tree like an ensign, and
looking on the ground instead of pushing his produce as he ought
to have been doing. He was, in fact, not a very successful seller
either of his trees or of his cider, his habit of speaking his
mind, when he spoke at all, militating against this branch of his
While she regarded him he suddenly lifted his eyes in a direction
away from Marty, his face simultaneously kindling with recognition
and surprise. She followed his gaze, and saw walking across to
him a flexible young creature in whom she perceived the features
of her she had known as Miss Grace Melbury, but now looking
glorified and refined above her former level. Winterborne, being
fixed to the spot by his apple-tree, could not advance to meet
her; he held out his spare hand with his hat in it, and with some
embarrassment beheld her coming on tiptoe through the mud to the
middle of the square where he stood.
Miss Melbury's arrival so early was, as Marty could see,
unexpected by Giles, which accounted for his not being ready to
receive her. Indeed, her father had named five o'clock as her
probable time, for which reason that hour had been looming out all
the day in his forward perspective, like an important edifice on a
plain. Now here she was come, he knew not how, and his arranged
welcome stultified.
His face became gloomy at her necessity for stepping into the
road, and more still at the little look of embarrassment which
appeared on hers at having to perform the meeting with him under
an apple-tree ten feet high in the middle of the market-place.
Having had occasion to take off the new gloves she had bought to
come home in, she held out to him a hand graduating from pink at
the tips of the fingers to white at the palm; and the reception
formed a scene, with the tree over their heads, which was not by
any means an ordinary one in Sherton Abbas streets.
Nevertheless, the greeting on her looks and lips was of a
restrained type, which perhaps was not unnatural. For true it was
that Giles Winterborne, well-attired and well-mannered as he was
for a yeoman, looked rough beside her. It had sometimes dimly
occurred to him, in his ruminating silence at Little Hintock, that
external phenomena--such as the lowness or height or color of a
hat, the fold of a coat, the make of a boot, or the chance
attitude or occupation of a limb at the instant of view--may have
a great influence upon feminine opinion of a man's worth--so
frequently founded on non-essentials; but a certain causticity of
mental tone towards himself and the world in general had prevented
to-day, as always, any enthusiastic action on the strength of that
reflection; and her momentary instinct of reserve at first sight
of him was the penalty he paid for his laxness.
He gave away the tree to a by-stander, as soon as he could find
one who would accept the cumbersome gift, and the twain moved on
towards the inn at which he had put up. Marty made as if to step
forward for the pleasure of being recognized by Miss Melbury; but
abruptly checking herself, she glided behind a carrier's van,
saying, dryly, "No; I baint wanted there," and critically regarded
Winterborne's companion.
It would have been very difficult to describe Grace Melbury with
precision, either now or at any time. Nay, from the highest point
of view, to precisely describe a human being, the focus of a
universe--how impossible! But, apart from transcendentalism, there
never probably lived a person who was in herself more completely a
reductio ad absurdum of attempts to appraise a woman, even
externally, by items of face and figure. Speaking generally, it
may be said that she was sometimes beautiful, at other times not
beautiful, according to the state of her health and spirits.
In simple corporeal presentment she was of a fair and clear
complexion, rather pale than pink, slim in build and elastic in
movement. Her look expressed a tendency to wait for others'
thoughts before uttering her own; possibly also to wait for
others' deeds before her own doing. In her small, delicate mouth,
which had perhaps hardly settled down to its matured curves, there
was a gentleness that might hinder sufficient self-assertion for
her own good. She had well-formed eyebrows which, had her
portrait been painted, would probably have been done in Prout's or
Vandyke brown.
There was nothing remarkable in her dress just now, beyond a
natural fitness and a style that was recent for the streets of
Sherton. But, indeed, had it been the reverse, and quite
striking, it would have meant just as little. For there can be
hardly anything less connected with a woman's personality than
drapery which she has neither designed, manufactured, cut, sewed,
or even seen, except by a glance of approval when told that such
and such a shape and color must be had because it has been decided
by others as imperative at that particular time.
What people, therefore, saw of her in a cursory view was very
little; in truth, mainly something that was not she. The woman
herself was a shadowy, conjectural creature who had little to do
with the outlines presented to Sherton eyes; a shape in the gloom,
whose true description could only be approximated by putting
together a movement now and a glance then, in that patient and
long-continued attentiveness which nothing but watchful lovingkindness
ever troubles to give.
There was a little delay in their setting out from the town, and
Marty South took advantage of it to hasten forward, with the view
of escaping them on the way, lest they should feel compelled to
spoil their tete-a-tete by asking her to ride. She walked fast,
and one-third of the journey was done, and the evening rapidly
darkening, before she perceived any sign of them behind her.
Then, while ascending a hill, she dimly saw their vehicle drawing
near the lowest part of the incline, their heads slightly bent
towards each other; drawn together, no doubt, by their souls, as
the heads of a pair of horses well in hand are drawn in by the
rein. She walked still faster.
But between these and herself there was a carriage, apparently a
brougham, coming in the same direction, with lighted lamps. When
it overtook her--which was not soon, on account of her pace--the
scene was much darker, and the lights glared in her eyes
sufficiently to hide the details of the equipage.
It occurred to Marty that she might take hold behind this carriage
and so keep along with it, to save herself the mortification of
being overtaken and picked up for pity's sake by the coming pair.
Accordingly, as the carriage drew abreast of her in climbing the
long ascent, she walked close to the wheels, the rays of the
nearest lamp penetrating her very pores. She had only just
dropped behind when the carriage stopped, and to her surprise the
coachman asked her, over his shoulder, if she would ride. What
made the question more surprising was that it came in obedience to
an order from the interior of the vehicle.
Marty gladly assented, for she was weary, very weary, after
working all night and keeping afoot all day. She mounted beside
the coachman, wondering why this good-fortune had happened to her.
He was rather a great man in aspect, and she did not like to
inquire of him for some time.
At last she said, "Who has been so kind as to ask me to ride?"
"Mrs. Charmond," replied her statuesque companion.
Marty was stirred at the name, so closely connected with her last
night's experiences. "Is this her carriage?" she whispered.
"Yes; she's inside."
Marty reflected, and perceived that Mrs. Charmond must have
recognized her plodding up the hill under the blaze of the lamp;
recognized, probably, her stubbly poll (since she had kept away
her face), and thought that those stubbles were the result of her
own desire.
Marty South was not so very far wrong. Inside the carriage a pair
of bright eyes looked from a ripely handsome face, and though
behind those bright eyes was a mind of unfathomed mysteries,
beneath them there beat a heart capable of quick extempore warmth--
a heart which could, indeed, be passionately and imprudently warm
on certain occasions. At present, after recognizing the girl, she
had acted on a mere impulse, possibly feeling gratified at the
denuded appearance which signified the success of her agent in
obtaining what she had required.
"'Tis wonderful that she should ask ye," observed the magisterial
coachman, presently. "I have never known her do it before, for as
a rule she takes no interest in the village folk at all."
Marty said no more, but occasionally turned her head to see if she
could get a glimpse of the Olympian creature who as the coachman
had truly observed, hardly ever descended from her clouds into the
Tempe of the parishioners. But she could discern nothing of the
lady. She also looked for Miss Melbury and Winterborne. The nose
of their horse sometimes came quite near the back of Mrs.
Charmond's carriage. But they never attempted to pass it till the
latter conveyance turned towards the park gate, when they sped by.
Here the carriage drew up that the gate might be opened, and in
the momentary silence Marty heard a gentle oral sound, soft as a
"What's that?" she whispered.
"Mis'ess yawning."
"Why should she yawn?"
"Oh, because she's been used to such wonderfully good life, and
finds it dull here. She'll soon be off again on account of it."
"So rich and so powerful, and yet to yawn!" the girl murmured.
"Then things don't fay with she any more than with we!"
Marty now alighted; the lamp again shone upon her, and as the
carriage rolled on, a soft voice said to her from the interior,
"Good-night, ma'am," said Marty. But she had not been able to see
the woman who began so greatly to interest her--the second person
of her own sex who had operated strongly on her mind that day.
Meanwhile, Winterborne and Grace Melbury had also undergone their
little experiences of the same homeward journey.
As he drove off with her out of the town the glances of people
fell upon them, the younger thinking that Mr. Winterborne was in a
pleasant place, and wondering in what relation he stood towards
her. Winterborne himself was unconscious of this. Occupied
solely with the idea of having her in charge, he did not notice
much with outward eye, neither observing how she was dressed, nor
the effect of the picture they together composed in the landscape.
Their conversation was in briefest phrase for some time, Grace
being somewhat disconcerted, through not having understood till
they were about to start that Giles was to be her sole conductor
in place of her father. When they were in the open country he
"Don't Brownley's farm-buildings look strange to you, now they
have been moved bodily from the hollow where the old ones stood to
the top of the hill?"
She admitted that they did, though she should not have seen any
difference in them if he had not pointed it out.
"They had a good crop of bitter-sweets; they couldn't grind them
all" (nodding towards an orchard where some heaps of apples had
been left lying ever since the ingathering).
She said "Yes," but looking at another orchard.
"Why, you are looking at John-apple-trees! You know bitter-sweets--
you used to well enough!"
"I am afraid I have forgotten, and it is getting too dark to
Winterborne did not continue. It seemed as if the knowledge and
interest which had formerly moved Grace's mind had quite died away
from her. He wondered whether the special attributes of his image
in the past had evaporated like these other things.
However that might be, the fact at present was merely this, that
where he was seeing John-apples and farm-buildings she was
beholding a far remoter scene--a scene no less innocent and
simple, indeed, but much contrasting--a broad lawn in the
fashionable suburb of a fast city, the evergreen leaves shining in
the evening sun, amid which bounding girls, gracefully clad in
artistic arrangements of blue, brown, red, black, and white, were
playing at games, with laughter and chat, in all the pride of
life, the notes of piano and harp trembling in the air from the
open windows adjoining. Moreover, they were girls--and this was a
fact which Grace Melbury's delicate femininity could not lose
sight of--whose parents Giles would have addressed with a
deferential Sir or Madam. Beside this visioned scene the homely
farmsteads did not quite hold their own from her present twentyyear
point of survey. For all his woodland sequestration, Giles
knew the primitive simplicity of the subject he had started, and
now sounded a deeper note.
"'Twas very odd what we said to each other years ago; I often
think of it. I mean our saying that if we still liked each other
when you were twenty and I twenty-five, we'd--"
"It was child's tattle."
"H'm!" said Giles, suddenly.
"I mean we were young," said she, more considerately. That gruff
manner of his in making inquiries reminded her that he was
unaltered in much.
"Yes....I beg your pardon, Miss Melbury; your father SENT me to
meet you to-day."
"I know it, and I am glad of it."
He seemed satisfied with her tone and went on: "At that time you
were sitting beside me at the back of your father's covered car,
when we were coming home from gypsying, all the party being
squeezed in together as tight as sheep in an auction-pen. It got
darker and darker, and I said--I forget the exact words--but I put
my arm round your waist and there you let it stay till your
father, sitting in front suddenly stopped telling his story to
Farmer Bollen, to light his pipe. The flash shone into the car,
and showed us all up distinctly; my arm flew from your waist like
lightning; yet not so quickly but that some of 'em had seen, and
laughed at us. Yet your father, to our amazement, instead of
being angry, was mild as milk, and seemed quite pleased. Have you
forgot all that, or haven't you?"
She owned that she remembered it very well, now that he mentioned
the circumstances. "But, goodness! I must have been in short
frocks," she said.
"Come now, Miss Melbury, that won't do! Short frocks, indeed! You
know better, as well as I."
Grace thereupon declared that she would not argue with an old
friend she valued so highly as she valued him, saying the words
with the easy elusiveness that will be polite at all costs. It
might possibly be true, she added, that she was getting on in
girlhood when that event took place; but if it were so, then she
was virtually no less than an old woman now, so far did the time
seem removed from her present. "Do you ever look at things
philosophically instead of personally?" she asked.
"I can't say that I do," answered Giles, his eyes lingering far
ahead upon a dark spot, which proved to be a brougham.
"I think you may, sometimes, with advantage," said she. "Look at
yourself as a pitcher drifting on the stream with other pitchers,
and consider what contrivances are most desirable for avoiding
cracks in general, and not only for saving your poor one. Shall I
tell you all about Bath or Cheltenham, or places on the Continent
that I visited last summer?"
"With all my heart."
She then described places and persons in such terms as might have
been used for that purpose by any woman to any man within the four
seas, so entirely absent from that description was everything
specially appertaining to her own existence. When she had done
she said, gayly, "Now do you tell me in return what has happened
in Hintock since I have been away."
"Anything to keep the conversation away from her and me," said
Giles within him.
It was true cultivation had so far advanced in the soil of Miss
Melbury's mind as to lead her to talk by rote of anything save of
that she knew well, and had the greatest interest in developing--
that is to say, herself.
He had not proceeded far with his somewhat bald narration when
they drew near the carriage that had been preceding them for some
time. Miss Melbury inquired if he knew whose carriage it was.
Winterborne, although he had seen it, had not taken it into
account. On examination, he said it was Mrs. Charmond's.
Grace watched the vehicle and its easy roll, and seemed to feel
more nearly akin to it than to the one she was in.
"Pooh! We can polish off the mileage as well as they, come to
that," said Winterborne, reading her mind; and rising to emulation
at what it bespoke, he whipped on the horse. This it was which
had brought the nose of Mr. Melbury's old gray close to the back
of Mrs. Charmond's much-eclipsing vehicle.
"There's Marty South Sitting up with the coachman," said he,
discerning her by her dress.
"Ah, poor Marty! I must ask her to come to see me this very
evening. How does she happen to be riding there?"
"I don't know. It is very singular."
Thus these people with converging destinies went along the road
together, till Winterborne, leaving the track of the carriage,
turned into Little Hintock, where almost the first house was the
timber-merchant's. Pencils of dancing light streamed out of the
windows sufficiently to show the white laurestinus flowers, and
glance over the polished leaves of laurel. The interior of the
rooms could be seen distinctly, warmed up by the fire-flames,
which in the parlor were reflected from the glass of the pictures
and bookcase, and in the kitchen from the utensils and ware.
"Let us look at the dear place for a moment before we call them,"
she said.
In the kitchen dinner was preparing; for though Melbury dined at
one o'clock at other times, to-day the meal had been kept back for
Grace. A rickety old spit was in motion, its end being fixed in
the fire-dog, and the whole kept going by means of a cord conveyed
over pulleys along the ceiling to a large stone suspended in a
corner of the room. Old Grammer Oliver came and wound it up with
a rattle like that of a mill.
In the parlor a large shade of Mrs. Melbury's head fell on the
wall and ceiling; but before the girl had regarded this room many
moments their presence was discovered, and her father and stepmother
came out to welcome her.
The character of the Melbury family was of that kind which evinces
some shyness in showing strong emotion among each other: a trait
frequent in rural households, and one which stands in curiously
inverse relation to most of the peculiarities distinguishing
villagers from the people of towns. Thus hiding their warmer
feelings under commonplace talk all round, Grace's reception
produced no extraordinary demonstrations. But that more was felt
than was enacted appeared from the fact that her father, in taking
her in-doors, quite forgot the presence of Giles without, as did
also Grace herself. He said nothing, but took the gig round to
the yard and called out from the spar-house the man who
particularly attended to these matters when there was no
conversation to draw him off among the copse-workers inside.
Winterborne then returned to the door with the intention of
entering the house.
The family had gone into the parlor, and were still absorbed in
themselves. The fire was, as before, the only light, and it
irradiated Grace's face and hands so as to make them look
wondrously smooth and fair beside those of the two elders; shining
also through the loose hair about her temples as sunlight through
a brake. Her father was surveying her in a dazed conjecture, so
much had she developed and progressed in manner and stature since
he last had set eyes on her.
Observing these things, Winterborne remained dubious by the door,
mechanically tracing with his fingers certain time-worn letters
carved in the jambs--initials of by-gone generations of
householders who had lived and died there.
No, he declared to himself, he would not enter and join the
family; they had forgotten him, and it was enough for to-day that
he had brought her home. Still, he was a little surprised that
her father's eagerness to send him for Grace should have resulted
in such an anticlimax as this.
He walked softly away into the lane towards his own house, looking
back when he reached the turning, from which he could get a last
glimpse of the timber-merchant's roof. He hazarded guesses as to
what Grace was saying just at that moment, and murmured, with some
self-derision, "nothing about me!" He looked also in the other
direction, and saw against the sky the thatched hip and solitary
chimney of Marty's cottage, and thought of her too, struggling
bravely along under that humble shelter, among her spar-gads and
pots and skimmers.
At the timber-merchant's, in the mean time, the conversation
flowed; and, as Giles Winterborne had rightly enough deemed, on
subjects in which he had no share. Among the excluding matters
there was, for one, the effect upon Mr. Melbury of the womanly
mien and manners of his daughter, which took him so much unawares
that, though it did not make him absolutely forget the existence
of her conductor homeward, thrust Giles's image back into quite
the obscurest cellarage of his brain. Another was his interview
with Mrs. Charmond's agent that morning, at which the lady herself
had been present for a few minutes. Melbury had purchased some
standing timber from her a long time before, and now that the date
had come for felling it he was left to pursue almost his own
course. This was what the household were actually talking of
during Giles's cogitation without; and Melbury's satisfaction with
the clear atmosphere that had arisen between himself and the deity
of the groves which enclosed his residence was the cause of a
counterbalancing mistiness on the side towards Winterborne.
"So thoroughly does she trust me," said Melbury, "that I might
fell, top, or lop, on my own judgment, any stick o' timber
whatever in her wood, and fix the price o't, and settle the
matter. But, name it all! I wouldn't do such a thing. However,
it may be useful to have this good understanding with her....I
wish she took more interest in the place, and stayed here all the
year round."
"I am afraid 'tis not her regard for you, but her dislike of
Hintock, that makes her so easy about the trees," said Mrs.
When dinner was over, Grace took a candle and began to ramble
pleasurably through the rooms of her old home, from which she had
latterly become wellnigh an alien. Each nook and each object
revived a memory, and simultaneously modified it. The chambers
seemed lower than they had appeared on any previous occasion of
her return, the surfaces of both walls and ceilings standing in
such relations to the eye that it could not avoid taking
microscopic note of their irregularities and old fashion. Her own
bedroom wore at once a look more familiar than when she had left
it, and yet a face estranged. The world of little things therein
gazed at her in helpless stationariness, as though they had tried
and been unable to make any progress without her presence. Over
the place where her candle had been accustomed to stand, when she
had used to read in bed till the midnight hour, there was still
the brown spot of smoke. She did not know that her father had
taken especial care to keep it from being cleaned off.
Having concluded her perambulation of this now uselessly
commodious edifice, Grace began to feel that she had come a long
journey since the morning; and when her father had been up
himself, as well as his wife, to see that her room was comfortable
and the fire burning, she prepared to retire for the night. No
sooner, however, was she in bed than her momentary sleepiness took
itself off, and she wished she had stayed up longer. She amused
herself by listening to the old familiar noises that she could
hear to be still going on down-stairs, and by looking towards the
window as she lay. The blind had been drawn up, as she used to
have it when a girl, and she could just discern the dim tree-tops
against the sky on the neighboring hill. Beneath this meetingline
of light and shade nothing was visible save one solitary
point of light, which blinked as the tree-twigs waved to and fro
before its beams. From its position it seemed to radiate from the
window of a house on the hill-side. The house had been empty when
she was last at home, and she wondered who inhabited the place
Her conjectures, however, were not intently carried on, and she
was watching the light quite idly, when it gradually changed
color, and at length shone blue as sapphire. Thus it remained
several minutes, and then it passed through violet to red.
Her curiosity was so widely awakened by the phenomenon that she
sat up in bed, and stared steadily at the shine. An appearance of
this sort, sufficient to excite attention anywhere, was no less
than a marvel in Hintock, as Grace had known the hamlet. Almost
every diurnal and nocturnal effect in that woodland place had
hitherto been the direct result of the regular terrestrial roll
which produced the season's changes; but here was something
dissociated from these normal sequences, and foreign to local
habit and knowledge.
It was about this moment that Grace heard the household below
preparing to retire, the most emphatic noise in the proceeding
being that of her father bolting the doors. Then the stairs
creaked, and her father and mother passed her chamber. The last
to come was Grammer Oliver.
Grace slid out of bed, ran across the room, and lifting the latch,
said, "I am not asleep, Grammer. Come in and talk to me."
Before the old woman had entered, Grace was again under the
bedclothes. Grammer set down her candlestick, and seated herself
on the edge of Miss Melbury's coverlet.
"I want you to tell me what light that is I see on the hill-side,"
said Grace.
Mrs. Oliver looked across. "Oh, that," she said, "is from the
doctor's. He's often doing things of that sort. Perhaps you
don't know that we've a doctor living here now--Mr. Fitzpiers by
Grace admitted that she had not heard of him.
"Well, then, miss, he's come here to get up a practice. I know
him very well, through going there to help 'em scrub sometimes,
which your father said I might do, if I wanted to, in my spare
time. Being a bachelor-man, he've only a lad in the house. Oh
yes, I know him very well. Sometimes he'll talk to me as if I
were his own mother."
"Yes. 'Grammer,' he said one day, when I asked him why he came
here where there's hardly anybody living, 'I'll tell you why I
came here. I took a map, and I marked on it where Dr. Jones's
practice ends to the north of this district, and where Mr.
Taylor's ends on the south, and little Jimmy Green's on the east,
and somebody else's to the west. Then I took a pair of compasses,
and found the exact middle of the country that was left between
these bounds, and that middle was Little Hintock; so here I
am....' But, Lord, there: poor young man!"
"He said, 'Grammer Oliver, I've been here three months, and
although there are a good many people in the Hintocks and the
villages round, and a scattered practice is often a very good one,
I don't seem to get many patients. And there's no society at all;
and I'm pretty near melancholy mad,' he said, with a great yawn.
'I should be quite if it were not for my books, and my lab--
laboratory, and what not. Grammer, I was made for higher things.'
And then he'd yawn and yawn again."
"Was he really made for higher things, do you think? I mean, is he
"Well, no. How can he be clever? He may be able to jine up a
broken man or woman after a fashion, and put his finger upon an
ache if you tell him nearly where 'tis; but these young men--they
should live to my time of life, and then they'd see how clever
they were at five-and-twenty! And yet he's a projick, a real
projick, and says the oddest of rozums. 'Ah, Grammer,' he said,
at another time, 'let me tell you that Everything is Nothing.
There's only Me and not Me in the whole world.' And he told me
that no man's hands could help what they did, any more than the
hands of a clock....Yes, he's a man of strange meditations, and
his eyes seem to see as far as the north star."
"He will soon go away, no doubt."
"I don't think so." Grace did not say "Why?" and Grammer
hesitated. At last she went on: "Don't tell your father or
mother, miss, if I let you know a secret."
Grace gave the required promise.
"Well, he talks of buying me; so he won't go away just yet."
"Buying you!--how?"
"Not my soul--my body, when I'm dead. One day when I was there
cleaning, he said, 'Grammer, you've a large brain--a very large
organ of brain,' he said. 'A woman's is usually four ounces less
than a man's; but yours is man's size.' Well, then--hee, hee!--
after he'd flattered me a bit like that, he said he'd give me ten
pounds to have me as a natomy after my death. Well, knowing I'd
no chick nor chiel left, and nobody with any interest in me, I
thought, faith, if I can be of any use to my fellow-creatures
after I'm gone they are welcome to my services; so I said I'd
think it over, and would most likely agree and take the ten
pounds. Now this is a secret, miss, between us two. The money
would be very useful to me; and I see no harm in it."
"Of course there's no harm. But oh, Grammer, how can you think to
do it? I wish you hadn't told me."
"I wish I hadn't--if you don't like to know it, miss. But you
needn't mind. Lord--hee, hee!--I shall keep him waiting many a
year yet, bless ye!"
"I hope you will, I am sure."
The girl thereupon fell into such deep reflection that
conversation languished, and Grammer Oliver, taking her candle,
wished Miss Melbury good-night. The latter's eyes rested on the
distant glimmer, around which she allowed her reasoning fancy to
play in vague eddies that shaped the doings of the philosopher
behind that light on the lines of intelligence just received. It
was strange to her to come back from the world to Little Hintock
and find in one of its nooks, like a tropical plant in a hedgerow,
a nucleus of advanced ideas and practices which had nothing
in common with the life around. Chemical experiments, anatomical
projects, and metaphysical conceptions had found a strange home
Thus she remained thinking, the imagined pursuits of the man
behind the light intermingling with conjectural sketches of his
personality, till her eyes fell together with their own heaviness,
and she slept.
Kaleidoscopic dreams of a weird alchemist-surgeon, Grammer
Oliver's skeleton, and the face of Giles Winterborne, brought
Grace Melbury to the morning of the next day. It was fine. A
north wind was blowing--that not unacceptable compromise between
the atmospheric cutlery of the eastern blast and the spongy gales
of the west quarter. She looked from her window in the direction
of the light of the previous evening, and could just discern
through the trees the shape of the surgeon's house. Somehow, in
the broad, practical daylight, that unknown and lonely gentleman
seemed to be shorn of much of the interest which had invested his
personality and pursuits in the hours of darkness, and as Grace's
dressing proceeded he faded from her mind.
Meanwhile, Winterborne, though half assured of her father's favor,
was rendered a little restless by Miss Melbury's behavior.
Despite his dry self-control, he could not help looking
continually from his own door towards the timber-merchant's, in
the probability of somebody's emergence therefrom. His attention
was at length justified by the appearance of two figures, that of
Mr. Melbury himself, and Grace beside him. They stepped out in a
direction towards the densest quarter of the wood, and Winterborne
walked contemplatively behind them, till all three were soon under
the trees.
Although the time of bare boughs had now set in, there were
sheltered hollows amid the Hintock plantations and copses in which
a more tardy leave-taking than on windy summits was the rule with
the foliage. This caused here and there an apparent mixture of
the seasons; so that in some of the dells that they passed by
holly-berries in full red were found growing beside oak and hazel
whose leaves were as yet not far removed from green, and brambles
whose verdure was rich and deep as in the month of August. To
Grace these well-known peculiarities were as an old painting
Now could be beheld that change from the handsome to the curious
which the features of a wood undergo at the ingress of the winter
months. Angles were taking the place of curves, and reticulations
of surfaces--a change constituting a sudden lapse from the ornate
to the primitive on Nature's canvas, and comparable to a
retrogressive step from the art of an advanced school of painting
to that of the Pacific Islander.
Winterborne followed, and kept his eye upon the two figures as
they threaded their way through these sylvan phenomena. Mr.
Melbury's long legs, and gaiters drawn in to the bone at the
ankles, his slight stoop, his habit of getting lost in thought and
arousing himself with an exclamation of "Hah!" accompanied with an
upward jerk of the head, composed a personage recognizable by his
neighbors as far as he could be seen. It seemed as if the
squirrels and birds knew him. One of the former would
occasionally run from the path to hide behind the arm of some
tree, which the little animal carefully edged round pari passu
with Melbury and his daughters movement onward, assuming a mock
manner, as though he were saying, "Ho, ho; you are only a timbermerchant,
and carry no gun!"
They went noiselessly over mats of starry moss, rustled through
interspersed tracts of leaves, skirted trunks with spreading
roots, whose mossed rinds made them like hands wearing green
gloves; elbowed old elms and ashes with great forks, in which
stood pools of water that overflowed on rainy days, and ran down
their stems in green cascades. On older trees still than these,
huge lobes of fungi grew like lungs. Here, as everywhere, the
Unfulfilled Intention, which makes life what it is, was as obvious
as it could be among the depraved crowds of a city slum. The leaf
was deformed, the curve was crippled, the taper was interrupted;
the lichen eat the vigor of the stalk, and the ivy slowly
strangled to death the promising sapling.
They dived amid beeches under which nothing grew, the younger
boughs still retaining their hectic leaves, that rustled in the
breeze with a sound almost metallic, like the sheet-iron foliage
of the fabled Jarnvid wood. Some flecks of white in Grace's
drapery had enabled Giles to keep her and her father in view till
this time; but now he lost sight of them, and was obliged to
follow by ear--no difficult matter, for on the line of their
course every wood-pigeon rose from its perch with a continued
clash, dashing its wings against the branches with wellnigh force
enough to break every quill. By taking the track of this noise he
soon came to a stile.
Was it worth while to go farther? He examined the doughy soil at
the foot of the stile, and saw among the large sole-and-heel
tracks an impression of a slighter kind from a boot that was
obviously not local, for Winterborne knew all the cobblers'
patterns in that district, because they were very few to know.
The mud-picture was enough to make him swing himself over and
The character of the woodland now changed. The bases of the
smaller trees were nibbled bare by rabbits, and at divers points
heaps of fresh-made chips, and the newly-cut stool of a tree,
stared white through the undergrowth. There had been a large fall
of timber this year, which explained the meaning of some sounds
that soon reached him.
A voice was shouting intermittently in a sort of human bark, which
reminded Giles that there was a sale of trees and fagots that very
day. Melbury would naturally be present. Thereupon Winterborne
remembered that he himself wanted a few fagots, and entered upon
the scene.
A large group of buyers stood round the auctioneer, or followed
him when, between his pauses, he wandered on from one lot of
plantation produce to another, like some philosopher of the
Peripatetic school delivering his lectures in the shady groves of
the Lyceum. His companions were timber-dealers, yeomen, farmers,
villagers, and others; mostly woodland men, who on that account
could afford to be curious in their walking-sticks, which
consequently exhibited various monstrosities of vegetation, the
chief being cork-screw shapes in black and white thorn, brought to
that pattern by the slow torture of an encircling woodbine during
their growth, as the Chinese have been said to mould human beings
into grotesque toys by continued compression in infancy. Two
women, wearing men's jackets on their gowns, conducted in the rear
of the halting procession a pony-cart containing a tapped barrel
of beer, from which they drew and replenished horns that were
handed round, with bread-and-cheese from a basket.
The auctioneer adjusted himself to circumstances by using his
walking-stick as a hammer, and knocked down the lot on any
convenient object that took his fancy, such as the crown of a
little boy's head, or the shoulders of a by-stander who had no
business there except to taste the brew; a proceeding which would
have been deemed humorous but for the air of stern rigidity which
that auctioneer's face preserved, tending to show that the
eccentricity was a result of that absence of mind which is
engendered by the press of affairs, and no freak of fancy at all.
Mr. Melbury stood slightly apart from the rest of the
Peripatetics, and Grace beside him, clinging closely to his arm,
her modern attire looking almost odd where everything else was
old-fashioned, and throwing over the familiar garniture of the
trees a homeliness that seemed to demand improvement by the
addition of a few contemporary novelties also. Grace seemed to
regard the selling with the interest which attaches to memories
revived after an interval of obliviousness.
Winterborne went and stood close to them; the timber-merchant
spoke, and continued his buying; Grace merely smiled. To justify
his presence there Winterborne began bidding for timber and fagots
that he did not want, pursuing the occupation in an abstracted
mood, in which the auctioneer's voice seemed to become one of the
natural sounds of the woodland. A few flakes of snow descended,
at the sight of which a robin, alarmed at these signs of imminent
winter, and seeing that no offence was meant by the human
invasion, came and perched on the tip of the fagots that were
being sold, and looked into the auctioneer's face, while waiting
for some chance crumb from the bread-basket. Standing a little
behind Grace, Winterborne observed how one flake would sail
downward and settle on a curl of her hair, and how another would
choose her shoulder, and another the edge of her bonnet, which
took up so much of his attention that his biddings proceeded
incoherently; and when the auctioneer said, every now and then,
with a nod towards him, "Yours, Mr. Winterborne," he had no idea
whether he had bought fagots, poles, or logwood.
He regretted, with some causticity of humor, that her father
should show such inequalities of temperament as to keep Grace
tightly on his arm to-day, when he had quite lately seemed anxious
to recognize their betrothal as a fact. And thus musing, and
joining in no conversation with other buyers except when directly
addressed, he followed the assemblage hither and thither till the
end of the auction, when Giles for the first time realized what
his purchases had been. Hundreds of fagots, and divers lots of
timber, had been set down to him, when all he had required had
been a few bundles of spray for his odd man Robert Creedle's use
in baking and lighting fires.
Business being over, he turned to speak to the timber merchant.
But Melbury's manner was short and distant; and Grace, too, looked
vexed and reproachful. Winterborne then discovered that he had
been unwittingly bidding against her father, and picking up his
favorite lots in spite of him. With a very few words they left
the spot and pursued their way homeward.
Giles was extremely sorry at what he had done, and remained
standing under the trees, all the other men having strayed
silently away. He saw Melbury and his daughter pass down a glade
without looking back. While they moved slowly through it a lady
appeared on horseback in the middle distance, the line of her
progress converging upon that of Melbury's. They met, Melbury
took off his hat, and she reined in her horse. A conversation was
evidently in progress between Grace and her father and this
equestrian, in whom he was almost sure that he recognized Mrs.
Charmond, less by her outline than by the livery of the groom who
had halted some yards off.
The interlocutors did not part till after a prolonged pause,
during which much seemed to be said. When Melbury and Grace
resumed their walk it was with something of a lighter tread than
Winterborne then pursued his own course homeward. He was
unwilling to let coldness grow up between himself and the Melburys
for any trivial reason, and in the evening he went to their house.
On drawing near the gate his attention was attracted by the sight
of one of the bedrooms blinking into a state of illumination. In
it stood Grace lighting several candles, her right hand elevating
the taper, her left hand on her bosom, her face thoughtfully fixed
on each wick as it kindled, as if she saw in every flame's growth
the rise of a life to maturity. He wondered what such unusual
brilliancy could mean to-night. On getting in-doors he found her
father and step-mother in a state of suppressed excitement, which
at first he could not comprehend.
"I am sorry about my biddings to-day," said Giles. "I don't know
what I was doing. I have come to say that any of the lots you may
require are yours."
"Oh, never mind--never mind," replied the timber-merchant, with a
slight wave of his hand, "I have so much else to think of that I
nearly had forgot it. Just now, too, there are matters of a
different kind from trade to attend to, so don't let it concern
As the timber-merchant spoke, as it were, down to him from a
higher moral plane than his own, Giles turned to Mrs. Melbury.
"Grace is going to the House to-morrow," she said, quietly. "She
is looking out her things now. I dare say she is wanting me this
minute to assist her." Thereupon Mrs. Melbury left the room.
Nothing is more remarkable than the independent personality of the
tongue now and then. Mr. Melbury knew that his words had been a
sort of boast. He decried boasting, particularly to Giles; yet
whenever the subject was Grace, his judgment resigned the ministry
of speech in spite of him.
Winterborne felt surprise, pleasure, and also a little
apprehension at the news. He repeated Mrs. Melbury's words.
"Yes," said paternal pride, not sorry to have dragged out of him
what he could not in any circumstances have kept in. "Coming home
from the woods this afternoon we met Mrs. Charmond out for a ride.
She spoke to me on a little matter of business, and then got
acquainted with Grace. 'Twas wonderful how she took to Grace in a
few minutes; that freemasonry of education made 'em close at once.
Naturally enough she was amazed that such an article--ha, ha!--
could come out of my house. At last it led on to Mis'ess Grace
being asked to the House. So she's busy hunting up her frills and
furbelows to go in." As Giles remained in thought without
responding, Melbury continued: "But I'll call her down-stairs."
"No, no; don't do that, since she's busy," said Winterborne.
Melbury, feeling from the young man's manner that his own talk had
been too much at Giles and too little to him, repented at once.
His face changed, and he said, in lower tones, with an effort,
"She's yours, Giles, as far as I am concerned."
"Thanks--my best thanks....But I think, since it is all right
between us about the biddings, that I'll not interrupt her now.
I'll step homeward, and call another time."
On leaving the house he looked up at the bedroom again. Grace,
surrounded by a sufficient number of candles to answer all
purposes of self-criticism, was standing before a cheval-glass
that her father had lately bought expressly for her use; she was
bonneted, cloaked, and gloved, and glanced over her shoulder into
the mirror, estimating her aspect. Her face was lit with the
natural elation of a young girl hoping to inaugurate on the morrow
an intimate acquaintance with a new, interesting, and powerful
The inspiriting appointment which had led Grace Melbury to indulge
in a six-candle illumination for the arrangement of her attire,
carried her over the ground the next morning with a springy tread.
Her sense of being properly appreciated on her own native soil
seemed to brighten the atmosphere and herbage around her, as the
glowworm's lamp irradiates the grass. Thus she moved along, a
vessel of emotion going to empty itself on she knew not what.
Twenty minutes' walking through copses, over a stile, and along an
upland lawn brought her to the verge of a deep glen, at the bottom
of which Hintock House appeared immediately beneath her eye. To
describe it as standing in a hollow would not express the
situation of the manor-house; it stood in a hole, notwithstanding
that the hole was full of beauty. From the spot which Grace had
reached a stone could easily have been thrown over or into, the
birds'-nested chimneys of the mansion. Its walls were surmounted
by a battlemented parapet; but the gray lead roofs were quite
visible behind it, with their gutters, laps, rolls, and skylights,
together with incised letterings and shoe-patterns cut by idlers
The front of the house exhibited an ordinary manorial presentation
of Elizabethan windows, mullioned and hooded, worked in rich
snuff-colored freestone from local quarries. The ashlar of the
walls, where not overgrown with ivy and other creepers, was coated
with lichen of every shade, intensifying its luxuriance with its
nearness to the ground, till, below the plinth, it merged in moss.
Above the house to the back was a dense plantation, the roots of
whose trees were above the level of the chimneys. The
corresponding high ground on which Grace stood was richly grassed,
with only an old tree here and there. A few sheep lay about,
which, as they ruminated, looked quietly into the bedroom windows.
The situation of the house, prejudicial to humanity, was a
stimulus to vegetation, on which account an endless shearing of
the heavy-armed ivy was necessary, and a continual lopping of
trees and shrubs. It was an edifice built in times when human
constitutions were damp-proof, when shelter from the boisterous
was all that men thought of in choosing a dwelling-place, the
insidious being beneath their notice; and its hollow site was an
ocular reminder, by its unfitness for modern lives, of the
fragility to which these have declined. The highest architectural
cunning could have done nothing to make Hintock House dry and
salubrious; and ruthless ignorance could have done little to make
it unpicturesque. It was vegetable nature's own home; a spot to
inspire the painter and poet of still life--if they did not suffer
too much from the relaxing atmosphere--and to draw groans from the
gregariously disposed. Grace descended the green escarpment by a
zigzag path into the drive, which swept round beneath the slope.
The exterior of the house had been familiar to her from her
childhood, but she had never been inside, and the approach to
knowing an old thing in a new way was a lively experience. It was
with a little flutter that she was shown in; but she recollected
that Mrs. Charmond would probably be alone. Up to a few days
before this time that lady had been accompanied in her comings,
stayings, and goings by a relative believed to be her aunt;
latterly, however, these two ladies had separated, owing, it was
supposed, to a quarrel, and Mrs. Charmond had been left desolate.
Being presumably a woman who did not care for solitude, this
deprivation might possibly account for her sudden interest in
Mrs. Charmond was at the end of a gallery opening from the hall
when Miss Melbury was announced, and saw her through the glass
doors between them. She came forward with a smile on her face,
and told the young girl it was good of her to come.
"Ah! you have noticed those," she said, seeing that Grace's eyes
were attracted by some curious objects against the walls. "They
are man-traps. My husband was a connoisseur in man-traps and
spring-guns and such articles, collecting them from all his
neighbors. He knew the histories of all these--which gin had
broken a man's leg, which gun had killed a man. That one, I
remember his saying, had been set by a game-keeper in the track of
a notorious poacher; but the keeper, forgetting what he had done,
went that way himself, received the charge in the lower part of
his body, and died of the wound. I don't like them here, but I've
never yet given directions for them to be taken away." She added,
playfully, "Man-traps are of rather ominous significance where a
person of our sex lives, are they not?"
Grace was bound to smile; but that side of womanliness was one
which her inexperience had no great zest in contemplating.
"They are interesting, no doubt, as relics of a barbarous time
happily past," she said, looking thoughtfully at the varied
designs of these instruments of torture--some with semi-circular
jaws, some with rectangular; most of them with long, sharp teeth,
but a few with none, so that their jaws looked like the blank gums
of old age.
"Well, we must not take them too seriously," said Mrs. Charmond,
with an indolent turn of her head, and they moved on inward. When
she had shown her visitor different articles in cabinets that she
deemed likely to interest her, some tapestries, wood-carvings,
ivories, miniatures, and so on--always with a mien of listlessness
which might either have been constitutional, or partly owing to
the situation of the place--they sat down to an early cup of tea.
"Will you pour it out, please? Do," she said, leaning back in her
chair, and placing her hand above her forehead, while her almond
eyes--those long eyes so common to the angelic legions of early
Italian art--became longer, and her voice more languishing. She
showed that oblique-mannered softness which is perhaps most
frequent in women of darker complexion and more lymphatic
temperament than Mrs. Charmond's was; who lingeringly smile their
meanings to men rather than speak them, who inveigle rather than
prompt, and take advantage of currents rather than steer.
"I am the most inactive woman when I am here," she said. "I think
sometimes I was born to live and do nothing, nothing, nothing but
float about, as we fancy we do sometimes in dreams. But that
cannot be really my destiny, and I must struggle against such
"I am so sorry you do not enjoy exertion--it is quite sad! I wish
I could tend you and make you very happy."
There was something so sympathetic, so appreciative, in the sound
of Grace's voice, that it impelled people to play havoc with their
customary reservations in talking to her. "It is tender and kind
of you to feel that," said Mrs. Charmond. "Perhaps I have given
you the notion that my languor is more than it really is. But
this place oppresses me, and I have a plan of going abroad a good
deal. I used to go with a relative, but that arrangement has
dropped through." Regarding Grace with a final glance of
criticism, she seemed to make up her mind to consider the young
girl satisfactory, and continued: "Now I am often impelled to
record my impressions of times and places. I have often thought
of writing a 'New Sentimental Journey.' But I cannot find energy
enough to do it alone. When I am at different places in the south
of Europe I feel a crowd of ideas and fancies thronging upon me
continually, but to unfold writing-materials, take up a cold steel
pen, and put these impressions down systematically on cold, smooth
paper--that I cannot do. So I have thought that if I always could
have somebody at my elbow with whom I am in sympathy, I might
dictate any ideas that come into my head. And directly I had made
your acquaintance the other day it struck me that you would suit
me so well. Would you like to undertake it? You might read to
me, too, if desirable. Will you think it over, and ask your
parents if they are willing?"
"Oh yes," said Grace. "I am almost sure they would be very glad."
"You are so accomplished, I hear; I should be quite honored by
such intellectual company."
Grace, modestly blushing, deprecated any such idea.
"Do you keep up your lucubrations at Little Hintock?"
"Oh no. Lucubrations are not unknown at Little Hintock; but they
are not carried on by me."
"What--another student in that retreat?"
"There is a surgeon lately come, and I have heard that he reads a
great deal--I see his light sometimes through the trees late at
"Oh yes--a doctor--I believe I was told of him. It is a strange
place for him to settle in."
"It is a convenient centre for a practice, they say. But he does
not confine his studies to medicine, it seems. He investigates
theology and metaphysics and all sorts of subjects."
"What is his name?"
"Fitzpiers. He represents a very old family, I believe, the
Fitzpierses of Buckbury-Fitzpiers--not a great many miles from
"I am not sufficiently local to know the history of the family. I
was never in the county till my husband brought me here." Mrs.
Charmond did not care to pursue this line of investigation.
Whatever mysterious merit might attach to family antiquity, it was
one which, though she herself could claim it, her adaptable,
wandering weltburgerliche nature had grown tired of caring about--
a peculiarity that made her a contrast to her neighbors. "It is
of rather more importance to know what the man is himself than
what his family is," she said, "if he is going to practise upon us
as a surgeon. Have you seen him?"
Grace had not. "I think he is not a very old man," she added.
"Has he a wife?"
"I am not aware that he has."
"Well, I hope he will be useful here. I must get to know him when
I come back. It will be very convenient to have a medical man--if
he is clever--in one's own parish. I get dreadfully nervous
sometimes, living in such an outlandish place; and Sherton is so
far to send to. No doubt you feel Hintock to be a great change
after watering-place life."
"I do. But it is home. It has its advantages and its
disadvantages." Grace was thinking less of the solitude than of
the attendant circumstances.
They chatted on for some time, Grace being set quite at her ease
by her entertainer. Mrs. Charmond was far too well-practised a
woman not to know that to show a marked patronage to a sensitive
young girl who would probably be very quick to discern it, was to
demolish her dignity rather than to establish it in that young
girl's eyes. So, being violently possessed with her idea of
making use of this gentle acquaintance, ready and waiting at her
own door, she took great pains to win her confidence at starting.
Just before Grace's departure the two chanced to pause before a
mirror which reflected their faces in immediate juxtaposition, so
as to bring into prominence their resemblances and their
contrasts. Both looked attractive as glassed back by the faithful
reflector; but Grace's countenance had the effect of making Mrs.
Charmond appear more than her full age. There are complexions
which set off each other to great advantage, and there are those
which antagonize, the one killing or damaging its neighbor
unmercifully. This was unhappily the case here. Mrs. Charmond
fell into a meditation, and replied abstractedly to a cursory
remark of her companion's. However, she parted from her young
friend in the kindliest tones, promising to send and let her know
as soon as her mind was made up on the arrangement she had
When Grace had ascended nearly to the top of the adjoining slope
she looked back, and saw that Mrs. Charmond still stood at the
door, meditatively regarding her.
Often during the previous night, after his call on the Melburys,
Winterborne's thoughts ran upon Grace's announced visit to Hintock
House. Why could he not have proposed to walk with her part of
the way? Something told him that she might not, on such an
occasion, care for his company.
He was still more of that opinion when, standing in his garden
next day, he saw her go past on the journey with such a pretty
pride in the event. He wondered if her father's ambition, which
had purchased for her the means of intellectual light and culture
far beyond those of any other native of the village, would conduce
to the flight of her future interests above and away from the
local life which was once to her the movement of the world.
Nevertheless, he had her father's permission to win her if he
could; and to this end it became desirable to bring matters soon
to a crisis, if he ever hoped to do so. If she should think
herself too good for him, he could let her go and make the best of
his loss; but until he had really tested her he could not say that
she despised his suit. The question was how to quicken events
towards an issue.
He thought and thought, and at last decided that as good a way as
any would be to give a Christmas party, and ask Grace and her
parents to come as chief guests.
These ruminations were occupying him when there became audible a
slight knocking at his front door. He descended the path and
looked out, and beheld Marty South, dressed for out-door work.
"Why didn't you come, Mr. Winterborne?" she said. "I've been
waiting there hours and hours, and at last I thought I must try to
find you."
"Bless my soul, I'd quite forgot," said Giles.
What he had forgotten was that there was a thousand young firtrees
to be planted in a neighboring spot which had been cleared
by the wood-cutters, and that he had arranged to plant them with
his own hands. He had a marvellous power of making trees grow.
Although he would seem to shovel in the earth quite carelessly,
there was a sort of sympathy between himself and the fir, oak, or
beech that he was operating on, so that the roots took hold of the
soil in a few days. When, on the other hand, any of the
journeymen planted, although they seemed to go through an
identically similar process, one quarter of the trees would die
away during the ensuing August.
Hence Winterborne found delight in the work even when, as at
present, he contracted to do it on portions of the woodland in
which he had no personal interest. Marty, who turned her hand to
anything, was usually the one who performed the part of keeping
the trees in a perpendicular position while he threw in the mould.
He accompanied her towards the spot, being stimulated yet further
to proceed with the work by the knowledge that the ground was
close to the way-side along which Grace must pass on her return
from Hintock House.
"You've a cold in the head, Marty," he said, as they walked.
"That comes of cutting off your hair."
"I suppose it do. Yes; I've three headaches going on in my head
at the same time."
"Three headaches!"
"Yes, a rheumatic headache in my poll, a sick headache over my
eyes, and a misery headache in the middle of my brain. However, I
came out, for I thought you might be waiting and grumbling like
anything if I was not there."
The holes were already dug, and they set to work. Winterborne's
fingers were endowed with a gentle conjuror's touch in spreading
the roots of each little tree, resulting in a sort of caress,
under which the delicate fibres all laid themselves out in their
proper directions for growth. He put most of these roots towards
the south-west; for, he said, in forty years' time, when some
great gale is blowing from that quarter, the trees will require
the strongest holdfast on that side to stand against it and not
"How they sigh directly we put 'em upright, though while they are
lying down they don't sigh at all," said Marty.
"Do they?" said Giles. "I've never noticed it."
She erected one of the young pines into its hole, and held up her
finger; the soft musical breathing instantly set in, which was not
to cease night or day till the grown tree should be felled--
probably long after the two planters should be felled themselves.
"It seems to me," the girl continued, "as if they sigh because
they are very sorry to begin life in earnest--just as we be."
"Just as we be?" He looked critically at her. "You ought not to
feel like that, Marty."
Her only reply was turning to take up the next tree; and they
planted on through a great part of the day, almost without another
word. Winterborne's mind ran on his contemplated evening-party,
his abstraction being such that he hardly was conscious of Marty's
presence beside him. From the nature of their employment, in
which he handled the spade and she merely held the tree, it
followed that he got good exercise and she got none. But she was
an heroic girl, and though her out-stretched hand was chill as a
stone, and her cheeks blue, and her cold worse than ever, she
would not complain while he was disposed to continue work. But
when he paused she said, "Mr. Winterborne, can I run down the lane
and back to warm my feet?"
"Why, yes, of course," he said, awakening anew to her existence.
"Though I was just thinking what a mild day it is for the season.
Now I warrant that cold of yours is twice as bad as it was. You
had no business to chop that hair off, Marty; it serves you almost
right. Look here, cut off home at once."
"A run down the lane will be quite enough."
"No, it won't. You ought not to have come out to-day at all."
"But I should like to finish the--"
"Marty, I tell you to go home," said he, peremptorily. "I can
manage to keep the rest of them upright with a stick or
She went away without saying any more. When she had gone down the
orchard a little distance she looked back. Giles suddenly went
after her.
"Marty, it was for your good that I was rough, you know. But warm
yourself in your own way, I don't care."
When she had run off he fancied he discerned a woman's dress
through the holly-bushes which divided the coppice from the road.
It was Grace at last, on her way back from the interview with Mrs.
Charmond. He threw down the tree he was planting, and was about
to break through the belt of holly when he suddenly became aware
of the presence of another man, who was looking over the hedge on
the opposite side of the way upon the figure of the unconscious
Grace. He appeared as a handsome and gentlemanly personage of six
or eight and twenty, and was quizzing her through an eye-glass.
Seeing that Winterborne was noticing him, he let his glass drop
with a click upon the rail which protected the hedge, and walked
away in the opposite direction. Giles knew in a moment that this
must be Mr. Fitzpiers. When he was gone, Winterborne pushed
through the hollies, and emerged close beside the interesting
object of their contemplation.
"I heard the bushes move long before I saw you," she began. "I
said first, 'it is some terrible beast;' next, 'it is a poacher;'
next, 'it is a friend!'"
He regarded her with a slight smile, weighing, not her speech, but
the question whether he should tell her that she had been watched.
He decided in the negative.
"You have been to the house?" he said. "But I need not ask." The
fact was that there shone upon Miss Melbury's face a species of
exaltation, which saw no environing details nor his own
occupation; nothing more than his bare presence.
"Why need you not ask?"
"Your face is like the face of Moses when he came down from the
She reddened a little and said, "How can you be so profane, Giles
"How can you think so much of that class of people? Well, I beg
pardon; I didn't mean to speak so freely. How do you like her
house and her?"
"Exceedingly. I had not been inside the walls since I was a
child, when it used to be let to strangers, before Mrs. Charmond's
late husband bought the property. She is SO nice!" And Grace fell
into such an abstracted gaze at the imaginary image of Mrs.
Charmond and her niceness that it almost conjured up a vision of
that lady in mid-air before them.
"She has only been here a month or two, it seems, and cannot stay
much longer, because she finds it so lonely and damp in winter.
She is going abroad. Only think, she would like me to go with
Giles's features stiffened a little at the news. "Indeed; what
for? But I won't keep you standing here. Hoi, Robert!" he cried
to a swaying collection of clothes in the distance, which was the
figure of Creedle his man. "Go on filling in there till I come
"I'm a-coming, sir; I'm a-coming."
"Well, the reason is this," continued she, as they went on
together--" Mrs. Charmond has a delightful side to her character--
a desire to record her impressions of travel, like Alexandre
Dumas, and Mery, and Sterne, and others. But she cannot find
energy enough to do it herself." And Grace proceeded to explain
Mrs. Charmond's proposal at large. "My notion is that Mery's
style will suit her best, because he writes in that soft,
emotional, luxurious way she has," Grace said, musingly.
"Indeed!" said Winterborne, with mock awe. "Suppose you talk over
my head a little longer, Miss Grace Melbury?"
"Oh, I didn't mean it!" she said, repentantly, looking into his
eyes. "And as for myself, I hate French books. And I love dear
old Hintock, AND THE PEOPLE IN IT, fifty times better than all the
Continent. But the scheme; I think it an enchanting notion, don't
you, Giles?"
"It is well enough in one sense, but it will take yon away," said
he, mollified.
"Only for a short time. We should return in May."
"Well, Miss Melbury, it is a question for your father."
Winterborne walked with her nearly to her house. He had awaited
her coming, mainly with the view of mentioning to her his proposal
to have a Christmas party; but homely Christmas gatherings in the
venerable and jovial Hintock style seemed so primitive and uncouth
beside the lofty matters of her converse and thought that he
As soon as she was gone he turned back towards the scene of his
planting, and could not help saying to himself as he walked, that
this engagement of his was a very unpromising business. Her
outing to-day had not improved it. A woman who could go to
Hintock House and be friendly with its mistress, enter into the
views of its mistress, talk like her, and dress not much unlike
her, why, she would hardly be contented with him, a yeoman, now
immersed in tree-planting, even though he planted them well. "And
yet she's a true-hearted girl," he said, thinking of her words
about Hintock. "I must bring matters to a point, and there's an
end of it."
When he reached the plantation he found that Marty had come back,
and dismissing Creedle, he went on planting silently with the girl
as before.
"Suppose, Marty," he said, after a while, looking at her extended
arm, upon which old scratches from briers showed themselves purple
in the cold wind--"suppose you know a person, and want to bring
that person to a good understanding with you, do you think a
Christmas party of some sort is a warming-up thing, and likely to
be useful in hastening on the matter?"
"Is there to be dancing?"
"There might be, certainly."
"Will He dance with She?"
"Well, yes."
"Then it might bring things to a head, one way or the other; I
won't be the one to say which."
"It shall be done," said Winterborne, not to her, though he spoke
the words quite loudly. And as the day was nearly ended, he
added, "Here, Marty, I'll send up a man to plant the rest tomorrow.
I've other things to think of just now."
She did not inquire what other things, for she had seen him
walking with Grace Melbury. She looked towards the western sky,
which was now aglow like some vast foundery wherein new worlds
were being cast. Across it the bare bough of a tree stretched
horizontally, revealing every twig against the red, and showing in
dark profile every beck and movement of three pheasants that were
settling themselves down on it in a row to roost.
"It will be fine to-morrow," said Marty, observing them with the
vermilion light of the sun in the pupils of her eyes, "for they
are a-croupied down nearly at the end of the bough. If it were
going to be stormy they'd squeeze close to the trunk. The weather
is almost all they have to think of, isn't it, Mr. Winterborne?
and so they must be lighter-hearted than we."
"I dare say they are," said Winterborne.
Before taking a single step in the preparations, Winterborne, with
no great hopes, went across that evening to the timber-merchant's
to ascertain if Grace and her parents would honor him with their
presence. Having first to set his nightly gins in the garden, to
catch the rabbits that ate his winter-greens, his call was delayed
till just after the rising of the moon, whose rays reached the
Hintock houses but fitfully as yet, on account of the trees.
Melbury was crossing his yard on his way to call on some one at
the larger village, but he readily turned and walked up and down
the path with the young man.
Giles, in his self-deprecatory sense of living on a much smaller
scale than the Melburys did, would not for the world imply that
his invitation was to a gathering of any importance. So he put it
in the mild form of "Can you come in for an hour, when you have
done business, the day after to-morrow; and Mrs. and Miss Melbury,
if they have nothing more pressing to do?"
Melbury would give no answer at once. "No, I can't tell you today,"
he said. "I must talk it over with the women. As far as I
am concerned, my dear Giles, you know I'll come with pleasure.
But how do I know what Grace's notions may be? You see, she has
been away among cultivated folks a good while; and now this
acquaintance with Mrs. Charmond--Well, I'll ask her. I can say no
When Winterborne was gone the timber-merchant went on his way. He
knew very well that Grace, whatever her own feelings, would either
go or not go, according as he suggested; and his instinct was, for
the moment, to suggest the negative. His errand took him past the
church, and the way to his destination was either across the
church-yard or along-side it, the distances being the same. For
some reason or other he chose the former way.
The moon was faintly lighting up the gravestones, and the path,
and the front of the building. Suddenly Mr. Melbury paused,
turned ill upon the grass, and approached a particular headstone,
where he read, "In memory of John Winterborne," with the subjoined
date and age. It was the grave of Giles's father.
The timber-merchant laid his hand upon the stone, and was
humanized. "Jack, my wronged friend!" he said. "I'll be faithful
to my plan of making amends to 'ee."
When he reached home that evening, he said to Grace and Mrs.
Melbury, who were working at a little table by the fire,
"Giles wants us to go down and spend an hour with him the day
after to-morrow; and I'm thinking, that as 'tis Giles who asks us,
we'll go."
They assented without demur, and accordingly the timber-merchant
sent Giles the next morning an answer in the affirmative.
Winterborne, in his modesty, or indifference, had mentioned no
particular hour in his invitation; and accordingly Mr. Melbury and
his family, expecting no other guests, chose their own time, which
chanced to be rather early in the afternoon, by reason of the
somewhat quicker despatch than usual of the timber-merchant's
business that day. To show their sense of the unimportance of the
occasion, they walked quite slowly to the house, as if they were
merely out for a ramble, and going to nothing special at all; or
at most intending to pay a casual call and take a cup of tea.
At this hour stir and bustle pervaded the interior of
Winterborne's domicile from cellar to apple-loft. He had planned
an elaborate high tea for six o'clock or thereabouts, and a good
roaring supper to come on about eleven. Being a bachelor of
rather retiring habits, the whole of the preparations devolved
upon himself and his trusty man and familiar, Robert Creedle, who
did everything that required doing, from making Giles's bed to
catching moles in his field. He was a survival from the days when
Giles's father held the homestead, and Giles was a playing boy.
These two, with a certain dilatoriousness which appertained to
both, were now in the heat of preparation in the bake-house,
expecting nobody before six o'clock. Winterborne was standing
before the brick oven in his shirt-sleeves, tossing in thorn
sprays, and stirring about the blazing mass with a long-handled,
three-pronged Beelzebub kind of fork, the heat shining out upon
his streaming face and making his eyes like furnaces, the thorns
crackling and sputtering; while Creedle, having ranged the pastry
dishes in a row on the table till the oven should be ready, was
pressing out the crust of a final apple-pie with a rolling-pin. A
great pot boiled on the fire, and through the open door of the
back kitchen a boy was seen seated on the fender, emptying the
snuffers and scouring the candlesticks, a row of the latter
standing upside down on the hob to melt out the grease
Looking up from the rolling-pin, Creedle saw passing the window
first the timber-merchant, in his second-best suit, Mrs. Melbury
in her best silk, and Grace in the fashionable attire which, in
part brought home with her from the Continent, she had worn on her
visit to Mrs. Charmond's. The eyes of the three had been
attracted to the proceedings within by the fierce illumination
which the oven threw out upon the operators and their utensils.
"Lord, Lord! if they baint come a'ready!" said Creedle.
"No--hey?" said Giles, looking round aghast; while the boy in the
background waved a reeking candlestick in his delight. As there
was no help for it, Winterborne went to meet them in the door-way.
"My dear Giles, I see we have made a mistake in the time," said
the timber-merchant's wife, her face lengthening with concern.
"Oh, it is not much difference. I hope you'll come in."
"But this means a regular randyvoo!" said Mr. Melbury, accusingly,
glancing round and pointing towards the bake-house with his stick.
"Well, yes," said Giles.
"And--not Great Hintock band, and dancing, surely?"
"I told three of 'em they might drop in if they'd nothing else to
do," Giles mildly admitted.
"Now, why the name didn't ye tell us 'twas going to be a serious
kind of thing before? How should I know what folk mean if they
don't say? Now, shall we come in, or shall we go home and come
back along in a couple of hours?"
"I hope you'll stay, if you'll be so good as not to mind, now you
are here. I shall have it all right and tidy in a very little
time. I ought not to have been so backward." Giles spoke quite
anxiously for one of his undemonstrative temperament; for he
feared that if the Melburys once were back in their own house they
would not be disposed to turn out again.
"'Tis we ought not to have been so forward; that's what 'tis,"
said Mr. Melbury, testily. "Don't keep us here in the sittingroom;
lead on to the bakehouse, man. Now we are here we'll help
ye get ready for the rest. Here, mis'ess, take off your things,
and help him out in his baking, or he won't get done to-night.
I'll finish heating the oven, and set you free to go and skiver up
them ducks." His eye had passed with pitiless directness of
criticism into yet remote recesses of Winterborne's awkwardly
built premises, where the aforesaid birds were hanging.
"And I'll help finish the tarts," said Grace, cheerfully.
"I don't know about that," said her father. "'Tisn't quite so
much in your line as it is in your mother-law's and mine."
"Of course I couldn't let you, Grace!" said Giles, with some
"I'll do it, of course," said Mrs. Melbury, taking off her silk
train, hanging it up to a nail, carefully rolling back her
sleeves, pinning them to her shoulders, and stripping Giles of his
apron for her own use.
So Grace pottered idly about, while her father and his wife helped
on the preparations. A kindly pity of his household management,
which Winterborne saw in her eyes whenever he caught them,
depressed him much more than her contempt would have done.
Creedle met Giles at the pump after a while, when each of the
others was absorbed in the difficulties of a cuisine based on
utensils, cupboards, and provisions that were strange to them. He
groaned to the young man in a whisper, "This is a bruckle het,
maister, I'm much afeared! Who'd ha' thought they'd ha' come so
The bitter placidity of Winterborne's look adumbrated the
misgivings he did not care to express. "Have you got the celery
ready?" he asked, quickly.
"Now that's a thing I never could mind; no, not if you'd paid me
in silver and gold. And I don't care who the man is, I says that
a stick of celery that isn't scrubbed with the scrubbing-brush is
not clean."
"Very well, very well! I'll attend to it. You go and get 'em
comfortable in-doors."
He hastened to the garden, and soon returned, tossing the stalks
to Creedle, who was still in a tragic mood. "If ye'd ha' married,
d'ye see, maister," he said, "this caddle couldn't have happened
to us."
Everything being at last under way, the oven set, and all done
that could insure the supper turning up ready at some time or
other, Giles and his friends entered the parlor, where the
Melburys again dropped into position as guests, though the room
was not nearly so warm and cheerful as the blazing bakehouse.
Others now arrived, among them Farmer Bawtree and the hollowturner,
and tea went off very well.
Grace's disposition to make the best of everything, and to wink at
deficiencies in Winterborne's menage, was so uniform and
persistent that he suspected her of seeing even more deficiencies
than he was aware of. That suppressed sympathy which had showed
in her face ever since her arrival told him as much too plainly.
"This muddling style of house-keeping is what you've not lately
been used to, I suppose?" he said, when they were a little apart.
"No; but I like it; it reminds me so pleasantly that everything
here in dear old Hintock is just as it used to be. The oil is--
not quite nice; but everything else is."
"The oil?"
"On the chairs, I mean; because it gets on one's dress. Still,
mine is not a new one."
Giles found that Creedle, in his zeal to make things look bright,
had smeared the chairs with some greasy kind of furniture-polish,
and refrained from rubbing it dry in order not to diminish the
mirror-like effect that the mixture produced as laid on. Giles
apologized and called Creedle; but he felt that the Fates were
against him.
Supper-time came, and with it the hot-baked from the oven, laid on
a snowy cloth fresh from the press, and reticulated with folds, as
in Flemish "Last Suppers." Creedle and the boy fetched and
carried with amazing alacrity, the latter, to mollify his superior
and make things pleasant, expressing his admiration of Creedle's
cleverness when they were alone.
"I s'pose the time when you learned all these knowing things, Mr.
Creedle, was when you was in the militia?"
"Well, yes. I seed the world at that time somewhat, certainly,
and many ways of strange dashing life. Not but that Giles has
worked hard in helping me to bring things to such perfection today.
'Giles,' says I, though he's maister. Not that I should
call'n maister by rights, for his father growed up side by side
with me, as if one mother had twinned us and been our nourishing."
"I s'pose your memory can reach a long way back into history, Mr.
"Oh yes. Ancient days, when there was battles and famines and
hang-fairs and other pomps, seem to me as yesterday. Ah, many's
the patriarch I've seed come and go in this parish! There, he's
calling for more plates. Lord, why can't 'em turn their plates
bottom upward for pudding, as they used to do in former days?"
Meanwhile, in the adjoining room Giles was presiding in a halfunconscious
state. He could not get over the initial failures in
his scheme for advancing his suit, and hence he did not know that
he was eating mouthfuls of bread and nothing else, and continually
snuffing the two candles next him till he had reduced them to mere
glimmers drowned in their own grease. Creedle now appeared with a
specially prepared dish, which he served by elevating the little
three-legged pot that contained it, and tilting the contents into
a dish, exclaiming, simultaneously, "Draw back, gentlemen and
ladies, please!"
A splash followed. Grace gave a quick, involuntary nod and blink,
and put her handkerchief to her face.
"Good heavens! what did you do that for, Creedle?" said Giles,
sternly, and jumping up.
"'Tis how I do it when they baint here, maister," mildly
expostulated Creedle, in an aside audible to all the company.
"Well, yes--but--" replied Giles. He went over to Grace, and
hoped none of it had gone into her eye.
"Oh no," she said. "Only a sprinkle on my face. It was nothing."
"Kiss it and make it well," gallantly observed Mr. Bawtree.
Miss Melbury blushed.
The timber-merchant said, quickly, "Oh, it is nothing! She must
bear these little mishaps." But there could be discerned in his
face something which said "I ought to have foreseen this."
Giles himself, since the untoward beginning of the feast, had not
quite liked to see Grace present. He wished he had not asked such
people as Bawtree and the hollow-turner. He had done it, in
dearth of other friends, that the room might not appear empty. In
his mind's eye, before the event, they had been the mere
background or padding of the scene, but somehow in reality they
were the most prominent personages there.
After supper they played cards, Bawtree and the hollow-turner
monopolizing the new packs for an interminable game, in which a
lump of chalk was incessantly used--a game those two always played
wherever they were, taking a solitary candle and going to a
private table in a corner with the mien of persons bent on weighty
matters. The rest of the company on this account were obliged to
put up with old packs for their round game, that had been lying by
in a drawer ever since the time that Gliles's grandmother was
alive. Each card had a great stain in the middle of its back,
produced by the touch of generations of damp and excited thumbs
now fleshless in the grave; and the kings and queens wore a
decayed expression of feature, as if they were rather an
impecunious dethroned race of monarchs hiding in obscure slums
than real regal characters. Every now and then the comparatively
few remarks of the players at the round game were harshly intruded
on by the measured jingle of Farmer Bawtree and the hollow-turner
from the back of the room:
"And I' will hold' a wa'-ger with you'
That all' these marks' are thirt'-y two!"
accompanied by rapping strokes with the chalk on the table; then
an exclamation, an argument, a dealing of the cards; then the
commencement of the rhymes anew.
The timber-merchant showed his feelings by talking with a
satisfied sense of weight in his words, and by praising the party
in a patronizing tone, when Winterborne expressed his fear that he
and his were not enjoying themselves.
"Oh yes, yes; pretty much. What handsome glasses those are! I
didn't know you had such glasses in the house. Now, Lucy" (to his
wife), "you ought to get some like them for ourselves." And when
they had abandoned cards, and Winterborne was talking to Melbury
by the fire, it was the timber-merchant who stood with his back to
the mantle in a proprietary attitude, from which post of vantage
he critically regarded Giles's person, rather as a superficies
than as a solid with ideas and feelings inside it, saying, "What a
splendid coat that one is you have on, Giles! I can't get such
coats. You dress better than I."
After supper there was a dance, the bandsmen from Great Hintock
having arrived some time before. Grace had been away from home so
long that she had forgotten the old figures, and hence did not
join in the movement. Then Giles felt that all was over. As for
her, she was thinking, as she watched the gyrations, of a very
different measure that she had been accustomed to tread with a
bevy of sylph-like creatures in muslin, in the music-room of a
large house, most of whom were now moving in scenes widely removed
from this, both as regarded place and character.
A woman she did not know came and offered to tell her fortune with
the abandoned cards. Grace assented to the proposal, and the
woman told her tale unskilfully, for want of practice, as she
Mr. Melbury was standing by, and exclaimed, contemptuously, "Tell
her fortune, indeed! Her fortune has been told by men of science--
what do you call 'em? Phrenologists. You can't teach her anything
new. She's been too far among the wise ones to be astonished at
anything she can hear among us folks in Hintock."
At last the time came for breaking up, Melbury and his family
being the earliest to leave, the two card-players still pursuing
their game doggedly in the corner, where they had completely
covered Giles's mahogany table with chalk scratches. The three
walked home, the distance being short and the night clear.
"Well, Giles is a very good fellow," said Mr. Melbury, as they
struck down the lane under boughs which formed a black filigree in
which the stars seemed set.
"Certainly he is, said Grace, quickly, and in such a tone as to
show that he stood no lower, if no higher, in her regard than he
had stood before.
When they were opposite an opening through which, by day, the
doctor's house could be seen, they observed a light in one of his
rooms, although it was now about two o'clock.
"The doctor is not abed yet," said Mrs. Melbury.
"Hard study, no doubt," said her husband.
"One would think that, as he seems to have nothing to do about
here by day, he could at least afford to go to bed early at night.
'Tis astonishing how little we see of him."
Melbury's mind seemed to turn with much relief to the
contemplation of Mr. Fitzpiers after the scenes of the evening.
"It is natural enough," he replied. "What can a man of that sort
find to interest him in Hintock? I don't expect he'll stay here
His mind reverted to Giles's party, and when they were nearly home
he spoke again, his daughter being a few steps in advance: "It is
hardly the line of life for a girl like Grace, after what she's
been accustomed to. I didn't foresee that in sending her to
boarding-school and letting her travel, and what not, to make her
a good bargain for Giles, I should be really spoiling her for him.
Ah, 'tis a thousand pities! But he ought to have her--he ought!"
At this moment the two exclusive, chalk-mark men, having at last
really finished their play, could be heard coming along in the
rear, vociferously singing a song to march-time, and keeping
vigorous step to the same in far-reaching strides--
"She may go, oh!
She may go, oh!
She may go to the d---- for me!"
The timber-merchant turned indignantly to Mrs. Melbury. "That's
the sort of society we've been asked to meet," he said. "For us
old folk it didn't matter; but for Grace--Giles should have known
Meanwhile, in the empty house from which the guests had just
cleared out, the subject of their discourse was walking from room
to room surveying the general displacement of furniture with no
ecstatic feeling; rather the reverse, indeed. At last he entered
the bakehouse, and found there Robert Creedle sitting over the
embers, also lost in contemplation. Winterborne sat down beside
"Well, Robert, you must be tired. You'd better get on to bed."
"Ay, ay, Giles--what do I call ye? Maister, I would say. But 'tis
well to think the day IS done, when 'tis done."
Winterborne had abstractedly taken the poker, and with a wrinkled
forehead was ploughing abroad the wood-embers on the broad hearth,
till it was like a vast scorching Sahara, with red-hot bowlders
lying about everywhere. "Do you think it went off well, Creedle?"
he asked.
"The victuals did; that I know. And the drink did; that I
steadfastly believe, from the holler sound of the barrels. Good,
honest drink 'twere, the headiest mead I ever brewed; and the best
wine that berries could rise to; and the briskest Horner-and-
Cleeves cider ever wrung down, leaving out the spice and sperrits
I put into it, while that egg-flip would ha' passed through
muslin, so little curdled 'twere. 'Twas good enough to make any
king's heart merry--ay, to make his whole carcass smile. Still, I
don't deny I'm afeared some things didn't go well with He and
his." Creedle nodded in a direction which signified where the
Melburys lived.
"I'm afraid, too, that it was a failure there!"
"If so, 'twere doomed to be so. Not but what that snail might as
well have come upon anybody else's plate as hers."
"What snail?"
"Well, maister, there was a little one upon the edge of her plate
when I brought it out; and so it must have been in her few leaves
of wintergreen."
"How the deuce did a snail get there?"
"That I don't know no more than the dead; but there my gentleman
"But, Robert, of all places, that was where he shouldn't have
"Well, 'twas his native home, come to that; and where else could
we expect him to be? I don't care who the man is, snails and
caterpillars always will lurk in close to the stump of cabbages in
that tantalizing way."
"He wasn't alive, I suppose?" said Giles, with a shudder on
Grace's account.
"Oh no. He was well boiled. I warrant him well boiled. God
forbid that a LIVE snail should be seed on any plate of victuals
that's served by Robert Creedle....But Lord, there; I don't mind
'em myself--them small ones, for they were born on cabbage, and
they've lived on cabbage, so they must be made of cabbage. But
she, the close-mouthed little lady, she didn't say a word about
it; though 'twould have made good small conversation as to the
nater of such creatures; especially as wit ran short among us
"Oh yes--'tis all over!" murmured Giles to himself, shaking his
head over the glooming plain of embers, and lining his forehead
more than ever. "Do you know, Robert," he said, "that she's been
accustomed to servants and everything superfine these many years?
How, then, could she stand our ways?"
"Well, all I can say is, then, that she ought to hob-and-nob
elsewhere. They shouldn't have schooled her so monstrous high, or
else bachelor men shouldn't give randys, or if they do give 'em,
only to their own race."
"Perhaps that's true," said Winterborne, rising and yawning a
"'Tis a pity--a thousand pities!" her father kept saying next
morning at breakfast, Grace being still in her bedroom.
But how could he, with any self-respect, obstruct Winterborne's
suit at this stage, and nullify a scheme he had labored to
promote--was, indeed, mechanically promoting at this moment? A
crisis was approaching, mainly as a result of his contrivances,
and it would have to be met.
But here was the fact, which could not be disguised: since seeing
what an immense change her last twelve months of absence had
produced in his daughter, after the heavy sum per annum that he
had been spending for several years upon her education, he was
reluctant to let her marry Giles Winterborne, indefinitely
occupied as woodsman, cider-merchant, apple-farmer, and what not,
even were she willing to marry him herself.
"She will be his wife if you don't upset her notion that she's
bound to accept him as an understood thing," said Mrs. Melbury.
"Bless ye, she'll soon shake down here in Hintock, and be content
with Giles's way of living, which he'll improve with what money
she'll have from you. 'Tis the strangeness after her genteel life
that makes her feel uncomfortable at first. Why, when I saw
Hintock the first time I thought I never could like it. But
things gradually get familiar, and stone floors seem not so very
cold and hard, and the hooting of the owls not so very dreadful,
and loneliness not so very lonely, after a while."
"Yes, I believe ye. That's just it. I KNOW Grace will gradually
sink down to our level again, and catch our manners and way of
speaking, and feel a drowsy content in being Giles's wife. But I
can't bear the thought of dragging down to that old level as
promising a piece of maidenhood as ever lived--fit to ornament a
palace wi'--that I've taken so much trouble to lift up. Fancy her
white hands getting redder every day, and her tongue losing its
pretty up-country curl in talking, and her bounding walk becoming
the regular Hintock shail and wamble!"
"She may shail, but she'll never wamble," replied his wife,
When Grace came down-stairs he complained of her lying in bed so
late; not so much moved by a particular objection to that form of
indulgence as discomposed by these other reflections.
The corners of her pretty mouth dropped a little down. "You used
to complain with justice when I was a girl," she said. "But I am
a woman now, and can judge for myself....But it is not that; it is
something else!" Instead of sitting down she went outside the
He was sorry. The petulance that relatives show towards each
other is in truth directed against that intangible Causality which
has shaped the situation no less for the offenders than the
offended, but is too elusive to be discerned and cornered by poor
humanity in irritated mood. Melbury followed her. She had
rambled on to the paddock, where the white frost lay, and where
starlings in flocks of twenties and thirties were walking about,
watched by a comfortable family of sparrows perched in a line
along the string-course of the chimney, preening themselves in the
rays of the sun.
"Come in to breakfast, my girl," he said. "And as to Giles, use
your own mind. Whatever pleases you will please me."
"I am promised to him, father; and I cannot help thinking that in
honor I ought to marry him, whenever I do marry."
He had a strong suspicion that somewhere in the bottom of her
heart there pulsed an old simple indigenous feeling favorable to
Giles, though it had become overlaid with implanted tastes. But
he would not distinctly express his views on the promise. "Very
well," he said. "But I hope I sha'n't lose you yet. Come in to
breakfast. What did you think of the inside of Hintock House the
other day?"
"I liked it much."
"Different from friend Winterborne's?"
She said nothing; but he who knew her was aware that she meant by
her silence to reproach him with drawing cruel comparisons.
"Mrs. Charmond has asked you to come again--when, did you say?"
"She thought Tuesday, but would send the day before to let me know
if it suited her." And with this subject upon their lips they
entered to breakfast.
Tuesday came, but no message from Mrs. Charmond. Nor was there
any on Wednesday. In brief, a fortnight slipped by without a
sign, and it looked suspiciously as if Mrs. Charmond were not
going further in the direction of "taking up" Grace at present.
Her father reasoned thereon. Immediately after his daughter's two
indubitable successes with Mrs. Charmond--the interview in the
wood and a visit to the House--she had attended Winterborne's
party. No doubt the out-and-out joviality of that gathering had
made it a topic in the neighborhood, and that every one present as
guests had been widely spoken of--Grace, with her exceptional
qualities, above all. What, then, so natural as that Mrs.
Charmond should have heard the village news, and become quite
disappointed in her expectations of Grace at finding she kept such
Full of this post hoc argument, Mr. Melbury overlooked the
infinite throng of other possible reasons and unreasons for a
woman changing her mind. For instance, while knowing that his
Grace was attractive, he quite forgot that Mrs. Charmond had also
great pretensions to beauty. In his simple estimate, an
attractive woman attracted all around.
So it was settled in his mind that her sudden mingling with the
villagers at the unlucky Winterborne's was the cause of her most
grievous loss, as he deemed it, in the direction of Hintock House.
"'Tis a thousand pities!" he would repeat to himself. "I am
ruining her for conscience' sake!"
It was one morning later on, while these things were agitating his
mind, that, curiously enough, something darkened the window just
as they finished breakfast. Looking up, they saw Giles in person
mounted on horseback, and straining his neck forward, as he had
been doing for some time, to catch their attention through the
window. Grace had been the first to see him, and involuntarily
exclaimed, "There he is--and a new horse!"
On their faces as they regarded Giles were written their suspended
thoughts and compound feelings concerning him, could he have read
them through those old panes. But he saw nothing: his features
just now were, for a wonder, lit up with a red smile at some other
idea. So they rose from breakfast and went to the door, Grace
with an anxious, wistful manner, her father in a reverie, Mrs.
Melbury placid and inquiring. "We have come out to look at your
horse," she said.
It could be seen that he was pleased at their attention, and
explained that he had ridden a mile or two to try the animal's
paces. "I bought her," he added, with warmth so severely
repressed as to seem indifference, "because she has been used to
carry a lady."
Still Mr. Melbury did not brighten. Mrs. Melbury said, "And is
she quiet?"
Winterborne assured her that there was no doubt of it. "I took
care of that. She's five-and-twenty, and very clever for her
"Well, get off and come in," said Melbury, brusquely; and Giles
dismounted accordingly.
This event was the concrete result of Winterborne's thoughts
during the past week or two. The want of success with his evening
party he had accepted in as philosophic a mood as he was capable
of; but there had been enthusiasm enough left in him one day at
Sherton Abbas market to purchase this old mare, which had belonged
to a neighboring parson with several daughters, and was offered
him to carry either a gentleman or a lady, and to do odd jobs of
carting and agriculture at a pinch. This obliging quadruped
seemed to furnish Giles with a means of reinstating himself in
Melbury's good opinion as a man of considerateness by throwing out
future possibilities to Grace.
The latter looked at him with intensified interest this morning,
in the mood which is altogether peculiar to woman's nature, and
which, when reduced into plain words, seems as impossible as the
penetrability of matter--that of entertaining a tender pity for
the object of her own unnecessary coldness. The imperturbable
poise which marked Winterborne in general was enlivened now by a
freshness and animation that set a brightness in his eye and on
his cheek. Mrs. Melbury asked him to have some breakfast, and he
pleasurably replied that he would join them, with his usual lack
of tactical observation, not perceiving that they had all finished
the meal, that the hour was inconveniently late, and that the note
piped by the kettle denoted it to be nearly empty; so that fresh
water had to be brought in, trouble taken to make it boil, and a
general renovation of the table carried out. Neither did he know,
so full was he of his tender ulterior object in buying that horse,
how many cups of tea he was gulping down one after another, nor
how the morning was slipping, nor how he was keeping the family
from dispersing about their duties.
Then he told throughout the humorous story of the horse's
purchase,looking particularly grim at some fixed object in the
room, a way he always looked when he narrated anything that amused
him. While he was still thinking of the scene he had described,
Grace rose and said, "I have to go and help my mother now, Mr.
"H'm!" he ejaculated, turning his eyes suddenly upon her.
She repeated her words with a slight blush of awkwardness;
whereupon Giles, becoming suddenly conscious, too conscious,
jumped up, saying, "To be sure, to be sure!" wished them quickly
good-morning, and bolted out of the house.
Nevertheless he had, upon the whole, strengthened his position,
with her at least. Time, too, was on his side, for (as her father
saw with some regret) already the homeliness of Hintock life was
fast becoming effaced from her observation as a singularity; just
as the first strangeness of a face from which we have for years
been separated insensibly passes off with renewed intercourse, and
tones itself down into simple identity with the lineaments of the
Thus Mr. Melbury went out of the house still unreconciled to the
sacrifice of the gem he had been at such pains in mounting. He
fain could hope, in the secret nether chamber of his mind, that
something would happen, before the balance of her feeling had
quite turned in Winterborne's favor, to relieve his conscience and
preserve her on her elevated plane.
He could not forget that Mrs. Charmond had apparently abandoned
all interest in his daughter as suddenly as she had conceived it,
and was as firmly convinced as ever that the comradeship which
Grace had shown with Giles and his crew by attending his party had
been the cause.
Matters lingered on thus. And then, as a hoop by gentle knocks on
this side and on that is made to travel in specific directions,
the little touches of circumstance in the life of this young girl
shaped the curves of her career.
It was a day of rather bright weather for the season. Miss
Melbury went out for a morning walk, and her ever-regardful
father, having an hour's leisure, offered to walk with her. The
breeze was fresh and quite steady, filtering itself through the
denuded mass of twigs without swaying them, but making the point
of each ivy-leaf on the trunks scratch its underlying neighbor
restlessly. Grace's lips sucked in this native air of hers like
milk. They soon reached a place where the wood ran down into a
corner, and went outside it towards comparatively open ground.
Having looked round about, they were intending to re-enter the
copse when a fox quietly emerged with a dragging brush, trotted
past them tamely as a domestic cat, and disappeared amid some dead
fern. They walked on, her father merely observing, after watching
the animal, "They are hunting somewhere near."
Farther up they saw in the mid-distance the hounds running hither
and thither, as if there were little or no scent that day. Soon
divers members of the hunt appeared on the scene, and it was
evident from their movements that the chase had been stultified by
general puzzle-headedness as to the whereabouts of the intended
victim. In a minute a farmer rode up to the two pedestrians,
panting with acteonic excitement, and Grace being a few steps in
advance, he addressed her, asking if she had seen the fox.
"Yes," said she. "We saw him some time ago--just out there."
"Did you cry Halloo?"
"We said nothing."
"Then why the d--- didn't you, or get the old buffer to do it for
you?" said the man, as he cantered away.
She looked rather disconcerted at this reply, and observing her
father's face, saw that it was quite red.
"He ought not to have spoken to ye like that!" said the old man,
in the tone of one whose heart was bruised, though it was not by
the epithet applied to himself. "And he wouldn't if he had been a
gentleman. 'Twas not the language to use to a woman of any
niceness. You, so well read and cultivated--how could he expect
ye to know what tom-boy field-folk are in the habit of doing? If
so be you had just come from trimming swedes or mangolds--joking
with the rough work-folk and all that--I could have stood it. But
hasn't it cost me near a hundred a year to lift you out of all
that, so as to show an example to the neighborhood of what a woman
can be? Grace, shall I tell you the secret of it? 'Twas because I
was in your company. If a black-coated squire or pa'son had been
walking with you instead of me he wouldn't have spoken so."
"No, no, father; there's nothing in you rough or ill-mannered!"
"I tell you it is that! I've noticed, and I've noticed it many
times, that a woman takes her color from the man she's walking
with. The woman who looks an unquestionable lady when she's with
a polished-up fellow, looks a mere tawdry imitation article when
she's hobbing and nobbing with a homely blade. You sha'n't be
treated like that for long, or at least your children sha'n't.
You shall have somebody to walk with you who looks more of a dandy
than I--please God you shall!"
"But, my dear father," she said, much distressed, "I don't mind at
all. I don't wish for more honor than I already have!"
"A perplexing and ticklish possession is a daughter," according to
Menander or some old Greek poet, and to nobody was one ever more
so than to Melbury, by reason of her very dearness to him. As for
Grace, she began to feel troubled; she did not perhaps wish there
and then to unambitiously devote her life to Giles Winterborne,
but she was conscious of more and more uneasiness at the
possibility of being the social hope of the family.
"You would like to have more honor, if it pleases me?" asked her
father, in continuation of the subject.
Despite her feeling she assented to this. His reasoning had not
been without its weight upon her.
"Grace," he said, just before they had reached the house, "if it
costs me my life you shall marry well! To-day has shown me that
whatever a young woman's niceness, she stands for nothing alone.
You shall marry well."
He breathed heavily, and his breathing was caught up by the
breeze, which seemed to sigh a soft remonstrance.
She looked calmly at him. "And how about Mr. Winterborne?" she
asked. "I mention it, father, not as a matter of sentiment, but
as a question of keeping faith."
The timber-merchant's eyes fell for a moment. "I don't know--I
don't know," he said. "'Tis a trying strait. Well, well; there's
no hurry. We'll wait and see how he gets on."
That evening he called her into his room, a snug little apartment
behind the large parlor. It had at one time been part of the
bakehouse, with the ordinary oval brick oven in the wall; but Mr.
Melbury, in turning it into an office, had built into the cavity
an iron safe, which he used for holding his private papers. The
door of the safe was now open, and his keys were hanging from it.
"Sit down, Grace, and keep me company," he said. "You may amuse
yourself by looking over these." He threw out a heap of papers
before her.
"What are they?" she asked.
"Securities of various sorts." He unfolded them one by one.
"Papers worth so much money each. Now here's a lot of turnpike
bonds for one thing. Would you think that each of these pieces of
paper is worth two hundred pounds?"
"No, indeed, if you didn't say so."
"'Tis so, then. Now here are papers of another sort. They are
for different sums in the three-per-cents. Now these are Port
Breedy Harbor bonds. We have a great stake in that harbor, you
know, because I send off timber there. Open the rest at your
pleasure. They'll interest ye."
"Yes, I will, some day," said she, rising.
"Nonsense, open them now. You ought to learn a little of such
matters. A young lady of education should not be ignorant of
money affairs altogether. Suppose you should be left a widow some
day, with your husband's title-deeds and investments thrown upon
your hands--"
"Don't say that, father--title-deeds; it sounds so vain!"
"It does not. Come to that, I have title-deeds myself. There,
that piece of parchment represents houses in Sherton Abbas."
"Yes, but--" She hesitated, looked at the fire, and went on in a
low voice: "If what has been arranged about me should come to
anything, my sphere will be quite a middling one."
"Your sphere ought not to be middling," he exclaimed, not in
passion, but in earnest conviction. "You said you never felt more
at home, more in your element, anywhere than you did that
afternoon with Mrs. Charmond, when she showed you her house and
all her knick-knacks, and made you stay to tea so nicely in her
drawing-room--surely you did!"
"Yes, I did say so," admitted Grace.
"Was it true?"
"Yes, I felt so at the time. The feeling is less strong now,
"Ah! Now, though you don't see it, your feeling at the time was
the right one, because your mind and body were just in full and
fresh cultivation, so that going there with her was like meeting
like. Since then you've been biding with us, and have fallen back
a little, and so you don't feel your place so strongly. Now, do
as I tell ye, and look over these papers and see what you'll be
worth some day. For they'll all be yours, you know; who have I
got to leave 'em to but you? Perhaps when your education is
backed up by what these papers represent, and that backed up by
another such a set and their owner, men such as that fellow was
this morning may think you a little more than a buffer's girl."
So she did as commanded, and opened each of the folded
representatives of hard cash that her father put before her. To
sow in her heart cravings for social position was obviously his
strong desire, though in direct antagonism to a better feeling
which had hitherto prevailed with him, and had, indeed, only
succumbed that morning during the ramble.
She wished that she was not his worldly hope; the responsibility
of such a position was too great. She had made it for herself
mainly by her appearance and attractive behavior to him since her
return. "If I had only come home in a shabby dress, and tried to
speak roughly, this might not have happened," she thought. She
deplored less the fact than the sad possibilities that might lie
hidden therein.
Her father then insisted upon her looking over his checkbook and
reading the counterfoils. This, also, she obediently did, and at
last came to two or three which had been drawn to defray some of
the late expenses of her clothes, board, and education.
"I, too, cost a good deal, like the horses and wagons and corn,"
she said, looking up sorrily.
"I didn't want you to look at those; I merely meant to give you an
idea of my investment transactions. But if you do cost as much as
they, never mind. You'll yield a better return."
"Don't think of me like that!" she begged. "A mere chattel."
"A what? Oh, a dictionary word. Well, as that's in your line I
don't forbid it, even if it tells against me," he said, goodhumoredly.
And he looked her proudly up and down.
A few minutes later Grammer Oliver came to tell them that supper
was ready, and in giving the information she added, incidentally,
"So we shall soon lose the mistress of Hintock House for some
time, I hear, Maister Melbury. Yes, she's going off to foreign
parts to-morrow, for the rest of the winter months; and be-chok'd
if I don't wish I could do the same, for my wynd-pipe is furred
like a flue."
When the old woman had left the room, Melbury turned to his
daughter and said, "So, Grace, you've lost your new friend, and
your chance of keeping her company and writing her travels is
quite gone from ye!"
Grace said nothing.
"Now," he went on, emphatically, "'tis Winterborne's affair has
done this. Oh yes, 'tis. So let me say one word. Promise me
that you will not meet him again without my knowledge."
"I never do meet him, father, either without your knowledge or
with it."
"So much the better. I don't like the look of this at all. And I
say it not out of harshness to him, poor fellow, but out of
tenderness to you. For how could a woman, brought up delicately
as you have been, bear the roughness of a life with him?"
She sighed; it was a sigh of sympathy with Giles, complicated by a
sense of the intractability of circumstances.
At that same hour, and almost at that same minute, there was a
conversation about Winterborne in progress in the village street,
opposite Mr. Melbury's gates, where Timothy Tangs the elder and
Robert Creedle had accidentally met.
The sawyer was asking Creedle if he had heard what was all over
the parish, the skin of his face being drawn two ways on the
matter--towards brightness in respect of it as news, and towards
concern in respect of it as circumstance.
"Why, that poor little lonesome thing, Marty South, is likely to
lose her father. He was almost well, but is much worse again. A
man all skin and grief he ever were, and if he leave Little
Hintock for a better land, won't it make some difference to your
Maister Winterborne, neighbor Creedle?"
"Can I be a prophet in Israel?" said Creedle. "Won't it! I was
only shaping of such a thing yesterday in my poor, long-seeing
way, and all the work of the house upon my one shoulders! You know
what it means? It is upon John South's life that all Mr.
Winterborne's houses hang. If so be South die, and so make his
decease, thereupon the law is that the houses fall without the
least chance of absolution into HER hands at the House. I told
him so; but the words of the faithful be only as wind!"
The news was true. The life--the one fragile life--that had been
used as a measuring-tape of time by law, was in danger of being
frayed away. It was the last of a group of lives which had served
this purpose, at the end of whose breathings the small homestead
occupied by South himself, the larger one of Giles Winterborne,
and half a dozen others that had been in the possession of various
Hintock village families for the previous hundred years, and were
now Winterborne's, would fall in and become part of the
encompassing estate.
Yet a short two months earlier Marty's father, aged fifty-five
years, though something of a fidgety, anxious being, would have
been looked on as a man whose existence was so far removed from
hazardous as any in the parish, and as bidding fair to be
prolonged for another quarter of a century.
Winterborne walked up and down his garden next day thinking of the
contingency. The sense that the paths he was pacing, the cabbageplots,
the apple-trees, his dwelling, cider-cellar, wring-house,
stables, and weathercock, were all slipping away over his head and
beneath his feet, as if they were painted on a magic-lantern
slide, was curious. In spite of John South's late indisposition
he had not anticipated danger. To inquire concerning his health
had been to show less sympathy than to remain silent, considering
the material interest he possessed in the woodman's life, and he
had, accordingly, made a point of avoiding Marty's house.
While he was here in the garden somebody came to fetch him. It
was Marty herself, and she showed her distress by her
unconsciousness of a cropped poll.
"Father is still so much troubled in his mind about that tree,"
she said. "You know the tree I mean, Mr. Winterborne? the tall
one in front of the house, that he thinks will blow down and kill
us. Can you come and see if you can persuade him out of his
notion? I can do nothing."
He accompanied her to the cottage, and she conducted him upstairs.
John South was pillowed up in a chair between the bed and
the window exactly opposite the latter, towards which his face was
"Ah, neighbor Winterborne," he said. "I wouldn't have minded if
my life had only been my own to lose; I don't vallie it in much of
itself, and can let it go if 'tis required of me. But to think
what 'tis worth to you, a young man rising in life, that do
trouble me! It seems a trick of dishonesty towards ye to go off at
fifty-five! I could bear up, I know I could, if it were not for
the tree--yes, the tree, 'tis that's killing me. There he stands,
threatening my life every minute that the wind do blow. He'll
come down upon us and squat us dead; and what will ye do when the
life on your property is taken away?"
"Never you mind me--that's of no consequence," said Giles. "Think
of yourself alone."
He looked out of the window in the direction of the woodman's
gaze. The tree was a tall elm, familiar to him from childhood,
which stood at a distance of two-thirds its own height from the
front of South's dwelling. Whenever the wind blew, as it did now,
the tree rocked, naturally enough; and the sight of its motion and
sound of its sighs had gradually bred the terrifying illusion in
the woodman's mind that it would descend and kill him. Thus he
would sit all day, in spite of persuasion, watching its every
sway, and listening to the melancholy Gregorian melodies which the
air wrung out of it. This fear it apparently was, rather than any
organic disease which was eating away the health of John South.
As the tree waved, South waved his head, making it his flugel-man
with abject obedience. "Ah, when it was quite a small tree," he
said, "and I was a little boy, I thought one day of chopping it
off with my hook to make a clothes-line prop with. But I put off
doing it, and then I again thought that I would; but I forgot it,
and didn't. And at last it got too big, and now 'tis my enemy,
and will be the death o' me. Little did I think, when I let that
sapling stay, that a time would come when it would torment me, and
dash me into my grave."
"No, no," said Winterborne and Marty, soothingly. But they
thought it possible that it might hasten him into his grave,
though in another way than by falling.
"I tell you what," added Winterborne, "I'll climb up this
afternoon and shroud off the lower boughs, and then it won't be so
heavy, and the wind won't affect it so."
"She won't allow it--a strange woman come from nobody knows where--
she won't have it done."
"You mean Mrs. Charmond? Oh, she doesn't know there's such a tree
on her estate. Besides, shrouding is not felling, and I'll risk
that much."
He went out, and when afternoon came he returned, took a billhook
from the woodman's shed, and with a ladder climbed into the lower
part of the tree, where he began lopping off--"shrouding," as they
called it at Hintock--the lowest boughs. Each of these quivered
under his attack, bent, cracked, and fell into the hedge. Having
cut away the lowest tier, he stepped off the ladder, climbed a few
steps higher, and attacked those at the next level. Thus he
ascended with the progress of his work far above the top of the
ladder, cutting away his perches as he went, and leaving nothing
but a bare stem below him.
The work was troublesome, for the tree was large. The afternoon
wore on, turning dark and misty about four o'clock. From time to
time Giles cast his eyes across towards the bedroom window of
South, where, by the flickering fire in the chamber, he could see
the old man watching him, sitting motionless with a hand upon each
arm of the chair. Beside him sat Marty, also straining her eyes
towards the skyey field of his operations.
A curious question suddenly occurred to Winterborne, and he
stopped his chopping. He was operating on another person's
property to prolong the years of a lease by whose termination that
person would considerably benefit. In that aspect of the case he
doubted if he ought to go on. On the other hand he was working to
save a man's life, and this seemed to empower him to adopt
arbitrary measures.
The wind had died down to a calm, and while he was weighing the
circumstances he saw coming along the road through the increasing
mist a figure which, indistinct as it was, he knew well. It was
Grace Melbury, on her way out from the house, probably for a short
evening walk before dark. He arranged himself for a greeting from
her, since she could hardly avoid passing immediately beneath the
But Grace, though she looked up and saw him, was just at that time
too full of the words of her father to give him any encouragement.
The years-long regard that she had had for him was not kindled by
her return into a flame of sufficient brilliancy to make her
rebellious. Thinking that she might not see him, he cried, "Miss
Melbury, here I am."
She looked up again. She was near enough to see the expression of
his face, and the nails in his soles, silver-bright with constant
walking. But she did not reply; and dropping her glance again,
went on.
Winterborne's face grew strange; he mused, and proceeded
automatically with his work. Grace meanwhile had not gone far.
She had reached a gate, whereon she had leaned sadly, and
whispered to herself, "What shall I do?"
A sudden fog came on, and she curtailed her walk, passing under
the tree again on her return. Again he addressed her. "Grace,"
he said, when she was close to the trunk, "speak to me." She shook
her head without stopping, and went on to a little distance, where
she stood observing him from behind the hedge.
Her coldness had been kindly meant. If it was to be done, she had
said to herself, it should be begun at once. While she stood out
of observation Giles seemed to recognize her meaning; with a
sudden start he worked on, climbing higher, and cutting himself
off more and more from all intercourse with the sublunary world.
At last he had worked himself so high up the elm, and the mist had
so thickened, that he could only just be discerned as a dark-gray
spot on the light-gray sky: he would have been altogether out of
notice but for the stroke of his billhook and the flight of a
bough downward, and its crash upon the hedge at intervals.
It was not to be done thus, after all: plainness and candor were
best. She went back a third time; he did not see her now, and she
lingeringly gazed up at his unconscious figure, loath to put an
end to any kind of hope that might live on in him still. "Giles--
Mr. Winterborne," she said.
He was so high amid the fog that he did not hear. "Mr.
Winterborne!" she cried again, and this time he stopped, looked
down, and replied.
"My silence just now was not accident," she said, in an unequal
voice. "My father says it is best not to think too much of that--
engagement, or understanding between us, that you know of. I,
too, think that upon the whole he is right. But we are friends,
you know, Giles, and almost relations."
"Very well," he answered, as if without surprise, in a voice which
barely reached down the tree. "I have nothing to say in
objection--I cannot say anything till I've thought a while."
She added, with emotion in her tone, "For myself, I would have
married you--some day--I think. But I give way, for I see it
would be unwise."
He made no reply, but sat back upon a bough, placed his elbow in a
fork, and rested his head upon his hand. Thus he remained till
the fog and the night had completely enclosed him from her view.
Grace heaved a divided sigh, with a tense pause between, and moved
onward, her heart feeling uncomfortably big and heavy, and her
eyes wet. Had Giles, instead of remaining still, immediately come
down from the tree to her, would she have continued in that filial
acquiescent frame of mind which she had announced to him as final?
If it be true, as women themselves have declared, that one of
their sex is never so much inclined to throw in her lot with a man
for good and all as five minutes after she has told him such a
thing cannot be, the probabilities are that something might have
been done by the appearance of Winterborne on the ground beside
Grace. But he continued motionless and silent in that gloomy
Niflheim or fog-land which involved him, and she proceeded on her
The spot seemed now to be quite deserted. The light from South's
window made rays on the fog, but did not reach the tree. A
quarter of an hour passed, and all was blackness overhead. Giles
had not yet come down.
Then the tree seemed to shiver, then to heave a sigh; a movement
was audible, and Winterborne dropped almost noiselessly to the
ground. He had thought the matter out, and having returned the
ladder and billhook to their places, pursued his way homeward. He
would not allow this incident to affect his outer conduct any more
than the danger to his leaseholds had done, and went to bed as
usual. Two simultaneous troubles do not always make a double
trouble; and thus it came to pass that Giles's practical anxiety
about his houses, which would have been enough to keep him awake
half the night at any other time, was displaced and not reinforced
by his sentimental trouble about Grace Melbury. This severance
was in truth more like a burial of her than a rupture with her;
but he did not realize so much at present; even when he arose in
the morning he felt quite moody and stern: as yet the second note
in the gamut of such emotions, a tender regret for his loss, had
not made itself heard.
A load of oak timber was to be sent away that morning to a builder
whose works were in a town many miles off. The proud trunks were
taken up from the silent spot which had known them through the
buddings and sheddings of their growth for the foregoing hundred
years; chained down like slaves to a heavy timber carriage with
enormous red wheels, and four of the most powerful of Melbury's
horses were harnessed in front to draw them.
The horses wore their bells that day. There were sixteen to the
team, carried on a frame above each animal's shoulders, and tuned
to scale, so as to form two octaves, running from the highest note
on the right or off-side of the leader to the lowest on the left
or near-side of the shaft-horse. Melbury was among the last to
retain horse-bells in that neighborhood; for, living at Little
Hintock, where the lanes yet remained as narrow as before the days
of turnpike roads, these sound-signals were still as useful to him
and his neighbors as they had ever been in former times. Much
backing was saved in the course of a year by the warning notes
they cast ahead; moreover, the tones of all the teams in the
district being known to the carters of each, they could tell a
long way off on a dark night whether they were about to encounter
friends or strangers.
The fog of the previous evening still lingered so heavily over the
woods that the morning could not penetrate the trees till long
after its time. The load being a ponderous one, the lane crooked,
and the air so thick, Winterborne set out, as he often did, to
accompany the team as far as the corner, where it would turn into
a wider road.
So they rumbled on, shaking the foundations of the roadside
cottages by the weight of their progress, the sixteen bells
chiming harmoniously over all, till they had risen out of the
valley and were descending towards the more open route, the sparks
rising from their creaking skid and nearly setting fire to the
dead leaves alongside.
Then occurred one of the very incidents against which the bells
were an endeavor to guard. Suddenly there beamed into their eyes,
quite close to them, the two lamps of a carriage, shorn of rays by
the fog. Its approach had been quite unheard, by reason of their
own noise. The carriage was a covered one, while behind it could
be discerned another vehicle laden with luggage.
Winterborne went to the head of the team, and heard the coachman
telling the carter that he must turn back. The carter declared
that this was impossible.
"You can turn if you unhitch your string-horses," said the
"It is much easier for you to turn than for us," said Winterborne.
"We've five tons of timber on these wheels if we've an ounce."
"But I've another carriage with luggage at my back."
Winterborne admitted the strength of the argument. "But even with
that," he said, "you can back better than we. And you ought to,
for you could hear our bells half a mile off."
"And you could see our lights."
"We couldn't, because of the fog."
"Well, our time's precious," said the coachman, haughtily. "You
are only going to some trumpery little village or other in the
neighborhood, while we are going straight to Italy."
"Driving all the way, I suppose," said Winterborne, sarcastically.
The argument continued in these terms till a voice from the
interior of the carriage inquired what was the matter. It was a
She was briefly informed of the timber people's obstinacy; and
then Giles could hear her telling the footman to direct the timber
people to turn their horses' heads.
The message was brought, and Winterborne sent the bearer back to
say that he begged the lady's pardon, but that he could not do as
she requested; that though he would not assert it to be
impossible, it was impossible by comparison with the slight
difficulty to her party to back their light carriages. As fate
would have it, the incident with Grace Melbury on the previous day
made Giles less gentle than he might otherwise have shown himself,
his confidence in the sex being rudely shaken.
In fine, nothing could move him, and the carriages were compelled
to back till they reached one of the sidings or turnouts
constructed in the bank for the purpose. Then the team came on
ponderously, and the clanging of its sixteen bells as it passed
the discomfited carriages, tilted up against the bank, lent a
particularly triumphant tone to the team's progress--a tone which,
in point of fact, did not at all attach to its conductor's
Giles walked behind the timber, and just as he had got past the
yet stationary carriages he heard a soft voice say, "Who is that
rude man? Not Melbury?" The sex of the speaker was so prominent in
the voice that Winterborne felt a pang of regret.
"No, ma'am. A younger man, in a smaller way of business in Little
Hintock. Winterborne is his name."
Thus they parted company. "Why, Mr. Winterborne," said the
wagoner, when they were out of hearing, "that was She--Mrs.
Charmond! Who'd ha' thought it? What in the world can a woman that
does nothing be cock-watching out here at this time o' day for?
Oh, going to Italy--yes to be sure, I heard she was going abroad,
she can't endure the winter here."
Winterborne was vexed at the incident; the more so that he knew
Mr. Melbury, in his adoration of Hintock House, would be the first
to blame him if it became known. But saying no more, he
accompanied the load to the end of the lane, and then turned back
with an intention to call at South's to learn the result of the
experiment of the preceding evening.
It chanced that a few minutes before this time Grace Melbury, who
now rose soon enough to breakfast with her father, in spite of the
unwontedness of the hour, had been commissioned by him to make the
same inquiry at South's. Marty had been standing at the door when
Miss Melbury arrived. Almost before the latter had spoken, Mrs.
Charmond's carriages, released from the obstruction up the lane,
came bowling along, and the two girls turned to regard the
Mrs. Charmond did not see them, but there was sufficient light for
them to discern her outline between the carriage windows. A
noticeable feature in her tournure was a magnificent mass of
braided locks.
"How well she looks this morning!" said Grace, forgetting Mrs.
Charmond's slight in her generous admiration. "Her hair so
becomes her worn that way. I have never seen any more beautiful!"
"Nor have I, miss," said Marty, dryly, unconsciously stroking her
Grace watched the carriages with lingering regret till they were
out of sight. She then learned of Marty that South was no better.
Before she had come away Winterborne approached the house, but
seeing that one of the two girls standing on the door-step was
Grace, he suddenly turned back again and sought the shelter of his
own home till she should have gone away.
The encounter with the carriages having sprung upon Winterborne's
mind the image of Mrs. Charmond, his thoughts by a natural channel
went from her to the fact that several cottages and other houses
in the two Hintocks, now his own, would fall into her possession
in the event of South's death. He marvelled what people could
have been thinking about in the past to invent such precarious
tenures as these; still more, what could have induced his
ancestors at Hintock, and other village people, to exchange their
old copyholds for life-leases. But having naturally succeeded to
these properties through his father, he had done his best to keep
them in order, though he was much struck with his father's
negligence in not insuring South's life.
After breakfast, still musing on the circumstances, he went upstairs,
turned over his bed, and drew out a flat canvas bag which
lay between the mattress and the sacking. In this he kept his
leases, which had remained there unopened ever since his father's
death. It was the usual hiding-place among rural lifeholders for
such documents. Winterborne sat down on the bed and looked them
over. They were ordinary leases for three lives, which a member
of the South family, some fifty years before this time, had
accepted of the lord of the manor in lieu of certain copyholds and
other rights, in consideration of having the dilapidated houses
rebuilt by said lord. They had come into his father's possession
chiefly through his mother, who was a South.
Pinned to the parchment of one of the indentures was a letter,
which Winterborne had never seen before. It bore a remote date,
the handwriting being that of some solicitor or agent, and the
signature the landholder's. It was to the effect that at any time
before the last of the stated lives should drop, Mr. Giles
Winterborne, senior, or his representative, should have the
privilege of adding his own and his son's life to the life
remaining on payment of a merely nominal sum; the concession being
in consequence of the elder Winterborne's consent to demolish one
of the houses and relinquish its site, which stood at an awkward
corner of the lane and impeded the way.
The house had been pulled down years before. Why Giles's father
had not taken advantage of his privilege to insert his own and his
son's lives it was impossible to say. The likelihood was that
death alone had hindered him in the execution of his project, as
it surely was, the elder Winterborne having been a man who took
much pleasure in dealing with house property in his small way.
Since one of the Souths still survived, there was not much doubt
that Giles could do what his father had left undone, as far as his
own life was concerned. This possibility cheered him much, for by
those houses hung many things. Melbury's doubt of the young man's
fitness to be the husband of Grace had been based not a little on
the precariousness of his holdings in Little and Great Hintock.
He resolved to attend to the business at once, the fine for
renewal being a sum that he could easily muster. His scheme,
however, could not be carried out in a day; and meanwhile he would
run up to South's, as he had intended to do, to learn the result
of the experiment with the tree.
Marty met him at the door. "Well, Marty," he said; and was
surprised to read in her face that the case was not so hopeful as
he had imagined.
"I am sorry for your labor," she said. "It is all lost. He says
the tree seems taller than ever."
Winterborne looked round at it. Taller the tree certainly did
seem, the gauntness of its now naked stem being more marked than
"It quite terrified him when he first saw what you had done to it
this morning," she added. "He declares it will come down upon us
and cleave us, like 'the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.'"
"Well; can I do anything else?" asked he.
"The doctor says the tree ought to be cut down."
"Oh--you've had the doctor?"
"I didn't send for him Mrs. Charmond, before she left, heard that
father was ill, and told him to attend him at her expense."
"That was very good of her. And he says it ought to be cut down.
We mustn't cut it down without her knowledge, I suppose."
He went up-stairs. There the old man sat, staring at the now
gaunt tree as if his gaze were frozen on to its trunk. Unluckily
the tree waved afresh by this time, a wind having sprung up and
blown the fog away, and his eyes turned with its wavings.
They heard footsteps--a man's, but of a lighter type than usual.
"There is Doctor Fitzpiers again," she said, and descended.
Presently his tread was heard on the naked stairs.
Mr. Fitzpiers entered the sick-chamber just as a doctor is more or
less wont to do on such occasions, and pre-eminently when the room
is that of a humble cottager, looking round towards the patient
with that preoccupied gaze which so plainly reveals that he has
wellnigh forgotten all about the case and the whole circumstances
since he dismissed them from his mind at his last exit from the
same apartment. He nodded to Winterborne, with whom he was
already a little acquainted, recalled the case to his thoughts,
and went leisurely on to where South sat.
Fitzpiers was, on the whole, a finely formed, handsome man. His
eyes were dark and impressive, and beamed with the light either of
energy or of susceptivity--it was difficult to say which; it might
have been a little of both. That quick, glittering, practical
eye, sharp for the surface of things and for nothing beneath it,
he had not. But whether his apparent depth of vision was real, or
only an artistic accident of his corporeal moulding, nothing but
his deeds could reveal.
His face was rather soft than stern, charming than grand, pale
than flushed; his nose--if a sketch of his features be de rigueur
for a person of his pretensions--was artistically beautiful enough
to have been worth doing in marble by any sculptor not over-busy,
and was hence devoid of those knotty irregularities which often
mean power; while the double-cyma or classical curve of his mouth
was not without a looseness in its close. Nevertheless, either
from his readily appreciative mien, or his reflective manner, or
the instinct towards profound things which was said to possess
him, his presence bespoke the philosopher rather than the dandy or
macaroni--an effect which was helped by the absence of trinkets or
other trivialities from his attire, though this was more finished
and up to date than is usually the case among rural practitioners.
Strict people of the highly respectable class, knowing a little
about him by report, might have said that he seemed likely to err
rather in the possession of too many ideas than too few; to be a
dreamy 'ist of some sort, or too deeply steeped in some false kind
of 'ism. However this may be, it will be seen that he was
undoubtedly a somewhat rare kind of gentleman and doctor to have
descended, as from the clouds, upon Little Hintock.
"This is an extraordinary case," he said at last to Winterborne,
after examining South by conversation, look, and touch, and
learning that the craze about the elm was stronger than ever.
"Come down-stairs, and I'll tell you what I think."
They accordingly descended, and the doctor continued, "The tree
must be cut down, or I won't answer for his life."
"'Tis Mrs. Charmond's tree, and I suppose we must get permission?"
said Giles. "If so, as she is gone away, I must speak to her
"Oh--never mind whose tree it is--what's a tree beside a life! Cut
it down. I have not the honor of knowing Mrs. Charmond as yet,
but I am disposed to risk that much with her."
"'Tis timber," rejoined Giles, more scrupulous than he would have
been had not his own interests stood so closely involved.
"They'll never fell a stick about here without it being marked
first, either by her or the agent."
"Then we'll inaugurate a new era forthwith. How long has he
complained of the tree?" asked the doctor of Marty.
"Weeks and weeks, sir. The shape of it seems to haunt him like an
evil spirit. He says that it is exactly his own age, that it has
got human sense, and sprouted up when he was born on purpose to
rule him, and keep him as its slave. Others have been like it
afore in Hintock."
They could hear South's voice up-stairs "Oh, he's rocking this
way; he must come! And then my poor life, that's worth houses upon
houses, will be squashed out o' me. Oh! oh!"
"That's how he goes on," she added. "And he'll never look
anywhere else but out of the window, and scarcely have the
curtains drawn."
"Down with it, then, and hang Mrs. Charmond," said Mr. Fitzpiers.
"The best plan will be to wait till the evening, when it is dark,
or early in the morning before he is awake, so that he doesn't see
it fall, for that would terrify him worse than ever. Keep the
blind down till I come, and then I'll assure him, and show him
that his trouble is over."
The doctor then departed, and they waited till the evening. When
it was dusk, and the curtains drawn, Winterborne directed a couple
of woodmen to bring a crosscut-saw, and the tall, threatening tree
was soon nearly off at its base. He would not fell it completely
then, on account of the possible crash, but next morning, before
South was awake, they went and lowered it cautiously, in a
direction away from the cottage. It was a business difficult to
do quite silently; but it was done at last, and the elm of the
same birth-year as the woodman's lay stretched upon the ground.
The weakest idler that passed could now set foot on marks formerly
made in the upper forks by the shoes of adventurous climbers only;
once inaccessible nests could be examined microscopically; and on
swaying extremities where birds alone had perched, the by-standers
sat down.
As soon as it was broad daylight the doctor came, and Winterborne
entered the house with him. Marty said that her father was
wrapped up and ready, as usual, to be put into his chair. They
ascended the stairs, and soon seated him. He began at once to
complain of the tree, and the danger to his life and Winterborne's
house-property in consequence.
The doctor signalled to Giles, who went and drew back the printed
cotton curtains. "'Tis gone, see," said Mr. Fitzpiers.
As soon as the old man saw the vacant patch of sky in place of the
branched column so familiar to his gaze, he sprang up, speechless,
his eyes rose from their hollows till the whites showed all round;
he fell back, and a bluish whiteness overspread him.
Greatly alarmed, they put him on the bed. As soon as he came a
little out of his fit, he gasped, "Oh, it is gone!--where?--
His whole system seemed paralyzed by amazement. They were
thunder-struck at the result of the experiment, and did all they
could. Nothing seemed to avail. Giles and Fitzpiers went and
came, but uselessly. He lingered through the day, and died that
evening as the sun went down.
"D--d if my remedy hasn't killed him!" murmured the doctor.
When Melbury heard what had happened he seemed much moved, and
walked thoughtfully about the premises. On South's own account he
was genuinely sorry; and on Winterborne's he was the more grieved
in that this catastrophe had so closely followed the somewhat
harsh dismissal of Giles as the betrothed of his daughter.
He was quite angry with circumstances for so heedlessly inflicting
on Giles a second trouble when the needful one inflicted by
himself was all that the proper order of events demanded. "I told
Giles's father when he came into those houses not to spend too
much money on lifehold property held neither for his own life nor
his son's," he exclaimed. "But he wouldn't listen to me. And now
Giles has to suffer for it."
"Poor Giles!" murmured Grace.
"Now, Grace, between us two, it is very, very remarkable. It is
almost as if I had foreseen this; and I am thankful for your
escape, though I am sincerely sorry for Giles. Had we not
dismissed him already, we could hardly have found it in our hearts
to dismiss him now. So I say, be thankful. I'll do all I can for
him as a friend; but as a pretender to the position of my son-in
law, that can never be thought of more."
And yet at that very moment the impracticability to which poor
Winterborne's suit had been reduced was touching Grace's heart to
a warmer sentiment on his behalf than she had felt for years
concerning him.
He, meanwhile, was sitting down alone in the old familiar house
which had ceased to be his, taking a calm if somewhat dismal
survey of affairs. The pendulum of the clock bumped every now and
then against one side of the case in which it swung, as the
muffled drum to his worldly march. Looking out of the window he
could perceive that a paralysis had come over Creedle's occupation
of manuring the garden, owing, obviously, to a conviction that
they might not be living there long enough to profit by next
season's crop.
He looked at the leases again and the letter attached. There was
no doubt that he had lost his houses by an accident which might
easily have been circumvented if he had known the true conditions
of his holding. The time for performance had now lapsed in strict
law; but might not the intention be considered by the landholder
when she became aware of the circumstances, and his moral right to
retain the holdings for the term of his life be conceded?
His heart sank within him when he perceived that despite all the
legal reciprocities and safeguards prepared and written, the
upshot of the matter amounted to this, that it depended upon the
mere caprice--good or ill--of the woman he had met the day before
in such an unfortunate way, whether he was to possess his houses
for life or no.
While he was sitting and thinking a step came to the door, and
Melbury appeared, looking very sorry for his position.
Winterborne welcomed him by a word and a look, and went on with
his examination of the parchments. His visitor sat down.
"Giles," he said, "this is very awkward, and I am sorry for it.
What are you going to do?"
Giles informed him of the real state of affairs, and how barely he
had missed availing himself of his chance of renewal.
"What a misfortune! Why was this neglected? Well, the best thing
you can do is to write and tell her all about it, and throw
yourself upon her generosity."
"I would rather not," murmured Giles.
"But you must," said Melbury.
In short, he argued so cogently that Giles allowed himself to be
persuaded, and the letter to Mrs. Charmond was written and sent to
Hintock House, whence, as he knew, it would at once be forwarded
to her.
Melbury feeling that he had done so good an action in coming as
almost to extenuate his previous arbitrary conduct to nothing,
went home; and Giles was left alone to the suspense of waiting for
a reply from the divinity who shaped the ends of the Hintock
population. By this time all the villagers knew of the
circumstances, and being wellnigh like one family, a keen interest
was the result all round.
Everybody thought of Giles; nobody thought of Marty. Had any of
them looked in upon her during those moonlight nights which
preceded the burial of her father, they would have seen the girl
absolutely alone in the house with the dead man. Her own chamber
being nearest the stairs, the coffin had been placed there for
convenience; and at a certain hour of the night, when the moon
arrived opposite the window, its beams streamed across the still
profile of South, sublimed by the august presence of death, and
onward a few feet farther upon the face of his daughter, lying in
her little bed in the stillness of a repose almost as dignified as
that of her companion--the repose of a guileless soul that had
nothing more left on earth to lose, except a life which she did
not overvalue.
South was buried, and a week passed, and Winterborne watched for a
reply from Mrs. Charmond. Melbury was very sanguine as to its
tenor; but Winterborne had not told him of the encounter with her
carriage, when, if ever he had heard an affronted tone on a
woman's lips, he had heard it on hers.
The postman's time for passing was just after Melbury's men had
assembled in the spar-house; and Winterborne, who when not busy on
his own account would lend assistance there, used to go out into
the lane every morning and meet the post-man at the end of one of
the green rides through the hazel copse, in the straight stretch
of which his laden figure could be seen a long way off. Grace
also was very anxious; more anxious than her father; more,
perhaps, than Winterborne himself. This anxiety led her into the
spar-house on some pretext or other almost every morning while
they were awaiting the reply.
Fitzpiers too, though he did not personally appear, was much
interested, and not altogether easy in his mind; for he had been
informed by an authority of what he had himself conjectured, that
if the tree had been allowed to stand, the old man would have gone
on complaining, but might have lived for twenty years.
Eleven times had Winterborne gone to that corner of the ride, and
looked up its long straight slope through the wet grays of winter
dawn. But though the postman's bowed figure loomed in view pretty
regularly, he brought nothing for Giles. On the twelfth day the
man of missives, while yet in the extreme distance, held up his
hand, and Winterborne saw a letter in it. He took it into the
spar-house before he broke the seal, and those who were there
gathered round him while he read, Grace looking in at the door.
The letter was not from Mrs. Charmond herself, but her agent at
Sherton. Winterborne glanced it over and looked up.
"It's all over," he said.
"Ah!" said they altogether.
"Her lawyer is instructed to say that Mrs. Charmond sees no reason
for disturbing the natural course of things, particularly as she
contemplates pulling the houses down," he said, quietly.
"Only think of that!" said several.
Winterborne had turned away, and said vehemently to himself, "Then
let her pull 'em down, and be d--d to her!"
Creedle looked at him with a face of seven sorrows, saying, "Ah,
'twas that sperrit that lost 'em for ye, maister!"
Winterborne subdued his feelings, and from that hour, whatever
they were, kept them entirely to himself. There could be no doubt
that, up to this last moment, he had nourished a feeble hope of
regaining Grace in the event of this negotiation turning out a
success. Not being aware of the fact that her father could have
settled upon her a fortune sufficient to enable both to live in
comfort, he deemed it now an absurdity to dream any longer of such
a vanity as making her his wife, and sank into silence forthwith.
Yet whatever the value of taciturnity to a man among strangers, it
is apt to express more than talkativeness when he dwells among
friends. The countryman who is obliged to judge the time of day
from changes in external nature sees a thousand successive tints
and traits in the landscape which are never discerned by him who
hears the regular chime of a clock, because they are never in
request. In like manner do we use our eyes on our taciturn
comrade. The infinitesimal movement of muscle, curve, hair, and
wrinkle, which when accompanied by a voice goes unregarded, is
watched and translated in the lack of it, till virtually the whole
surrounding circle of familiars is charged with the reserved one's
moods and meanings.
This was the condition of affairs between Winterborne and his
neighbors after his stroke of ill-luck. He held his tongue; and
they observed him, and knew that he was discomposed.
Mr. Melbury, in his compunction, thought more of the matter than
any one else, except his daughter. Had Winterborne been going on
in the old fashion, Grace's father could have alluded to his
disapproval of the alliance every day with the greatest frankness;
but to speak any further on the subject he could not find it in
his heart to do now. He hoped that Giles would of his own accord
make some final announcement that he entirely withdrew his
pretensions to Grace, and so get the thing past and done with.
For though Giles had in a measure acquiesced in the wish of her
family, he could make matters unpleasant if he chose to work upon
Grace; and hence, when Melbury saw the young man approaching along
the road one day, he kept friendliness and frigidity exactly
balanced in his eye till he could see whether Giles's manner was
presumptive or not.
His manner was that of a man who abandoned all claims. "I am glad
to meet ye, Mr. Melbury," he said, in a low voice, whose quality
he endeavored to make as practical as possible. "I am afraid I
shall not be able to keep that mare I bought, and as I don't care
to sell her, I should like--if you don't object--to give her to
Miss Melbury. The horse is very quiet, and would be quite safe
for her."
Mr. Melbury was rather affected at this. "You sha'n't hurt your
pocket like that on our account, Giles. Grace shall have the
horse, but I'll pay you what you gave for her, and any expense you
may have been put to for her keep."
He would not hear of any other terms, and thus it was arranged.
They were now opposite Melbury's house, and the timber-merchant
pressed Winterborne to enter, Grace being out of the way.
"Pull round the settle, Giles," said the timber-merchant, as soon
as they were within. "I should like to have a serious talk with
Thereupon he put the case to Winterborne frankly, and in quite a
friendly way. He declared that he did not like to be hard on a
man when he was in difficulty; but he really did not see how
Winterborne could marry his daughter now, without even a house to
take her to.
Giles quite acquiesced in the awkwardness of his situation. But
from a momentary feeling that he would like to know Grace's mind
from her own lips, he did not speak out positively there and then.
He accordingly departed somewhat abruptly, and went home to
consider whether he would seek to bring about a meeting with her.
In the evening, while he sat quietly pondering, he fancied that he
heard a scraping on the wall outside his house. The boughs of a
monthly rose which grew there made such a noise sometimes, but as
no wind was stirring he knew that it could not be the rose-tree.
He took up the candle and went out. Nobody was near. As he
turned, the light flickered on the whitewashed rough case of the
front, and he saw words written thereon in charcoal, which he read
as follows:
"O Giles, you've lost your dwelling-place,
And therefore, Giles, you'll lose your Grace."
Giles went in-doors. He had his suspicions as to the scrawler of
those lines, but he could not be sure. What suddenly filled his
heart far more than curiosity about their authorship was a
terrible belief that they were turning out to be true, try to see
Grace as he might. They decided the question for him. He sat
down and wrote a formal note to Melbury, in which he briefly
stated that he was placed in such a position as to make him share
to the full Melbury's view of his own and his daughter's promise,
made some years before; to wish that it should be considered as
cancelled, and they themselves quite released from any obligation
on account of it.
Having fastened up this their plenary absolution, he determined to
get it out of his hands and have done with it; to which end he
went off to Melbury's at once. It was now so late that the family
had all retired; he crept up to the house, thrust the note under
the door, and stole away as silently as he had come.
Melbury himself was the first to rise the next morning, and when
he had read the letter his relief was great. "Very honorable of
Giles, very honorable," he kept saying to himself. "I shall not
forget him. Now to keep her up to her own true level."
It happened that Grace went out for an early ramble that morning,
passing through the door and gate while her father was in the
spar-house. To go in her customary direction she could not avoid
passing Winterborne's house. The morning sun was shining flat
upon its white surface, and the words, which still remained, were
immediately visible to her. She read them. Her face flushed to
crimson. She could see Giles and Creedle talking together at the
back; the charred spar-gad with which the lines had been written
lay on the ground beneath the wall. Feeling pretty sure that
Winterborne would observe her action, she quickly went up to the
wall, rubbed out "lose" and inserted "keep" in its stead. Then
she made the best of her way home without looking behind her.
Giles could draw an inference now if he chose.
There could not be the least doubt that gentle Grace was warming
to more sympathy with, and interest in, Giles Winterborne than
ever she had done while he was her promised lover; that since his
misfortune those social shortcomings of his, which contrasted so
awkwardly with her later experiences of life, had become obscured
by the generous revival of an old romantic attachment to him.
Though mentally trained and tilled into foreignness of view, as
compared with her youthful time, Grace was not an ambitious girl,
and might, if left to herself, have declined Winterborne without
much discontent or unhappiness. Her feelings just now were so far
from latent that the writing on the wall had thus quickened her to
an unusual rashness.
Having returned from her walk she sat at breakfast silently. When
her step-mother had left the room she said to her father, "I have
made up my mind that I should like my engagement to Giles to
continue, for the present at any rate, till I can see further what
I ought to do."
Melbury looked much surprised.
"Nonsense," he said, sharply. "You don't know what you are
talking about. Look here."
He handed across to her the letter received from Giles.
She read it, and said no more. Could he have seen her write on
the wall? She did not know. Fate, it seemed, would have it this
way, and there was nothing to do but to acquiesce.
It was a few hours after this that Winterborne, who, curiously
enough, had NOT perceived Grace writing, was clearing away the
tree from the front of South's late dwelling. He saw Marty
standing in her door-way, a slim figure in meagre black, almost
without womanly contours as yet. He went up to her and said,
"Marty, why did you write that on my wall last night? It WAS you,
you know."
"Because it was the truth. I didn't mean to let it stay, Mr.
Winterborne; but when I was going to rub it out you came, and I
was obliged to run off."
"Having prophesied one thing, why did you alter it to another?
Your predictions can't be worth much."
"I have not altered it."
"But you have."
"It is altered. Go and see."
She went, and read that, in spite of losing his dwelling-place, he
would KEEP his Grace. Marty came back surprised.
"Well, I never," she said. "Who can have made such nonsense of
"Who, indeed?" said he.
"I have rubbed it all out, as the point of it is quite gone."
"You'd no business to rub it out. I didn't tell you to. I meant
to let it stay a little longer."
"Some idle boy did it, no doubt," she murmured.
As this seemed very probable, and the actual perpetrator was
unsuspected, Winterborne said no more, and dismissed the matter
from his mind.
From this day of his life onward for a considerable time,
Winterborne, though not absolutely out of his house as yet,
retired into the background of human life and action thereabout--a
feat not particularly difficult of performance anywhere when the
doer has the assistance of a lost prestige. Grace, thinking that
Winterborne saw her write, made no further sign, and the frail
bark of fidelity that she had thus timidly launched was stranded
and lost.
Dr. Fitzpiers lived on the slope of the hill, in a house of much
less pretension, both as to architecture and as to magnitude, than
the timber-merchant's. The latter had, without doubt, been once
the manorial residence appertaining to the snug and modest domain
of Little Hintock, of which the boundaries were now lost by its
absorption with others of its kind into the adjoining estate of
Mrs. Charmond. Though the Melburys themselves were unaware of the
fact, there was every reason to believe--at least so the parson
said that the owners of that little manor had been Melbury's own
ancestors, the family name occurring in numerous documents
relating to transfers of land about the time of the civil wars.
Mr. Fitzpiers's dwelling, on the contrary, was small, cottagelike,
and comparatively modern. It had been occupied, and was in
part occupied still, by a retired farmer and his wife, who, on the
surgeon's arrival in quest of a home, had accommodated him by
receding from their front rooms into the kitchen quarter, whence
they administered to his wants, and emerged at regular intervals
to receive from him a not unwelcome addition to their income.
The cottage and its garden were so regular in their arrangement
that they might have been laid out by a Dutch designer of the time
of William and Mary. In a low, dense hedge, cut to wedge-shape,
was a door over which the hedge formed an arch, and from the
inside of the door a straight path, bordered with clipped box, ran
up the slope of the garden to the porch, which was exactly in the
middle of the house front, with two windows on each side. Right
and left of the path were first a bed of gooseberry bushes; next
of currant; next of raspberry; next of strawberry; next of oldfashioned
flowers; at the corners opposite the porch being spheres
of box resembling a pair of school globes. Over the roof of the
house could be seen the orchard, on yet higher ground, and behind
the orchard the forest-trees, reaching up to the crest of the
Opposite the garden door and visible from the parlor window was a
swing-gate leading into a field, across which there ran a footpath.
The swing-gate had just been repainted, and on one fine
afternoon, before the paint was dry, and while gnats were still
dying thereon, the surgeon was standing in his sitting-room
abstractedly looking out at the different pedestrians who passed
and repassed along that route. Being of a philosophical stamp, he
perceived that the chararter of each of these travellers exhibited
itself in a somewhat amusing manner by his or her method of
handling the gate.
As regarded the men, there was not much variety: they gave the
gate a kick and passed through. The women were more contrasting.
To them the sticky wood-work was a barricade, a disgust, a menace,
a treachery, as the case might be.
The first that he noticed was a bouncing woman with her skirts
tucked up and her hair uncombed. She grasped the gate without
looking, giving it a supplementary push with her shoulder, when
the white imprint drew from her an exclamation in language not too
refined. She went to the green bank, sat down and rubbed herself
in the grass, cursing the while.
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the doctor.
The next was a girl, with her hair cropped short, in whom the
surgeon recognized the daughter of his late patient, the woodman
South. Moreover, a black bonnet that she wore by way of mourning
unpleasantly reminded him that he had ordered the felling of a
tree which had caused her parent's death and Winterborne's losses.
She walked and thought, and not recklessly; but her preoccupation
led her to grasp unsuspectingly the bar of the gate, and touch it
with her arm. Fitzpiers felt sorry that she should have soiled
that new black frock, poor as it was, for it was probably her only
one. She looked at her hand and arm, seemed but little surprised,
wiped off the disfigurement with an almost unmoved face, and as if
without abandoning her original thoughts. Thus she went on her
Then there came over the green quite a different sort of
personage. She walked as delicately as if she had been bred in
town, and as firmly as if she had been bred in the country; she
seemed one who dimly knew her appearance to be attractive, but who
retained some of the charm of being ignorant of that fact by
forgetting it in a general pensiveness. She approached the gate.
To let such a creature touch it even with a tip of her glove was
to Fitzpiers almost like letting her proceed to tragical selfdestruction.
He jumped up and looked for his hat, but was unable
to find the right one; glancing again out of the window he saw
that he was too late. Having come up, she stopped, looked at the
gate, picked up a little stick, and using it as a bayonet, pushed
open the obstacle without touching it at all.
He steadily watched her till she had passed out of sight,
recognizing her as the very young lady whom he had seen once
before and been unable to identify. Whose could that emotional
face be? All the others he had seen in Hintock as yet oppressed
him with their crude rusticity; the contrast offered by this
suggested that she hailed from elsewhere.
Precisely these thoughts had occurred to him at the first time of
seeing her; but he now went a little further with them, and
considered that as there had been no carriage seen or heard lately
in that spot she could not have come a very long distance. She
must be somebody staying at Hintock House? Possibly Mrs. Charmond,
of whom he had heard so much--at any rate an inmate, and this
probability was sufficient to set a mild radiance in the surgeon's
somewhat dull sky.
Fitzpiers sat down to the book he had been perusing. It happened
to be that of a German metaphysician, for the doctor was not a
practical man, except by fits, and much preferred the ideal world
to the real, and the discovery of principles to their application.
The young lady remained in his thoughts. He might have followed
her; but he was not constitutionally active, and preferred a
conjectural pursuit. However, when he went out for a ramble just
before dusk he insensibly took the direction of Hintock House,
which was the way that Grace had been walking, it having happened
that her mind had run on Mrs. Charmond that day, and she had
walked to the brow of a hill whence the house could be seen,
returning by another route.
Fitzpiers in his turn reached the edge of the glen, overlooking
the manor-house. The shutters were shut, and only one chimney
smoked. The mere aspect of the place was enough to inform him
that Mrs. Charmond had gone away and that nobody else was staying
there. Fitzpiers felt a vague disappointment that the young lady
was not Mrs. Charmond, of whom he had heard so much; and without
pausing longer to gaze at a carcass from which the spirit had
flown, he bent his steps homeward.
Later in the evening Fitzpiers was summoned to visit a cottage
patient about two miles distant. Like the majority of young
practitioners in his position he was far from having assumed the
dignity of being driven his rounds by a servant in a brougham that
flashed the sunlight like a mirror; his way of getting about was
by means of a gig which he drove himself, hitching the rein of the
horse to the gate post, shutter hook, or garden paling of the
domicile under visitation, or giving pennies to little boys to
hold the animal during his stay--pennies which were well earned
when the cases to be attended were of a certain cheerful kind that
wore out the patience of the little boys.
On this account of travelling alone, the night journeys which
Fitzpiers had frequently to take were dismal enough, a serious
apparent perversity in nature ruling that whenever there was to be
a birth in a particularly inaccessible and lonely place, that
event should occur in the night. The surgeon, having been of late
years a town man, hated the solitary midnight woodland. He was
not altogether skilful with the reins, and it often occurred to
his mind that if in some remote depths of the trees an accident
were to happen, the fact of his being alone might be the death of
him. Hence he made a practice of picking up any countryman or lad
whom he chanced to pass by, and under the disguise of treating him
to a nice drive, obtained his companionship on the journey, and
his convenient assistance in opening gates.
The doctor had started on his way out of the village on the night
in question when the light of his lamps fell upon the musing form
of Winterborne, walking leisurely along, as if he had no object in
life. Winterborne was a better class of companion than the doctor
usually could get, and he at once pulled up and asked him if he
would like a drive through the wood that fine night.
Giles seemed rather surprised at the doctor's friendliness, but
said that he had no objection, and accordingly mounted beside Mr.
They drove along under the black boughs which formed a network
upon the stars, all the trees of a species alike in one respect,
and no two of them alike in another. Looking up as they passed
under a horizontal bough they sometimes saw objects like large
tadpoles lodged diametrically across it, which Giles explained to
be pheasants there at roost; and they sometimes heard the report
of a gun, which reminded him that others knew what those tadpole
shapes represented as well as he.
Presently the doctor said what he had been going to say for some
"Is there a young lady staying in this neighborhood--a very
attractive girl--with a little white boa round her neck, and white
fur round her gloves?"
Winterborne of course knew in a moment that Grace, whom he had
caught the doctor peering at, was represented by these
accessaries. With a wary grimness, partly in his character,
partly induced by the circumstances, he evaded an answer by
saying, "I saw a young lady talking to Mrs. Charmond the other
day; perhaps it was she."
Fitzpiers concluded from this that Winterborne had not seen him
looking over the hedge. "It might have been," he said. "She is
quite a gentlewoman--the one I mean. She cannot be a permanent
resident in Hintock or I should have seen her before. Nor does
she look like one."
"She is not staying at Hintock House?"
"No; it is closed."
"Then perhaps she is staying at one of the cottages, or farmhouses?"
"Oh no--you mistake. She was a different sort of girl
altogether." As Giles was nobody, Fitzpiers treated him
accordingly, and apostrophized the night in continuation:
"'She moved upon this earth a shape of brightness,
A power, that from its objects scarcely drew
One impulse of her being--in her lightness
Most like some radiant cloud of morning dew,
Which wanders through the waste air's pathless blue,
To nourish some far desert: she did seem
Beside me, gathering beauty as she grew,
Like the bright shade of some immortal dream
Which walks, when tempests sleep, the wave of life's dark
The consummate charm of the lines seemed to Winterborne, though he
divined that they were a quotation, to be somehow the result of
his lost love's charms upon Fitzpiers.
"You seem to be mightily in love with her, sir," he said, with a
sensation of heart-sickness, and more than ever resolved not to
mention Grace by name.
"Oh no--I am not that, Winterborne; people living insulated, as I
do by the solitude of this place, get charged with emotive fluid
like a Leyden-jar with electric, for want of some conductor at
hand to disperse it. Human love is a subjective thing--the
essence itself of man, as that great thinker Spinoza the
philosopher says--ipsa hominis essentia--it is joy accompanied by
an idea which we project against any suitable object in the line
of our vision, just as the rainbow iris is projected against an
oak, ash, or elm tree indifferently. So that if any other young
lady had appeared instead of the one who did appear, I should have
felt just the same interest in her, and have quoted precisely the
same lines from Shelley about her, as about this one I saw. Such
miserable creatures of circumstance are we all!"
"Well, it is what we call being in love down in these parts,
whether or no," said Winterborne.
"You are right enough if you admit that I am in love with
something in my own head, and no thing in itself outside it at
"Is it part of a country doctor's duties to learn that view of
things, may I ask, sir?" said Winterborne, adopting the Socratic
{Greek word: irony} with such well-assumed simplicity that
Fitzpiers answered, readily,
"Oh no. The real truth is, Winterborne, that medical practice in
places like this is a very rule-of-thumb matter; a bottle of
bitter stuff for this and that old woman--the bitterer the better--
compounded from a few simple stereotyped prescriptions;
occasional attendance at births, where mere presence is almost
sufficient, so healthy and strong are the people; and a lance for
an abscess now and then. Investigation and experiment cannot be
carried on without more appliances than one has here--though I
have attempted it a little."
Giles did not enter into this view of the case; what he had been
struck with was the curious parallelism between Mr. Fitzpiers's
manner and Grace's, as shown by the fact of both of them straying
into a subject of discourse so engrossing to themselves that it
made them forget it was foreign to him.
Nothing further passed between himself and the doctor in relation
to Grace till they were on their way back. They had stopped at a
way-side inn for a glass of brandy and cider hot, and when they
were again in motion, Fitzpiers, possibly a little warmed by the
liquor, resumed the subject by saying, "I should like very much to
know who that young lady was."
"What difference can it make, if she's only the tree your rainbow
falls on?"
"Ha! ha! True."
"You have no wife, sir?"
"I have no wife, and no idea of one. I hope to do better things
than marry and settle in Hintock. Not but that it is well for a
medical man to be married, and sometimes, begad, 'twould be
pleasant enough in this place, with the wind roaring round the
house, and the rain and the boughs beating against it. I hear
that you lost your life-holds by the death of South?"
"I did. I lost in more ways than one."
They had reached the top of Hintock Lane or Street, if it could be
called such where three-quarters of the road-side consisted of
copse and orchard. One of the first houses to be passed was
Melbury's. A light was shining from a bedroom window facing
lengthwise of the lane. Winterborne glanced at it, and saw what
was coming. He had withheld an answer to the doctor's inquiry to
hinder his knowledge of Grace; but, as he thought to himself, "who
hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in
a garment?" he could not hinder what was doomed to arrive, and
might just as well have been outspoken. As they came up to the
house, Grace's figure was distinctly visible, drawing the two
white curtains together which were used here instead of blinds.
"Why, there she is!" said Fitzpiers. "How does she come there?"
"In the most natural way in the world. It is her home. Mr.
Melbury is her father."
"Oh, indeed--indeed--indeed! How comes he to have a daughter of
that stamp?"
Winterborne laughed coldly. "Won't money do anything," he said,
"if you've promising material to work upon? Why shouldn't a
Hintock girl, taken early from home, and put under proper
instruction, become as finished as any other young lady, if she's
got brains and good looks to begin with?"
"No reason at all why she shouldn't," murmured the surgeon, with
reflective disappointment. "Only I didn't anticipate quite that
kind of origin for her."
"And you think an inch or two less of her now." There was a little
tremor in Winterborne's voice as he spoke.
"Well," said the doctor, with recovered warmth, "I am not so sure
that I think less of her. At first it was a sort of blow; but,
dammy! I'll stick up for her. She's charming, every inch of her!"
"So she is," said Winterborne, "but not to me."
From this ambiguous expression of the reticent woodlander's, Dr.
Fitzpiers inferred that Giles disliked Miss Melbury because of
some haughtiness in her bearing towards him, and had, on that
account, withheld her name. The supposition did not tend to
diminish his admiration for her.
Grace's exhibition of herself, in the act of pulling-to the
window-curtains, had been the result of an unfortunate incident in
the house that day--nothing less than the illness of Grammer
Oliver, a woman who had never till now lain down for such a reason
in her life. Like others to whom unbroken years of health has
made the idea of keeping their bed almost as repugnant as death
itself, she had continued on foot till she literally fell on the
floor; and though she had, as yet, been scarcely a day off duty,
she had sickened into quite a different personage from the
independent Grammer of the yard and spar-house. Ill as she was,
on one point she was firm. On no account would she see a doctor;
in other words, Fitzpiers.
The room in which Grace had been discerned was not her own, but
the old woman's. On the girl's way to bed she had received a
message from Grammer, to the effect that she would much like to
speak to her that night.
Grace entered, and set the candle on a low chair beside the bed,
so that the profile of Grammer as she lay cast itself in a keen
shadow upon the whitened wall, her large head being still further
magnified by an enormous turban, which was, really, her petticoat
wound in a wreath round her temples. Grace put the room a little
in order, and approaching the sick woman, said, "I am come,
Grammer, as you wish. Do let us send for the doctor before it
gets later."
"I will not have him," said Grammer Oliver, decisively.
"Then somebody to sit up with you."
"Can't abear it! No; I wanted to see you, Miss Grace, because 'ch
have something on my mind. Dear Miss Grace, I TOOK THAT MONEY OF
"What money?"
"The ten pounds."
Grace did not quite understand.
"The ten pounds he offered me for my head, because I've a large
brain. I signed a paper when I took the money, not feeling
concerned about it at all. I have not liked to tell ye that it
was really settled with him, because you showed such horror at the
notion. Well, having thought it over more at length, I wish I
hadn't done it; and it weighs upon my mind. John South's death of
fear about the tree makes me think that I shall die of this....'Ch
have been going to ask him again to let me off, but I hadn't the
"I've spent some of the money--more'n two pounds o't. It do
wherrit me terribly; and I shall die o' the thought of that paper
I signed with my holy cross, as South died of his trouble."
"If you ask him to burn the paper he will, I'm sure, and think no
more of it."
"'Ch have done it once already, miss. But he laughed cruel like.
'Yours is such a fine brain, Grammer, 'er said, 'that science
couldn't afford to lose you. Besides, you've taken my
money.'...Don't let your father know of this, please, on no
account whatever!"
"No, no. I will let you have the money to return to him."
Grammer rolled her head negatively upon the pillow. "Even if I
should be well enough to take it to him, he won't like it. Though
why he should so particular want to look into the works of a poor
old woman's head-piece like mine when there's so many other folks
about, I don't know. I know how he'll answer me: 'A lonely person
like you, Grammer,' er woll say. 'What difference is it to you
what becomes of ye when the breath's out of your body?' Oh, it do
trouble me! If you only knew how he do chevy me round the chimmer
in my dreams, you'd pity me. How I could do it I can't think! But
'ch was always so rackless!...If I only had anybody to plead for
"Mrs. Melbury would, I am sure."
"Ay; but he wouldn't hearken to she! It wants a younger face than
hers to work upon such as he."
Grace started with comprehension. "You don't think he would do it
for me?" she said.
"Oh, wouldn't he!"
"I couldn't go to him, Grammer, on any account. I don't know him
at all."
"Ah, if I were a young lady," said the artful Grammer, "and could
save a poor old woman's skellington from a heathen doctor instead
of a Christian grave, I would do it, and be glad to. But nobody
will do anything for a poor old familiar friend but push her out
of the way."
You are very ungrateful, Grammer, to say that. But you are ill, I
know, and that's why you speak so. Now believe me, you are not
going to die yet. Remember you told me yourself that you meant to
keep him waiting many a year."
"Ay, one can joke when one is well, even in old age; but in
sickness one's gayety falters to grief; and that which seemed
small looks large; and the grim far-off seems near."
Grace's eyes had tears in them. "I don't like to go to him on
such an errand, Grammer," she said, brokenly. "But I will, to
ease your mind."
It was with extreme reluctance that Grace cloaked herself next
morning for the undertaking. She was all the more indisposed to
the journey by reason of Grammer's allusion to the effect of a
pretty face upon Dr. Fitzpiers; and hence she most illogically did
that which, had the doctor never seen her, would have operated to
stultify the sole motive of her journey; that is to say, she put
on a woollen veil, which hid all her face except an occasional
spark of her eyes.
Her own wish that nothing should be known of this strange and
grewsome proceeding, no less than Grammer Oliver's own desire, led
Grace to take every precaution against being discovered. She went
out by the garden door as the safest way, all the household having
occupations at the other side. The morning looked forbidding
enough when she stealthily opened it. The battle between frost
and thaw was continuing in mid-air: the trees dripped on the
garden-plots, where no vegetables would grow for the dripping,
though they were planted year after year with that curious
mechanical regularity of country people in the face of
hopelessness; the moss which covered the once broad gravel terrace
was swamped; and Grace stood irresolute. Then she thought of poor
Grammer, and her dreams of the doctor running after her, scalpel
in hand, and the possibility of a case so curiously similar to
South's ending in the same way; thereupon she stepped out into the
The nature of her errand, and Grammer Oliver's account of the
compact she had made, lent a fascinating horror to Grace's
conception of Fitzpiers. She knew that he was a young man; but
her single object in seeking an interview with him put all
considerations of his age and social aspect from her mind.
Standing as she stood, in Grammer Oliver's shoes, he was simply a
remorseless Jove of the sciences, who would not have mercy, and
would have sacrifice; a man whom, save for this, she would have
preferred to avoid knowing. But since, in such a small village,
it was improbable that any long time could pass without their
meeting, there was not much to deplore in her having to meet him
But, as need hardly be said, Miss Melbury's view of the doctor as
a merciless, unwavering, irresistible scientist was not quite in
accordance with fact. The real Dr. Fitzpiers w as a man of too
many hobbies to show likelihood of rising to any great eminence in
the profession he had chosen, or even to acquire any wide practice
in the rural district he had marked out as his field of survey for
the present. In the course of a year his mind was accustomed to
pass in a grand solar sweep through all the zodiacal signs of the
intellectual heaven. Sometimes it was in the Ram, sometimes in
the Bull; one month he would be immersed in alchemy, another in
poesy; one month in the Twins of astrology and astronomy; then in
the Crab of German literature and metaphysics. In justice to him
it must be stated that he took such studies as were immediately
related to his own profession in turn with the rest, and it had
been in a month of anatomical ardor without the possibility of a
subject that he had proposed to Grammer Oliver the terms she had
mentioned to her mistress.
As may be inferred from the tone of his conversation with
Winterborne, he had lately plunged into abstract philosophy with
much zest; perhaps his keenly appreciative, modern, unpractical
mind found this a realm more to his taste than any other. Though
his aims were desultory, Fitzpiers's mental constitution was not
without its admirable side; a keen inquirer he honestly was, even
if the midnight rays of his lamp, visible so far through the trees
of Hintock, lighted rank literatures of emotion and passion as
often as, or oftener than, the books and materiel of science.
But whether he meditated the Muses or the philosophers, the
loneliness of Hintock life was beginning to tell upon his
impressionable nature. Winter in a solitary house in the country,
without society, is tolerable, nay, even enjoyable and delightful,
given certain conditions, but these are not the conditions which
attach to the life of a professional man who drops down into such
a place by mere accident. They were present to the lives of
Winterborne, Melbury, and Grace; but not to the doctor's. They
are old association--an almost exhaustive biographical or
historical acquaintance with every object, animate and inanimate,
within the observer's horizon. He must know all about those
invisible ones of the days gone by, whose feet have traversed the
fields which look so gray from his windows; recall whose creaking
plough has turned those sods from time to time; whose hands
planted the trees that form a crest to the opposite hill; whose
horses and hounds have torn through that underwood; what birds
affect that particular brake; what domestic dramas of love,
jealousy, revenge, or disappointment have been enacted in the
cottages, the mansion, the street, or on the green. The spot may
have beauty, grandeur, salubrity, convenience; but if it lack
memories it will ultimately pall upon him who settles there
without opportunity of intercourse with his kind.
In such circumstances, maybe, an old man dreams of an ideal
friend, till he throws himself into the arms of any impostor who
chooses to wear that title on his face. A young man may dream of
an ideal friend likewise, but some humor of the blood will
probably lead him to think rather of an ideal mistress, and at
length the rustle of a woman's dress, the sound of her voice, or
the transit of her form across the field of his vision, will
enkindle his soul with a flame that blinds his eyes.
The discovery of the attractive Grace's name and family would have
been enough in other circumstances to lead the doctor, if not to
put her personality out of his head, to change the character of
his interest in her. Instead of treasuring her image as a rarity,
he would at most have played with it as a toy. He was that kind
of a man. But situated here he could not go so far as amative
cruelty. He dismissed all reverential thought about her, but he
could not help taking her seriously.
He went on to imagine the impossible. So far, indeed, did he go
in this futile direction that, as others are wont to do, he
constructed dialogues and scenes in which Grace had turned out to
be the mistress of Hintock Manor-house, the mysterious Mrs.
Charmond, particularly ready and willing to be wooed by himself
and nobody else. "Well, she isn't that," he said, finally. "But
she's a very sweet, nice, exceptional girl."
The next morning he breakfasted alone, as usual. It was snowing
with a fine-flaked desultoriness just sufficient to make the
woodland gray, without ever achieving whiteness. There was not a
single letter for Fitzpiers, only a medical circular and a weekly
To sit before a large fire on such mornings, and read, and
gradually acquire energy till the evening came, and then, with
lamp alight, and feeling full of vigor, to pursue some engrossing
subject or other till the small hours, had hitherto been his
practice. But to-day he could not settle into his chair. That
self-contained position he had lately occupied, in which the only
attention demanded was the concentration of the inner eye, all
outer regard being quite gratuitous, seemed to have been taken by
insidious stratagem, and for the first time he had an interest
outside the house. He walked from one window to another, and
became aware that the most irksome of solitudes is not the
solitude of remoteness, but that which is just outside desirable
The breakfast hour went by heavily enough, and the next followed,
in the same half-snowy, half-rainy style, the weather now being
the inevitable relapse which sooner or later succeeds a time too
radiant for the season, such as they had enjoyed in the late
midwinter at Hintock. To people at home there these changeful
tricks had their interests; the strange mistakes that some of the
more sanguine trees had made in budding before their month, to be
incontinently glued up by frozen thawings now; the similar
sanguine errors of impulsive birds in framing nests that were now
swamped by snow-water, and other such incidents, prevented any
sense of wearisomeness in the minds of the natives. But these
were features of a world not familiar to Fitzpiers, and the inner
visions to which he had almost exclusively attended having
suddenly failed in their power to absorb him, he felt unutterably
He wondered how long Miss Melbury was going to stay in Hintock.
The season was unpropitious for accidental encounters with her
out-of-doors, and except by accident he saw not how they were to
become acquainted. One thing was clear--any acquaintance with her
could only, with a due regard to his future, be casual, at most of
the nature of a flirtation; for he had high aims, and they would
some day lead him into other spheres than this.
Thus desultorily thinking he flung himself down upon the couch,
which, as in many draughty old country houses, was constructed
with a hood, being in fact a legitimate development from the
settle. He tried to read as he reclined, but having sat up till
three o'clock that morning, the book slipped from his hand and he
fell asleep.
It was at this time that Grace approached the house. Her knock,
always soft in virtue of her nature, was softer to-day by reason
of her strange errand. However, it was heard by the farmer's wife
who kept the house, and Grace was admitted. Opening the door of
the doctor's room the housewife glanced in, and imagining
Fitzpiers absent, asked Miss Melbury to enter and wait a few
minutes while she should go and find him, believing him to be
somewhere on the premises. Grace acquiesced, went in, and sat
down close to the door.
As soon as the door was shut upon her she looked round the room,
and started at perceiving a handsome man snugly ensconced in the
couch, like the recumbent figure within some canopied mural tomb
of the fifteenth century, except that his hands were by no means
clasped in prayer. She had no doubt that this was the doctor.
Awaken him herself she could not, and her immediate impulse was to
go and pull the broad ribbon with a brass rosette which hung at
one side of the fireplace. But expecting the landlady to re-enter
in a moment she abandoned this intention, and stood gazing in
great embarrassment at the reclining philosopher.
The windows of Fitzpiers's soul being at present shuttered, he
probably appeared less impressive than in his hours of animation;
but the light abstracted from his material presence by sleep was
more than counterbalanced by the mysterious influence of that
state, in a stranger, upon the consciousness of a beholder so
sensitive. So far as she could criticise at all, she became aware
that she had encountered a specimen of creation altogether unusual
in that locality. The occasions on which Grace had observed men
of this stamp were when she had been far removed away from
Hintock, and even then such examples as had met her eye were at a
distance, and mainly of coarser fibre than the one who now
confronted her.
She nervously wondered why the woman had not discovered her
mistake and returned, and went again towards the bell-pull.
Approaching the chimney her back was to Fitzpiers, but she could
see him in the glass. An indescribable thrill passed through her
as she perceived that the eyes of the reflected image were open,
gazing wonderingly at her, and under the curious unexpectedness of
the sight she became as if spellbound, almost powerless to turn
her head and regard the original. However, by an effort she did
turn, when there he lay asleep the same as before.
Her startled perplexity as to what he could be meaning was
sufficient to lead her to precipitately abandon her errand. She
crossed quickly to the door, opened and closed it noiselessly, and
went out of the house unobserved. By the time that she had gone
down the path and through the garden door into the lane she had
recovered her equanimity. Here, screened by the hedge, she stood
and considered a while.
Drip, drip, drip, fell the rain upon her umbrella and around; she
had come out on such a morning because of the seriousness of the
matter in hand; yet now she had allowed her mission to be
stultified by a momentary tremulousness concerning an incident
which perhaps had meant nothing after all.
In the mean time her departure from the room, stealthy as it had
been, had roused Fitzpiers, and he sat up. In the reflection from
the mirror which Grace had beheld there was no mystery; he had
opened his eyes for a few moments, but had immediately relapsed
into unconsciousness, if, indeed, he had ever been positively
awake. That somebody had just left the room he was certain, and
that the lovely form which seemed to have visited him in a dream
was no less than the real presentation of the person departed he
could hardly doubt.
Looking out of the window a few minutes later, down the box-edged
gravel-path which led to the bottom, he saw the garden door gently
open, and through it enter the young girl of his thoughts, Grace
having just at this juncture determined to return and attempt the
interview a second time. That he saw her coming instead of going
made him ask himself if his first impression of her were not a
dream indeed. She came hesitatingly along, carrying her umbrella
so low over her head that he could hardly see her face. When she
reached the point where the raspberry bushes ended and the
strawberry bed began, she made a little pause.
Fitzpiers feared that she might not be coming to him even now, and
hastily quitting the room, he ran down the path to meet her. The
nature of her errand he could not divine, but he was prepared to
give her any amount of encouragement.
"I beg pardon, Miss Melbury," he said. "I saw you from the
window, and fancied you might imagine that I was not at home--if
it is I you were coming for."
"I was coming to speak one word to you, nothing more," she
replied. "And I can say it here."
"No, no. Please do come in. Well, then, if you will not come
into the house, come as far as the porch."
Thus pressed she went on to the porch, and they stood together
inside it, Fitzpiers closing her umbrella for her.
"I have merely a request or petition to make," she said. "My
father's servant is ill--a woman you know--and her illness is
"I am sorry to hear it. You wish me to come and see her at once?"
"No; I particularly wish you not to come."
"Oh, indeed."
"Yes; and she wishes the same. It would make her seriously worse
if you were to come. It would almost kill her....My errand is of
a peculiar and awkward nature. It is concerning a subject which
weighs on her mind--that unfortunate arrangement she made with
you, that you might have her body--after death."
"Oh! Grammer Oliver, the old woman with the fine head. Seriously
ill, is she!"
"And SO disturbed by her rash compact! I have brought the money
back--will you please return to her the agreement she signed?"
Grace held out to him a couple of five-pound notes which she had
kept ready tucked in her glove.
Without replying or considering the notes, Fitzpiers allowed his
thoughts to follow his eyes, and dwell upon Grace's personality,
and the sudden close relation in which he stood to her. The porch
was narrow; the rain increased. It ran off the porch and dripped
on the creepers, and from the creepers upon the edge of Grace's
cloak and skirts.
"The rain is wetting your dress; please do come in," he said. "It
really makes my heart ache to let you stay here."
Immediately inside the front door was the door of his sittingroom;
he flung it open, and stood in a coaxing attitude. Try how
she would, Grace could not resist the supplicatory mandate written
in the face and manner of this man, and distressful resignation
sat on her as she glided past him into the room--brushing his coat
with her elbow by reason of the narrowness.
He followed her, shut the door--which she somehow had hoped he
would leave open--and placing a chair for her, sat down. The
concern which Grace felt at the development of these commonplace
incidents was, of course, mainly owing to the strange effect upon
her nerves of that view of him in the mirror gazing at her with
open eyes when she had thought him sleeping, which made her fancy
that his slumber might have been a feint based on inexplicable
She again proffered the notes; he awoke from looking at her as at
a piece of live statuary, and listened deferentially as she said,
"Will you then reconsider, and cancel the bond which poor Grammer
Oliver so foolishly gave?"
"I'll cancel it without reconsideration. Though you will allow me
to have my own opinion about her foolishness. Grammer is a very
wise woman, and she was as wise in that as in other things. You
think there was something very fiendish in the compact, do you
not, Miss Melbury? But remember that the most eminent of our
surgeons in past times have entered into such agreements."
"Not fiendish--strange."
"Yes, that may be, since strangeness is not in the nature of a
thing, but in its relation to something extrinsic--in this case an
unessential observer."
He went to his desk, and searching a while found a paper, which be
unfolded and brought to her. A thick cross appeared in ink at the
bottom--evidently from the hand of Grammer. Grace put the paper
in her pocket with a look of much relief.
As Fitzpiers did not take up the money (half of which had come
from Grace's own purse), she pushed it a little nearer to him.
"No, no. I shall not take it from the old woman," he said. "It
is more strange than the fact of a surgeon arranging to obtain a
subject for dissection that our acquaintance should be formed out
of it."
"I am afraid you think me uncivil in showing my dislike to the
notion. But I did not mean to be."
"Oh no, no." He looked at her, as he had done before, with
puzzled interest. "I cannot think, I cannot think," he murmured.
"Something bewilders me greatly." He still reflected and
hesitated. "Last night I sat up very late," he at last went on,
"and on that account I fell into a little nap on that couch about
half an hour ago. And during my few minutes of unconsciousness I
dreamed--what do you think?--that you stood in the room."
Should she tell? She merely blushed.
"You may imagine," Fitzpiers continued, now persuaded that it had,
indeed, been a dream, "that I should not have dreamed of you
without considerable thinking about you first."
He could not be acting; of that she felt assured.
"I fancied in my vision that you stood there," he said, pointing
to where she had paused. "I did not see you directly, but
reflected in the glass. I thought, what a lovely creature! The
design is for once carried out. Nature has at last recovered her
lost union with the Idea! My thoughts ran in that direction
because I had been reading the work of a transcendental
philosopher last night; and I dare say it was the dose of Idealism
that I received from it that made me scarcely able to distinguish
between reality and fancy. I almost wept when I awoke, and found
that you had appeared to me in Time, but not in Space, alas!"
At moments there was something theatrical in the delivery of
Fitzpiers's effusion; yet it would have been inexact to say that
it was intrinsically theatrical. It often happens that in
situations of unrestraint, where there is no thought of the eye of
criticism, real feeling glides into a mode of manifestation not
easily distinguishable from rodomontade. A veneer of affectation
overlies a bulk of truth, with the evil consequence, if perceived,
that the substance is estimated by the superficies, and the whole
Grace, however, was no specialist in men's manners, and she
admired the sentiment without thinking of the form. And she was
embarrassed: "lovely creature" made explanation awkward to her
gentle modesty.
"But can it be," said he, suddenly, "that you really were here?"
"I have to confess that I have been in the room once before,"
faltered she. "The woman showed me in, and went away to fetch
you; but as she did not return, I left."
"And you saw me asleep," he murmured, with the faintest show of
"Yes--IF you were asleep, and did not deceive me."
"Why do you say if?"
"I saw your eyes open in the glass, but as they were closed when I
looked round upon you, I thought you were perhaps deceiving me.
"Never," said Fitzpiers, fervently--"never could I deceive you."
Foreknowledge to the distance of a year or so in either of them
might have spoiled the effect of that pretty speech. Never
deceive her! But they knew nothing, and the phrase had its day.
Grace began now to be anxious to terminate the interview, but the
compelling power of Fitzpiers's atmosphere still held her there.
She was like an inexperienced actress who, having at last taken up
her position on the boards, and spoken her speeches, does not know
how to move off. The thought of Grammer occurred to her. "I'll
go at once and tell poor Grammer of your generosity," she said.
"It will relieve her at once."
"Grammer's a nervous disease, too--how singular!" he answered,
accompanying her to the door. "One moment; look at this--it is
something which may interest you."
He had thrown open the door on the other side of the passage, and
she saw a microscope on the table of the confronting room. "Look
into it, please; you'll be interested," he repeated.
She applied her eye, and saw the usual circle of light patterned
all over with a cellular tissue of some indescribable sort. "What
do you think that is?" said Fitzpiers.
She did not know.
"That's a fragment of old John South's brain, which I am
She started back, not with aversion, but with wonder as to how it
should have got there. Fitzpiers laughed.
"Here am I," he said, "endeavoring to carry on simultaneously the
study of physiology and transcendental philosophy, the material
world and the ideal, so as to discover if possible a point of
contrast between them; and your finer sense is quite offended!"
"Oh no, Mr. Fitzpiers," said Grace, earnestly. "It is not so at
all. I know from seeing your light at night how deeply you
meditate and work. Instead of condemning you for your studies, I
admire you very much!"
Her face, upturned from the microscope, was so sweet, sincere, and
self-forgetful in its aspect that the susceptible Fitzpiers more
than wished to annihilate the lineal yard which separated it from
his own. Whether anything of the kind showed in his eyes or not,
Grace remained no longer at the microscope, but quickly went her
way into the rain.
Instead of resuming his investigation of South's brain, which
perhaps was not so interesting under the microscope as might have
been expected from the importance of that organ in life, Fitzpiers
reclined and ruminated on the interview. Grace's curious
susceptibility to his presence, though it was as if the currents
of her life were disturbed rather than attracted by him, added a
special interest to her general charm. Fitzpiers was in a
distinct degree scientific, being ready and zealous to interrogate
all physical manifestations, but primarily he was an idealist. He
believed that behind the imperfect lay the perfect; that rare
things were to be discovered amid a bulk of commonplace; that
results in a new and untried case might be different from those in
other cases where the conditions had been precisely similar.
Regarding his own personality as one of unbounded possibilities,
because it was his own--notwithstanding that the factors of his
life had worked out a sorry product for thousands--he saw nothing
but what was regular in his discovery at Hintock of an altogether
exceptional being of the other sex, who for nobody else would have
had any existence.
One habit of Fitzpiers's--commoner in dreamers of more advanced
age than in men of his years--was that of talking to himself. He
paced round his room with a selective tread upon the more
prominent blooms of the carpet, and murmured, "This phenomenal
girl will be the light of my life while I am at Hintock; and the
special beauty of the situation is that our attitude and relations
to each other will be purely spiritual. Socially we can never be
intimate. Anything like matrimonial intentions towards her,
charming as she is, would be absurd. They would spoil the
ethereal character of my regard. And, indeed, I have other aims
on the practical side of my life."
Fitzpiers bestowed a regulation thought on the advantageous
marriage he was bound to make with a woman of family as good as
his own, and of purse much longer. But as an object of
contemplation for the present, as objective spirit rather than
corporeal presence, Grace Melbury would serve to keep his soul
alive, and to relieve the monotony of his days.
His first notion--acquired from the mere sight of her without
converse--that of an idle and vulgar flirtation with a timbermerchant's
pretty daughter, grated painfully upon him now that he
had found what Grace intrinsically was. Personal intercourse with
such as she could take no lower form than intellectual communion,
and mutual explorations of the world of thought. Since he could
not call at her father's, having no practical views, cursory
encounters in the lane, in the wood, coming and going to and from
church, or in passing her dwelling, were what the acquaintance
would have to feed on.
Such anticipated glimpses of her now and then realized themselves
in the event. Rencounters of not more than a minute's duration,
frequently repeated, will build up mutual interest, even an
intimacy, in a lonely place. Theirs grew as imperceptibly as the
tree-twigs budded. There never was a particular moment at which
it could be said they became friends; yet a delicate understanding
now existed between two who in the winter had been strangers.
Spring weather came on rather suddenly, the unsealing of buds that
had long been swollen accomplishing itself in the space of one
warm night. The rush of sap in the veins of the trees could
almost be heard. The flowers of late April took up a position
unseen, and looked as if they had been blooming a long while,
though there had been no trace of them the day before yesterday;
birds began not to mind getting wet. In-door people said they had
heard the nightingale, to which out-door people replied
contemptuously that they had heard him a fortnight before.
The young doctor's practice being scarcely so large as a London
surgeon's, he frequently walked in the wood. Indeed such practice
as he had he did not follow up with the assiduity that would have
been necessary for developing it to exceptional proportions. One
day, book in hand, he walked in a part of the wood where the trees
were mainly oaks. It was a calm afternoon, and there was
everywhere around that sign of great undertakings on the part of
vegetable nature which is apt to fill reflective human beings who
are not undertaking much themselves with a sudden uneasiness at
the contrast. He heard in the distance a curious sound, something
like the quack of a duck, which, though it was common enough here
about this time, was not common to him.
Looking through the trees Fitzpiers soon perceived the origin of
the noise. The barking season had just commenced, and what he had
heard was the tear of the ripping tool as it ploughed its way
along the sticky parting between the trunk and the rind. Melbury
did a large business in bark, and as he was Grace's father, and
possibly might be found on the spot, Fitzpiers was attracted to
the scene even more than he might have been by its intrinsic
interest. When he got nearer he recognized among the workmen the
two Timothys, and Robert Creedle, who probably had been "lent" by
Winterborne; Marty South also assisted.
Each tree doomed to this flaying process was first attacked by
Creedle. With a small billhook he carefully freed the collar of
the tree from twigs and patches of moss which incrusted it to a
height of a foot or two above the ground, an operation comparable
to the "little toilet" of the executioner's victim. After this it
was barked in its erect position to a point as high as a man could
reach. If a fine product of vegetable nature could ever be said
to look ridiculous it was the case now, when the oak stood nakedlegged,
and as if ashamed, till the axe-man came and cut a ring
round it, and the two Timothys finished the work with the
As soon as it had fallen the barkers attacked it like locusts, and
in a short time not a particle of rind was left on the trunk and
larger limbs. Marty South was an adept at peeling the upper
parts, and there she stood encaged amid the mass of twigs and buds
like a great bird, running her tool into the smallest branches,
beyond the farthest points to which the skill and patience of the
men enabled them to proceed--branches which, in their lifetime,
had swayed high above the bulk of the wood, and caught the latest
and earliest rays of the sun and moon while the lower part of the
forest was still in darkness.
"You seem to have a better instrument than they, Marty," said
"No, sir," she said, holding up the tool--a horse's leg-bone
fitted into a handle and filed to an edge--"'tis only that they've
less patience with the twigs, because their time is worth more
than mine."
A little shed had been constructed on the spot, of thatched
hurdles and boughs, and in front of it was a fire, over which a
kettle sung. Fitzpiers sat down inside the shelter, and went on
with his reading, except when he looked up to observe the scene
and the actors. The thought that he might settle here and become
welded in with this sylvan life by marrying Grace Melbury crossed
his mind for a moment. Why should he go farther into the world
than where he was? The secret of quiet happiness lay in limiting
the ideas and aspirations; these men's thoughts were conterminous
with the margin of the Hintock woodlands, and why should not his
be likewise limited--a small practice among the people around him
being the bound of his desires?
Presently Marty South discontinued her operations upon the
quivering boughs, came out from the reclining oak, and prepared
tea. When it was ready the men were called; and Fitzpiers being
in a mood to join, sat down with them.
The latent reason of his lingering here so long revealed itself
when the faint creaking of the joints of a vehicle became audible,
and one of the men said, "Here's he." Turning their heads they saw
Melbury's gig approaching, the wheels muffled by the yielding
The timber-merchant was on foot leading the horse, looking back at
every few steps to caution his daughter, who kept her seat, where
and how to duck her head so as to avoid the overhanging branches.
They stopped at the spot where the bark-ripping had been
temporarily suspended; Melbury cursorily examined the heaps of
bark, and drawing near to where the workmen were sitting down,
accepted their shouted invitation to have a dish of tea, for which
purpose he hitched the horse to a bough. (Grace declined to take
any of their beverage, and remained in her place in the vehicle,
looking dreamily at the sunlight that came in thin threads through
the hollies with which the oaks were interspersed.
When Melbury stepped up close to the shelter, he for the first
time perceived that the doctor was present, and warmly appreciated
Fitzpiers's invitation to sit down on the log beside him.
"Bless my heart, who would have thought of finding you here," he
said, obviously much pleased at the circumstance. "I wonder now
if my daughter knows you are so nigh at hand. I don't expect she
He looked out towards the gig wherein Grace sat, her face still
turned in the opposite direction. "She doesn't see us. Well,
never mind: let her be."
Grace was indeed quite unconscious of Fitzpiers's propinquity.
She was thinking of something which had little connection with the
scene before her--thinking of her friend, lost as soon as found,
Mrs. Charmond; of her capricious conduct, and of the contrasting
scenes she was possibly enjoying at that very moment in other
climes, to which Grace herself had hoped to be introduced by her
friend's means. She wondered if this patronizing lady would
return to Hintock during the summer, and whether the acquaintance
which had been nipped on the last occasion of her residence there
would develop on the next.
Melbury told ancient timber-stories as he sat, relating them
directly to Fitzpiers, and obliquely to the men, who had heard
them often before. Marty, who poured out tea, was just saying, "I
think I'll take out a cup to Miss Grace," when they heard a
clashing of the gig-harness, and turning round Melbury saw that
the horse had become restless, and was jerking about the vehicle
in a way which alarmed its occupant, though she refrained from
screaming. Melbury jumped up immediately, but not more quickly
than Fitzpiers; and while her father ran to the horse's head and
speedily began to control him, Fitzpiers was alongside the gig
assisting Grace to descend. Her surprise at his appearance was so
great that, far from making a calm and independent descent, she
was very nearly lifted down in his arms. He relinquished her when
she touched ground, and hoped she was not frightened.
"Oh no, not much," she managed to say. "There was no danger--
unless he had run under the trees where the boughs are low enough
to hit my head."
"Which was by no means an impossibility, and justifies any amount
of alarm."
He referred to what he thought he saw written in her face, and she
could not tell him that this had little to do with the horse, but
much with himself. His contiguity had, in fact, the same effect
upon her as on those former occasions when he had come closer to
her than usual--that of producing in her an unaccountable tendency
to tearfulness. Melbury soon put the horse to rights, and seeing
that Grace was safe, turned again to the work-people. His
daughter's nervous distress had passed off in a few moments, and
she said quite gayly to Fitzpiers as she walked with him towards
the group, "There's destiny in it, you see. I was doomed to join
in your picnic, although I did not intend to do so."
Marty prepared her a comfortable place, and she sat down in the
circle, and listened to Fitzpiers while he drew from her father
and the bark-rippers sundry narratives of their fathers', their
grandfathers', and their own adventures in these woods; of the
mysterious sights they had seen--only to be accounted for by
supernatural agency; of white witches and black witches; and the
standard story of the spirits of the two brothers who had fought
and fallen, and had haunted Hintock House till they were exorcised
by the priest, and compelled to retreat to a swamp in this very
wood, whence they were returning to their old quarters at the rate
of a cock's stride every New-year's Day, old style; hence the
local saying, "On New-year's tide, a cock's stride."
It was a pleasant time. The smoke from the little fire of peeled
sticks rose between the sitters and the sunlight, and behind its
blue veil stretched the naked arms of the prostrate trees The
smell of the uncovered sap mingled with the smell of the burning
wood, and the sticky inner surface of the scattered bark glistened
as it revealed its pale madder hues to the eye. Melbury was so
highly satisfied at having Fitzpiers as a sort of guest that he
would have sat on for any length of time, but Grace, on whom
Fitzpiers's eyes only too frequently alighted, seemed to think it
incumbent upon her to make a show of going; and her father
thereupon accompanied her to the vehicle.
As the doctor had helped her out of it he appeared to think that
he had excellent reasons for helping her in, and performed the
attention lingeringly enough.
"What were you almost in tears about just now?" he asked, softly.
"I don't know," she said: and the words were strictly true.
Melbury mounted on the other side, and they drove on out of the
grove, their wheels silently crushing delicate-patterned mosses,
hyacinths, primroses, lords-and-ladies, and other strange and
ordinary plants, and cracking up little sticks that lay across the
track. Their way homeward ran along the crest of a lofty hill,
whence on the right they beheld a wide valley, differing both in
feature and atmosphere from that of the Hintock precincts. It was
the cider country, which met the woodland district on the axis of
this hill. Over the vale the air was blue as sapphire--such a
blue as outside that apple-valley was never seen. Under the blue
the orchards were in a blaze of bloom, some of the richly flowered
trees running almost up to where they drove along. Over a gate
which opened down the incline a man leaned on his arms, regarding
this fair promise so intently that he did not observe their
"That was Giles," said Melbury, when they had gone by.
"Was it? Poor Giles," said she.
"All that blooth means heavy autumn work for him and his hands.
If no blight happens before the setting the apple yield will be
such as we have not had for years."
Meanwhile, in the wood they had come from, the men had sat on so
long that they were indisposed to begin work again that evening;
they were paid by the ton, and their time for labor was as they
chose. They placed the last gatherings of bark in rows for the
curers, which led them farther and farther away from the shed; and
thus they gradually withdrew as the sun went down.
Fitzpiers lingered yet. He had opened his book again, though he
could hardly see a word in it, and sat before the dying fire,
scarcely knowing of the men's departure. He dreamed and mused
till his consciousness seemed to occupy the whole space of the
woodland around, so little was there of jarring sight or sound to
hinder perfect unity with the sentiment of the place. The idea
returned upon him of sacrificing all practical aims to live in
calm contentment here, and instead of going on elaborating new
conceptions with infinite pains, to accept quiet domesticity
according to oldest and homeliest notions. These reflections
detained him till the wood was embrowned with the coming night,
and the shy little bird of this dusky time had begun to pour out
all the intensity of his eloquence from a bush not very far off.
Fitzpiers's eyes commanded as much of the ground in front as was
open. Entering upon this he saw a figure, whose direction of
movement was towards the spot where he sat. The surgeon was quite
shrouded from observation by the recessed shadow of the hut, and
there was no reason why he should move till the stranger had
passed by. The shape resolved itself into a woman's; she was
looking on the ground, and walking slowly as if searching for
something that had been lost, her course being precisely that of
Mr. Melbury's gig. Fitzpiers by a sort of divination jumped to
the idea that the figure was Grace's; her nearer approach made the
guess a certainty.
Yes, she was looking for something; and she came round by the
prostrate trees that would have been invisible but for the white
nakedness which enabled her to avoid them easily. Thus she
approached the heap of ashes, and acting upon what was suggested
by a still shining ember or two, she took a stick and stirred the
heap, which thereupon burst into a flame. On looking around by
the light thus obtained she for the first time saw the illumined
face of Fitzpiers, precisely in the spot where she had left him.
Grace gave a start and a scream: the place had been associated
with him in her thoughts, but she had not expected to find him
there still. Fitzpiers lost not a moment in rising and going to
her side.
"I frightened you dreadfully, I know," he said. "I ought to have
spoken; but I did not at first expect it to be you. I have been
sitting here ever since."
He was actually supporting her with his arm, as though under the
impression that she was quite overcome, and in danger of falling.
As soon as she could collect her ideas she gently withdrew from
his grasp, and explained what she had returned for: in getting up
or down from the gig, or when sitting by the hut fire, she had
dropped her purse.
"Now we will find it," said Fitzpiers.
He threw an armful of last year's leaves on to the fire, which
made the flame leap higher, and the encompassing shades to weave
themselves into a denser contrast, turning eve into night in a
moment. By this radiance they groped about on their hands and
knees, till Fitzpiers rested on his elbow, and looked at Grace.
"We must always meet in odd circumstances," he said; "and this is
one of the oddest. I wonder if it means anything?"
"Oh no, I am sure it doesn't," said Grace in haste, quickly
assuming an erect posture. "Pray don't say it any more."
"I hope there was not much money in the purse," said Fitzpiers,
rising to his feet more slowly, and brushing the leaves from his
"Scarcely any. I cared most about the purse itself, because it
was given me. Indeed, money is of little more use at Hintock than
on Crusoe's island; there's hardly any way of spending it."
They had given up the search when Fitzpiers discerned something by
his foot. "Here it is," he said, "so that your father, mother,
friend, or ADMIRER will not have his or her feelings hurt by a
sense of your negligence after all."
"Oh, he knows nothing of what I do now."
"The admirer?" said Fitzpiers, slyly.
"I don't know if you would call him that," said Grace, with
simplicity. "The admirer is a superficial, conditional creature,
and this person is quite different."
"He has all the cardinal virtues."
"Perhaps--though I don't know them precisely."
"You unconsciously practise them, Miss Melbury, which is better.
According to Schleiermacher they are Self-control, Perseverance,
Wisdom, and Love; and his is the best list that I know."
"I am afraid poor--" She was going to say that she feared
Winterborne--the giver of the purse years before--had not much
perseverance, though he had all the other three; but she
determined to go no further in this direction, and was silent.
These half-revelations made a perceptible difference in Fitzpiers.
His sense of personal superiority wasted away, and Grace assumed
in his eyes the true aspect of a mistress in her lover's regard.
"Miss Melbury," he said, suddenly, "I divine that this virtuous
man you mention has been refused by you?"
She could do no otherwise than admit it.
"I do not inquire without good reason. God forbid that I should
kneel in another's place at any shrine unfairly. But, my dear
Miss Melbury, now that he is gone, may I draw near?"
"I--I can't say anything about that!" she cried, quickly.
"Because when a man has been refused you feel pity for him, and
like him more than you did before."
This increasing complication added still more value to Grace in
the surgeon's eyes: it rendered her adorable. "But cannot you
say?" he pleaded, distractedly.
"I'd rather not--I think I must go home at once."
"Oh yes," said Fitzpiers. But as he did not move she felt it
awkward to walk straight away from him; and so they stood silently
together. A diversion was created by the accident of two birds,
that had either been roosting above their heads or nesting there,
tumbling one over the other into the hot ashes at their feet,
apparently engrossed in a desperate quarrel that prevented the use
of their wings. They speedily parted, however, and flew up, and
were seen no more.
"That's the end of what is called love!" said some one.
The speaker was neither Grace nor Fitzpiers, but Marty South, who
approached with her face turned up to the sky in her endeavor to
trace the birds. Suddenly perceiving Grace, she exclaimed, "Oh,
Miss Melbury! I have been following they pigeons, and didn't see
you. And here's Mr. Winterborne!" she continued, shyly, as she
looked towards Fitzpiers, who stood in the background.
"Marty," Grace interrupted. "I want you to walk home with me--
will you? Come along." And without lingering longer she took hold
of Marty's arm and led her away.
They went between the spectral arms of the peeled trees as they
lay, and onward among the growing trees, by a path where there
were no oaks, and no barking, and no Fitzpiers--nothing but copsewood,
between which the primroses could be discerned in pale
bunches. "I didn't know Mr. Winterborne was there," said Marty,
breaking the silence when they had nearly reached Grace's door.
"Nor was he," said Grace.
"But, Miss Melbury, I saw him."
"No," said Grace. "It was somebody else. Giles Winterborne is
nothing to me."
The leaves over Hintock grew denser in their substance, and the
woodland seemed to change from an open filigree to a solid opaque
body of infinitely larger shape and importance. The boughs cast
green shades, which hurt the complexion of the girls who walked
there; and a fringe of them which overhung Mr. Melbury's garden
dripped on his seed-plots when it rained, pitting their surface
all over as with pock-marks, till Melbury declared that gardens in
such a place were no good at all. The two trees that had creaked
all the winter left off creaking, the whir of the night-jar,
however, forming a very satisfactory continuation of uncanny music
from that quarter. Except at mid-day the sun was not seen
complete by the Hintock people, but rather in the form of numerous
little stars staring through the leaves.
Such an appearance it had on Midsummer Eve of this year, and as
the hour grew later, and nine o'clock drew on, the irradiation of
the daytime became broken up by weird shadows and ghostly nooks of
indistinctness. Imagination could trace upon the trunks and
boughs strange faces and figures shaped by the dying lights; the
surfaces of the holly-leaves would here and there shine like
peeping eyes, while such fragments of the sky as were visible
between the trunks assumed the aspect of sheeted forms and cloven
tongues. This was before the moonrise. Later on, when that
planet was getting command of the upper heaven, and consequently
shining with an unbroken face into such open glades as there were
in the neighborhood of the hamlet, it became apparent that the
margin of the wood which approached the timber-merchant's premises
was not to be left to the customary stillness of that reposeful
Fitzpiers having heard a voice or voices, was looking over his
garden gate--where he now looked more frequently than into his
books--fancying that Grace might be abroad with some friends. He
was now irretrievably committed in heart to Grace Melbury, though
he was by no means sure that she was so far committed to him.
That the Idea had for once completely fulfilled itself in the
objective substance--which he had hitherto deemed an
impossibility--he was enchanted enough to fancy must be the case
at last. It was not Grace who had passed, however, but several of
the ordinary village girls in a group--some steadily walking, some
in a mood of wild gayety. He quietly asked his landlady, who was
also in the garden, what these girls were intending, and she
informed him that it being Old Midsummer Eve, they were about to
attempt some spell or enchantment which would afford them a
glimpse of their future partners for life. She declared it to be
an ungodly performance, and one which she for her part would never
countenance; saying which, she entered her house and retired to
The young man lit a cigar and followed the bevy of maidens slowly
up the road. They had turned into the wood at an opening between
Melbury's and Marty South's; but Fitzpiers could easily track them
by their voices, low as they endeavored to keep their tones.
In the mean time other inhabitants of Little Hintock had become
aware of the nocturnal experiment about to be tried, and were also
sauntering stealthily after the frisky maidens. Miss Melbury had
been informed by Marty South during the day of the proposed peep
into futurity, and, being only a girl like the rest, she was
sufficiently interested to wish to see the issue. The moon was so
bright and the night so calm that she had no difficulty in
persuading Mrs. Melbury to accompany her; and thus, joined by
Marty, these went onward in the same direction.
Passing Winterborne's house, they heard a noise of hammering.
Marty explained it. This was the last night on which his paternal
roof would shelter him, the days of grace since it fell into hand
having expired; and Giles was taking down his cupboards and
bedsteads with a view to an early exit next morning. His
encounter with Mrs. Charmond had cost him dearly.
When they had proceeded a little farther Marty was joined by
Grammer Oliver (who was as young as the youngest in such matters),
and Grace and Mrs. Melbury went on by themselves till they had
arrived at the spot chosen by the village daughters, whose primary
intention of keeping their expedition a secret had been quite
defeated. Grace and her step-mother paused by a holly-tree; and
at a little distance stood Fitzpiers under the shade of a young
oak, intently observing Grace, who was in the full rays of the
He watched her without speaking, and unperceived by any but Marty
and Grammer, who had drawn up on the dark side of the same holly
which sheltered Mrs. and Miss Melbury on its bright side. The two
former conversed in low tones.
"If they two come up in Wood next Midsummer Night they'll come as
one," said Grammer, signifying Fitzpiers and Grace. "Instead of
my skellington he'll carry home her living carcass before long.
But though she's a lady in herself, and worthy of any such as he,
it do seem to me that he ought to marry somebody more of the sort
of Mrs. Charmond, and that Miss Grace should make the best of
Marty returned no comment; and at that minute the girls, some of
whom were from Great Hintock, were seen advancing to work the
incantation, it being now about midnight.
"Directly we see anything we'll run home as fast as we can," said
one, whose courage had begun to fail her. To this the rest
assented, not knowing that a dozen neighbors lurked in the bushes
"I wish we had not thought of trying this," said another, "but had
contented ourselves with the hole-digging to-morrow at twelve, and
hearing our husbands' trades. It is too much like having dealings
with the Evil One to try to raise their forms."
However, they had gone too far to recede, and slowly began to
march forward in a skirmishing line through the trees towards the
deeper recesses of the wood. As far as the listeners could
gather, the particular form of black-art to be practised on this
occasion was one connected with the sowing of hemp-seed, a handful
of which was carried by each girl. At the moment of their advance
they looked back, and discerned the figure of Miss Melbury, who,
alone of all the observers, stood in the full face of the
moonlight, deeply engrossed in the proceedings. By contrast with
her life of late years they made her feel as if she had receded a
couple of centuries in the world's history. She was rendered
doubly conspicuous by her light dress, and after a few whispered
words, one of the girls--a bouncing maiden, plighted to young
Timothy Tangs--asked her if she would join in. Grace, with some
excitement, said that she would, and moved on a little in the rear
of the rest.
Soon the listeners could hear nothing of their proceedings beyond
the faintest occasional rustle of leaves. Grammer whispered again
to Marty: "Why didn't ye go and try your luck with the rest of the
"I don't believe in it," said Marty, shortly.
"Why, half the parish is here--the silly hussies should have kept
it quiet. I see Mr. Winterborne through the leaves, just come up
with Robert Creedle. Marty, we ought to act the part o'
Providence sometimes. Do go and tell him that if he stands just
behind the bush at the bottom of the slope, Miss Grace must pass
down it when she comes back, and she will most likely rush into
his arms; for as soon as the clock strikes, they'll bundle back
home--along like hares. I've seen such larries before."
"Do you think I'd better?" said Marty, reluctantly.
"Oh yes, he'll bless ye for it."
"I don't want that kind of blessing." But after a moment's thought
she went and delivered the information; and Grammer had the
satisfaction of seeing Giles walk slowly to the bend in the leafy
defile along which Grace would have to return.
Meanwhile Mrs. Melbury, deserted by Grace, had perceived Fitzpiers
and Winterborne, and also the move of the latter. An improvement
on Grammer's idea entered the mind of Mrs. Melbury, for she had
lately discerned what her husband had not--that Grace was rapidly
fascinating the surgeon. She therefore drew near to Fitzpiers.
"You should be where Mr. Winterborne is standing," she said to
him, significantly. "She will run down through that opening much
faster than she went up it, if she is like the rest of the girls."
Fitzpiers did not require to be told twice. He went across to
Winterborne and stood beside him. Each knew the probable purpose
of the other in standing there, and neither spoke, Fitzpiers
scorning to look upon Winterborne as a rival, and Winterborne
adhering to the off-hand manner of indifference which had grown
upon him since his dismissal.
Neither Grammer nor Marty South had seen the surgeon's manoeuvre,
and, still to help Winterborne, as she supposed, the old woman
suggested to the wood-girl that she should walk forward at the
heels of Grace, and "tole" her down the required way if she showed
a tendency to run in another direction. Poor Marty, always doomed
to sacrifice desire to obligation, walked forward accordingly, and
waited as a beacon, still and silent, for the retreat of Grace and
her giddy companions, now quite out of hearing.
The first sound to break the silence was the distant note of Great
Hintock clock striking the significant hour. About a minute later
that quarter of the wood to which the girls had wandered resounded
with the flapping of disturbed birds; then two or three hares and
rabbits bounded down the glade from the same direction, and after
these the rustling and crackling of leaves and dead twigs denoted
the hurried approach of the adventurers, whose fluttering gowns
soon became visible. Miss Melbury, having gone forward quite in
the rear of the rest, was one of the first to return, and the
excitement being contagious, she ran laughing towards Marty, who
still stood as a hand-post to guide her; then, passing on, she
flew round the fatal bush where the undergrowth narrowed to a
gorge. Marty arrived at her heels just in time to see the result.
Fitzpiers had quickly stepped forward in front of Winterborne,
who, disdaining to shift his position, had turned on his heel, and
then the surgeon did what he would not have thought of doing but
for Mrs. Melbury's encouragement and the sentiment of an eve which
effaced conventionality. Stretching out his arms as the white
figure burst upon him, he captured her in a moment, as if she had
been a bird.
"Oh!" cried Grace, in her fright.
"You are in my arms, dearest," said Fitzpiers, "and I am going to
claim you, and keep you there all our two lives!"
She rested on him like one utterly mastered, and it was several
seconds before she recovered from this helplessness. Subdued
screams and struggles, audible from neighboring brakes, revealed
that there had been other lurkers thereabout for a similar
purpose. Grace, unlike most of these companions of hers, instead
of gasping and writhing, said in a trembling voice, "Mr.
Fitzpiers, will you let me go?"
"Certainly," he said, laughing; "as soon as you have recovered."
She waited another few moments, then quietly and firmly pushed him
aside, and glided on her path, the moon whitening her hot blush
away. But it had been enough--new relations between them had
The case of the other girls was different, as has been said. They
wrestled and tittered, only escaping after a desperate struggle.
Fitzpiers could hear these enactments still going on after Grace
had left him, and he remained on the spot where he had caught her,
Winterborne having gone away. On a sudden another girl came
bounding down the same descent that had been followed by Grace--a
fine-framed young woman with naked arms. Seeing Fitzpiers
standing there, she said, with playful effrontery, "May'st kiss me
if 'canst catch me, Tim!"
Fitzpiers recognized her as Suke Damson, a hoydenish damsel of
the hamlet, who was plainly mistaking him for her lover. He was
impulsively disposed to profit by her error, and as soon as she
began racing away he started in pursuit.
On she went under the boughs, now in light, now in shade, looking
over her shoulder at him every few moments and kissing her hand;
but so cunningly dodging about among the trees and moon-shades
that she never allowed him to get dangerously near her. Thus they
ran and doubled, Fitzpiers warming with the chase, till the sound
of their companions had quite died away. He began to lose hope of
ever overtaking her, when all at once, by way of encouragement,
she turned to a fence in which there was a stile and leaped over
it. Outside the scene was a changed one--a meadow, where the
half-made hay lay about in heaps, in the uninterrupted shine of
the now high moon.
Fitzpiers saw in a moment that, having taken to open ground, she
had placed herself at his mercy, and he promptly vaulted over
after her. She flitted a little way down the mead, when all at
once her light form disappeared as if it had sunk into the earth.
She had buried herself in one of the hay-cocks.
Fitzpiers, now thoroughly excited, was not going to let her escape
him thus. He approached, and set about turning over the heaps one
by one. As soon as he paused, tantalized and puzzled, he was
directed anew by an imitative kiss which came from her hidingplace,
and by snatches of a local ballad in the smallest voice she
could assume:
"O come in from the foggy, foggy dew."
In a minute or two he uncovered her.
"Oh, 'tis not Tim!" said she, burying her face.
Fitzpiers, however, disregarded her resistance by reason of its
mildness, stooped and imprinted the purposed kiss, then sunk down
on the next hay-cock, panting with his race.
"Whom do you mean by Tim?" he asked, presently.
"My young man, Tim Tangs," said she.
"Now, honor bright, did you really think it was he?"
"I did at first."
"But you didn't at last?"
"I didn't at last."
"Do you much mind that it was not?"
"No," she answered, slyly.
Fitzpiers did not pursue his questioning. In the moonlight Suke
looked very beautiful, the scratches and blemishes incidental to
her out-door occupation being invisible under these pale rays.
While they remain silent the coarse whir of the eternal night-jar
burst sarcastically from the top of a tree at the nearest corner
of the wood. Besides this not a sound of any kind reached their
ears, the time of nightingales being now past, and Hintock lying
at a distance of two miles at least. In the opposite direction
the hay-field stretched away into remoteness till it was lost to
the eye in a soft mist.
When the general stampede occurred Winterborne had also been
looking on, and encountering one of the girls, had asked her what
caused them all to fly.
She said with solemn breathlessness that they had seen something
very different from what they had hoped to see, and that she for
one would never attempt such unholy ceremonies again. "We saw
Satan pursuing us with his hour-glass. It was terrible!"
This account being a little incoherent, Giles went forward towards
the spot from which the girls had retreated. After listening
there a few minutes he heard slow footsteps rustling over the
leaves, and looking through a tangled screen of honeysuckle which
hung from a bough, he saw in the open space beyond a short stout
man in evening-dress, carrying on one arm a light overcoat and
also his hat, so awkwardly arranged as possibly to have suggested
the "hour-glass" to his timid observers--if this were the person
whom the girls had seen. With the other hand he silently
gesticulated and the moonlight falling upon his bare brow showed
him to have dark hair and a high forehead of the shape seen
oftener in old prints and paintings than in real life. His
curious and altogether alien aspect, his strange gestures, like
those of one who is rehearsing a scene to himself, and the unusual
place and hour, were sufficient to account for any trepidation
among the Hintock daughters at encountering him.
He paused, and looked round, as if he had forgotten where he was;
not observing Giles, who was of the color of his environment. The
latter advanced into the light. The gentleman held up his hand
and came towards Giles, the two meeting half-way.
"I have lost my way," said the stranger. "Perhaps you can put me
in the path again." He wiped his forehead with the air of one
suffering under an agitation more than that of simple fatigue.
"The turnpike-road is over there," said Giles
"I don't want the turnpike-road," said the gentleman, impatiently.
"I came from that. I want Hintock House. Is there not a path to
it across here?"
"Well, yes, a sort of path. But it is hard to find from this
point. I'll show you the way, sir, with great pleasure."
"Thanks, my good friend. The truth is that I decided to walk
across the country after dinner from the hotel at Sherton, where I
am staying for a day or two. But I did not know it was so far."
"It is about a mile to the house from here."
They walked on together. As there was no path, Giles occasionally
stepped in front and bent aside the underboughs of the trees to
give his companion a passage, saying every now and then when the
twigs, on being released, flew back like whips, "Mind your eyes,
sir." To which the stranger replied, "Yes, yes," in a preoccupied
So they went on, the leaf-shadows running in their usual quick
succession over the forms of the pedestrians, till the stranger
"Is it far?"
"Not much farther," said Winterborne. "The plantation runs up
into a corner here, close behind the house." He added with
hesitation, "You know, I suppose, sir, that Mrs. Charmond is not
at home?"
"You mistake," said the other, quickly. "Mrs. Charmond has been
away for some time, but she's at home now."
Giles did not contradict him, though he felt sure that the
gentleman was wrong.
"You are a native of this place?" the stranger said.
"Well, you are happy in having a home. It is what I don't
"You come from far, seemingly?"
"I come now from the south of Europe."
"Oh, indeed, sir. You are an Italian, or Spanish, or French
gentleman, perhaps?"
"I am not either."
Giles did not fill the pause which ensued, and the gentleman, who
seemed of an emotional nature, unable to resist friendship, at
length answered the question.
"I am an Italianized American, a South Carolinian by birth," he
said. "I left my native country on the failure of the Southern
cause, and have never returned to it since."
He spoke no more about himself, and they came to the verge of the
wood. Here, striding over the fence out upon the upland sward,
they could at once see the chimneys of the house in the gorge
immediately beneath their position, silent, still, and pale.
"Can you tell me the time?" the gentleman asked. "My watch has
"It is between twelve and one," said Giles.
His companion expressed his astonishment. "I thought it between
nine and ten at latest! Dear me--dear me!"
He now begged Giles to return, and offered him a gold coin, which
looked like a sovereign, for the assistance rendered. Giles
declined to accept anything, to the surprise of the stranger, who,
on putting the money back into his pocket, said, awkwardly, "I
offered it because I want you to utter no word about this meeting
with me. Will you promise?"
Winterborne promised readily. He thereupon stood still while the
other ascended the slope. At the bottom he looked back dubiously.
Giles would no longer remain when he was so evidently desired to
leave, and returned through the boughs to Hintock.
He suspected that this man, who seemed so distressed and
melancholy, might be that lover and persistent wooer of Mrs.
Charmond whom he had heard so frequently spoken of, and whom it
was said she had treated cavalierly. But he received no
confirmation of his suspicion beyond a report which reached him a
few days later that a gentleman had called up the servants who
were taking care of Hintock House at an hour past midnight; and on
learning that Mrs. Charmond, though returned from abroad, was as
yet in London, he had sworn bitterly, and gone away without
leaving a card or any trace of himself.
The girls who related the story added that he sighed three times
before he swore, but this part of the narrative was not
corroborated. Anyhow, such a gentleman had driven away from the
hotel at Sherton next day in a carriage hired at that inn.
The sunny, leafy week which followed the tender doings of
Midsummer Eve brought a visitor to Fitzpiers's door; a voice that
he knew sounded in the passage. Mr. Melbury had called. At first
he had a particular objection to enter the parlor, because his
boots were dusty, but as the surgeon insisted he waived the point
and came in.
Looking neither to the right nor to the left, hardly at Fitzpiers
himself, he put his hat under his chair, and with a preoccupied
gaze at the floor, he said, "I've called to ask you, doctor, quite
privately, a question that troubles me. I've a daughter, Grace,
an only daughter, as you may have heard. Well, she's been out in
the dew--on Midsummer Eve in particular she went out in thin
slippers to watch some vagary of the Hintock maids--and she's got
a cough, a distinct hemming and hacking, that makes me uneasy.
Now, I have decided to send her away to some seaside place for a
"Send her away!" Fitzpiers's countenance had fallen.
"Yes. And the question is, where would you advise me to send
The timber-merchant had happened to call at a moment when
Fitzpiers was at the spring-tide of a sentiment that Grace was a
necessity of his existence. The sudden pressure of her form upon
his breast as she came headlong round the bush had never ceased to
linger with him, ever since he adopted the manoeuvre for which the
hour and the moonlight and the occasion had been the only excuse.
Now she was to be sent away. Ambition? it could be postponed.
Family? culture and reciprocity of tastes had taken the place of
family nowadays. He allowed himself to be carried forward on the
wave of his desire.
"How strange, how very strange it is," he said, "that you should
have come to me about her just now. I have been thinking every
day of coming to you on the very same errand."
"Ah!--you have noticed, too, that her health----"
"I have noticed nothing the matter with her health, because there
is nothing. But, Mr. Melbury, I have seen your daughter several
times by accident. I have admired her infinitely, and I was
coming to ask you if I may become better acquainted with her--pay
my addresses to her?"
Melbury was looking down as he listened, and did not see the air
of half-misgiving at his own rashness that spread over Fitzpiers's
face as he made this declaration.
"You have--got to know her?" said Melbury, a spell of dead silence
having preceded his utterance, during which his emotion rose with
almost visible effect.
"Yes," said Fitzpiers.
"And you wish to become better acquainted with her? You mean with
a view to marriage--of course that is what you mean?"
"Yes," said the young man. "I mean, get acquainted with her, with
a view to being her accepted lover; and if we suited each other,
what would naturally follow."
The timber-merchant was much surprised, and fairly agitated; his
hand trembled as he laid by his walking-stick. "This takes me
unawares," said he, his voice wellnigh breaking down. "I don't
mean that there is anything unexpected in a gentleman being
attracted by her; but it did not occur to me that it would be you.
I always said," continued he, with a lump in his throat, "that my
Grace would make a mark at her own level some day. That was why I
educated her. I said to myself, 'I'll do it, cost what it may;'
though her mother-law was pretty frightened at my paying out so
much money year after year. I knew it would tell in the end.
'Where you've not good material to work on, such doings would be
waste and vanity,' I said. 'But where you have that material it
is sure to be worth while.'"
"I am glad you don't object," said Fitzpiers, almost wishing that
Grace had not been quite so cheap for him.
"If she is willing I don't object, certainly. Indeed," added the
honest man, "it would be deceit if I were to pretend to feel
anything else than highly honored personally; and it is a great
credit to her to have drawn to her a man of such good professional
station and venerable old family. That huntsman-fellow little
thought how wrong he was about her! Take her and welcome, sir."
"I'll endeavor to ascertain her mind."
"Yes, yes. But she will be agreeable, I should think. She ought
to be."
"I hope she may. Well, now you'll expect to see me frequently."
"Oh yes. But, name it all--about her cough, and her going away.
I had quite forgot that that was what I came about."
"I assure you," said the surgeon, "that her cough can only be the
result of a slight cold, and it is not necessary to banish her to
any seaside place at all."
Melbury looked unconvinced, doubting whether he ought to take
Fitzpiers's professional opinion in circumstances which naturally
led him to wish to keep her there. The doctor saw this, and
honestly dreading to lose sight of her, he said, eagerly, 'Between
ourselves, if I am successful with her I will take her away myself
for a month or two, as soon as we are married, which I hope will
be before the chilly weather comes on. This will be so very much
better than letting her go now."
The proposal pleased Melbury much. There could be hardly any
danger in postponing any desirable change of air as long as the
warm weather lasted, and for such a reason. Suddenly recollecting
himself, he said, "Your time must be precious, doctor. I'll get
home-along. I am much obliged to ye. As you will see her often,
you'll discover for yourself if anything serious is the matter."
"I can assure you it is nothing," said Fitzpiers, who had seen
Grace much oftener already than her father knew of.
When he was gone Fitzpiers paused, silent, registering his
sensations, like a man who has made a plunge for a pearl into a
medium of which he knows not the density or temperature. But he
had done it, and Grace was the sweetest girl alive.
As for the departed visitor, his own last words lingered in
Melbury's ears as he walked homeward; he felt that what he had
said in the emotion of the moment was very stupid, ungenteel, and
unsuited to a dialogue with an educated gentleman, the smallness
of whose practice was more than compensated by the former
greatness of his family. He had uttered thoughts before they were
weighed, and almost before they were shaped. They had expressed
in a certain sense his feeling at Fitzpiers's news, but yet they
were not right. Looking on the ground, and planting his stick at
each tread as if it were a flag-staff, he reached his own
precincts, where, as he passed through the court, he automatically
stopped to look at the men working in the shed and around. One of
them asked him a question about wagon-spokes.
"Hey?" said Melbury, looking hard at him. The man repeated the
Melbury stood; then turning suddenly away without answering, he
went up the court and entered the house. As time was no object
with the journeymen, except as a thing to get past, they leisurely
surveyed the door through which he had disappeared.
"What maggot has the gaffer got in his head now?" said Tangs the
elder. "Sommit to do with that chiel of his! When you've got a
maid of yer own, John Upjohn, that costs ye what she costs him,
that will take the squeak out of your Sunday shoes, John! But
you'll never be tall enough to accomplish such as she; and 'tis a
lucky thing for ye, John, as things be. Well, be ought to have a
dozen--that would bring him to reason. I see 'em walking together
last Sunday, and when they came to a puddle he lifted her over
like a halfpenny doll. He ought to have a dozen; he'd let 'em
walk through puddles for themselves then."
Meanwhile Melbury had entered the house with the look of a man who
sees a vision before him. His wife was in the room. Without
taking off his hat he sat down at random.
"Luce--we've done it!" he said. "Yes--the thing is as I expected.
The spell, that I foresaw might be worked, has worked. She's done
it, and done it well. Where is she--Grace, I mean?"
"Up in her room--what has happened!"
Mr. Melbury explained the circumstances as coherently as he could.
"I told you so," he said. "A maid like her couldn't stay hid
long, even in a place like this. But where is Grace? Let's have
her down. Here--Gra-a-ace!"
She appeared after a reasonable interval, for she was sufficiently
spoiled by this father of hers not to put herself in a hurry,
however impatient his tones. "What is it, father?" said she, with
a smile.
"Why, you scamp, what's this you've been doing? Not home here more
than six months, yet, instead of confining yourself to your
father's rank, making havoc in the educated classes."
Though accustomed to show herself instantly appreciative of her
father's meanings, Grace was fairly unable to look anyhow but at a
loss now.
"No, no--of course you don't know what I mean, or you pretend you
don't; though, for my part, I believe women can see these things
through a double hedge. But I suppose I must tell ye. Why,
you've flung your grapnel over the doctor, and he's coming
courting forthwith."
"Only think of that, my dear! Don't you feel it a triumph?" said
Mrs. Melbury.
"Coming courting! I've done nothing to make him," Grace exclaimed.
"'Twasn't necessary that you should, 'Tis voluntary that rules in
these things....Well, he has behaved very honorably, and asked my
consent. You'll know what to do when he gets here, I dare say. I
needn't tell you to make it all smooth for him."
"You mean, to lead him on to marry me?"
"I do. Haven't I educated you for it?"
Grace looked out of the window and at the fireplace with no
animation in her face. "Why is it settled off-hand in this way?"
said she, coquettishly. "You'll wait till you hear what I think
of him, I suppose?"
"Oh yes, of course. But you see what a good thing it will be."
She weighed the statement without speaking.
"You will be restored to the society you've been taken away from,"
continued her father; "for I don't suppose he'll stay here long."
She admitted the advantage; but it was plain that though Fitzpiers
exercised a certain fascination over her when he was present, or
even more, an almost psychic influence, and though his impulsive
act in the wood had stirred her feelings indescribably, she had
never regarded him in the light of a destined husband. "I don't
know what to answer," she said. "I have learned that he is very
"He's all right, and he's coming here to see you."
A premonition that she could not resist him if he came strangely
moved her. "Of course, father, you remember that it is only
lately that Giles--"
"You know that you can't think of him. He has given up all claim
to you."
She could not explain the subtleties of her feeling as he could
state his opinion, even though she had skill in speech, and her
father had none. That Fitzpiers acted upon her like a dram,
exciting her, throwing her into a novel atmosphere which biassed
her doings until the influence was over, when she felt something
of the nature of regret for the mood she had experienced--still
more if she reflected on the silent, almost sarcastic, criticism
apparent in Winterborne's air towards her--could not be told to
this worthy couple in words.
It so happened that on this very day Fitzpiers was called away
from Hintock by an engagement to attend some medical meetings, and
his visits, therefore, did not begin at once. A note, however,
arrived from him addressed to Grace, deploring his enforced
absence. As a material object this note was pretty and superfine,
a note of a sort that she had been unaccustomed to see since her
return to Hintock, except when a school friend wrote to her--a
rare instance, for the girls were respecters of persons, and many
cooled down towards the timber-dealer's daughter when she was out
of sight. Thus the receipt of it pleased her, and she afterwards
walked about with a reflective air.
In the evening her father, who knew that the note had come, said,
"Why be ye not sitting down to answer your letter? That's what
young folks did in my time."
She replied that it did not require an answer.
"Oh, you know best," he said. Nevertheless, he went about his
business doubting if she were right in not replying; possibly she
might be so mismanaging matters as to risk the loss of an alliance
which would bring her much happiness.
Melbury's respect for Fitzpiers was based less on his professional
position, which was not much, than on the standing of his family
in the county in by-gone days. That implicit faith in members of
long-established families, as such, irrespective of their personal
condition or character, which is still found among old-fashioned
people in the rural districts reached its full intensity in
Melbury. His daughter's suitor was descended from a family he had
heard of in his grandfather's time as being once great, a family
which had conferred its name upon a neighboring village; how,
then, could anything be amiss in this betrothal?
"I must keep her up to this," he said to his wife. "She sees it
is for her happiness; but still she's young, and may want a little
prompting from an older tongue."
With this in view he took her out for a walk, a custom of his when
he wished to say anything specially impressive. Their way was
over the top of that lofty ridge dividing their woodland from the
cider district, whence they had in the spring beheld the miles of
apple-trees in bloom. All was now deep green. The spot recalled
to Grace's mind the last occasion of her presence there, and she
said, "The promise of an enormous apple-crop is fulfilling itself,
is it not? I suppose Giles is getting his mills and presses
This was just what her father had not come there to talk about.
Without replying he raised his arm, and moved his finger till he
fixed it at a point. "There," he said, "you see that plantation
reaching over the hill like a great slug, and just behind the hill
a particularly green sheltered bottom? That's where Mr.
Fitzpiers's family were lords of the manor for I don't know how
many hundred years, and there stands the village of Buckbury
Fitzpiers. A wonderful property 'twas--wonderful!"
"But they are not lords of the manor there now."
"Why, no. But good and great things die as well as little and
foolish. The only ones representing the family now, I believe,
are our doctor and a maiden lady living I don't know where. You
can't help being happy, Grace, in allying yourself with such a
romantical family. You'll feel as if you've stepped into
"We've been at Hintock as long as they've been at Buckbury; is it
not so? You say our name occurs in old deeds continually."
"Oh yes--as yeomen, copyholders, and such like. But think how
much better this will be for 'ee. You'll be living a high
intellectual life, such as has now become natural to you; and
though the doctor's practice is small here, he'll no doubt go to a
dashing town when he's got his hand in, and keep a stylish
carriage, and you'll be brought to know a good many ladies of
excellent society. If you should ever meet me then, Grace, you
can drive past me, looking the other way. I shouldn't expect you
to speak to me, or wish such a thing, unless it happened to be in
some lonely, private place where 'twouldn't lower ye at all.
Don't think such men as neighbor Giles your equal. He and I shall
be good friends enough, but he's not for the like of you. He's
lived our rough and homely life here, and his wife's life must be
rough and homely likewise."
So much pressure could not but produce some displacement. As
Grace was left very much to herself, she took advantage of one
fine day before Fitzpiers's return to drive into the aforesaid
vale where stood the village of Buckbury Fitzpiers. Leaving her
father's man at the inn with the horse and gig, she rambled onward
to the ruins of a castle, which stood in a field hard by. She had
no doubt that it represented the ancient stronghold of the
Fitzpiers family.
The remains were few, and consisted mostly of remnants of the
lower vaulting, supported on low stout columns surmounted by the
crochet capital of the period. The two or three arches of these
vaults that were still in position were utilized by the adjoining
farmer as shelter for his calves, the floor being spread with
straw, amid which the young creatures rustled, cooling their
thirsty tongues by licking the quaint Norman carving, which
glistened with the moisture. It was a degradation of even such a
rude form of art as this to be treatad so grossly, she thought,
and for the first time the family of Fitzpiers assumed in her
imagination the hues of a melancholy romanticism.
It was soon time to drive home, and she traversed the distance
with a preoccupied mind. The idea of so modern a man in science
and aesthetics as the young surgeon springing out of relics so
ancient was a kind of novelty she had never before experienced.
The combination lent him a social and intellectual interest which
she dreaded, so much weight did it add to the strange influence he
exercised upon her whenever he came near her.
In an excitement which was not love, not ambition, rather a
fearful consciousness of hazard in the air, she awaited his
Meanwhile her father was awaiting him also. In his house there
was an old work on medicine, published towards the end of the last
century, and to put himself in harmony with events Melbury spread
this work on his knees when he had done his day's business, and
read about Galen, Hippocrates, and Herophilus--of the dogmatic,
the empiric, the hermetical, and other sects of practitioners that
have arisen in history; and thence proceeded to the classification
of maladies and the rules for their treatment, as laid down in
this valuable book with absolute precision. Melbury regretted
that the treatise was so old, fearing that he might in consequence
be unable to hold as complete a conversation as he could wish with
Mr. Fitzpiers, primed, no doubt, with more recent discoveries.
The day of Fitzpiers's return arrived, and he sent to say that he
would call immediately. In the little time that was afforded for
putting the house in order the sweeping of Melbury's parlor was as
the sweeping of the parlor at the Interpreter's which wellnigh
choked the Pilgrim. At the end of it Mrs. Melbury sat down,
folded her hands and lips, and waited. Her husband restlessly
walked in and out from the timber-yard, stared at the interior of
the room, jerked out "ay, ay," and retreated again. Between four
and five Fitzpiers arrived, hitching his horse to the hook outside
the door.
As soon as he had walked in and perceived that Grace was not in
the room, he seemed to have a misgiving. Nothing less than her
actual presence could long keep him to the level of this
impassioned enterprise, and that lacking he appeared as one who
wished to retrace his steps.
He mechanically talked at what he considered a woodland matron's
level of thought till a rustling was heard on the stairs, and
Grace came in. Fitzpiers was for once as agitated as she. Over
and above the genuine emotion which she raised in his heart there
hung the sense that he was casting a die by impulse which he might
not have thrown by judgment.
Mr. Melbury was not in the room. Having to attend to matters in
the yard, he had delayed putting on his afternoon coat and
waistcoat till the doctor's appearance, when, not wishing to be
backward in receiving him, he entered the parlor hastily buttoning
up those garments. Grace's fastidiousness was a little distressed
that Fitzpiers should see by this action the strain his visit was
putting upon her father; and to make matters worse for her just
then, old Grammer seemed to have a passion for incessantly pumping
in the back kitchen, leaving the doors open so that the banging
and splashing were distinct above the parlor conversation.
Whenever the chat over the tea sank into pleasant desultoriness
Mr. Melbury broke in with speeches of labored precision on very
remote topics, as if he feared to let Fitzpiers's mind dwell
critically on the subject nearest the hearts of all. In truth a
constrained manner was natural enough in Melbury just now, for the
greatest interest of his life was reaching its crisis. Could the
real have been beheld instead of the corporeal merely, the corner
of the room in which he sat would have been filled with a form
typical of anxious suspense, large-eyed, tight-lipped, awaiting
the issue. That paternal hopes and fears so intense should be
bound up in the person of one child so peculiarly circumstanced,
and not have dispersed themselves over the larger field of a whole
family, involved dangerous risks to future happiness.
Fitzpiers did not stay more than an hour, but that time had
apparently advanced his sentiments towards Grace, once and for
all, from a vaguely liquescent to an organic shape. She would not
have accompanied him to the door in response to his whispered
"Come!" if her mother had not said in a matter-of-fact way, "Of
course, Grace; go to the door with Mr. Fitzpiers." Accordingly
Grace went, both her parents remaining in the room. When the
young pair were in the great brick-floored hall the lover took the
girl's hand in his, drew it under his arm, and thus led her on to
the door, where he stealthily kissed her.
She broke from him trembling, blushed and turned aside, hardly
knowing how things had advanced to this. Fitzpiers drove off,
kissing his hand to her, and waving it to Melbury who was visible
through the window. Her father returned the surgeon's action with
a great flourish of his own hand and a satisfied smile.
The intoxication that Fitzpiers had, as usual, produced in Grace's
brain during the visit passed off somewhat with his withdrawal.
She felt like a woman who did not know what she had been doing for
the previous hour, but supposed with trepidation that the
afternoon's proceedings, though vague, had amounted to an
engagement between herself and the handsome, coercive,
irresistible Fitzpiers.
This visit was a type of many which followed it during the long
summer days of that year. Grace was borne along upon a stream of
reasonings, arguments, and persuasions, supplemented, it must be
added, by inclinations of her own at times. No woman is without
aspirations, which may be innocent enough within certain limits;
and Grace had been so trained socially, and educated
intellectually, as to see clearly enough a pleasure in the
position of wife to such a man as Fitzpiers. His material
standing of itself, either present or future, had little in it to
give her ambition, but the possibilities of a refined and
cultivated inner life, of subtle psychological intercourse, had
their charm. It was this rather than any vulgar idea of marrying
well which caused her to float with the current, and to yield to
the immense influence which Fitzpiers exercised over her whenever
she shared his society.
Any observer would shrewdly have prophesied that whether or not
she loved him as yet in the ordinary sense, she was pretty sure to
do so in time.
One evening just before dusk they had taken a rather long walk
together, and for a short cut homeward passed through the
shrubberies of Hintock House--still deserted, and still blankly
confronting with its sightless shuttered windows the surrounding
foliage and slopes. Grace was tired, and they approached the
wall, and sat together on one of the stone sills--still warm with
the sun that had been pouring its rays upon them all the
"This place would just do for us, would it not, dearest," said her
betrothed, as they sat, turning and looking idly at the old
"Oh yes," said Grace, plainly showing that no such fancy had ever
crossed her mind. "She is away from home still," Grace added in a
minute, rather sadly, for she could not forget that she had
somehow lost the valuable friendship of the lady of this bower.
"Who is?--oh, you mean Mrs. Charmond. Do you know, dear, that at
one time I thought you lived here."
"Indeed!" said Grace. "How was that?"
He explained, as far as he could do so without mentioning his
disappointment at finding it was otherwise; and then went on:
"Well, never mind that. Now I want to ask you something. There
is one detail of our wedding which I am sure you will leave to me.
My inclination is not to be married at the horrid little church
here, with all the yokels staring round at us, and a droning
parson reading."
"Where, then, can it be? At a church in town?"
"No. Not at a church at all. At a registry office. It is a
quieter, snugger, and more convenient place in every way."
"Oh," said she, with real distress. "How can I be married except
at church, and with all my dear friends round me?"
"Yeoman Winterborne among them."
"Yes--why not? You know there was nothing serious between him and
me "
"You see, dear, a noisy bell-ringing marriage at church has this
objection in our case: it would be a thing of report a long way
round. Now I would gently, as gently as possible, indicate to you
how inadvisable such publicity would be if we leave Hintock, and I
purchase the practice that I contemplate purchasing at Budmouth--
hardly more than twenty miles off. Forgive my saying that it will
be far better if nobody there knows where you come from, nor
anything about your parents. Your beauty and knowledge and
manners will carry you anywhere if you are not hampered by such
retrospective criticism."
"But could it not be a quiet ceremony, even at church?" she
"I don't see the necessity of going there!" he said, a trifle
impatiently. "Marriage is a civil contract, and the shorter and
simpler it is made the better. People don't go to church when
they take a house, or even when they make a will."
"Oh, Edgar--I don't like to hear you speak like that."
"Well, well--I didn't mean to. But I have mentioned as much to
your father, who has made no objection; and why should you?"
She gave way, deeming the point one on which she ought to allow
sentiment to give way to policy--if there were indeed policy in
his plan. But she was indefinably depressed as they walked
He left her at the door of her father's house. As he receded, and
was clasped out of sight by the filmy shades, he impressed Grace
as a man who hardly appertained to her existence at all.
Cleverer, greater than herself, one outside her mental orbit, as
she considered him, he seemed to be her ruler rather than her
equal, protector, and dear familiar friend.
The disappointment she had experienced at his wish, the shock
given to her girlish sensibilities by his irreverent views of
marriage, together with the sure and near approach of the day
fixed for committing her future to his keeping, made her so
restless that she could scarcely sleep at all that night. She
rose when the sparrows began to walk out of the roof-holes, sat on
the floor of her room in the dim light, and by-and-by peeped out
behind the window-curtains. It was even now day out-of-doors,
though the tones of morning were feeble and wan, and it was long
before the sun would be perceptible in this overshadowed vale.
Not a sound came from any of the out-houses as yet. The treetrunks,
the road, the out-buildings, the garden, every object wore
that aspect of mesmeric fixity which the suspensive quietude of
daybreak lends to such scenes. Outside her window helpless
immobility seemed to be combined with intense consciousness; a
meditative inertness possessed all things, oppressively
contrasting with her own active emotions. Beyond the road were
some cottage roofs and orchards; over these roofs and over the
apple-trees behind, high up the slope, and backed by the
plantation on the crest, was the house yet occupied by her future
husband, the rough-cast front showing whitely through its
creepers. The window-shutters were closed, the bedroom curtains
closely drawn, and not the thinnest coil of smoke rose from the
rugged chimneys.
Something broke the stillness. The front door of the house she
was gazing at opened softly, and there came out into the porch a
female figure, wrapped in a large shawl, beneath which was visible
the white skirt of a long loose garment. A gray arm, stretching
from within the porch, adjusted the shawl over the woman's
shoulders; it was withdrawn and disappeared, the door closing
behind her.
The woman went quickly down the box-edged path between the
raspberries and currants, and as she walked her well-developed
form and gait betrayed her individuality. It was Suke Damson, the
affianced one of simple young Tim Tangs. At the bottom of the
garden she entered the shelter of the tall hedge, and only the top
of her head could be seen hastening in the direction of her own
Grace had recognized, or thought she recognized, in the gray arm
stretching from the porch, the sleeve of a dressing-gown which Mr.
Fitzpiers had been wearing on her own memorable visit to him. Her
face fired red. She had just before thought of dressing herself
and taking a lonely walk under the trees, so coolly green this
early morning; but she now sat down on her bed and fell into
reverie. It seemed as if hardly any time had passed when she
heard the household moving briskly about, and breakfast preparing
down-stairs; though, on rousing herself to robe and descend, she
found that the sun was throwing his rays completely over the treetops,
a progress of natural phenomena denoting that at least three
hours had elapsed since she last looked out of the window.
When attired she searched about the house for her father; she
found him at last in the garden, stooping to examine the potatoes
for signs of disease. Hearing her rustle, he stood up and
stretched his back and arms, saying, "Morning t'ye, Gracie. I
congratulate ye. It is only a month to-day to the time!"
She did not answer, but, without lifting her dress, waded between
the dewy rows of tall potato-green into the middle of the plot
where he was.
"I have been thinking very much about my position this morning--
ever since it was light," she began, excitedly, and trembling so
that she could hardly stand. "And I feel it is a false one. I
wish not to marry Mr. Fitzpiers. I wish not to marry anybody; but
I'll marry Giles Winterborne if you say I must as an alternative."
Her father's face settled into rigidity, he turned pale, and came
deliberately out of the plot before he answered her. She had
never seen him look so incensed before.
"Now, hearken to me," he said. "There's a time for a woman to
alter her mind; and there's a time when she can no longer alter
it, if she has any right eye to her parents' honor and the
seemliness of things. That time has come. I won't say to ye, you
SHALL marry him. But I will say that if you refuse, I shall
forever be ashamed and a-weary of ye as a daughter, and shall look
upon you as the hope of my life no more. What do you know about
life and what it can bring forth, and how you ought to act to lead
up to best ends? Oh, you are an ungrateful maid, Grace; you've
seen that fellow Giles, and he has got over ye; that's where the
secret lies, I'll warrant me!"
"No, father, no! It is not Giles--it is something I cannot tell
you of--"
"Well, make fools of us all; make us laughing-stocks; break it
off; have your own way."
"But who knows of the engagement as yet? how can breaking it
disgrace you?"
Melbury then by degrees admitted that he had mentioned the
engagement to this acquaintance and to that, till she perceived
that in his restlessness and pride he had published it everywhere.
She went dismally away to a bower of laurel at the top of the
garden. Her father followed her.
"It is that Giles Winterborne!" he said, with an upbraiding gaze
at her.
"No, it is not; though for that matter you encouraged him once,"
she said, troubled to the verge of despair. "It is not Giles, it
is Mr. Fitzpiers."
"You've had a tiff--a lovers' tiff--that's all, I suppose
"It is some woman--"
"Ay, ay; you are jealous. The old story. Don't tell me. Now do
you bide here. I'll send Fitzpiers to you. I saw him smoking in
front of his house but a minute by-gone."
He went off hastily out of the garden-gate and down the lane. But
she would not stay where she was; and edging through a slit in the
garden-fence, walked away into the wood. Just about here the
trees were large and wide apart, and there was no undergrowth, so
that she could be seen to some distance; a sylph-like, greenishwhite
creature, as toned by the sunlight and leafage. She heard a
foot-fall crushing dead leaves behind her, and found herself
reconnoitered by Fitzpiers himself, approaching gay and fresh as
the morning around them.
His remote gaze at her had been one of mild interest rather than
of rapture. But she looked so lovely in the green world about
her, her pink cheeks, her simple light dress, and the delicate
flexibility of her movement acquired such rarity from their wildwood
setting, that his eyes kindled as he drew near.
"My darling, what is it? Your father says you are in the pouts,
and jealous, and I don't know what. Ha! ha! ha! as if there were
any rival to you, except vegetable nature, in this home of
recluses! We know better."
"Jealous; oh no, it is not so," said she, gravely. "That's a
mistake of his and yours, sir. I spoke to him so closely about
the question of marriage with you that he did not apprehend my
state of mind."
"But there's something wrong--eh?" he asked, eying her narrowly,
and bending to kiss her. She shrank away, and his purposed kiss
"What is it?" he said, more seriously for this little defeat.
She made no answer beyond, "Mr. Fitzpiers, I have had no
breakfast, I must go in."
"Come," he insisted, fixing his eyes upon her. "Tell me at once,
I say."
It was the greater strength against the smaller; but she was
mastered less by his manner than by her own sense of the
unfairness of silence. "I looked out of the window," she said,
with hesitation. "I'll tell you by-and-by. I must go in-doors.
I have had no breakfast."
By a sort of divination his conjecture went straight to the fact.
"Nor I," said he, lightly. "Indeed, I rose late to-day. I have
had a broken night, or rather morning. A girl of the village--I
don't know her name--came and rang at my bell as soon as it was
light--between four and five, I should think it was--perfectly
maddened with an aching tooth. As no-body heard her ring, she
threw some gravel at my window, till at last I heard her and
slipped on my dressing-gown and went down. The poor thing begged
me with tears in her eyes to take out her tormentor, if I dragged
her head off. Down she sat and out it came--a lovely molar, not a
speck upon it; and off she went with it in her handkerchief, much
contented, though it would have done good work for her for fifty
years to come."
It was all so plausible--so completely explained. knowing nothing
of the incident in the wood on old Midsummer-eve, Grace felt that
her suspicions were unworthy and absurd, and with the readiness of
an honest heart she jumped at the opportunity of honoring his
word. At the moment of her mental liberation the bushes about the
garden had moved, and her father emerged into the shady glade.
"Well, I hope it is made up?" he said, cheerily.
"Oh yes," said Fitzpiers, with his eyes fixed on Grace, whose eyes
were shyly bent downward.
"Now," said her father, "tell me, the pair of ye, that you still
mean to take one another for good and all; and on the strength o't
you shall have another couple of hundred paid down. I swear it by
the name."
Fitzpiers took her hand. "We declare it, do we not, my dear
Grace?" said he.
Relieved of her doubt, somewhat overawed, and ever anxious to
please, she was disposed to settle the matter; yet, womanlike, she
would not relinquish her opportunity of asking a concession of
some sort. "If our wedding can be at church, I say yes," she
answered, in a measured voice. "If not, I say no."
Fitzpiers was generous in his turn. "It shall be so," he
rejoined, gracefully. "To holy church we'll go, and much good may
it do us."
They returned through the bushes indoors, Grace walking, full of
thought between the other two, somewhat comforted, both by
Fitzpiers's ingenious explanation and by the sense that she was
not to be deprived of a religious ceremony. "So let it be," she
said to herself. "Pray God it is for the best."
From this hour there was no serious attempt at recalcitration on
her part. Fitzpiers kept himself continually near her, dominating
any rebellious impulse, and shaping her will into passive
concurrence with all his desires. Apart from his lover-like
anxiety to possess her, the few golden hundreds of the timberdealer,
ready to hand, formed a warm background to Grace's lovely
face, and went some way to remove his uneasiness at the prospect
of endangering his professional and social chances by an alliance
with the family of a simple countryman.
The interim closed up its perspective surely and silently.
Whenever Grace had any doubts of her position, the sense of
contracting time was like a shortening chamber: at other moments
she was comparatively blithe. Day after day waxed and waned; the
one or two woodmen who sawed, shaped, spokeshaved on her father's
premises at this inactive season of the year, regularly came and
unlocked the doors in the morning, locked them in the evening,
supped, leaned over their garden-gates for a whiff of evening air,
and to catch any last and farthest throb of news from the outer
world, which entered and expired at Little Hintock like the
exhausted swell of a wave in some innermost cavern of some
innermost creek of an embayed sea; yet no news interfered with the
nuptial purpose at their neighbor's house. The sappy green twigtips
of the season's growth would not, she thought, be appreciably
woodier on the day she became a wife, so near was the time; the
tints of the foliage would hardly have changed. Everything was so
much as usual that no itinerant stranger would have supposed a
woman's fate to be hanging in the balance at that summer's
But there were preparations, imaginable readily enough by those
who had special knowledge. In the remote and fashionable town of
Sandbourne something was growing up under the hands of several
persons who had never seen Grace Melbury, never would see her, or
care anything about her at all, though their creation had such
interesting relation to her life that it would enclose her very
heart at a moment when that heart would beat, if not with more
emotional ardor, at least with more emotional turbulence than at
any previous time.
Why did Mrs. Dollery's van, instead of passing along at the end of
the smaller village to Great Hintock direct, turn one Saturday
night into Little Hintock Lane, and never pull up till it reached
Mr. Melbury's gates? The gilding shine of evening fell upon a
large, flat box not less than a yard square, and safely tied with
cord, as it was handed out from under the tilt with a great deal
of care. But it was not heavy for its size; Mrs. Dollery herself
carried it into the house. Tim Tangs, the hollow-turner, Bawtree,
Suke Damson, and others, looked knowing, and made remarks to each
other as they watched its entrance. Melbury stood at the door of
the timber-shed in the attitude of a man to whom such an arrival
was a trifling domestic detail with which he did not condescend to
be concerned. Yet he well divined the contents of that box, and
was in truth all the while in a pleasant exaltation at the proof
that thus far, at any rate, no disappointment had supervened.
While Mrs. Dollery remained--which was rather long, from her sense
of the importance of her errand--he went into the out-house; but
as soon as she had had her say, been paid, and had rumbled away,
he entered the dwelling, to find there what he knew he should
find--his wife and daughter in a flutter of excitement over the
wedding-gown, just arrived from the leading dress-maker of
Sandbourne watering-place aforesaid.
During these weeks Giles Winterborne was nowhere to be seen or
heard of. At the close of his tenure in Hintock he had sold some
of his furniture, packed up the rest--a few pieces endeared by
associations, or necessary to his occupation--in the house of a
friendly neighbor, and gone away. People said that a certain
laxity had crept into his life; that he had never gone near a
church latterly, and had been sometimes seen on Sundays with
unblacked boots, lying on his elbow under a tree, with a cynical
gaze at surrounding objects. He was likely to return to Hintock
when the cider-making season came round, his apparatus being
stored there, and travel with his mill and press from village to
The narrow interval that stood before the day diminished yet.
There was in Grace's mind sometimes a certain anticipative
satisfaction, the satisfaction of feeling that she would be the
heroine of an hour; moreover, she was proud, as a cultivated
woman, to be the wife of a cultivated man. It was an opportunity
denied very frequently to young women in her position, nowadays
not a few; those in whom parental discovery of the value of
education has implanted tastes which parental circles fail to
gratify. But what an attenuation was this cold pride of the dream
of her youth, in which she had pictured herself walking in state
towards the altar, flushed by the purple light and bloom of her
own passion, without a single misgiving as to the sealing of the
bond, and fervently receiving as her due
"The homage of a thousand hearts; the fond, deep love of one."
Everything had been clear then, in imagination; now something was
undefined. She had little carking anxieties; a curious
fatefulness seemed to rule her, and she experienced a mournful
want of some one to confide in.
The day loomed so big and nigh that her prophetic ear could, in
fancy, catch the noise of it, hear the murmur of the villagers as
she came out of church, imagine the jangle of the three thin-toned
Hintock bells. The dialogues seemed to grow louder, and the dingding-
dong of those three crazed bells more persistent. She awoke:
the morning had come.
Five hours later she was the wife of Fitzpiers.
The chief hotel at Sherton-Abbas was an old stone-fronted inn with
a yawning arch, under which vehicles were driven by stooping
coachmen to back premises of wonderful commodiousness. The
windows to the street were mullioned into narrow lights, and only
commanded a view of the opposite houses; hence, perhaps, it arose
that the best and most luxurious private sitting-room that the inn
could afford over-looked the nether parts of the establishment,
where beyond the yard were to be seen gardens and orchards, now
bossed, nay incrusted, with scarlet and gold fruit, stretching to
infinite distance under a luminous lavender mist. The time was
early autumn,
"When the fair apples, red as evening sky,
Do bend the tree unto the fruitful ground,
When juicy pears, and berries of black dye,
Do dance in air, and call the eyes around."
The landscape confronting the window might, indeed, have been part
of the identical stretch of country which the youthful Chatterton
had in his mind.
In this room sat she who had been the maiden Grace Melbury till
the finger of fate touched her and turned her to a wife. It was
two months after the wedding, and she was alone. Fitzpiers had
walked out to see the abbey by the light of sunset, but she had
been too fatigued to accompany him. They had reached the last
stage of a long eight-weeks' tour, and were going on to Hintock
that night.
In the yard, between Grace and the orchards, there progressed a
scene natural to the locality at this time of the year. An applemill
and press had been erected on the spot, to which some men
were bringing fruit from divers points in mawn-baskets, while
others were grinding them, and others wringing down the pomace,
whose sweet juice gushed forth into tubs and pails. The
superintendent of these proceedings, to whom the others spoke as
master, was a young yeoman of prepossessing manner and aspect,
whose form she recognized in a moment. He had hung his coat to a
nail of the out-house wall, and wore his shirt-sleeves rolled up
beyond his elbows, to keep them unstained while he rammed the
pomace into the bags of horse-hair. Fragments of apple-rind had
alighted upon the brim of his hat--probably from the bursting of a
bag--while brown pips of the same fruit were sticking among the
down upon his fine, round arms.
She realized in a moment how he had come there. Down in the heart
of the apple country nearly every farmer kept up a cider-making
apparatus and wring-house for his own use, building up the pomace
in great straw "cheeses," as they were called; but here, on the
margin of Pomona's plain, was a debatable land neither orchard nor
sylvan exclusively, where the apple produce was hardly sufficient
to warrant each proprietor in keeping a mill of his own. This was
the field of the travelling cider-maker. His press and mill were
fixed to wheels instead of being set up in a cider-house; and with
a couple of horses, buckets, tubs, strainers, and an assistant or
two, he wandered from place to place, deriving very satisfactory
returns for his trouble in such a prolific season as the present.
The back parts of the town were just now abounding with applegatherings.
They stood in the yards in carts, baskets, and loose
heaps; and the blue. stagnant air of autumn which hung over
everything was heavy with a sweet cidery smell. Cakes of pomace
lay against the walls in the yellow sun, where they were drying to
be used as fuel. Yet it was not the great make of the year as
yet; before the standard crop came in there accumulated, in
abundant times like this, a large superfluity of early apples, and
windfalls from the trees of later harvest, which would not keep
long. Thus, in the baskets, and quivering in the hopper of the
mill, she saw specimens of mixed dates, including the mellow
countenances of streaked-jacks, codlins, costards, stubbards,
ratheripes, and other well-known friends of her ravenous youth.
Grace watched the head-man with interest. The slightest sigh
escaped her. Perhaps she thought of the day--not so far distant--
when that friend of her childhood had met her by her father's
arrangement in this same town, warm with hope, though diffident,
and trusting in a promise rather implied than given. Or she might
have thought of days earlier yet--days of childhood--when her
mouth was somewhat more ready to receive a kiss from his than was
his to bestow one. However, all that was over. She had felt
superior to him then, and she felt superior to him now.
She wondered why he never looked towards her open window. She did
not know that in the slight commotion caused by their arrival at
the inn that afternoon Winterborne had caught sight of her through
the archway, had turned red, and was continuing his work with more
concentrated attention on the very account of his discovery.
Robert Creedle, too, who travelled with Giles, had been
incidentally informed by the hostler that Dr. Fitzpiers and his
young wife were in the hotel, after which news Creedle kept
shaking his head and saying to himself, "Ah!" very audibly,
between his thrusts at the screw of the cider-press.
"Why the deuce do you sigh like that, Robert?" asked Winterborne,
at last.
"Ah, maister--'tis my thoughts--'tis my thoughts!...Yes, ye've
lost a hundred load o' timber well seasoned; ye've lost five
hundred pound in good money; ye've lost the stone-windered house
that's big enough to hold a dozen families; ye've lost your share
of half a dozen good wagons and their horses--all lost!--through
your letting slip she that was once yer own!"
"Good God, Creedle, you'll drive me mad!" said Giles, sternly.
"Don't speak of that any more!"
Thus the subject had ended in the yard. Meanwhile, the passive
cause of all this loss still regarded the scene. She was
beautifully dressed; she was seated in the most comfortable room
that the inn afforded; her long journey had been full of variety,
and almost luxuriously performed--for Fitzpiers did not study
economy where pleasure was in question. Hence it perhaps arose
that Giles and all his belongings seemed sorry and common to her
for the moment--moving in a plane so far removed from her own of
late that she could scarcely believe she had ever found congruity
therein. "No--I could never have married him!" she said, gently
shaking her head. "Dear father was right. It would have been too
coarse a life for me." And she looked at the rings of sapphire and
opal upon her white and slender fingers that had been gifts from
Seeing that Giles still kept his back turned, and with a little of
the above-described pride of life--easily to be understood, and
possibly excused, in a young, inexperienced woman who thought she
had married well--she said at last, with a smile on her lips, "Mr.
He appeared to take no heed, and she said a second time, "Mr.
Even now he seemed not to hear, though a person close enough to
him to see the expression of his face might have doubted it; and
she said a third time, with a timid loudness, "Mr. Winterborne!
What, have you forgotten my voice?" She remained with her lips
parted in a welcoming smile.
He turned without surprise, and came deliberately towards the
window. "Why do you call me?" he said, with a sternness that took
her completely unawares, his face being now pale. "Is it not
enough that you see me here moiling and muddling for my daily
bread while you are sitting there in your success, that you can't
refrain from opening old wounds by calling out my name?"
She flushed, and was struck dumb for some moments; but she forgave
his unreasoning anger, knowing so well in what it had its root.
"I am sorry I offended you by speaking," she replied, meekly.
"Believe me, I did not intend to do that. I could hardly sit here
so near you without a word of recognition."
Winterborne's heart had swollen big, and his eyes grown moist by
this time, so much had the gentle answer of that familiar voice
moved him. He assured her hurriedly, and without looking at her,
that he was not angry. He then managed to ask her, in a clumsy,
constrained way, if she had had a pleasant journey, and seen many
interesting sights. She spoke of a few places that she had
visited, and so the time passed till he withdrew to take his place
at one of the levers which pulled round the screw.
Forgotten her voice! Indeed, he had not forgotten her voice, as
his bitterness showed. But though in the heat of the moment he
had reproached her keenly, his second mood was a far more tender
one--that which could regard her renunciation of such as he as her
glory and her privilege, his own fidelity notwithstanding. He
could have declared with a contemporary poet--
"If I forget,
The salt creek may forget the ocean;
If I forget
The heart whence flows my heart's bright motion,
May I sink meanlier than the worst
Abandoned, outcast, crushed, accurst,
If I forget.
"Though you forget,
No word of mine shall mar your pleasure;
Though you forget,
You filled my barren life with treasure,
You may withdraw the gift you gave;
You still are queen, I still am slave,
Though you forget."
She had tears in her eyes at the thought that she could not remind
him of what he ought to have remembered; that not herself but the
pressure of events had dissipated the dreams of their early youth.
Grace was thus unexpectedly worsted in her encounter with her old
friend. She had opened the window with a faint sense of triumph,
but he had turned it into sadness; she did not quite comprehend
the reason why. In truth it was because she was not cruel enough
in her cruelty. If you have to use the knife, use it, say the
great surgeons; and for her own peace Grace should have contemned
Winterborne thoroughly or not at all. As it was, on closing the
window an indescribable, some might have said dangerous, pity
quavered in her bosom for him.
Presently her husband entered the room, and told her what a
wonderful sunset there was to be seen.
"I have not noticed it. But I have seen somebody out there that
we know," she replied, looking into the court.
Fitzpiers followed the direction of her eyes, and said he did not
recognize anybody.
"Why, Mr. Winterborne--there he is, cider-making. He combines
that with his other business, you know."
"Oh--that fellow," said Fitzpiers, his curiosity becoming extinct.
She, reproachfully: "What, call Mr. Winterborne a fellow, Edgar?
It is true I was just saying to myself that I never could have
married him; but I have much regard for him, and always shall."
"Well, do by all means, my dear one. I dare say I am inhuman, and
supercilious, and contemptibly proud of my poor old ramshackle
family; but I do honestly confess to you that I feel as if I
belonged to a different species from the people who are working in
that yard."
"And from me too, then. For my blood is no better than theirs."
He looked at her with a droll sort of awakening. It was, indeed,
a startling anomaly that this woman of the tribe without should be
standing there beside him as his wife, if his sentiments were as
he had said. In their travels together she had ranged so
unerringly at his level in ideas, tastes, and habits that he had
almost forgotten how his heart had played havoc with his
principles in taking her to him.
"Ah YOU--you are refined and educated into something quite
different," he said, self-assuringly.
"I don't quite like to think that," she murmured with soft regret.
"And I think you underestimate Giles Winterborne. Remember, I was
brought up with him till I was sent away to school, so I cannot be
radically different. At any rate, I don't feel so. That is, no
doubt, my fault, and a great blemish in me. But I hope you will
put up with it, Edgar."
Fitzpiers said that he would endeavor to do so; and as it was now
getting on for dusk, they prepared to perform the last stage of
their journey, so as to arrive at Hintock before it grew very
In less than half an hour they started, the cider-makers in the
yard having ceased their labors and gone away, so that the only
sounds audible there now were the trickling of the juice from the
tightly screwed press, and the buzz of a single wasp, which had
drunk itself so tipsy that it was unconscious of nightfall. Grace
was very cheerful at the thought of being soon in her sylvan home,
but Fitzpiers sat beside her almost silent. An indescribable
oppressiveness had overtaken him with the near approach of the
journey's end and the realities of life that lay there.
"You don't say a word, Edgar," she observed. "Aren't you glad to
get back? I am."
"You have friends here. I have none."
"But my friends are yours."
"Oh yes--in that sense."
The conversation languished, and they drew near the end of Hintock
Lane. It had been decided that they should, at least for a time,
take up their abode in her father's roomy house, one wing of which
was quite at their service, being almost disused by the Melburys.
Workmen had been painting, papering, and whitewashing this set of
rooms in the wedded pair's absence; and so scrupulous had been the
timber-dealer that there should occur no hitch or disappointment
on their arrival, that not the smallest detail remained undone.
To make it all complete a ground-floor room had been fitted up as
a surgery, with an independent outer door, to which Fitzpiers's
brass plate was screwed--for mere ornament, such a sign being
quite superfluous where everybody knew the latitude and longitude
of his neighbors for miles round.
Melbury and his wife welcomed the twain with affection, and all
the house with deference. They went up to explore their rooms,
that opened from a passage on the left hand of the staircase, the
entrance to which could be shut off on the landing by a door that
Melbury had hung for the purpose. A friendly fire was burning in
the grate, although it was not cold. Fitzpiers said it was too
soon for any sort of meal, they only having dined shortly before
leaving Sherton-Abbas. He would walk across to his old lodging,
to learn how his locum tenens had got on in his absence.
In leaving Melbury's door he looked back at the house. There was
economy in living under that roof, and economy was desirable, but
in some way he was dissatisfied with the arrangement; it immersed
him so deeply in son-in-lawship to Melbury. He went on to his
former residence. His deputy was out, and Fitzpiers fell into
conversation with his former landlady.
"Well, Mrs. Cox, what's the best news?" he asked of her, with
cheery weariness.
She was a little soured at losing by his marriage so profitable a
tenant as the surgeon had proved to be duling his residence under
her roof; and the more so in there being hardly the remotest
chance of her getting such another settler in the Hintock
solitudes. "'Tis what I don't wish to repeat, sir; least of all
to you," she mumbled.
"Never mind me, Mrs. Cox; go ahead."
"It is what people say about your hasty marrying, Dr. Fitzpiers.
Whereas they won't believe you know such clever doctrines in
physic as they once supposed of ye, seeing as you could marry into
Mr. Melbury's family, which is only Hintock-born, such as me."
"They are kindly welcome to their opinion," said Fitzpiers, not
allowing himself to recognize that he winced. "Anything else?"
"Yes; SHE'S come home at last."
"Who's she?"
"Mrs. Charmond."
"Oh, indeed!" said Fitzpiers, with but slight interest. "I've
never seen her."
"She has seen you, sir, whether or no."
"Yes; she saw you in some hotel or street for a minute or two
while you were away travelling, and accidentally heard your name;
and when she made some remark about you, Miss Ellis--that's her
maid--told her you was on your wedding-tower with Mr. Melbury's
daughter; and she said, 'He ought to have done better than that.
I fear he has spoiled his chances,' she says."
Fitzpiers did not talk much longer to this cheering housewife, and
walked home with no very brisk step. He entered the door quietly,
and went straight up-stairs to the drawing-room extemporized for
their use by Melbury in his and his bride's absence, expecting to
find her there as he had left her. The fire was burning still,
but there were no lights. He looked into the next apartment,
fitted up as a little dining-room, but no supper was laid. He
went to the top of the stairs, and heard a chorus of voices in the
timber-merchant's parlor below, Grace's being occasionally
Descending, and looking into the room from the door-way, he found
quite a large gathering of neighbors and other acquaintances,
praising and congratulating Mrs. Fitzpiers on her return, among
them being the dairyman, Farmer Bawtree, and the master-blacksmith
from Great Hintock; also the cooper, the hollow-turner, the
exciseman, and some others, with their wives, who lived hard by.
Grace, girl that she was, had quite forgotten her new dignity and
her husband's; she was in the midst of them, blushing, and
receiving their compliments with all the pleasure of oldcomradeship.
Fitzpiers experienced a profound distaste for the situation.
Melbury was nowhere in the room, but Melbury's wife, perceiving
the doctor, came to him. "We thought, Grace and I," she said,
"that as they have called, hearing you were come, we could do no
less than ask them to supper; and then Grace proposed that we
should all sup together, as it is the first night of your return."
By this time Grace had come round to him. "Is it not good of them
to welcome me so warmly?" she exclaimed, with tears of friendship
in her eyes. "After so much good feeling I could not think of our
shutting ourselves up away from them in our own dining-room."
"Certainly not--certainly not," said Fitzpiers; and he entered the
room with the heroic smile of a martyr.
As soon as they sat down to table Melbury came in, and seemed to
see at once that Fitzpiers would much rather have received no such
demonstrative reception. He thereupon privately chid his wife for
her forwardness in the matter. Mrs. Melbury declared that it was
as much Grace's doing as hers, after which there was no more to be
said by that young woman's tender father. By this time Fitzpiers
was making the best of his position among the wide-elbowed and
genial company who sat eating and drinking and laughing and joking
around him; and getting warmed himself by the good cheer, was
obliged to admit that, after all, the supper was not the least
enjoyable he had ever known.
At times, however, the words about his having spoiled his
opportunities, repeated to him as those of Mrs. Charmond, haunted
him like a handwriting on the wall. Then his manner would become
suddenly abstracted. At one moment he would mentally put an
indignant query why Mrs. Charmond or any other woman should make
it her business to have opinions about his opportunities; at
another he thought that he could hardly be angry with her for
taking an interest in the doctor of her own parish. Then he would
drink a glass of grog and so get rid of the misgiving. These
hitches and quaffings were soon perceived by Grace as well as by
her father; and hence both of them were much relieved when the
first of the guests to discover that the hour was growing late
rose and declared that he must think of moving homeward. At the
words Melbury rose as alertly as if lifted by a spring, and in ten
minutes they were gone.
"Now, Grace," said her husband as soon as he found himself alone
with her in their private apartments, "we've had a very pleasant
evening, and everybody has been very kind. But we must come to an
understanding about our way of living here. If we continue in
these rooms there must be no mixing in with your people below. I
can't stand it, and that's the truth."
She had been sadly surprised at the suddenness of his distaste for
those old-fashioned woodland forms of life which in his courtship
he had professed to regard with so much interest. But she
assented in a moment.
"We must be simply your father's tenants," he continued, "and our
goings and comings must be as independent as if we lived
"Certainly, Edgar--I quite see that it must be so."
"But you joined in with all those people in my absence, without
knowing whether I should approve or disapprove. When I came I
couldn't help myself at all."
She, sighing: "Yes--I see I ought to have waited; though they came
unexpectedly, and I thought I had acted for the best."
Thus the discussion ended, and the next day Fitzpiers went on his
old rounds as usual. But it was easy for so super-subtle an eye
as his to discern, or to think he discerned, that he was no longer
regarded as an extrinsic, unfathomed gentleman of limitless
potentiality, scientific and social; but as Mr. Melbury's compeer,
and therefore in a degree only one of themselves. The Hintock
woodlandlers held with all the strength of inherited conviction to
the aristocratic principle, and as soon as they had discovered
that Fitzpiers was one of the old Buckbury Fitzpierses they had
accorded to him for nothing a touching of hat-brims, promptness of
service, and deference of approach, which Melbury had to do
without, though he paid for it over and over. But now, having
proved a traitor to his own cause by this marriage, Fitzpiers was
believed in no more as a superior hedged by his own divinity;
while as doctor he began to be rated no higher than old Jones,
whom they had so long despised.
His few patients seemed in his two months' absence to have
dwindled considerably in number, and no sooner had he returned
than there came to him from the Board of Guardians a complaint
that a pauper had been neglected by his substitute. In a fit of
pride Fitzpiers resigned his appointment as one of the surgeons to
the union, which had been the nucleus of his practice here.
At the end of a fortnight he came in-doors one evening to Grace
more briskly than usual. "They have written to me again about
that practice in Budmouth that I once negotiated for," he said to
her. "The premium asked is eight hundred pounds, and I think that
between your father and myself it ought to be raised. Then we can
get away from this place forever."
The question had been mooted between them before, and she was not
unprepared to consider it. They had not proceeded far with the
discussion when a knock came to the door, and in a minute Grammer
ran up to say that a message had arrived from Hintock House
requesting Dr. Fitzpiers to attend there at once. Mrs. Charmond
had met with a slight accident through the overturning of her
"This is something, anyhow," said Fitzpiers, rising with an
interest which he could not have defined. "I have had a
presentiment that this mysterious woman and I were to be better
The latter words were murmured to himself alone.
"Good-night," said Grace, as soon as he was ready. "I shall be
asleep, probably, when you return."
"Good-night, "he replied, inattentively, and went down-stairs. It
was the first time since their marriage that he had left her
without a kiss.
Winterborne's house had been pulled down. On this account his
face had been seen but fitfully in Hintock; and he would probably
have disappeared from the place altogether but for his slight
business connection with Melbury, on whose premises Giles kept his
cider-making apparatus, now that he had no place of his own to
stow it in. Coming here one evening on his way to a hut beyond
the wood where he now slept, he noticed that the familiar brownthatched
pinion of his paternal roof had vanished from its site,
and that the walls were levelled. In present circumstances he had
a feeling for the spot that might have been called morbid, and
when he had supped in the hut aforesaid he made use of the spare
hour before bedtime to return to Little Hintock in the twilight
and ramble over the patch of ground on which he had first seen the
He repeated this evening visit on several like occasions. Even in
the gloom he could trace where the different rooms had stood;
could mark the shape of the kitchen chimney-corner, in which he
had roasted apples and potatoes in his boyhood, cast his bullets,
and burned his initials on articles that did and did not belong to
him. The apple-trees still remained to show where the garden had
been, the oldest of them even now retaining the crippled slant to
north-east given them by the great November gale of 1824, which
carried a brig bodily over the Chesil Bank. They were at present
bent to still greater obliquity by the heaviness of their produce.
Apples bobbed against his head, and in the grass beneath he
crunched scores of them as he walked. There was nobody to gather
them now.
It was on the evening under notice that, half sitting, half
leaning against one of these inclined trunks, Winterborne had
become lost in his thoughts, as usual, till one little star after
another had taken up a position in the piece of sky which now
confronted him where his walls and chimneys had formerly raised
their outlines. The house had jutted awkwardly into the road, and
the opening caused by its absence was very distinct.
In the silence the trot of horses and the spin of carriage-wheels
became audible; and the vehicle soon shaped itself against the
blank sky, bearing down upon him with the bend in the lane which
here occurred, and of which the house had been the cause. He
could discern the figure of a woman high up on the driving-seat of
a phaeton, a groom being just visible behind. Presently there was
a slight scrape, then a scream. Winterborne went across to the
spot, and found the phaeton half overturned, its driver sitting on
the heap of rubbish which had once been his dwelling, and the man
seizing the horses' heads. The equipage was Mrs. Charmond's, and
the unseated charioteer that lady herself.
To his inquiry if she were hurt she made some incoherent reply to
the effect that she did not know. The damage in other respects
was little or none: the phaeton was righted, Mrs. Charmond placed
in it, and the reins given to the servant. It appeared that she
had been deceived by the removal of the house, imagining the gap
caused by the demolition to be the opening of the road, so that
she turned in upon the ruins instead of at the bend a few yards
farther on.
"Drive home--drive home!" cried the lady, impatiently; and they
started on their way. They had not, however, gone many paces
when, the air being still, Winterborne heard her say "Stop; tell
that man to call the doctor--Mr. Fitzpiers--and send him on to the
House. I find I am hurt more seriously than I thought."
Winterborne took the message from the groom and proceeded to the
doctor's at once. Having delivered it, he stepped back into the
darkness, and waited till he had seen Fitzpiers leave the door.
He stood for a few minutes looking at the window which by its
light revealed the room where Grace was sitting, and went away
under the gloomy trees.
Fitzpiers duly arrived at Hintock House, whose doors he now saw
open for the first time. Contrary to his expectation there was
visible no sign of that confusion or alarm which a serious
accident to the mistress of the abode would have occasioned. He
was shown into a room at the top of the staircase, cosily and
femininely draped, where, by the light of the shaded lamp, he saw
a woman of full round figure reclining upon a couch in such a
position as not to disturb a pile of magnificent hair on the crown
of her head. A deep purple dressing-gown formed an admirable foil
to the peculiarly rich brown of her hair-plaits; her left arm,
which was naked nearly up to the shoulder, was thrown upward, and
between the fingers of her right hand she held a cigarette, while
she idly breathed from her plump lips a thin stream of smoke
towards the ceiling.
The doctor's first feeling was a sense of his exaggerated
prevision in having brought appliances for a serious case; the
next, something more curious. While the scene and the moment were
new to him and unanticipated, the sentiment and essence of the
moment were indescribably familiar. What could be the cause of
it? Probably a dream.
Mrs. Charmond did not move more than to raise her eyes to him, and
he came and stood by her. She glanced up at his face across her
brows and forehead, and then he observed a blush creep slowly over
her decidedly handsome cheeks. Her eyes, which had lingered upon
him with an inquiring, conscious expression, were hastily
withdrawn, and she mechanically applied the cigarette again to her
For a moment he forgot his errand, till suddenly arousing himself
he addressed her, formally condoled with her, and made the usual
professional inquiries about what had happened to her, and where
she was hurt.
"That's what I want you to tell me," she murmured, in tones of
indefinable reserve. "I quite believe in you, for I know you are
very accomplished, because you study so hard."
"I'll do my best to justify your good opinion," said the young
man, bowing. "And none the less that I am happy to find the
accident has not been serious."
"I am very much shaken," she said.
"Oh yes," he replied; and completed his examination, which
convinced him that there was really nothing the matter with her,
and more than ever puzzled him as to why he had been fetched,
since she did not appear to be a timid woman. "You must rest a
while, and I'll send something," he said.
"Oh, I forgot," she returned. "Look here." And she showed him a
little scrape on her arm--the full round arm that was exposed.
"Put some court-plaster on that, please."
He obeyed. "And now," she said, "before you go I want to put a
question to you. Sit round there in front of me, on that low
chair, and bring the candles, or one, to the little table. Do you
smoke? Yes? That's right--I am learning. Take one of these; and
here's a light." She threw a matchbox across.
Fitzpiers caught it, and having lit up, regarded her from his new
position, which, with the shifting of the candles, for the first
time afforded him a full view of her face. "How many years have
passed since first we met!" she resumed, in a voice which she
mainly endeavored to maintain at its former pitch of composure,
and eying him with daring bashfulness.
"WE met, do you say?"
She nodded. "I saw you recently at an hotel in London, when you
were passing through, I suppose, with your bride, and I recognized
you as one I had met in my girlhood. Do you remember, when you
were studying at Heidelberg, an English family that was staying
there, who used to walk--"
"And the young lady who wore a long tail of rare-colored hair--ah,
I see it before my eyes!--who lost her gloves on the Great
Terrace--who was going back in the dusk to find them--to whom I
said, 'I'll go for them,' and you said, 'Oh, they are not worth
coming all the way up again for.' I DO remember, and how very long
we stayed talking there! I went next morning while the dew was on
the grass: there they lay--the little fingers sticking out damp
and thin. I see them now! I picked them up, and then--"
"I kissed them," he rejoined, rather shamefacedly.
"But you had hardly ever seen me except in the dusk?"
"Never mind. I was young then, and I kissed them. I wondered how
I could make the most of my trouvaille, and decided that I would
call at your hotel with them that afternoon. It rained, and I
waited till next day. I called, and you were gone."
"Yes," answered she, with dry melancholy. "My mother, knowing my
disposition, said she had no wish for such a chit as me to go
falling in love with an impecunious student, and spirited me away
to Baden. As it is all over and past I'll tell you one thing: I
should have sent you a line passing warm had I known your name.
That name I never knew till my maid said, as you passed up the
hotel stairs a month ago, 'There's Dr. Fitzpiers.'"
"Good Heaven!" said Fitzpiers, musingly. "How the time comes back
to me! The evening, the morning, the dew, the spot. When I found
that you really were gone it was as if a cold iron had been passed
down my back. I went up to where you had stood when I last saw
you---I flung myself on the grass, and--being not much more than a
boy--my eyes were literally blinded with tears. Nameless, unknown
to me as you were, I couldn't forget your voice."
"For how long?"
"Oh--ever so long. Days and days."
"Days and days! ONLY days and days? Oh, the heart of a man! Days
and days!"
"But, my dear madam, I had not known you more than a day or two.
It was not a full-blown love--it was the merest bud--red, fresh,
vivid, but small. It was a colossal passion in posse, a giant in
embryo. It never matured."
"So much the better, perhaps."
"Perhaps. But see how powerless is the human will against
predestination. We were prevented meeting; we have met. One
feature of the case remains the same amid many changes. You are
still rich, and I am still poor. Better than that, you have
(judging by your last remark) outgrown the foolish, impulsive
passions of your early girl-hood. I have not outgrown mine."
"I beg your pardon," said she, with vibrations of strong feeling
in her words. "I have been placed in a position which hinders
such outgrowings. Besides, I don't believe that the genuine
subjects of emotion do outgrow them; I believe that the older such
people get the worse they are. Possibly at ninety or a hundred
they may feel they are cured; but a mere threescore and ten won't
do it--at least for me."
He gazed at her in undisguised admiration. Here was a soul of
"Mrs. Charmond, you speak truly," he exclaimed. "But you speak
sadly as well. Why is that?"
"I always am sad when I come here," she said, dropping to a low
tone with a sense of having been too demonstrative.
"Then may I inquire why you came?"
"A man brought me. Women are always carried about like corks upon
the waves of masculine desires....I hope I have not alarmed you;
but Hintock has the curious effect of bottling up the emotions
till one can no longer hold them; I am often obliged to fly away
and discharge my sentiments somewhere, or I should die outright."
"There is very good society in the county for those who have the
privilege of entering it."
"Perhaps so. But the misery of remote country life is that your
neighbors have no toleration for difference of opinion and habit.
My neighbors think I am an atheist, except those who think I am a
Roman Catholic; and when I speak disrespectfully of the weather or
the crops they think I am a blasphemer."
She broke into a low musical laugh at the idea.
"You don't wish me to stay any longer?" he inquired, when he found
that she remained musing.
"No--I think not."
"Then tell me that I am to be gone."
"Why? Cannot you go without?"
"I may consult my own feelings only, if left to myself."
"Well, if you do, what then? Do you suppose you'll be in my way?"
"I feared it might be so."
"Then fear no more. But good-night. Come to-morrow and see if I
am going on right. This renewal of acquaintance touches me. I
have already a friendship for you."
"If it depends upon myself it shall last forever."
"My best hopes that it may. Good-by."
Fitzpiers went down the stairs absolutely unable to decide whether
she had sent for him in the natural alarm which might have
followed her mishap, or with the single view of making herself
known to him as she had done, for which the capsize had afforded
excellent opportunity. Outside the house he mused over the spot
under the light of the stars. It seemed very strange that he
should have come there more than once when its inhabitant was
absent, and observed the house with a nameless interest; that he
should have assumed off-hand before he knew Grace that it was here
she lived; that, in short, at sundry times and seasons the
individuality of Hintock House should have forced itself upon him
as appertaining to some existence with which he was concerned.
The intersection of his temporal orbit with Mrs. Charmond's for a
day or two in the past had created a sentimental interest in her
at the time, but it had been so evanescent that in the ordinary
onward roll of affairs he would scarce ever have recalled it
again. To find her here, however, in these somewhat romantic
circumstances, magnified that by-gone and transitory tenderness to
indescribable proportions.
On entering Little Hintock he found himself regarding it in a new
way--from the Hintock House point of view rather than from his own
and the Melburys'. The household had all gone to bed, and as he
went up-stairs he heard the snore of the timber-merchant from his
quarter of the building, and turned into the passage communicating
with his own rooms in a strange access of sadness. A light was
burning for him in the chamber; but Grace, though in bed, was not
asleep. In a moment her sympathetic voice came from behind the
"Edgar, is she very seriously hurt?"
Fitzpiers had so entirely lost sight of Mrs. Charmond as a patient
that he was not on the instant ready with a reply.
"Oh no," he said. "There are no bones broken, but she is shaken.
I am going again to-morrow."
Another inquiry or two, and Grace said,
"Did she ask for me?"
"Well--I think she did--I don't quite remember; but I am under the
impression that she spoke of you."
"Cannot you recollect at all what she said?"
"I cannot, just this minute."
"At any rate she did not talk much about me?" said Grace with
"Oh no."
"But you did, perhaps," she added, innocently fishing for a
"Oh yes--you may depend upon that!" replied he, warmly, though
scarcely thinking of what he was saving, so vividly was there
present to his mind the personality of Mrs. Charmond.
The doctor's professional visit to Hintock House was promptly
repeated the next day and the next. He always found Mrs. Charmond
reclining on a sofa, and behaving generally as became a patient
who was in no great hurry to lose that title. On each occasion he
looked gravely at the little scratch on her arm, as if it had been
a serious wound.
He had also, to his further satisfaction, found a slight scar on
her temple, and it was very convenient to put a piece of black
plaster on this conspicuous part of her person in preference to
gold-beater's skin, so that it might catch the eyes of the
servants, and make his presence appear decidedly necessary, in
case there should be any doubt of the fact.
"Oh--you hurt me!" she exclaimed one day.
He was peeling off the bit of plaster on her arm, under which the
scrape had turned the color of an unripe blackberry previous to
vanishing altogether. "Wait a moment, then--I'll damp it," said
Fitzpiers. He put his lips to the place and kept them there till
the plaster came off easily. "It was at your request I put it
on," said he.
"I know it," she replied. "Is that blue vein still in my temple
that used to show there? The scar must be just upon it. If the
cut had been a little deeper it would have spilt my hot blood
indeed!" Fitzpiers examined so closely that his breath touched her
tenderly, at which their eyes rose to an encounter--hers showing
themselves as deep and mysterious as interstellar space. She
turned her face away suddenly. "Ah! none of that! none of that--I
cannot coquet with you!" she cried. "Don't suppose I consent to
for one moment. Our poor, brief, youthful hour of love-making was
too long ago to bear continuing now. It is as well that we should
understand each other on that point before we go further."
"Coquet! Nor I with you. As it was when I found the historic
gloves, so it is now. I might have been and may be foolish; but I
am no trifler. I naturally cannot forget that little space in
which I flitted across the field of your vision in those days of
the past, and the recollection opens up all sorts of imaginings."
"Suppose my mother had not taken me away?" she murmured, her
dreamy eyes resting on the swaying tip of a distant tree.
"I should have seen you again."
"And then?"
"Then the fire would have burned higher and higher. What would
have immediately followed I know not; but sorrow and sickness of
heart at last."
"Well--that's the end of all love, according to Nature's law. I
can give no other reason."
"Oh, don't speak like that," she exclaimed. "Since we are only
picturing the possibilities of that time, don't, for pity's sake,
spoil the picture." Her voice sank almost to a whisper as she
added, with an incipient pout upon her full lips, "Let me think at
least that if you had really loved me at all seriously, you would
have loved me for ever and ever!"
"You are right--think it with all your heart," said he. "It is a
pleasant thought, and costs nothing."
She weighed that remark in silence a while. "Did you ever hear
anything of me from then till now?" she inquired.
"Not a word."
"So much the better. I had to fight the battle of life as well as
you. I may tell you about it some day. But don't ever ask me to
do it, and particularly do not press me to tell you now."
Thus the two or three days that they had spent in tender
acquaintance on the romantic slopes above the Neckar were
stretched out in retrospect to the length and importance of years;
made to form a canvas for infinite fancies, idle dreams, luxurious
melancholies, and sweet, alluring assertions which could neither
be proved nor disproved. Grace was never mentioned between them,
but a rumor of his proposed domestic changes somehow reached her
"Doctor, you are going away," she exclaimed, confronting him with
accusatory reproach in her large dark eyes no less than in her
rich cooing voice. "Oh yes, you are," she went on, springing to
her feet with an air which might almost have been called
passionate. "It is no use denying it. You have bought a practice
at Budmouth. I don't blame you. Nobody can live at Hintock--
least of all a professional man who wants to keep abreast of
recent discovery. And there is nobody here to induce such a one
to stay for other reasons. That's right, that's right--go away!"
"But no, I have not actually bought the practice as yet, though I
am indeed in treaty for it. And, my dear friend, if I continue to
feel about the business as I feel at this moment--perhaps I may
conclude never to go at all."
"But you hate Hintock, and everybody and everything in it that you
don't mean to take away with you?"
Fitzpiers contradicted this idea in his most vibratory tones, and
she lapsed into the frivolous archness under which she hid
passions of no mean strength--strange, smouldering, erratic
passions, kept down like a stifled conflagration, but bursting out
now here, now there--the only certain element in their direction
being its unexpectedness. If one word could have expressed her it
would have been Inconsequence. She was a woman of perversities,
delighting in frequent contrasts. She liked mystery, in her life,
in her love, in her history. To be fair to her, there was nothing
in the latter which she had any great reason to be ashamed of, and
many things of which she might have been proud; but it had never
been fathomed by the honest minds of Hintock, and she rarely
volunteered her experiences. As for her capricious nature, the
people on her estates grew accustomed to it, and with that
marvellous subtlety of contrivance in steering round odd tempers,
that is found in sons of the soil and dependants generally, they
managed to get along under her government rather better than they
would have done beneath a more equable rule.
Now, with regard to the doctor's notion of leaving Hintock, he had
advanced furthur towards completing the purchase of the Budmouth
surgeon's good-will than he had admitted to Mrs. Charmond. The
whole matter hung upon what he might do in the ensuing twenty-four
hours. The evening after leaving her he went out into the lane,
and walked and pondered between the high hedges, now greenishwhite
with wild clematis--here called "old-man's beard," from its
aspect later in the year.
The letter of acceptance was to be written that night, after which
his departure from Hintock would be irrevocable. But could he go
away, remembering what had just passed? The trees, the hills, the
leaves, the grass--each had been endowed and quickened with a
subtle charm since he had discovered the person and history, and,
above all, mood of their owner. There was every temporal reason
for leaving; it would be entering again into a world which he had
only quitted in a passion for isolation, induced by a fit of
Achillean moodiness after an imagined slight. His wife herself
saw the awkwardness of their position here, and cheerfully
welcomed the purposed change, towards which every step had been
taken but the last. But could he find it in his heart--as he
found it clearly enough in his conscience--to go away?
He drew a troubled breath, and went in-doors. Here he rapidly
penned a letter, wherein he withdrew once for all from the treaty
for the Budmouth practice. As the postman had already left Little
Hintock for that night, he sent one of Melbury's men to intercept
a mail-cart on another turnpike-road, and so got the letter off.
The man returned, met Fitzpiers in the lane, and told him the
thing was done. Fitzpiers went back to his house musing. Why had
he carried out this impulse--taken such wild trouble to effect a
probable injury to his own and his young wife's prospects? His
motive was fantastic, glowing, shapeless as the fiery scenery
about the western sky. Mrs. Charmond could overtly be nothing
more to him than a patient now, and to his wife, at the outside, a
patron. In the unattached bachelor days of his first sojourning
here how highly proper an emotional reason for lingering on would
have appeared to troublesome dubiousness. Matrimonial ambition is
such an honorable thing.
"My father has told me that you have sent off one of the men with
a late letter to Budmouth," cried Grace, coming out vivaciously to
meet him under the declining light of the sky, wherein hung,
solitary, the folding star. "I said at once that you had finally
agreed to pay the premium they ask, and that the tedious question
had been settled. When do we go, Edgar?"
"I have altered my mind," said he. "They want too much--seven
hundred and fifty is too large a sum--and in short, I have
declined to go further. We must wait for another opportunity. I
fear I am not a good business-man." He spoke the last words with a
momentary faltering at the great foolishness of his act; for, as
he looked in her fair and honorable face, his heart reproached him
for what he had done.
Her manner that evening showed her disappointment. Personally she
liked the home of her childhood much, and she was not ambitious.
But her husband had seemed so dissatisfied with the circumstances
hereabout since their marriage that she had sincerely hoped to go
for his sake.
It was two or three days before he visited Mrs. Charmond again.
The morning had been windy, and little showers had sowed
themselves like grain against the walls and window-panes of the
Hintock cottages. He went on foot across the wilder recesses of
the park, where slimy streams of green moisture, exuding from
decayed holes caused by old amputations, ran down the bark of the
oaks and elms, the rind below being coated with a lichenous wash
as green as emerald. They were stout-trunked trees, that never
rocked their stems in the fiercest gale, responding to it entirely
by crooking their limbs. Wrinkled like an old crone's face, and
antlered with dead branches that rose above the foliage of their
summits, they were nevertheless still green--though yellow had
invaded the leaves of other trees.
She was in a little boudoir or writing-room on the first floor,
and Fitzpiers was much surprised to find that the window-curtains
were closed and a red-shaded lamp and candles burning, though outof-
doors it was broad daylight. Moreover, a large fire was
burning in the grate, though it was not cold.
"What does it all mean?" he asked.
She sat in an easy-chair, her face being turned away. "Oh," she
murmured, "it is because the world is so dreary outside. Sorrow
and bitterness in the sky, and floods of agonized tears beating
against the panes. I lay awake last night, and I could hear the
scrape of snails creeping up the window-glass; it was so sad! My
eyes were so heavy this morning that I could have wept my life
away. I cannot bear you to see my face; I keep it away from you
purposely. Oh! why were we given hungry hearts and wild desires
if we have to live in a world like this? Why should Death only
lend what Life is compelled to borrow--rest? Answer that, Dr.
"You must eat of a second tree of knowledge before you can do it,
Felice Charmond."
"Then, when my emotions have exhausted themselves, I become full
of fears, till I think I shall die for very fear. The terrible
insistencies of society--how severe they are, and cold and
inexorable--ghastly towards those who are made of wax and not of
stone. Oh, I am afraid of them; a stab for this error, and a stab
for that--correctives and regulations framed that society may tend
to perfection--an end which I don't care for in the least. Yet
for this, all I do care for has to be stunted and starved."
Fitzpiers had seated himself near her. "What sets you in this
mournful mood?" he asked, gently. (In reality he knew that it was
the result of a loss of tone from staying in-doors so much, but he
did not say so.)
"My reflections. Doctor, you must not come here any more. They
begin to think it a farce already. I say you must come no more.
There--don't be angry with me;" and she jumped up, pressed his
hand, and looked anxiously at him. "It is necessary. It is best
for both you and me."
"But," said Fitzpiers, gloomily, "what have we done?"
"Done--we have done nothing. Perhaps we have thought the more.
However, it is all vexation. I am going away to Middleton Abbey,
near Shottsford, where a relative of my late husband lives, who is
confined to her bed. The engagement was made in London, and I
can't get out of it. Perhaps it is for the best that I go there
till all this is past. When are you going to enter on your new
practice, and leave Hintock behind forever, with your pretty wife
on your arm?"
"I have refused the opportunity. I love this place too well to
"You HAVE?" she said, regarding him with wild uncertainty.
"Why do you ruin yourself in that way? Great Heaven, what have I
"Nothing. Besides, you are going away."
"Oh yes; but only to Middleton Abbey for a month or two. Yet
perhaps I shall gain strength there--particularly strength of
mind--I require it. And when I come back I shall be a new woman;
and you can come and see me safely then, and bring your wife with
you, and we'll be friends--she and I. Oh, how this shutting up of
one's self does lead to indulgence in idle sentiments. I shall
not wish you to give your attendance to me after to-day. But I am
glad that you are not going away--if your remaining does not
injure your prospects at all."
As soon as he had left the room the mild friendliness she had
preserved in her tone at parting, the playful sadness with which
she had conversed with him, equally departed from her. She became
as heavy as lead--just as she had been before he arrived. Her
whole being seemed to dissolve in a sad powerlessness to do
anything, and the sense of it made her lips tremulous and her
closed eyes wet. His footsteps again startled her, and she turned
"I returned for a moment to tell you that the evening is going to
be fine. The sun is shining; so do open your curtains and put out
those lights. Shall I do it for you?"
"Please--if you don't mind."
He drew back the window-curtains, whereupon the red glow of the
lamp and the two candle-flames became almost invisible with the
flood of late autumn sunlight that poured in. "Shall I come round
to you?" he asked, her back being towards him.
"No," she replied.
"Why not?"
"Because I am crying, and I don't want to see you."
He stood a moment irresolute, and regretted that he had killed the
rosy, passionate lamplight by opening the curtains and letting in
garish day.
"Then I am going," he said.
"Very well," she answered, stretching one hand round to him, and
patting her eyes with a handkerchief held in the other.
"Shall I write a line to you at--"
"No, no." A gentle reasonableness came into her tone as she added,
"It must not be, you know. It won't do."
"Very well. Good-by." The next moment he was gone.
In the evening, with listless adroitness, she encouraged the maid
who dressed her for dinner to speak of Dr. Fitzpiers's marriage.
"Mrs. Fitzpiers was once supposed to favor Mr. Winterborne," said
the young woman.
"And why didn't she marry him?" said Mrs. Charmond.
"Because, you see, ma'am, he lost his houses."
"Lost his houses? How came he to do that?"
"The houses were held on lives, and the lives dropped, and your
agent wouldn't renew them, though it is said that Mr. Winterborne
had a very good claim. That's as I've heard it, ma'am, and it was
through it that the match was broke off."
Being just then distracted by a dozen emotions, Mrs. Charmond sunk
into a mood of dismal self-reproach. "In refusing that poor man
his reasonable request," she said to herself, "I foredoomed my
rejuvenated girlhood's romance. Who would have thought such a
business matter could have nettled my own heart like this? Now for
a winter of regrets and agonies and useless wishes, till I forget
him in the spring. Oh! I am glad I am going away."
She left her chamber and went down to dine with a sigh. On the
stairs she stood opposite the large window for a moment, and
looked out upon the lawn. It was not yet quite dark. Half-way up
the steep green slope confronting her stood old Timothy Tangs, who
was shortening his way homeward by clambering here where there was
no road, and in opposition to express orders that no path was to
be made there. Tangs had momentarily stopped to take a pinch of
snuff; but observing Mrs. Charmond gazing at him, he hastened to
get over the top out of hail. His precipitancy made him miss his
footing, and he rolled like a barrel to the bottom, his snuffbox
rolling in front of him.
Her indefinite, idle, impossible passion for Fitzpiers; her
constitutional cloud of misery; the sorrowful drops that still
hung upon her eyelashes, all made way for the incursive mood
started by the spectacle. She burst into an immoderate fit of
laughter, her very gloom of the previous hour seeming to render it
the more uncontrollable. It had not died out of her when she
reached the dining-room; and even here, before the servants, her
shoulders suddenly shook as the scene returned upon her; and the
tears of her hilarity mingled with the remnants of those
engendered by her grief.
She resolved to be sad no more. She drank two glasses of
champagne, and a little more still after those, and amused herself
in the evening with singing little amatory songs.
"I must do something for that poor man Winterborne, however," she
A week had passed, and Mrs. Charmond had left Hintock House.
Middleton Abbey, the place of her sojourn, was about twenty miles
distant by road, eighteen by bridle-paths and footways.
Grace observed, for the first time, that her husband was restless,
that at moments he even was disposed to avoid her. The scrupulous
civility of mere acquaintanceship crept into his manner; yet, when
sitting at meals, he seemed hardly to hear her remarks. Her
little doings interested him no longer, while towards her father
his bearing was not far from supercilious. It was plain that his
mind was entirely outside her life, whereabouts outside it she
could not tell; in some region of science, possibly, or of
psychological literature. But her hope that he was again
immersing himself in those lucubrations which before her marriage
had made his light a landmark in Hintock, was founded simply on
the slender fact that he often sat up late.
One evening she discovered him leaning over a gate on Rub-Down
Hill, the gate at which Winterborne had once been standing, and
which opened on the brink of a steep, slanting down directly into
Blackmoor Vale, or the Vale of the White Hart, extending beneath
the eye at this point to a distance of many miles. His attention
was fixed on the landscape far away, and Grace's approach was so
noiseless that he did not hear her. When she came close she could
see his lips moving unconsciously, as to some impassioned
visionary theme.
She spoke, and Fitzpiers started. "What are you looking at?" she
"Oh! I was contemplating our old place of Buckbury, in my idle
way," he said.
It had seemed to her that he was looking much to the right of that
cradle and tomb of his ancestral dignity; but she made no further
observation, and taking his arm walked home beside him almost in
silence. She did not know that Middleton Abbey lay in the
direction of his gaze. "Are you going to have out Darling this
afternoon?" she asked, presently. Darling being the light-gray
mare which Winterborne had bought for Grace, and which Fitzpiers
now constantly used, the animal having turned out a wonderful
bargain, in combining a perfect docility with an almost human
intelligence; moreover, she was not too young. Fitzpiers was
unfamiliar with horses, and he valued these qualities.
"Yes," he replied, "but not to drive. I am riding her. I
practise crossing a horse as often as I can now, for I find that I
can take much shorter cuts on horseback."
He had, in fact, taken these riding exercises for about a week,
only since Mrs. Charmond's absence, his universal practice
hitherto having been to drive.
Some few days later, Fitzpiers started on the back of this horse
to see a patient in the aforesaid Vale. It was about five o'clock
in the evening when he went away, and at bedtime he had not
reached home. There was nothing very singular in this, though she
was not aware that he had any patient more than five or six miles
distant in that direction. The clock had struck one before
Fitzpiers entered the house, and he came to his room softly, as if
anxious not to disturb her.
The next morning she was stirring considerably earlier than he.
In the yard there was a conversation going on about the mare; the
man who attended to the horses, Darling included, insisted that
the latter was "hag-rid;" for when he had arrived at the stable
that morning she was in such a state as no horse could be in by
honest riding. It was true that the doctor had stabled her
himself when he got home, so that she was not looked after as she
would have been if he had groomed and fed her; but that did not
account for the appearance she presented, if Mr. Fitzpiers's
journey had been only where he had stated. The phenomenal
exhaustion of Darling, as thus related, was sufficient to develop
a whole series of tales about riding witches and demons, the
narration of which occupied a considerable time.
Grace returned in-doors. In passing through the outer room she
picked up her husband's overcoat which he had carelessly flung
down across a chair. A turnpike ticket fell out of the breastpocket,
and she saw that it had been issued at Middleton Gate. He
had therefore visited Middleton the previous night, a distance of
at least five-and-thirty miles on horseback, there and back.
During the day she made some inquiries, and learned for the first
time that Mrs. Charmond was staying at Middleton Abbey. She could
not resist an inference--strange as that inference was.
A few days later he prepared to start again, at the same time and
in the same direction. She knew that the state of the cottager
who lived that way was a mere pretext; she was quite sure he was
going to Mrs. Charmond. Grace was amazed at the mildness of the
passion which the suspicion engendered in her. She was but little
excited, and her jealousy was languid even to death. It told
tales of the nature of her affection for him. In truth, her
antenuptial regard for Fitzpiers had been rather of the quality of
awe towards a superior being than of tender solicitude for a
lover. It had been based upon mystery and strangeness--the
mystery of his past, of his knowledge, of his professional skill,
of his beliefs. When this structure of ideals was demolished by
the intimacy of common life, and she found him as merely human as
the Hintock people themselves, a new foundation was in demand for
an enduring and stanch affection--a sympathetic interdependence,
wherein mutual weaknesses were made the grounds of a defensive
alliance. Fitzpiers had furnished none of that single-minded
confidence and truth out of which alone such a second union could
spring; hence it was with a controllable emotion that she now
watched the mare brought round.
"I'll walk with you to the hill if you are not in a great hurry,"
she said, rather loath, after all, to let him go.
"Do; there's plenty of time," replied her husband. Accordingly he
led along the horse, and walked beside her, impatient enough
nevertheless. Thus they proceeded to the turnpike road, and
ascended Rub-Down Hill to the gate he had been leaning over when
she surprised him ten days before. This was the end of her
excursion. Fitzpiers bade her adieu with affection, even with
tenderness, and she observed that he looked weary-eyed.
"Why do you go to-night?" she said. "You have been called up two
nights in succession already."
"I must go," he answered, almost gloomily. "Don't wait up for
me." With these words he mounted his horse, passed through the
gate which Grace held open for him, and ambled down the steep
bridle-track to the valley.
She closed the gate and watched his descent, and then his journey
onward. His way was east, the evening sun which stood behind her
back beaming full upon him as soon as he got out from the shade of
the hill. Notwithstanding this untoward proceeding she was
determined to be loyal if he proved true; and the determination to
love one's best will carry a heart a long way towards making that
best an ever-growing thing. The conspicuous coat of the active
though blanching mare made horse and rider easy objects for the
vision. Though Darling had been chosen with such pains by
Winterborne for Grace, she had never ridden the sleek creature;
but her husband had found the animal exceedingly convenient,
particularly now that he had taken to the saddle, plenty of
staying power being left in Darling yet. Fitzpiers, like others
of his character, while despising Melbury and his station, did not
at all disdain to spend Melbury's money, or appropriate to his own
use the horse which belonged to Melbury's daughter.
And so the infatuated young surgeon went along through the
gorgeous autumn landscape of White Hart Vale, surrounded by
orchards lustrous with the reds of apple-crops, berries, and
foliage, the whole intensified by the gilding of the declining
sun. The earth this year had been prodigally bountiful, and now
was the supreme moment of her bounty. In the poorest spots the
hedges were bowed with haws and blackberries; acorns cracked
underfoot, and the burst husks of chestnuts lay exposing their
auburn contents as if arranged by anxious sellers in a fruitmarket.
In all this proud show some kernels were unsound as her
own situation, and she wondered if there were one world in the
universe where the fruit had no worm, and marriage no sorrow.
Herr Tannhauser still moved on, his plodding steed rendering him
distinctly visible yet. Could she have heard Fitzpiers's voice at
that moment she would have found him murmuring--
"...Towards the loadstar of my one desire
I flitted, even as a dizzy moth in the owlet light."
But he was a silent spectacle to her now. Soon he rose out of the
valley, and skirted a high plateau of the chalk formation on his
right, which rested abruptly upon the fruity district of loamy
clay, the character and herbage of the two formations being so
distinct that the calcareous upland appeared but as a deposit of a
few years' antiquity upon the level vale. He kept along the edge
of this high, unenclosed country, and the sky behind him being
deep violet, she could still see white Darling in relief upon it--
a mere speck now--a Wouvermans eccentricity reduced to microscopic
dimensions. Upon this high ground he gradually disappeared.
Thus she had beheld the pet animal purchased for her own use, in
pure love of her, by one who had always been true, impressed to
convey her husband away from her to the side of a new-found idol.
While she was musing on the vicissitudes of horses and wives, she
discerned shapes moving up the valley towards her, quite near at
hand, though till now hidden by the hedges. Surely they were
Giles Winterborne, with his two horses and cider-apparatus,
conducted by Robert Creedle. Up, upward they crept, a stray beam
of the sun alighting every now and then like a star on the blades
of the pomace-shovels, which had been converted to steel mirrors
by the action of the malic acid. She opened the gate when he came
close, and the panting horses rested as they achieved the ascent.
"How do you do, Giles?" said she, under a sudden impulse to be
familiar with him.
He replied with much more reserve. "You are going for a walk,
Mrs. Fitzpiers?" he added. "It is pleasant just now."
"No, I am returning," said she.
The vehicles passed through, the gate slammed, and Winterborne
walked by her side in the rear of the apple-mill.
He looked and smelt like Autumn's very brother, his face being
sunburnt to wheat-color, his eyes blue as corn-flowers, his boots
and leggings dyed with fruit-stains, his hands clammy with the
sweet juice of apples, his hat sprinkled with pips, and everywhere
about him that atmosphere of cider which at its first return each
season has such an indescribable fascination for those who have
been born and bred among the orchards. Her heart rose from its
late sadness like a released spring; her senses revelled in the
sudden lapse back to nature unadorned. The consciousness of
having to be genteel because of her husband's profession, the
veneer of artificiality which she had acquired at the fashionable
schools, were thrown off, and she became the crude, country girl
of her latent, earliest instincts.
Nature was bountiful, she thought. No sooner had she been starved
off by Edgar Fitzpiers than another being, impersonating bare and
undiluted manliness, had arisen out of the earth, ready to hand.
This was an excursion of the imagination which she did not
encourage, and she said suddenly, to disguise the confused regard
which had followed her thoughts, "Did you meet my husband?"
Winterborne, with some hesitation, "Yes."
"Where did you meet him?"
"At Calfhay Cross. I come from Middleton Abbey; I have been
making there for the last week."
"Haven't they a mill of their own?"
"Yes, but it's out of repair."
"I think--I heard that Mrs. Charmond had gone there to stay?"
"Yes. I have seen her at the windows once or twice."
Grace waited an interval before she went on: "Did Mr. Fitzpiers
take the way to Middleton?"
"Yes...I met him on Darling." As she did not reply, he added, with
a gentler inflection, "You know why the mare was called that?"
"Oh yes--of course," she answered, quickly.
They had risen so far over the crest of the hill that the whole
west sky was revealed. Between the broken clouds they could see
far into the recesses of heaven, the eye journeying on under a
species of golden arcades, and past fiery obstructions, fancied
cairns, logan-stones, stalactites and stalagmite of topaz. Deeper
than this their gaze passed thin flakes of incandescence, till it
plunged into a bottomless medium of soft green fire.
Her abandonment to the luscious time after her sense of ill-usage,
her revolt for the nonce against social law, her passionate desire
for primitive life, may have showed in her face. Winterborne was
looking at her, his eyes lingering on a flower that she wore in
her bosom. Almost with the abstraction of a somnambulist he
stretched out his hand and gently caressed the flower.
She drew back. "What are you doing, Giles Winterborne!" she
exclaimed, with a look of severe surprise. The evident absence of
all premeditation from the act, however, speedily led her to think
that it was not necessary to stand upon her dignity here and now.
"You must bear in mind, Giles," she said, kindly, "that we are not
as we were; and some people might have said that what you did was
taking a liberty."
It was more than she need have told him; his action of
forgetfulness had made him so angry with himself that he flushed
through his tan. "I don't know what I am coming to!" he
exclaimed, savagely. "Ah--I was not once like this!" Tears of
vexation were in his eyes.
"No, now--it was nothing. I was too reproachful."
"It would not have occurred to me if I had not seen something like
it done elsewhere--at Middleton lately," he said, thoughtfully,
after a while.
"By whom?"
"Don't ask it."
She scanned him narrowly. "I know quite well enough," she
returned, indifferently. "It was by my husband, and the woman was
Mrs. Charmond. Association of ideas reminded you when you saw
me....Giles--tell me all you know about that--please do, Giles!
But no--I won't hear it. Let the subject cease. And as you are
my friend, say nothing to my father."
They reached a place where their ways divided. Winterborne
continued along the highway which kept outside the copse, and
Grace opened a gate that entered it.
She walked up the soft grassy ride, screened on either hand by
nut-bushes, just now heavy with clusters of twos and threes and
fours. A little way on, the track she pursued was crossed by a
similar one at right angles. Here Grace stopped; some few yards
up the transverse ride the buxom Suke Damson was visible--her gown
tucked up high through her pocket-hole, and no bonnet on her head--
in the act of pulling down boughs from which she was gathering
and eating nuts with great rapidity, her lover Tim Tangs standing
near her engaged in the same pleasant meal.
Crack, crack went Suke's jaws every second or two. By an
automatic chain of thought Grace's mind reverted to the toothdrawing
scene described by her husband; and for the first time she
wondered if that narrative were really true, Susan's jaws being so
obviously sound and strong. Grace turned up towards the nutgatherers,
and conquered her reluctance to speak to the girl who
was a little in advance of Tim. "Good-evening, Susan," she said.
"Good-evening, Miss Melbury" (crack).
"Mrs. Fitzpiers."
"Oh yes, ma'am--Mrs. Fitzpiers," said Suke, with a peculiar smile.
Grace, not to be daunted, continued: "Take care of your teeth,
Suke. That accounts for the toothache."
"I don't know what an ache is, either in tooth, ear, or head,
thank the Lord" (crack).
"Nor the loss of one, either?"
"See for yourself, ma'am." She parted her red lips, and exhibited
the whole double row, full up and unimpaired.
"You have never had one drawn?"
"So much the better for your stomach," said Mrs. Fitzpiers, in an
altered voice. And turning away quickly, she went on.
As her husband's character thus shaped itself under the touch of
time, Grace was almost startled to find how little she suffered
from that jealous excitement which is conventionally attributed to
all wives in such circumstances. But though possessed by none of
that feline wildness which it was her moral duty to experience,
she did not fail to know that she had made a frightful mistake in
her marriage. Acquiescence in her father's wishes had been
degradation to herself. People are not given premonitions for
nothing; she should have obeyed her impulse on that early morning,
and steadfastly refused her hand.
Oh, that plausible tale which her then betrothed had told her
about Suke--the dramatic account of her entreaties to him to draw
the aching enemy, and the fine artistic touch he had given to the
story by explaining that it was a lovely molar without a flaw!
She traced the remainder of the woodland track dazed by the
complications of her position. If his protestations to her before
their marriage could be believed, her husband had felt affection
of some sort for herself and this woman simultaneously; and was
now again spreading the same emotion over Mrs. Charmond and
herself conjointly, his manner being still kind and fond at times.
But surely, rather than that, he must have played the hypocrite
towards her in each case with elaborate completeness; and the
thought of this sickened her, for it involved the conjecture that
if he had not loved her, his only motive for making her his wife
must have been her little fortune. Yet here Grace made a mistake,
for the love of men like Fitzpiers is unquestionably of such
quality as to bear division and transference. He had indeed, once
declared, though not to her, that on one occasion he had noticed
himself to be possessed by five distinct infatuations at the same
time. Therein it differed from the highest affection as the lower
orders of the animal world differ from advanced organisms,
partition causing, not death, but a multiplied existence. He had
loved her sincerely, and had by no means ceased to love her now.
But such double and treble barrelled hearts were naturally beyond
her conception.
Of poor Suke Damson, Grace thought no more. She had had her day.
"If he does not love me I will not love him!" said Grace, proudly.
And though these were mere words, it was a somewhat formidable
thing for Fitzpiers that her heart was approximating to a state in
which it might be possible to carry them out. That very absence
of hot jealousy which made his courses so easy, and on which,
indeed, he congratulated himself, meant, unknown to either wife or
husband, more mischief than the inconvenient watchfulness of a
jaundiced eye.
Her sleep that night was nervous. The wing allotted to her and
her husband had never seemed so lonely. At last she got up, put
on her dressing-gown, and went down-stairs. Her father, who slept
lightly, heard her descend, and came to the stair-head.
"Is that you, Grace? What's the matter?" he said.
"Nothing more than that I am restless. Edgar is detained by a
case at Owlscombe in White Hart Vale."
"But how's that? I saw the woman's husband at Great Hintock just
afore bedtime; and she was going on well, and the doctor gone
"Then he's detained somewhere else," said Grace. "Never mind me;
he will soon be home. I expect him about one."
She went back to her room, and dozed and woke several times. One
o'clock had been the hour of his return on the last occasion; but
it passed now by a long way, and Fitzpiers did not come. Just
before dawn she heard the men stirring in the yard; and the
flashes of their lanterns spread every now and then through her
window-blind. She remembered that her father had told her not to
be disturbed if she noticed them, as they would be rising early to
send off four loads of hurdles to a distant sheep-fair. Peeping
out, she saw them bustling about, the hollow-turner among the
rest; he was loading his wares--wooden-bowls, dishes, spigots,
spoons, cheese-vats, funnels, and so on--upon one of her father's
wagons, who carried them to the fair for him every year out of
neighborly kindness.
The scene and the occasion would have enlivened her but that her
husband was still absent; though it was now five o'clock. She
could hardly suppose him, whatever his infatuation, to have
prolonged to a later hour than ten an ostensibly professional call
on Mrs. Charmond at Middleton; and he could have ridden home in
two hours and a half. What, then, had become of him? That he had
been out the greater part of the two preceding nights added to her
She dressed herself, descended, and went out, the weird twilight
of advancing day chilling the rays from the lanterns, and making
the men's faces wan. As soon as Melbury saw her he came round,
showing his alarm.
"Edgar is not come," she said. "And I have reason to know that
he's not attending anybody. He has had no rest for two nights
before this. I was going to the top of the hill to look for him."
"I'll come with you," said Melbury.
She begged him not to hinder himself; but he insisted, for he saw
a peculiar and rigid gloom in her face over and above her
uneasiness, and did not like the look of it. Telling the men he
would be with them again soon, he walked beside her into the
turnpike-road, and partly up the hill whence she had watched
Fitzpiers the night before across the Great White Hart or
Blackmoor Valley. They halted beneath a half-dead oak, hollow,
and disfigured with white tumors, its roots spreading out like
accipitrine claws grasping the ground. A chilly wind circled
round them, upon whose currents the seeds of a neighboring limetree,
supported parachute-wise by the wing attached, flew out of
the boughs downward like fledglings from their nest. The vale was
wrapped in a dim atmosphere of unnaturalness, and the east was
like a livid curtain edged with pink. There was no sign nor sound
of Fitzpiers.
"It is no use standing here," said her father. "He may come home
fifty ways...why, look here!--here be Darling's tracks--turned
homeward and nearly blown dry and hard! He must have come in hours
ago without your seeing him."
"He has not done that," said she.
They went back hastily. On entering their own gates they
perceived that the men had left the wagons, and were standing
round the door of the stable which had been appropriated to the
doctor's use. "Is there anything the matter?" cried Grace.
"Oh no, ma'am. All's well that ends well," said old Timothy
Tangs. "I've heard of such things before--among workfolk, though
not among your gentle people--that's true."
They entered the stable, and saw the pale shape of Darling
standing in the middle of her stall, with Fitzpiers on her back,
sound asleep. Darling was munching hay as well as she could with
the bit in her month, and the reins, which had fallen from
Fitzpiers's hand, hung upon her neck.
Grace went and touched his hand; shook it before she could arouse
him. He moved, started, opened his eyes, and exclaimed, "Ah,
Felice!...Oh, it's Grace. I could not see in the gloom. What--am
I in the saddle?"
"Yes," said she. "How do you come here?"
He collected his thoughts, and in a few minutes stammered, "I was
riding along homeward through the vale, very, very sleepy, having
been up so much of late. When I came opposite Holywell spring the
mare turned her head that way, as if she wanted to drink. I let
her go in, and she drank; I thought she would never finish. While
she was drinking, the clock of Owlscombe Church struck twelve. I
distinctly remember counting the strokes. From that moment I
positively recollect nothing till I saw you here by my side."
"The name! If it had been any other horse he'd have had a broken
neck!" murmured Melbury.
"'Tis wonderful, sure, how a quiet hoss will bring a man home at
such times!" said John Upjohn. "And what's more wonderful than
keeping your seat in a deep, slumbering sleep? I've knowed men
drowze off walking home from randies where the mead and other
liquors have gone round well, and keep walking for more than a
mile on end without waking. Well, doctor, I don't care who the
man is, 'tis a mercy you wasn't a drownded, or a splintered, or a
hanged up to a tree like Absalom--also a handsome gentleman like
yerself, as the prophets say."
"True," murmured old Timothy. "From the soul of his foot to the
crown of his head there was no blemish in him."
"Or leastwise you might ha' been a-wownded into tatters a'most,
and no doctor to jine your few limbs together within seven mile!"
While this grim address was proceeding, Fitzpiers had dismounted,
and taking Grace's arm walked stiffly in-doors with her. Melbury
stood staring at the horse, which, in addition to being very
weary, was spattered with mud. There was no mud to speak of about
the Hintocks just now--only in the clammy hollows of the vale
beyond Owlscombe, the stiff soil of which retained moisture for
weeks after the uplands were dry. While they were rubbing down
the mare, Melbury's mind coupled with the foreign quality of the
mud the name he had heard unconsciously muttered by the surgeon
when Grace took his hand--"Felice." Who was Felice? Why, Mrs.
Charmond; and she, as he knew, was staying at Middleton.
Melbury had indeed pounced upon the image that filled Fitzpiers's
half-awakened soul--wherein there had been a picture of a recent
interview on a lawn with a capriciously passionate woman who had
begged him not to come again in tones whose vibration incited him
to disobey. "What are you doing here? Why do you pursue me?
Another belongs to you. If they were to see you they would seize
you as a thief!" And she had turbulently admitted to his wringing
questions that her visit to Middleton had been undertaken less
because of the invalid relative than in shamefaced fear of her own
weakness if she remained near his home. A triumph then it was to
Fitzpiers, poor and hampered as he had become, to recognize his
real conquest of this beauty, delayed so many years. His was the
selfish passion of Congreve's Millamont, to whom love's supreme
delight lay in "that heart which others bleed for, bleed for me."
When the horse had been attended to Melbury stood uneasily here
and there about his premises; he was rudely disturbed in the
comfortable views which had lately possessed him on his domestic
concerns. It is true that he had for some days discerned that
Grace more and more sought his company, preferred supervising his
kitchen and bakehouse with her step-mother to occupying herself
with the lighter details of her own apartments. She seemed no
longer able to find in her own hearth an adequate focus for her
life, and hence, like a weak queen-bee after leading off to an
independent home, had hovered again into the parent hive. But he
had not construed these and other incidents of the kind till now.
Something was wrong in the dove-cot. A ghastly sense that he
alone would be responsible for whatever unhappiness should be
brought upon her for whom he almost solely lived, whom to retain
under his roof he had faced the numerous inconveniences involved
in giving up the best part of his house to Fitzpiers. There was
no room for doubt that, had he allowed events to take their
natural course, she would have accepted Winterborne, and realized
his old dream of restitution to that young man's family.
That Fitzpiers could allow himself to look on any other creature
for a moment than Grace filled Melbury with grief and
astonishment. In the pure and simple life he had led it had
scarcely occurred to him that after marriage a man might be
faithless. That he could sweep to the heights of Mrs. Charmond's
position, lift the veil of Isis, so to speak, would have amazed
Melbury by its audacity if he had not suspected encouragement from
that quarter. What could he and his simple Grace do to
countervail the passions of such as those two sophisticated
beings--versed in the world's ways, armed with every apparatus for
victory? In such an encounter the homely timber-dealer felt as
inferior as a bow-and-arrow savage before the precise weapons of
modern warfare.
Grace came out of the house as the morning drew on. The village
was silent, most of the folk having gone to the fair. Fitzpiers
had retired to bed, and was sleeping off his fatigue. She went to
the stable and looked at poor Darling: in all probability Giles
Winterborne, by obtaining for her a horse of such intelligence and
docility, had been the means of saving her husband's life. She
paused over the strange thought; and then there appeared her
father behind her. She saw that he knew things were not as they
ought to be, from the troubled dulness of his eye, and from his
face, different points of which had independent motions,
twitchings, and tremblings, unknown to himself, and involuntary.
"He was detained, I suppose, last night?" said Melbury.
"Oh yes; a bad case in the vale," she replied, calmly.
"Nevertheless, he should have stayed at home."
"But he couldn't, father."
Her father turned away. He could hardly bear to see his whilom
truthful girl brought to the humiliation of having to talk like
That night carking care sat beside Melbury's pillow, and his stiff
limbs tossed at its presence. "I can't lie here any longer," he
muttered. Striking a light, he wandered about the room. "What
have I done--what have I done for her?" he said to his wife, who
had anxiously awakened. "I had long planned that she should marry
the son of the man I wanted to make amends to; do ye mind how I
told you all about it, Lucy, the night before she came home? Ah!
but I was not content with doing right, I wanted to do more!"
"Don't raft yourself without good need, George," she replied. "I
won't quite believe that things are so much amiss. I won't
believe that Mrs. Charmond has encouraged him. Even supposing she
has encouraged a great many, she can have no motive to do it now.
What so likely as that she is not yet quite well, and doesn't care
to let another doctor come near her?"
He did not heed. "Grace used to be so busy every day, with fixing
a curtain here and driving a tin-tack there; but she cares for no
employment now!"
"Do you know anything of Mrs. Charmond's past history? Perhaps
that would throw some light upon things. Pefore she came here as
the wife of old Charmond four or five years ago, not a soul seems
to have heard aught of her. Why not make inquiries? And then do
ye wait and see more; there'll be plenty of opportnnity. Time
enough to cry when you know 'tis a crying matter; and 'tis bad to
meet troubles half-way."
There was some good-sense in the notion of seeing further.
Melbury resolved to inquire and wait, hoping still, hut oppressed
between-whiles with much fear.
Examine Grace as her father might, she would admit nothing. For
the present, therefore, he simply watched.
The suspicion that his darling child was being slighted wrought
almost a miraculous change in Melbury's nature. No man so furtive
for the time as the ingenuous countryman who finds that his
ingenuousness has been abused. Melbury's heretofore confidential
candor towards his gentlemanly son-in-law was displaced by a
feline stealth that did injnry to his every action, thought, and
mood. He knew that a woman once given to a man for life took, as
a rule, her lot as it came and made the best of it, without
external interference; but for the first time he asked himself why
this so generally should be so. Moreover, this case was not, he
argued, like ordinary cases. Leaving out the question of Grace
being anything but an ordinary woman, her peculiar situation, as
it were in mid-air between two planes of society, together with
the loneliness of Hintock, made a husband's neglect a far more
tragical matter to her than it would be to one who had a large
circle of friends to fall back upon. Wisely or unwisely, and
whatever other fathers did, he resolved to fight his daughter's
battle still.
Mrs. Charmond had returned. But Hintock House scarcely gave forth
signs of life, so quietly had she reentered it. He went to church
at Great Hintock one afternoon as usual, there being no service at
the smaller village. A few minutes before his departure, he had
casually heard Fitzpiers, who was no church-goer, tell his wife
that he was going to walk in the wood. Melbury entered the
building and sat down in his pew; the parson came in, then Mrs.
Charmond, then Mr. Fitzpiers.
The service proceeded, and the jealons father was quite sure that
a mutual consciousness was uninterruptedly maintained between
those two; he fancied that more than once their eyes met. At the
end, Fitzpiers so timed his movement into the aisle that it
exactly coincided with Felice Charmond's from the opposite side,
and they walked out with their garments in contact, the surgeon
being just that two or three inches in her rear which made it
convenient for his eyes to rest upon her cheek. The cheek warmed
up to a richer tone.
This was a worse feature in the flirtation than he had expected.
If she had been playing with him in an idle freak the game might
soon have wearied her; but the smallest germ of passion--and women
of the world do not change color for nothing--was a threatening
development. The mere presence of Fitzpiers in the building,
after his statement, was wellnigh conclusive as far as he was
concerned; but Melbury resolved yet to watch.
He had to wait long. Autumn drew shiveringly to its end. One day
something seemed to be gone from the gardens; the tenderer leaves
of vegetables had shrunk under the first smart frost, and hung
like faded linen rags; then the forest leaves, which had been
descending at leisure, descended in haste and in multitudes, and
all the golden colors that had hung overhead were now crowded
together in a degraded mass underfoot, where the fallen myriads
got redder and hornier, and curled themselves up to rot. The only
suspicious features in Mrs. Charmond's existence at this season
were two: the first, that she lived with no companion or relative
about her, which, considering her age and attractions, was
somewhat unusual conduct for a young widow in a lonely countryhouse;
the other, that she did not, as in previous years, start
from Hintock to winter abroad. In Fitzpiers, the only change from
his last autnmn's habits lay in his abandonment of night study--
his lamp never shone from his new dwelling as from his old.
If the suspected ones met, it was by such adroit contrivances that
even Melbury's vigilance could not encounter them together. A
simple call at her house by the doctor had nothing irregular about
it, and that he had paid two or three such calls was certain.
What had passed at those interviews was known only to the parties
themselves; but that Felice Charmond was under some one's
influence Melbury soon had opportunity of perceiving.
Winter had come on. Owls began to be noisy in the mornings and
evenings, and flocks of wood-pigeons made themselves prominent
again. One day in February, about six months after the marriage
of Fitzpiers, Melbury was returning from Great Hintock on foot
through the lane, when he saw before him the surgeon also walking.
Melbury would have overtaken him, but at that moment Fitzpiers
turned in through a gate to one of the rambling drives among the
trees at this side of the wood, which led to nowhere in
particular, and the beauty of whose serpentine curves was the only
justification of their existence. Felice almost simultaneously
trotted down the lane towards the timber-dealer, in a little
basket-carriage which she sometimes drove about the estate,
unaccompanied by a servant. She turned in at the same place
without having seen either Melbury or apparently Fitzpiers.
Melbury was soon at the spot, despite his aches and his sixty
years. Mrs. Charmond had come up with the doctor, who was
standing immediately behind the carriage. She had turned to him,
her arm being thrown carelessly over the back of the seat. They
looked in each other's faces without uttering a word, an arch yet
gloomy smile wreathing her lips. Fitzpiers clasped her hanging
hand, and, while she still remained in the same listless attitude,
looking volumes into his eyes, he stealthily unbuttoned her glove,
and stripped her hand of it by rolling back the gauntlet over the
fingers, so that it came off inside out. He then raised her hand
to his month, she still reclining passively, watching him as she
might have watched a fly upon her dress. At last she said, "Well,
sir, what excuse for this disobedience?"
"I make none."
"Then go your way, and let me go mine." She snatched away her
hand, touched the pony with the whip, and left him standing there,
holding the reversed glove.
Melbury's first impulse was to reveal his presence to Fitzpiers,
and upbraid him bitterly. But a moment's thought was sufficient
to show him the futility of any such simple proceeding. There was
not, after all, so much in what he had witnessed as in what that
scene might be the surface and froth of--probably a state of mind
on which censure operates as an aggravation rather than as a cure.
Moreover, he said to himself that the point of attack should be
the woman, if either. He therefore kept out of sight, and musing
sadly, even tearfully--for he was meek as a child in matters
concerning his daughter--continued his way towards Hintock.
The insight which is bred of deep sympathy was never more finely
exemplified than in this instance. Through her guarded manner,
her dignified speech, her placid countenance, he discerned the
interior of Grace's life only too truly, hidden as were its
incidents from every outer eye.
These incidents had become painful enough. Fitzpiers had latterly
developed an irritable discontent which vented itself in
monologues when Grace was present to hear them. The early morning
of this day had been dull, after a night of wind, and on looking
out of the window Fitzpiers had observed some of Melbury's men
dragging away a large limb which had been snapped off a beechtree.
Everything was cold and colorless.
"My good Heaven!" he said, as he stood in his dressing-gown.
"This is life!" He did not know whether Grace was awake or not,
and he would not turn his head to ascertain. "Ah, fool," he went
on to himself, "to clip your own wings when you were free to
soar!...But I could not rest till I had done it. Why do I never
recognize an opportunity till I have missed it, nor the good or
ill of a step till it is irrevocable!...I fell in love....Love,
"'Love's but the frailty of the mind
When 'tis not with ambition joined;
A sickly flame which if not fed, expires,
And feeding, wastes in self-consuming fires!'
Ah, old author of 'The Way of the World,' you knew--you knew!"
Grace moved. He thought she had heard some part of his soliloquy.
He was sorry--though he had not taken any precaution to prevent
He expected a scene at breakfast, but she only exhibited an
extreme reserve. It was enough, however, to make him repent that
he should have done anything to produce discomfort; for he
attributed her manner entirely to what he had said. But Grace's
manner had not its cause either in his sayings or in his doings.
She had not heard a single word of his regrets. Something even
nearer home than her husband's blighted prospects--if blighted
they were--was the origin of her mood, a mood that was the mere
continuation of what her father had noticed when he would have
preferred a passionate jealousy in her, as the more natural.
She had made a discovery--one which to a girl of honest nature was
almost appalling. She had looked into her heart, and found that
her early interest in Giles Winterborne had become revitalized
into luxuriant growth by her widening perceptions of what was
great and little in life. His homeliness no longer offended her
acquired tastes; his comparative want of so-called culture did not
now jar on her intellect; his country dress even pleased her eye;
his exterior roughness fascinated her. Having discovered by
marriage how much that was humanly not great could co-exist with
attainments of an exceptional order, there was a revulsion in her
sentiments from all that she had formerly clung to in this kind:
honesty, goodness, manliness, tenderness, devotion, for her only
existed in their purity now in the breasts of unvarnished men; and
here was one who had manifested them towards her from his youth
There was, further, that never-ceasing pity in her soul for Giles
as a man whom she had wronged--a man who had been unfortunate in
his worldly transactions; while, not without a touch of sublimity,
he had, like Horatio, borne himself throughout his scathing
"As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing."
It was these perceptions, and no subtle catching of her husband's
murmurs, that had bred the abstraction visible in her.
When her father approached the house after witnessing the
interview between Fitzpiers and Mrs. Charmond, Grace was looking
out of her sitting-room window, as if she had nothing to do, or
think of, or care for. He stood still.
"Ah, Grace," he said, regarding her fixedly.
"Yes, father," she murmured.
"Waiting for your dear husband?" he inquired, speaking with the
sarcasm of pitiful affection.
"Oh no--not especially. He has a great many patients to see this
Melbury came quite close. "Grace, what's the use of talking like
that, when you know--Here, come down and walk with me out in the
garden, child."
He unfastened the door in the ivy-laced wall, and waited. This
apparent indifference alarmed him. He would far rather that she
had rushed in all the fire of jealousy to Hintock House,
regardless of conventionality, confronted and attacked Felice
Charmond unguibus et rostro, and accused her even in exaggerated
shape of stealing away her husband. Such a storm might have
cleared the air.
She emerged in a minute or two, and they went inside together.
"You know as well as I do," he resumed, "that there is something
threatening mischief to your life; and yet you pretend you do not.
Do you suppose I don't see the trouble in your face every day? I
am very sure that this quietude is wrong conduct in you. You
should look more into matters."
"I am quiet because my sadness is not of a nature to stir me to
Melbury wanted to ask her a dozen questions--did she not feel
jealous? was she not indignant? but a natural delicacy restrained
him. "You are very tame and let-alone, I am bound to say," he
remarked, pointedly.
"I am what I feel, father," she repeated.
He glanced at her, and there returned upon his mind the scene of
her offering to wed Winterborne instead of Fitzpiers in the last
days before her marriage; and he asked himself if it could be the
fact that she loved Winterborne, now that she had lost him, more
than she had ever done when she was comparatively free to choose
"What would you have me do?" she asked, in a low voice.
He recalled his mind from the retrospective pain to the practical
matter before them. "I would have you go to Mrs. Charmond," he
"Go to Mrs. Charmond--what for?" said she.
"Well--if I must speak plain, dear Grace--to ask her, appeal to
her in the name of your common womanhood, and your many like
sentiments on things, not to make unhappiness between you and your
husband. It lies with her entirely to do one or the other--that I
can see."
Grace's face had heated at her father's words, and the very rustle
of her skirts upon the box-edging bespoke hauteur. "I shall not
think of going to her, father--of course I could not!" she
"Why--don't 'ee want to be happier than you be at present?" said
Melbury, more moved on her account than she was herself.
"I don't wish to be more humiliated. If I have anything to bear I
can bear it in silence."
"But, my dear maid, you are too young--you don't know what the
present state of things may lead to. Just see the harm done
a'ready! Your husband would have gone away to Budmouth to a bigger
practice if it had not been for this. Although it has gone such a
little way, it is poisoning your future even now. Mrs. Charmond
is thoughtlessly bad, not bad by calculation; and just a word to
her now might save 'ee a peck of woes."
"Ah, I loved her once," said Grace, with a broken articulation,
"and she would not care for me then! Now I no longer love her.
Let her do her worst: I don't care."
"You ought to care. You have got into a very good position to
start with. You have been well educated, well tended, and you
have become the wife of a professional man of unusually good
family. Surely you ought to make the best of your position."
"I don't see that I ought. I wish I had never got into it. I
wish you had never, never thought of educating me. I wish I
worked in the woods like Marty South. I hate genteel life, and I
want to be no better than she."
"Why?" said her amazed father.
"Because cultivation has only brought me inconveniences and
troubles. I say again, I wish you had never sent me to those
fashionable schools you set your mind on. It all arose out of
that, father. If I had stayed at home I should have married--"
She closed up her mouth suddenly and was silent; and be saw that
she was not far from crying.
Melbury was much grieved. "What, and would you like to have grown
up as we be here in Hintock--knowing no more, and with no more
chance of seeing good life than we have here?"
"Yes. I have never got any happiness outside Hintock that I know
of, and I have suffered many a heartache at being sent away. Oh,
the misery of those January days when I had got back to school,
and left you all here in the wood so happy. I used to wonder why
I had to bear it. And I was always a little despised by the other
girls at school, because they knew where I came from, and that my
parents were not in so good a station as theirs."
Her poor father was much hurt at what he thought her ingratitude
and intractability. He had admitted to himself bitterly enough
that he should have let young hearts have their way, or rather
should have helped on her affection for Winterborne, and given her
to him according to his original plan; but he was not prepared for
her deprecation of those attainments whose completion had been a
labor of years, and a severe tax upon his purse.
"Very well," he said, with much heaviness of spirit. "If you
don't like to go to her I don't wish to force you."
And so the question remained for him still: how should he remedy
this perilous state of things? For days he sat in a moody
attitude over the fire, a pitcher of cider standing on the hearth
beside him, and his drinking-horn inverted upon the top of it. He
spent a week and more thus composing a letter to the chief
offender, which he would every now and then attempt to complete,
and suddenly crumple up in his hand.
As February merged in March, and lighter evenings broke the gloom
of the woodmen's homeward journey, the Hintocks Great and Little
began to have ears for a rumor of the events out of which had
grown the timber-dealer's troubles. It took the form of a wide
sprinkling of conjecture, wherein no man knew the exact truth.
Tantalizing phenomena, at once showing and concealing the real
relationship of the persons concerned, caused a diffusion of
excited surprise. Honest people as the woodlanders were, it was
hardly to be expected that they could remain immersed in the study
of their trees and gardens amid such circumstances, or sit with
their backs turned like the good burghers of Coventry at the
passage of the beautiful lady.
Rumor, for a wonder, exaggerated little. There were, in fact, in
this case as in thousands, the well-worn incidents, old as the
hills, which, with individual variations, made a mourner of
Ariadne, a by-word of Vashti, and a corpse of the Countess Amy.
There were rencounters accidental and contrived, stealthy
correspondence, sudden misgivings on one side, sudden selfreproaches
on the other. The inner state of the twain was one as
of confused noise that would not allow the accents of calmer
reason to be heard. Determinations to go in this direction, and
headlong plunges in that; dignified safeguards, undignified
collapses; not a single rash step by deliberate intention, and all
against judgment.
It was all that Melbury had expected and feared. It was more, for
he had overlooked the publicity that would be likely to result, as
it now had done. What should he do--appeal to Mrs. Charmond
himself, since Grace would not? He bethought himself of
Winterborne, and resolved to consult him, feeling the strong need
of some friend of his own sex to whom he might unburden his mind.
He had entirely lost faith in his own judgment. That judgment on
which he had relied for so many years seemed recently, like a
false companion unmasked, to have disclosed unexpected depths of
hypocrisy and speciousness where all had seemed solidity. He felt
almost afraid to form a conjecture on the weather, or the time, or
the fruit-promise, so great was his self-abasement.
It was a rimy evening when he set out to look for Giles. The
woods seemed to be in a cold sweat; beads of perspiration hung
from every bare twig; the sky had no color, and the trees rose
before him as haggard, gray phantoms, whose days of substantiality
were passed. Melbury seldom saw Winterborne now, but he believed
him to be occupying a lonely hut just beyond the boundary of Mrs.
Charmond's estate, though still within the circuit of the
woodland. The timber-merchant's thin legs stalked on through the
pale, damp scenery, his eyes on the dead leaves of last year;
while every now and then a hasty "Ay?" escaped his lips in reply
to some bitter proposition.
His notice was attracted by a thin blue haze of smoke, behind
which arose sounds of voices and chopping: bending his steps that
way, he saw Winterborne just in front of him. It just now
happened that Giles, after being for a long time apathetic and
unemployed, had become one of the busiest men in the neighborhood.
It is often thus; fallen friends, lost sight of, we expect to find
starving; we discover them going on fairly well. Without any
solicitation, or desire for profit on his part, he had been asked
to execute during that winter a very large order for hurdles and
other copse-ware, for which purpose he had been obliged to buy
several acres of brushwood standing. He was now engaged in the
cutting and manufacture of the same, proceeding with the work
daily like an automaton.
The hazel-tree did not belie its name to-day. The whole of the
copse-wood where the mist had cleared returned purest tints of
that hue, amid which Winterborne himself was in the act of making
a hurdle, the stakes being driven firmly into the ground in a row,
over which he bent and wove the twigs. Beside him was a square,
compact pile like the altar of Cain, formed of hurdles already
finished, which bristled on all sides with the sharp points of
their stakes. At a little distance the men in his employ were
assisting him to carry out his contract. Rows of copse-wood lay
on the ground as it had fallen under the axe; and a shelter had
been constructed near at hand, in front of which burned the fire
whose smoke had attracted him. The air was so dank that the smoke
hung heavy, and crept away amid the bushes without rising from the
After wistfully regarding Winterborne a while, Melbury drew
nearer, and briefly inquired of Giles how he came to be so busily
engaged, with an undertone of slight surprise that Winterborne
could seem so thriving after being deprived of Grace. Melbury was
not without emotion at the meeting; for Grace's affairs had
divided them, and ended their intimacy of old times.
Winterborne explained just as briefly, without raising his eyes
from his occupation of chopping a bough that he held in front of
"'Twill be up in April before you get it all cleared," said
"Yes, there or thereabouts," said Winterborne, a chop of the
billhook jerking the last word into two pieces.
There was another interval; Melbury still looked on, a chip from
Winterborne's hook occasionally flying against the waistcoat and
legs of his visitor, who took no heed.
"Ah, Giles--you should have been my partner. You should have been
my son-in-law," the old man said at last. "It would have been far
better for her and for me."
Winterborne saw that something had gone wrong with his former
friend, and throwing down the switch he was about to interweave,
he responded only too readily to the mood of the timber-dealer.
"Is she ill?" he said, hurriedly.
"No, no." Melbury stood without speaking for some minutes, and
then, as though he could not bring himself to proceed, turned to
go away.
Winterborne told one of his men to pack up the tools for the night
and walked after Melbury.
"Heaven forbid that I should seem too inquisitive, sir," he said,
"especially since we don't stand as we used to stand to one
another; but I hope it is well with them all over your way?"
"No," said Melbury--"no." He stopped, and struck the smooth trunk
of a young ash-tree with the flat of his hand. "I would that his
ear had been where that rind is!" he exclaimed; "I should have
treated him to little compared wi what he deserves."
"Now," said Winterborne, "don't be in a hurry to go home. I've
put some cider down to warm in my shelter here, and we'll sit and
drink it and talk this over."
Melbury turned unresistingly as Giles took his arm, and they went
back to where the fire was, and sat down under the screen, the
other woodmen having gone. He drew out the cider-mug from the
ashes and they drank together.
"Giles, you ought to have had her, as I said just now," repeated
Melbury. "I'll tell you why for the first time."
He thereupon told Winterborne, as with great relief, the story of
how he won away Giles's father's chosen one--by nothing worse than
a lover's cajoleries, it is true, but by means which, except in
love, would certainly have been pronounced cruel and unfair. He
explained how he had always intended to make reparation to
Winterborne the father by giving Grace to Winterborne the son,
till the devil tempted him in the person of Fitzpiers, and he
broke his virtuous vow.
"How highly I thought of that man, to be sure! Who'd have supposed
he'd have been so weak and wrong-headed as this! You ought to have
had her, Giles, and there's an end on't."
Winterborne knew how to preserve his calm under this unconsciously
cruel tearing of a healing wound to which Melbury's concentration
on the more vital subject had blinded him. The young man
endeavored to make the best of the case for Grace's sake.
"She would hardly have been happy with me," he said, in the dry,
unimpassioned voice under which he hid his feelings. "I was not
well enough educated: too rough, in short. I couldn't have
surrounded her with the refinements she looked for, anyhow, at
"Nonsense--you are quite wrong there," said the unwise old man,
doggedly. "She told me only this day that she hates refinements
and such like. All that my trouble and money bought for her in
that way is thrown away upon her quite. She'd fain be like Marty
South--think o' that! That's the top of her ambition! Perhaps
she's right. Giles, she loved you--under the rind; and, what's
more, she loves ye still--worse luck for the poor maid!"
If Melbury only had known what fires he was recklessly stirring up
he might have held his peace. Winterborne was silent a long time.
The darkness had closed in round them, and the monotonous drip of
the fog from the branches quickened as it turned to fine rain.
"Oh, she never cared much for me," Giles managed to say, as he
stirred the embers with a brand.
"She did, and does, I tell ye," said the other, obstinately.
"However, all that's vain talking now. What I come to ask you
about is a more practical matter--how to make the best of things
as they are. I am thinking of a desperate step--of calling on the
woman Charmond. I am going to appeal to her, since Grace will
not. 'Tis she who holds the balance in her hands--not he. While
she's got the will to lead him astray he will follow--poor,
unpractical, lofty-notioned dreamer--and how long she'll do it
depends upon her whim. Did ye ever hear anything about her
character before she came to Hintock?"
"She's been a bit of a charmer in her time, I believe," replied
Giles, with the same level quietude, as he regarded the red coals.
"One who has smiled where she has not loved and loved where she
has not married. Before Mr. Charmond made her his wife she was a
"Hey?" But how close you have kept all this, Giles! What
"Mr. Charmond was a rich man, engaged in the iron trade in the
north, twenty or thirty years older than she. He married her and
retired, and came down here and bought this property, as they do
"Yes, yes--I know all about that; but the other I did not know. I
fear it bodes no good. For how can I go and appeal to the
forbearance of a woman in this matter who has made cross-loves and
crooked entanglements her trade for years? I thank ye, Giles, for
finding it out; but it makes my plan the harder that she should
have belonged to that unstable tribe."
Another pause ensued, and they looked gloomily at the smoke that
beat about the hurdles which sheltered them, through whose
weavings a large drop of rain fell at intervals and spat smartly
into the fire. Mrs. Charmond had been no friend to Winterborne,
but he was manly, and it was not in his heart to let her be
condemned without a trial.
"She is said to be generous," he answered. "You might not appeal
to her in vain."
"It shall be done," said Melbury, rising. "For good or for evil,
to Mrs. Charmond I'll go."
At nine o'clock the next morning Melbury dressed himself up in
shining broadcloth, creased with folding and smelling of camphor,
and started for Hintock House. He was the more impelled to go at
once by the absence of his son-in-law in London for a few days, to
attend, really or ostensibly, some professional meetings. He said
nothing of his destination either to his wife or to Grace, fearing
that they might entreat him to abandon so risky a project, and
went out unobserved. He had chosen his time with a view, as he
supposed, of conveniently catching Mrs. Charmond when she had just
finished her breakfast, before any other business people should be
about, if any came. Plodding thoughtfully onward, he crossed a
glade lying between Little Hintock Woods and the plantation which
abutted on the park; and the spot being open, he was discerned
there by Winterborne from the copse on the next hill, where he and
his men were working. Knowing his mission, the younger man
hastened down from the copse and managed to intercept the timbermerchant.
"I have been thinking of this, sir," he said, "and I am of opinion
that it would be best to put off your visit for the present."
But Melbury would not even stop to hear him. His mind was made
up, the appeal was to be made; and Winterborne stood and watched
him sadly till he entered the second plantation and disappeared.
Melbury rang at the tradesmen's door of the manor-house, and was
at once informed that the lady was not yet visible, as indeed he
might have guessed had he been anybody but the man he was.
Melbury said he would wait, whereupon the young man informed him
in a neighborly way that, between themselves, she was in bed and
"Never mind," said Melbury, retreating into the court, "I'll stand
about here." Charged so fully with his mission, he shrank from
contact with anybody.
But he walked about the paved court till he was tired, and still
nobody came to him. At last he entered the house and sat down in
a small waiting-room, from which he got glimpses of the kitchen
corridor, and of the white-capped maids flitting jauntily hither
and thither. They had heard of his arrival, but had not seen him
enter, and, imagining him still in the court, discussed freely the
possible reason of his calling. They marvelled at his temerity;
for though most of the tongues which had been let loose attributed
the chief blame-worthiness to Fitzpiers, these of her household
preferred to regard their mistress as the deeper sinner.
Melbury sat with his hands resting on the familiar knobbed thorn
walking-stick, whose growing he had seen before he enjoyed its
use. The scene to him was not the material environment of his
person, but a tragic vision that travelled with him like an
envelope. Through this vision the incidents of the moment but
gleamed confusedly here and there, as an outer landscape through
the high-colored scenes of a stained window. He waited thus an
hour, an hour and a half, two hours. He began to look pale and
ill, whereupon the butler, who came in, asked him to have a glass
of wine. Melbury roused himself and said, "No, no. Is she almost
"She is just finishing breakfast," said the butler. "She will
soon see you now. I am just going up to tell her you are here."
"What! haven't you told her before?" said Melbury.
"Oh no," said the other. "You see you came so very early."
At last the bell rang: Mrs. Charmond could see him. She was not
in her private sitting-room when he reached it, but in a minute he
heard her coming from the front staircase, and she entered where
he stood.
At this time of the morning Mrs. Charmond looked her full age and
more. She might almost have been taken for the typical femme de
trente ans, though she was really not more than seven or eight and
twenty. There being no fire in the room, she came in with a shawl
thrown loosely round her shoulders, and obviously without the
least suspicion that Melbury had called upon any other errand than
timber. Felice was, indeed, the only woman in the parish who had
not heard the rumor of her own weaknesses; she was at this moment
living in a fool's paradise in respect of that rumor, though not
in respect of the weaknesses themselves, which, if the truth be
told, caused her grave misgivings.
"Do sit down, Mr. Melbury. You have felled all the trees that
were to be purchased by you this season, except the oaks, I
"Yes," said Melbury.
"How very nice! It must be so charming to work in the woods just
She was too careless to affect an interest in an extraneous
person's affairs so consummately as to deceive in the manner of
the perfect social machine. Hence her words "very nice," "so
charming," were uttered with a perfunctoriness that made them
sound absurdly unreal.
"Yes, yes," said Melbury, in a reverie. He did not take a chair,
and she also remained standing. Resting upon his stick, he began:
"Mrs. Charmond, I have called upon a more serious matter--at least
to me--than tree-throwing. And whatever mistakes I make in my
manner of speaking upon it to you, madam, do me the justice to set
'em down to my want of practice, and not to my want of care."
Mrs. Charmond looked ill at ease. She might have begun to guess
his meaning; but apart from that, she had such dread of contact
with anything painful, harsh, or even earnest, that his
preliminaries alone were enough to distress her. "Yes, what is
it?" she said.
"I am an old man," said Melbury, "whom, somewhat late in life, God
thought fit to bless with one child, and she a daughter. Her
mother was a very dear wife to me, but she was taken away from us
when the child was young, and the child became precious as the
apple of my eye to me, for she was all I had left to love. For
her sake entirely I married as second wife a homespun woman who
had been kind as a mother to her. In due time the question of her
education came on, and I said, 'I will educate the maid well, if I
live upon bread to do it.' Of her possible marriage I could not
bear to think, for it seemed like a death that she should cleave
to another man, and grow to think his house her home rather than
mine. But I saw it was the law of nature that this should be, and
that it was for the maid's happiness that she should have a home
when I was gone; and I made up my mind without a murmur to help it
on for her sake. In my youth I had wronged my dead friend, and to
make amends I determined to give her, my most precious possession,
to my friend's son, seeing that they liked each other well.
Things came about which made me doubt if it would be for my
daughter's happiness to do this, inasmuch as the young man was
poor, and she was delicately reared. Another man came and paid
court to her--one her equal in breeding and accomplishments; in
every way it seemed to me that he only could give her the home
which her training had made a necessity almost. I urged her on,
and she married him. But, ma'am, a fatal mistake was at the root
of my reckoning. I found that this well-born gentleman I had
calculated on so surely was not stanch of heart, and that therein
lay a danger of great sorrow for my daughter. Madam, he saw you,
and you know the rest....I have come to make no demands--to utter
no threats; I have come simply as a father in great grief about
this only child, and I beseech you to deal kindly with my
daughter, and to do nothing which can turn her husband's heart
away from her forever. Forbid him your presence, ma'am, and speak
to him on his duty as one with your power over him well can do,
and I am hopeful that the rent between them may be patched up.
For it is not as if you would lose by so doing; your course is far
higher than the courses of a simple professional man, and the
gratitude you would win from me and mine by your kindness is more
than I can say."
Mrs. Charmond had first rushed into a mood of indignation on
comprehending Melbury's story; hot and cold by turns, she had
murmured, "Leave me, leave me!" But as he seemed to take no notice
of this, his words began to influence her, and when he ceased
speaking she said, with hurried, hot breath, "What has led you to
think this of me? Who says I have won your daughter's husband
away from her? Some monstrous calumnies are afloat--of which I
have known nothing until now!"
Melbury started, and looked at her simply. "But surely, ma'am,
you know the truth better than I?"
Her features became a little pinched, and the touches of powder on
her handsome face for the first time showed themselves as an
extrinsic film. "Will you leave me to myself?" she said, with a
faintness which suggested a guilty conscience. "This is so
utterly unexpected--you obtain admission to my presence by
"As God's in heaven, ma'am, that's not true. I made no pretence;
and I thought in reason you would know why I had come. This
"I have heard nothing of it. Tell me of it, I say."
"Tell you, ma'am--not I. What the gossip is, no matter. What
really is, you know. Set facts right, and the scandal will right
of itself. But pardon me--I speak roughly; and I came to speak
gently, to coax you, beg you to be my daughter's friend. She
loved you once, ma'am; you began by liking her. Then you dropped
her without a reason, and it hurt her warm heart more than I can
tell ye. But you were within your right as the superior, no
doubt. But if you would consider her position now--surely,
surely, you would do her no harm!"
"Certainly I would do her no harm--I--" Melbury's eye met hers.
It was curious, but the allusion to Grace's former love for her
seemed to touch her more than all Melbury's other arguments. "Oh,
Melbury," she burst out, "you have made me so unhappy! How could
you come to me like this! It is too dreadful! Now go away--go,
"I will," he said, in a husky tone.
As soon as he was out of the room she went to a corner and there
sat and writhed under an emotion in which hurt pride and vexation
mingled with better sentiments.
Mrs. Charmond's mobile spirit was subject to these fierce periods
of stress and storm. She had never so clearly perceived till now
that her soul was being slowly invaded by a delirium which had
brought about all this; that she was losing judgment and dignity
under it, becoming an animated impulse only, a passion incarnate.
A fascination had led her on; it was as if she had been seized by
a hand of velvet; and this was where she found herself--
overshadowed with sudden night, as if a tornado had passed by.
While she sat, or rather crouched, unhinged by the interview,
lunch-time came, and then the early afternoon, almost without her
consciousness. Then "a strange gentleman who says it is not
necessary to give his name," was suddenly announced.
"I cannot see him, whoever he may be. I am not at home to
She heard no more of her visitor; and shortly after, in an attempt
to recover some mental serenity by violent physical exercise, she
put on her hat and cloak and went out-of-doors, taking a path
which led her up the slopes to the nearest spur of the wood. She
disliked the woods, but they had the advantage of being a place in
which she could walk comparatively unobserved.
There was agitation to-day in the lives of all whom these matters
concerned. It was not till the Hintock dinner-time--one o'clock--
that Grace discovered her father's absence from the house after a
departure in the morning under somewhat unusual conditions. By a
little reasoning and inquiry she was able to come to a conclusion
on his destination, and to divine his errand.
Her husband was absent, and her father did not return. He had, in
truth, gone on to Sherton after the interview, but this Grace did
not know. In an indefinite dread that something serious would
arise out of Melbury's visit by reason of the inequalities of
temper and nervous irritation to which he was subject, something
possibly that would bring her much more misery than accompanied
her present negative state of mind, she left the house about three
o'clock, and took a loitering walk in the woodland track by which
she imagined he would come home. This track under the bare trees
and over the cracking sticks, screened and roofed in from the
outer world of wind and cloud by a net-work of boughs, led her
slowly on till in time she had left the larger trees behind her
and swept round into the coppice where Winterborne and his men
were clearing the undergrowth.
Had Giles's attention been concentrated on his hurdles he would
not have seen her; but ever since Melbury's passage across the
opposite glade in the morning he had been as uneasy and unsettled
as Grace herself; and her advent now was the one appearance which,
since her father's avowal, could arrest him more than Melbury's
return with his tidings. Fearing that something might be the
matter, he hastened up to her.
She had not seen her old lover for a long time, and, too conscious
of the late pranks of her heart, she could not behold him calmly.
"I am only looking for my father," she said, in an unnecessarily
apologetic intonation.
"I was looking for him too," said Giles. "I think he may perhaps
have gone on farther."
"Then you knew he was going to the House, Giles?" she said,
turning her large tender eyes anxiously upon him. "Did he tell
you what for?"
Winterborne glanced doubtingly at her, and then softly hinted that
her father had visited him the evening before, and that their old
friendship was quite restored, on which she guessed the rest.
"Oh, I am glad, indeed, that you two are friends again!" she
cried. And then they stood facing each other, fearing each other,
troubling each other's souls. Grace experienced acute misery at
the sight of these wood-cutting scenes, because she had estranged
herself from them, craving, even to its defects and
inconveniences, that homely sylvan life of her father which in the
best probable succession of events would shortly be denied her.
At a little distance, on the edge of the clearing, Marty South was
shaping spar-gads to take home for manufacture during the
evenings. While Winterborne and Mrs. Fitzpiers stood looking at
her in their mutual embarrassment at each other's presence, they
beheld approaching the girl a lady in a dark fur mantle and a
black hat, having a white veil tied picturesquely round it. She
spoke to Marty, who turned and courtesied, and the lady fell into
conversation with her. It was Mrs. Charmond.
On leaving her house, Mrs. Charmond had walked on and onward under
the fret and fever of her mind with more vigor than she was
accustomed to show in her normal moods--a fever which the solace
of a cigarette did not entirely allay. Reaching the coppice, she
listlessly observed Marty at work, threw away her cigarette, and
came near. Chop, chop, chop, went Marty's little billhook with
never more assiduity, till Mrs. Charmond spoke.
"Who is that young lady I see talking to the woodman yonder?" she
"Mrs. Fitzpiers, ma'am," said Marty.
"Oh," said Mrs. Charmond, with something like a start; for she had
not recognized Grace at that distance. "And the man she is
talking to?"
"That's Mr. Winterborne."
A redness stole into Marty's face as she mentioned Giles's name,
which Mrs. Charmond did not fail to notice informed her of the
state of the girl's heart. "Are you engaged to him?" she asked,
"No, ma'am," said Marty. "SHE was once; and I think--"
But Marty could not possibly explain the complications of her
thoughts on this matter--which were nothing less than one of
extraordinary acuteness for a girl so young and inexperienced--
namely, that she saw danger to two hearts naturally honest in
Grace being thrown back into Winterborne's society by the neglect
of her husband. Mrs. Charmond, however, with the almost
supersensory means to knowledge which women have on such
occasions, quite understood what Marty had intended to convey, and
the picture thus exhibited to her of lives drifting away,
involving the wreck of poor Marty's hopes, prompted her to more
generous resolves than all Melbury's remonstrances had been able
to stimulate.
Full of the new feeling, she bade the girl good-afternoon, and
went on over the stumps of hazel to where Grace and Winterborne
were standing. They saw her approach, and Winterborne said, "She
is coming to you; it is a good omen. She dislikes me, so I'll go
away." He accordingly retreated to where he had been working
before Grace came, and Grace's formidable rival approached her,
each woman taking the other's measure as she came near.
"Dear--Mrs. Fitzpiers," said Felice Charmond, with some inward
turmoil which stopped her speech. "I have not seen you for a long
She held out her hand tentatively, while Grace stood like a wild
animal on first confronting a mirror or other puzzling product of
civilization. Was it really Mrs. Charmond speaking to her thus?
If it was, she could no longer form any guess as to what it
"I want to talk with you," said Mrs. Charmond, imploringly, for
the gaze of the young woman had chilled her through. "Can you
walk on with me till we are quite alone?"
Sick with distaste, Grace nevertheless complied, as by clockwork
and they moved evenly side by side into the deeper recesses of the
woods. They went farther, much farther than Mrs. Charmond had
meant to go; but she could not begin her conversation, and in
default of it kept walking.
"I have seen your father," she at length resumed. "And--I am much
troubled by what he told me."
"What did he tell you? I have not been admitted to his confidence
on anything he may have said to you."
"Nevertheless, why should I repeat to you what you can easily
"True--true," returned Grace, mournfully. "Why should you repeat
what we both know to be in our minds already?"
"Mrs. Fitzpiers, your husband--" The moment that the speaker's
tongue touched the dangerous subject a vivid look of selfconsciousness
flashed over her, in which her heart revealed, as by
a lightning gleam, what filled it to overflowing. So transitory
was the expression that none but a sensitive woman, and she in
Grace's position, would have had the power to catch its meaning.
Upon her the phase was not lost.
"Then you DO love him!" she exclaimed, in a tone of much surprise.
"What do you mean, my young friend?"
"Why," cried Grace, "I thought till now that you had only been
cruelly flirting with my husband, to amuse your idle moments--a
rich lady with a poor professional gentleman whom in her heart she
despised not much less than her who belongs to him. But I guess
from your manner that you love him desperately, and I don't hate
you as I did before."
"Yes, indeed," continued Mrs. Fitzpiers, with a trembling tongue,
"since it is not playing in your case at all, but REAL. Oh, I do
pity you, more than I despise you, for you will s-s-suffer most!"
Mrs. Charmond was now as much agitated as Grace. "I ought not to
allow myself to argue with you," she exclaimed. "I demean myself
by doing it. But I liked you once, and for the sake of that time
I try to tell you how mistaken you are!" Much of her confusion
resulted from her wonder and alarm at finding herself in a sense
dominated mentally and emotionally by this simple school-girl. "I
do not love him," she went on, with desperate untruth. "It was a
kindness--my making somewhat more of him than one usually does of
one's doctor. I was lonely; I talked--well, I trifled with him.
I am very sorry if such child's playing out of pure friendship has
been a serious matter to you. Who could have expected it? But the
world is so simple here."
"Oh, that's affectation," said Grace, shaking her head. "It is no
use--you love him. I can see in your face that in this matter of
my husband you have not let your acts belie your feelings. During
these last four or six months you have been terribly indiscreet;
but you have not been insincere, and that almost disarms me."
"I HAVE been insincere--if you will have the word--I mean I HAVE
coquetted, and do NOT love him!"
But Grace clung to her position like a limpet. "You may have
trifled with others, but him you love as you never loved another
"Oh, well--I won't argue," said Mrs. Charmond, laughing faintly.
"And you come to reproach me for it, child."
"No," said Grace, magnanimously. "You may go on loving him if you
like--I don't mind at all. You'll find it, let me tell you, a
bitterer business for yourself than for me in the end. He'll get
tired of you soon, as tired as can be--you don't know him so well
as I--and then you may wish you had never seen him!"
Mrs. Charmond had grown quite pale and weak under this prophecy.
It was extraordinary that Grace, whom almost every one would have
characterized as a gentle girl, should be of stronger fibre than
her interlocutor. "You exaggerate--cruel, silly young woman," she
reiterated, writhing with little agonies. "It is nothing but
playful friendship--nothing! It will be proved by my future
conduct. I shall at once refuse to see him more--since it will
make no difference to my heart, and much to my name."
"I question if you will refuse to see him again," said Grace,
dryly, as with eyes askance she bent a sapling down. "But I am
not incensed against you as you are against me," she added,
abandoning the tree to its natural perpendicular. "Before I came
I had been despising you for wanton cruelty; now I only pity you
for misplaced affection. When Edgar has gone out of the house in
hope of seeing you, at seasonable hours and unseasonable; when I
have found him riding miles and miles across the country at
midnight, and risking his life, and getting covered with mud, to
get a glimpse of you, I have called him a foolish man--the
plaything of a finished coquette. I thought that what was getting
to be a tragedy to me was a comedy to you. But now I see that
tragedy lies on YOUR side of the situation no less than on MINE,
and more; that if I have felt trouble at my position, you have
felt anguish at yours; that if I have had disappointments, you
have had despairs. Heaven may fortify me--God help you!"
"I cannot attempt to reply to your raving eloquence," returned the
other, struggling to restore a dignity which had completely
collapsed. "My acts will be my proofs. In the world which you
have seen nothing of, friendships between men and women are not
unknown, and it would have been better both for you and your
father if you had each judged me more respectfully, and left me
alone. As it is I wish never to see or speak to you, madam, any
Grace bowed, and Mrs. Charmond turned away. The two went apart in
directly opposite courses, and were soon hidden from each other by
their umbrageous surroundings and by the shadows of eve.
In the excitement of their long argument they had walked onward
and zigzagged about without regarding direction or distance. All
sound of the woodcutters had long since faded into remoteness, and
even had not the interval been too great for hearing them they
would have been silent and homeward bound at this twilight hour.
But Grace went on her course without any misgiving, though there
was much underwood here, with only the narrowest passages for
walking, across which brambles hung. She had not, however,
traversed this the wildest part of the wood since her childhood,
and the transformation of outlines had been great; old trees which
once were landmarks had been felled or blown down, and the bushes
which then had been small and scrubby were now large and
overhanging. She soon found that her ideas as to direction were
vague--that she had indeed no ideas as to direction at all. If
the evening had not been growing so dark, and the wind had not put
on its night moan so distinctly, Grace would not have minded; but
she was rather frightened now, and began to strike across hither
and thither in random courses.
Denser grew the darkness, more developed the wind-voices, and
still no recognizable spot or outlet of any kind appeared, nor any
sound of the Hintocks floated near, though she had wandered
probably between one and two hours, and began to be weary. She
was vexed at her foolishness, since the ground she had covered, if
in a straight line, must inevitably have taken her out of the wood
to some remote village or other; but she had wasted her forces in
countermarches; and now, in much alarm, wondered if she would have
to pass the night here. She stood still to meditate, and fancied
that between the soughing of the wind she heard shuffling
footsteps on the leaves heavier than those of rabbits or hares.
Though fearing at first to meet anybody on the chance of his being
a friend, she decided that the fellow night-rambler, even if a
poacher, would not injure her, and that he might possibly be some
one sent to search for her. She accordingly shouted a rather
timid "Hoi!"
The cry was immediately returned by the other person; and Grace
running at once in the direction whence it came beheld an
indistinct figure hastening up to her as rapidly. They were
almost in each other's arms when she recognized in her vis-a-vis
the outline and white veil of her whom she had parted from an hour
and a half before--Mrs. Charmond.
"I have lost my way, I have lost my way," cried that lady. "Oh--
is it indeed you? I am so glad to meet you or anybody. I have
been wandering up and down ever since we parted, and am nearly
dead with terror and misery and fatigue!"
"So am I," said Grace. "What shall we, shall we do?"
"You won't go away from me?" asked her companion, anxiously.
"No, indeed. Are you very tired?"
"I can scarcely move, and I am scratched dreadfully about the
Grace reflected. "Perhaps, as it is dry under foot, the best
thing for us to do would be to sit down for half an hour, and then
start again when we have thoroughly rested. By walking straight
we must come to a track leading somewhere before the morning."
They found a clump of bushy hollies which afforded a shelter from
the wind, and sat down under it, some tufts of dead fern, crisp
and dry, that remained from the previous season forming a sort of
nest for them. But it was cold, nevertheless, on this March
night, particularly for Grace, who with the sanguine prematureness
of youth in matters of dress, had considered it spring-time, and
hence was not so warmly clad as Mrs. Charmond, who still wore her
winter fur. But after sitting a while the latter lady shivered no
less than Grace as the warmth imparted by her hasty walking began
to go off, and they felt the cold air drawing through the holly
leaves which scratched their backs and shoulders. Moreover, they
could hear some drops of rain falling on the trees, though none
reached the nook in which they had ensconced themselves.
"If we were to cling close together," said Mrs. Charmond, "we
should keep each other warm. But," she added, in an uneven voice,
"I suppose you won't come near me for the world!"
"Why not?"
"Because--well, you know."
"Yes. I will--I don't hate you at all."
They consequently crept up to one another, and being in the dark,
lonely and weary, did what neither had dreamed of doing
beforehand, clasped each other closely, Mrs. Charmond's furs
consoling Grace's cold face, and each one's body as she breathed
alternately heaving against that of her companion.
When a few minutes had been spent thus, Mrs. Charmond said, "I am
so wretched!" in a heavy, emotional whisper.
"You are frightened," said Grace, kindly. "But there is nothing
to fear; I know these woods well."
"I am not at all frightened at the wood, but I am at other
Mrs. Charmond embraced Grace more and more tightly, and the
younger woman could feel her neighbor's breathings grow deeper and
more spasmodic, as though uncontrollable feelings were
"After I had left you," she went on, "I regretted something I had
said. I have to make a confession--I must make it!" she
whispered, brokenly, the instinct to indulge in warmth of
sentiment which had led this woman of passions to respond to
Fitzpiers in the first place leading her now to find luxurious
comfort in opening her heart to his wife. "I said to you I could
give him up without pain or deprivation--that he had only been my
pastime. That was untrue--it was said to deceive you. I could
not do it without much pain; and, what is more dreadful, I cannot
give him up--even if I would--of myself alone."
"Why? Because you love him, you mean."
Felice Charmond denoted assent by a movement.
"I knew I was right!" said Grace, exaltedly. "But that should not
deter you," she presently added, in a moral tone. "Oh, do
struggle against it, and you will conquer!"
"You are so simple, so simple!" cried Felice. "You think, because
you guessed my assumed indifference to him to be a sham, that you
know the extremes that people are capable of going to! But a good
deal more may have been going on than you have fathomed with all
your insight. I CANNOT give him up until he chooses to give up
"But surely you are the superior in station and in every way, and
the cut must come from you."
"Tchut! Must I tell verbatim, you simple child? Oh, I suppose I
must! I shall eat away my heart if I do not let out all, after
meeting you like this and finding how guileless you are." She
thereupon whispered a few words in the girl's ear, and burst into
a violent fit of sobbing.
Grace started roughly away from the shelter of the fur, and sprang
to her feet.
"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed, thunderstruck at a revelation
transcending her utmost suspicion. "Can it be--can it be!"
She turned as if to hasten away. But Felice Charmond's sobs came
to her ear: deep darkness circled her about, the funereal trees
rocked and chanted their diriges and placebos around her, and she
did not know which way to go. After a moment of energy she felt
mild again, and turned to the motionless woman at her feet.
"Are you rested?" she asked, in what seemed something like her own
voice grown ten years older.
Without an answer Mrs. Charmond slowly rose.
"You mean to betray me!" she said from the bitterest depths of her
soul. "Oh fool, fool I!"
"No," said Grace, shortly. "I mean no such thing. But let us be
quick now. We have a serious undertaking before us. Think of
nothing but going straight on."
They walked on in profound silence, pulling back boughs now
growing wet, and treading down woodbine, but still keeping a
pretty straight course. Grace began to be thoroughly worn out,
and her companion too, when, on a sudden, they broke into the
deserted highway at the hill-top on which the Sherton man had
waited for Mrs. Dollery's van. Grace recognized the spot as soon
as she looked around her.
"How we have got here I cannot tell," she said, with cold
civility. "We have made a complete circuit of Little Hintock.
The hazel copse is quite on the other side. Now we have only to
follow the road."
They dragged themselves onward, turned into the lane, passed the
track to Little Hintock, and so reached the park.
"Here I turn back," said Grace, in the same passionless voice.
"You are quite near home."
Mrs. Charmond stood inert, seeming appalled by her late admission.
"I have told you something in a moment of irresistible desire to
unburden my soul which all but a fool would have kept silent as
the grave," she said. "I cannot help it now. Is it to be a
secret--or do you mean war?"
"A secret, certainly," said Grace, mournfully. "How can you
expect war from such a helpless, wretched being as I!"
"And I'll do my best not to see him. I am his slave; but I'll
Grace was naturally kind; but she could not help using a small
dagger now.
"Pray don't distress yourself," she said, with exquisitely fine
scorn. "You may keep him--for me." Had she been wounded instead
of mortified she could not have used the words; but Fitzpiers's
hold upon her heart was slight.
They parted thus and there, and Grace went moodily homeward.
Passing Marty's cottage she observed through the window that the
girl was writing instead of chopping as usual, and wondered what
her correspondence could be. Directly afterwards she met people
in search of her, and reached the house to find all in serious
alarm. She soon explained that she had lost her way, and her
general depression was attributed to exhaustion on that account.
Could she have known what Marty was writing she would have been
The rumor which agitated the other folk of Hintock had reached the
young girl, and she was penning a letter to Fitzpiers, to tell him
that Mrs. Charmond wore her hair. It was poor Marty's only card,
and she played it, knowing nothing of fashion, and thinking her
revelation a fatal one for a lover.
It was at the beginning of April, a few days after the meeting
between Grace and Mrs. Charmond in the wood, that Fitzpiers, just
returned from London, was travelling from Sherton-Abbas to Hintock
in a hired carriage. In his eye there was a doubtful light, and
the lines of his refined face showed a vague disquietude. He
appeared now like one of those who impress the beholder as having
suffered wrong in being born.
His position was in truth gloomy, and to his appreciative mind it
seemed even gloomier than it was. His practice had been slowly
dwindling of late, and now threatened to die out altogether, the
irrepressible old Dr. Jones capturing patients up to Fitzpiers's
very door. Fitzpiers knew only too well the latest and greatest
cause of his unpopularity; and yet, so illogical is man, the
second branch of his sadness grew out of a remedial measure
proposed for the first--a letter from Felice Charmond imploring
him not to see her again. To bring about their severance still
more effectually, she added, she had decided during his absence
upon almost immediate departure for the Continent.
The time was that dull interval in a woodlander's life which
coincides with great activity in the life of the woodland itself--
a period following the close of the winter tree-cutting, and
preceding the barking season, when the saps are just beginning to
heave with the force of hydraulic lifts inside all the trunks of
the forest.
Winterborne's contract was completed, and the plantations were
deserted. It was dusk; there were no leaves as yet; the
nightingales would not begin to sing for a fortnight; and "the
Mother of the Months" was in her most attenuated phase--starved
and bent to a mere bowed skeleton, which glided along behind the
bare twigs in Fitzpiers's company
When he reached home he went straight up to his wife's sittingroom.
He found it deserted, and without a fire. He had mentioned
no day for his return; nevertheless, he wondered why she was not
there waiting to receive him. On descending to the other wing of
the house and inquiring of Mrs. Melbury, he learned with much
surprise that Grace had gone on a visit to an acquaintance at
Shottsford-Forum three days earlier; that tidings had on this
morning reached her father of her being very unwell there, in
consequence of which he had ridden over to see her.
Fitzpiers went up-stairs again, and the little drawing-room, now
lighted by a solitary candle, was not rendered more cheerful by
the entrance of Grammer Oliver with an apronful of wood, which she
threw on the hearth while she raked out the grate and rattled
about the fire-irons, with a view to making things comfortable.
Fitzpiers considered that Grace ought to have let him know her
plans more accurately before leaving home in a freak like this.
He went desultorily to the window, the blind of which had not been
pulled down, and looked out at the thin, fast-sinking moon, and at
the tall stalk of smoke rising from the top of Suke Damson's
chimney, signifying that the young woman had just lit her fire to
prepare supper.
He became conscious of a discussion in progress on the opposite
side of the court. Somebody had looked over the wall to talk to
the sawyers, and was telling them in a loud voice news in which
the name of Mrs. Charmond soon arrested his ears.
"Grammer, don't make so much noise with that grate," said the
surgeon; at which Grammer reared herself upon her knees and held
the fuel suspended in her hand, while Fitzpiers half opened the
"She is off to foreign lands again at last--hev made up her mind
quite sudden-like--and it is thoughted she'll leave in a day or
two. She's been all as if her mind were low for some days past--
with a sort of sorrow in her face, as if she reproached her own
soul. She's the wrong sort of woman for Hintock--hardly knowing a
beech from a woak--that I own. But I don't care who the man is,
she's been a very kind friend to me.
"Well, the day after to-morrow is the Sabbath day, and without
charity we are but tinkling simples; but this I do say, that her
going will be a blessed thing for a certain married couple who
The fire was lighted, and Fitzpiers sat down in front of it,
restless as the last leaf upon a tree. "A sort of sorrow in her
face, as if she reproached her own soul." Poor Felice. How
Felice's frame must be pulsing under the conditions of which he
had just heard the caricature; how her fair temples must ache;
what a mood of wretchedness she must be in! But for the mixing up
of his name with hers, and her determination to sunder their too
close acquaintance on that account, she would probably have sent
for him professionally. She was now sitting alone, suffering,
perhaps wishing that she had not forbidden him to come again.
Unable to remain in this lonely room any longer, or to wait for
the meal which was in course of preparation, he made himself ready
for riding, descended to the yard, stood by the stable-door while
Darling was being saddled, and rode off down the lane. He would
have preferred walking, but was weary with his day's travel.
As he approached the door of Marty South's cottage, which it was
necessary to pass on his way, she came from the porch as if she
had been awaiting him, and met him in the middle of the road,
holding up a letter. Fitzpiers took it without stopping, and
asked over his shoulder from whom it came.
Marty hesitated. "From me," she said, shyly, though with
noticeable firmness.
This letter contained, in fact, Marty's declaration that she was
the original owner of Mrs. Charmond's supplementary locks, and
enclosed a sample from the native stock, which had grown
considerably by this time. It was her long contemplated apple of
discord, and much her hand trembled as she handed the document up
to him.
But it was impossible on account of the gloom for Fitzpiers to
read it then, while he had the curiosity to do so, and he put it
in his pocket. His imagination having already centred itself on
Hintock House, in his pocket the letter remained unopened and
forgotten, all the while that Marty was hopefully picturing its
excellent weaning effect upon him.
He was not long in reaching the precincts of the Manor House. He
drew rein under a group of dark oaks commanding a view of the
front, and reflected a while. His entry would not be altogether
unnatural in the circumstances of her possible indisposition; but
upon the whole he thought it best to avoid riding up to the door.
By silently approaching he could retreat unobserved in the event
of her not being alone. Thereupon he dismounted, hitched Darling
to a stray bough hanging a little below the general browsing line
of the trees, and proceeded to the door on foot.
In the mean time Melbury had returned from Shottsford-Forum. The
great court or quadrangle of the timber-merchant's house, divided
from the shady lane by an ivy-covered wall, was entered by two
white gates, one standing near each extremity of the wall. It so
happened that at the moment when Fitzpiers was riding out at the
lower gate on his way to the Manor House, Melbury was approaching
the upper gate to enter it. Fitzpiers being in front of Melbury
was seen by the latter, but the surgeon, never turning his head,
did not observe his father-in-law, ambling slowly and silently
along under the trees, though his horse too was a gray one.
"How is Grace?" said his wife, as soon as he entered.
Melbury looked gloomy. "She is not at all well," he said. "I
don't like the looks of her at all. I couldn't bear the notion of
her biding away in a strange place any longer, and I begged her to
let me get her home. At last she agreed to it, but not till after
much persuading. I was then sorry that I rode over instead of
driving; but I have hired a nice comfortable carriage--the
easiest-going I could get--and she'll be here in a couple of hours
or less. I rode on ahead to tell you to get her room ready; but I
see her husband has come back."
"Yes," said Mrs. Melbury. She expressed her concern that her
husband had hired a carriage all the way from Shottsford. "What
it will cost!" she said.
"I don't care what it costs!" he exclaimed, testily. "I was
determined to get her home. Why she went away I can't think! She
acts in a way that is not at all likely to mend matters as far as
I can see." (Grace had not told her father of her interview with
Mrs. Charmond, and the disclosure that had been whispered in her
startled ear.) "Since Edgar is come," he continued, "he might have
waited in till I got home, to ask me how she was, if only for a
compliment. I saw him go out; where is he gone?"
Mrs. Melbury did not know positively; but she told her husband
that there was not much doubt about the place of his first visit
after an absence. She had, in fact, seen Fitzpiers take the
direction of the Manor House.
Melbury said no more. It was exasperating to him that just at
this moment, when there was every reason for Fitzpiers to stay
indoors, or at any rate to ride along the Shottsford road to meet
his ailing wife, he should be doing despite to her by going
elsewhere. The old man went out-of-doors again; and his horse
being hardly unsaddled as yet, he told Upjohn to retighten the
girths, when he again mounted, and rode off at the heels of the
By the time that Melbury reached the park, he was prepared to go
any lengths in combating this rank and reckless errantry of his
daughter's husband. He would fetch home Edgar Fitzpiers to-night
by some means, rough or fair: in his view there could come of his
interference nothing worse than what existed at present. And yet
to every bad there is a worse.
He had entered by the bridle-gate which admitted to the park on
this side, and cantered over the soft turf almost in the tracks of
Fitzpiers's horse, till he reached the clump of trees under which
his precursor had halted. The whitish object that was
indistinctly visible here in the gloom of the boughs he found to
be Darling, as left by Fitzpiers.
"D--n him! why did he not ride up to the house in an honest way?"
said Melbury.
He profited by Fitzpiers's example; dismounting, he tied his horse
under an adjoining tree, and went on to the house on foot, as the
other had done. He was no longer disposed to stick at trifles in
his investigation, and did not hesitate to gently open the front
door without ringing.
The large square hall, with its oak floor, staircase, and
wainscot, was lighted by a dim lamp hanging from a beam. Not a
soul was visible. He went into the corridor and listened at a
door which he knew to be that of the drawing-room; there was no
sound, and on turning the handle he found the room empty. A fire
burning low in the grate was the sole light of the apartment; its
beams flashed mockingly on the somewhat showy Versaillese
furniture and gilding here, in style as unlike that of the
structural parts of the building as it was possible to be, and
probably introduced by Felice to counteract the fine old-English
gloom of the place. Disappointed in his hope of confronting his
son-in-law here, he went on to the dining-room; this was without
light or fire, and pervaded by a cold atmosphere, which signified
that she had not dined there that day.
By this time Melbury's mood had a little mollified. Everything
here was so pacific, so unaggressive in its repose, that he was no
longer incited to provoke a collision with Fitzpiers or with
anybody. The comparative stateliness of the apartments influenced
him to an emotion, rather than to a belief, that where all was
outwardly so good and proper there could not be quite that
delinquency within which he had suspected. It occurred to him,
too, that even if his suspicion were justified, his abrupt, if not
unwarrantable, entry into the house might end in confounding its
inhabitant at the expense of his daughter's dignity and his own.
Any ill result would be pretty sure to hit Grace hardest in the
long-run. He would, after all, adopt the more rational course,
and plead with Fitzpiers privately, as he had pleaded with Mrs.
He accordingly retreated as silently as he had come. Passing the
door of the drawing-room anew, he fancied that he heard a noise
within which was not the crackling of the fire. Melbury gently
reopened the door to a distance of a few inches, and saw at the
opposite window two figures in the act of stepping out--a man and
a woman--in whom he recognized the lady of the house and his sonin-
law. In a moment they had disappeared amid the gloom of the
He returned into the hall, and let himself out by the carriageentrance
door, coming round to the lawn front in time to see the
two figures parting at the railing which divided the precincts of
the house from the open park. Mrs. Charmond turned to hasten back
immediately that Fitzpiers had left her side, and he was speedily
absorbed into the duskiness of the trees.
Melbury waited till Mrs. Charmond had re-entered the drawing-room,
and then followed after Fitzpiers, thinking that he would allow
the latter to mount and ride ahead a little way before overtaking
him and giving him a piece of his mind. His son-in-law might
possibly see the second horse near his own; but that would do him
no harm, and might prepare him for what he was to expect.
The event, however, was different from the plan. On plunging into
the thick shade of the clump of oaks, he could not perceive his
horse Blossom anywhere; but feeling his way carefully along, he
by-and-by discerned Fitzpiers's mare Darling still standing as
before under the adjoining tree. For a moment Melbury thought
that his own horse, being young and strong, had broken away from
her fastening; but on listening intently he could hear her ambling
comfortably along a little way ahead, and a creaking of the saddle
which showed that she had a rider. Walking on as far as the small
gate in the corner of the park, he met a laborer, who, in reply to
Melbury's inquiry if he had seen any person on a gray horse, said
that he had only met Dr. Fitzpiers.
It was just what Melbury had begun to suspect: Fitzpiers had
mounted the mare which did not belong to him in mistake for his
own--an oversight easily explicable, in a man ever unwitting in
horse-flesh, by the darkness of the spot and the near similarity
of the animals in appearance, though Melbury's was readily enough
seen to be the grayer horse by day. He hastened back, and did
what seemed best in the circumstances--got upon old Darling, and
rode rapidly after Fitzpiers.
Melbury had just entered the wood, and was winding along the cartway
which led through it, channelled deep in the leaf-mould with
large ruts that were formed by the timber-wagons in fetching the
spoil of the plantations, when all at once he descried in front,
at a point where the road took a turning round a large chestnuttree,
the form of his own horse Blossom, at which Melbury
quickened Darling's pace, thinking to come up with Fitzpiers.
Nearer view revealed that the horse had no rider. At Melbury's
approach it galloped friskily away under the trees in a homeward
direction. Thinking something was wrong, the timber-merchant
dismounted as soon as he reached the chestnut, and after feeling
about for a minute or two discovered Fitzpiers lying on the
"Here--help!" cried the latter as soon as he felt Melbury's touch;
"I have been thrown off, but there's not much harm done, I think."
Since Melbury could not now very well read the younger man the
lecture he had intended, and as friendliness would be hypocrisy,
his instinct was to speak not a single word to his son-in-law. He
raised Fitzpiers into a sitting posture, and found that he was a
little stunned and stupefied, but, as he had said, not otherwise
hurt. How this fall had come about was readily conjecturable:
Fitzpiers, imagining there was only old Darling under him, had
been taken unawares by the younger horse's sprightliness.
Melbury was a traveller of the old-fashioned sort; having just
come from Shottsford-Forum, he still had in his pocket the
pilgrim's flask of rum which he always carried on journeys
exceeding a dozen miles, though he seldom drank much of it. He
poured it down the surgeon's throat, with such effect that he
quickly revived. Melbury got him on his legs; but the question
was what to do with him. He could not walk more than a few steps,
and the other horse had gone away.
With great exertion Melbury contrived to get him astride Darling,
mounting himself behind, and holding Fitzpiers round his waist
with one arm. Darling being broad, straight-backed, and high in
the withers, was well able to carry double, at any rate as far as
Hintock, and at a gentle pace.
The mare paced along with firm and cautious tread through the
copse where Winterborne had worked, and into the heavier soil
where the oaks grew; past Great Willy, the largest oak in the
wood, and thence towards Nellcombe Bottom, intensely dark now with
overgrowth, and popularly supposed to be haunted by the spirits of
the fratricides exorcised from Hintock House.
By this time Fitzpiers was quite recovered as to physical
strength. But he had eaten nothing since making a hasty breakfast
in London that morning, his anxiety about Felice having hurried
him away from home before dining; as a consequence, the old rum
administered by his father-in-law flew to the young man's head and
loosened his tongue, without his ever having recognized who it was
that had lent him a kindly hand. He began to speak in desultory
sentences, Melbury still supporting him.
"I've come all the way from London to-day," said Fitzpiers. "Ah,
that's the place to meet your equals. I live at Hintock--worse,
at Little Hintock--and I am quite lost there. There's not a man
within ten miles of Hintock who can comprehend me. I tell you,
Farmer What's-your-name, that I'm a man of education. I know
several languages; the poets and I are familiar friends; I used to
read more in metaphysics than anybody within fifty miles; and
since I gave that up there's nobody can match me in the whole
county of Wessex as a scientist. Yet I an doomed to live with
tradespeople in a miserable little hole like Hintock!"
"Indeed!" muttered Melbury.
Fitzpiers, increasingly energized by the alcohol, here reared
himself up suddenly from the bowed posture he had hitherto held,
thrusting his shoulders so violently against Melbury's breast as
to make it difficult for the old man to keep a hold on the reins.
"People don't appreciate me here!" the surgeon exclaimed; lowering
his voice, he added, softly and slowly, "except one--except
one!...A passionate soul, as warm as she is clever, as beautiful
as she is warm, and as rich as she is beautiful. I say, old
fellow, those claws of yours clutch me rather tight--rather like
the eagle's, you know, that ate out the liver of Pro--Pre--the man
on Mount Caucasus. People don't appreciate me, I say, except HER.
Ah, gods, I am an unlucky man! She would have been mine, she
would have taken my name; but unfortunately it cannot be so. I
stooped to mate beneath me, and now I rue it."
The position was becoming a very trying one for Melbury,
corporeally and mentally. He was obliged to steady Fitzpiers with
his left arm, and he began to hate the contact. He hardly knew
what to do. It was useless to remonstrate with Fitzpiers, in his
intellectual confusion from the rum and from the fall. He
remained silent, his hold upon his companion, however, being stern
rather than compassionate.
"You hurt me a little, farmer--though I am much obliged to you for
your kindness. People don't appreciate me, I say. Between
ourselves, I am losing my practice here; and why? Because I see
matchless attraction where matchless attraction is, both in person
and position. I mention no names, so nobody will be the wiser.
But I have lost her, in a legitimate sense, that is. If I were a
free man now, things have come to such a pass that she could not
refuse me; while with her fortune (which I don't covet for itself)
I should have a chance of satisfying an honorable ambition--a
chance I have never had yet, and now never, never shall have,
Melbury, his heart throbbing against the other's backbone, and his
brain on fire with indignation, ventured to mutter huskily, "Why?"
The horse ambled on some steps before Fitzpiers replied, "Because
I am tied and bound to another by law, as tightly as I am to you
by your arm--not that I complain of your arm--I thank you for
helping me. Well, where are we? Not nearly home yet?...Home, say
I. It is a home! When I might have been at the other house over
there." In a stupefied way he flung his hand in the direction of
the park. "I was just two months too early in committing myself.
Had I only seen the other first--"
Here the old man's arm gave Fitzpiers a convulsive shake. "What
are you doing?" continued the latter. "Keep still, please, or put
me down. I was saying that I lost her by a mere little two
months! There is no chance for me now in this world, and it makes
me reckless--reckless! Unless, indeed, anything should happen to
the other one. She is amiable enough; but if anything should
happen to her--and I hear she is ill--well, if it should, I should
be free--and my fame, my happiness, would be insured."
These were the last words that Fitzpiers uttered in his seat in
front of the timber-merchant. Unable longer to master himself,
Melbury, the skin of his face compressed, whipped away his spare
arm from Fitzpiers's waist, and seized him by the collar.
"You heartless villain--after all that we have done for ye!" he
cried, with a quivering lip. "And the money of hers that you've
had, and the roof we've provided to shelter ye! It is to me,
George Melbury, that you dare to talk like that!" The exclamation
was accompanied by a powerful swing from the shoulder, which flung
the young man head-long into the road, Fitzpiers fell with a heavy
thud upon the stumps of some undergrowth which had been cut during
the winter preceding. Darling continued her walk for a few paces
farther and stopped.
"God forgive me!" Melbury murmured, repenting of what he had done.
"He tried me too sorely; and now perhaps I've murdered him!"
He turned round in the saddle and looked towards the spot on which
Fitzpiers had fallen. To his great surprise he beheld the surgeon
rise to his feet with a bound, as if unhurt, and walk away rapidly
under the trees.
Melbury listened till the rustle of Fitzpiers's footsteps died
away. "It might have been a crime, but for the mercy of
Providence in providing leaves for his fall," he said to himself.
And then his mind reverted to the words of Fitzpiers, and his
indignation so mounted within him that he almost wished the fall
had put an end to the young man there and then.
He had not ridden far when he discerned his own gray mare standing
under some bushes. Leaving Darling for a moment, Melbury went
forward and easily caught the younger animal, now disheartened at
its freak. He then made the pair of them fast to a tree, and
turning back, endeavored to find some trace of Fitzpiers, feeling
pitifully that, after all, he had gone further than he intended
with the offender.
But though he threaded the wood hither and thither, his toes
ploughing layer after layer of the little horny scrolls that had
once been leaves, he could not find him. He stood still listening
and looking round. The breeze was oozing through the network of
boughs as through a strainer; the trunks and larger branches stood
against the light of the sky in the forms of writhing men,
gigantic candelabra, pikes, halberds, lances, and whatever besides
the fancy chose to make of them. Giving up the search, Melbury
came back to the horses, and walked slowly homeward, leading one
in each hand.
It happened that on this self-same evening a boy had been
returning from Great to Little Hintock about the time of
Fitzpiers's and Melbury's passage home along that route. A horsecollar
that had been left at the harness-mender's to be repaired
was required for use at five o'clock next morning, and in
consequence the boy had to fetch it overnight. He put his head
through the collar, and accompanied his walk by whistling the one
tune he knew, as an antidote to fear.
The boy suddenly became aware of a horse trotting rather friskily
along the track behind him, and not knowing whether to expect
friend or foe, prudence suggested that he should cease his
whistling and retreat among the trees till the horse and his rider
had gone by; a course to which he was still more inclined when he
found how noiselessly they approached, and saw that the horse
looked pale, and remembered what he had read about Death in the
Revelation. He therefore deposited the collar by a tree, and hid
himself behind it. The horseman came on, and the youth, whose
eyes were as keen as telescopes, to his great relief recognized
the doctor.
As Melbury surmised, Fitzpiers had in the darkness taken Blossom
for Darling, and he had not discovered his mistake when he came up
opposite the boy, though he was somewhat surprised at the
liveliness of his usually placid mare. The only other pair of
eyes on the spot whose vision was keen as the young carter's were
those of the horse; and, with that strongly conservative objection
to the unusual which animals show, Blossom, on eying the collar
under the tree--quite invisible to Fitzpiers--exercised none of
the patience of the older horse, but shied sufficiently to unseat
so second-rate an equestrian as the surgeon.
He fell, and did not move, lying as Melbury afterwards found him.
The boy ran away, salving his conscience for the desertion by
thinking how vigorously he would spread the alarm of the accident
when he got to Hintock--which he uncompromisingly did, incrusting
the skeleton event with a load of dramatic horrors.
Grace had returned, and the fly hired on her account, though not
by her husband, at the Crown Hotel, Shottsford-Forum, had been
paid for and dismissed. The long drive had somewhat revived her,
her illness being a feverish intermittent nervousness which had
more to do with mind than body, and she walked about her sittingroom
in something of a hopeful mood. Mrs. Melbury had told her as
soon as she arrived that her husband had returned from London. He
had gone out, she said, to see a patient, as she supposed, and he
must soon be back, since he had had no dinner or tea. Grace would
not allow her mind to harbor any suspicion of his whereabouts, and
her step-mother said nothing of Mrs. Charmond's rumored sorrows
and plans of departure.
So the young wife sat by the fire, waiting silently. She had left
Hintock in a turmoil of feeling after the revelation of Mrs.
Charmond, and had intended not to be at home when her husband
returned. But she had thought the matter over, and had allowed
her father's influence to prevail and bring her back; and now
somewhat regretted that Edgar's arrival had preceded hers.
By-and-by Mrs. Melbury came up-stairs with a slight air of flurry
and abruptness.
"I have something to tell--some bad news," she said. "But you
must not be alarmed, as it is not so bad as it might have been.
Edgar has been thrown off his horse. We don't think he is hurt
much. It happened in the wood the other side of Nellcombe Bottom,
where 'tis said the ghosts of the brothers walk."
She went on to give a few of the particulars, but none of the
invented horrors that had been communicated by the boy. "I
thought it better to tell you at once," she added, "in case he
should not be very well able to walk home, and somebody should
bring him."
Mrs. Melbury really thought matters much worse than she
represented, and Grace knew that she thought so. She sat down
dazed for a few minutes, returning a negative to her step-mother's
inquiry if she could do anything for her. "But please go into the
bedroom," Grace said, on second thoughts, "and see if all is ready
there--in case it is serious." Mrs. Melbury thereupon called
Grammer, and they did as directed, supplying the room with
everything they could think of for the accommodation of an injured
Nobody was left in the lower part of the house. Not many minutes
passed when Grace heard a knock at the door--a single knock, not
loud enough to reach the ears of those in the bedroom. She went
to the top of the stairs and said, faintly, "Come up," knowing
that the door stood, as usual in such houses, wide open.
Retreating into the gloom of the broad landing she saw rise up the
stairs a woman whom at first she did not recognize, till her voice
revealed her to be Suke Damson, in great fright and sorrow. A
streak of light from the partially closed door of Grace's room
fell upon her face as she came forward, and it was drawn and pale.
"Oh, Miss Melbury--I would say Mrs. Fitzpiers," she said, wringing
her hands. "This terrible news. Is he dead? Is he hurted very
bad? Tell me; I couldn't help coming; please forgive me, Miss
Melbury--Mrs. Fitzpiers I would say!"
Grace sank down on the oak chest which stood on the landing, and
put her hands to her now flushed face and head. Could she order
Suke Damson down-stairs and out of the house? Her husband might be
brought in at any moment, and what would happen? But could she
order this genuinely grieved woman away?
There was a dead silence of half a minute or so, till Suke said,
"Why don't ye speak? Is he here? Is he dead? If so, why can't I
see him--would it be so very wrong?"
Before Grace had answered somebody else came to the door below--a
foot-fall light as a roe's. There was a hurried tapping upon the
panel, as if with the impatient tips of fingers whose owner
thought not whether a knocker were there or no. Without a pause,
and possibly guided by the stray beam of light on the landing, the
newcomer ascended the staircase as the first had done. Grace was
sufficiently visible, and the lady, for a lady it was, came to her
"I could make nobody hear down-stairs," said Felice Charmond, with
lips whose dryness could almost be heard, and panting, as she
stood like one ready to sink on the floor with distress. "What
is--the matter--tell me the worst! Can he live?" She looked at
Grace imploringly, without perceiving poor Suke, who, dismayed at
such a presence, had shrunk away into the shade.
Mrs. Charmond's little feet were covered with mud; she was quite
unconscious of her appearance now. "I have heard such a dreadful
report," she went on; "I came to ascertain the truth of it. Is
"She won't tell us--he's dying--he's in that room!" burst out
Suke, regardless of consequences, as she heard the distant
movements of Mrs. Melbury and Grammer in the bedroom at the end of
the passage.
"Where?" said Mrs. Charmond; and on Suke pointing out the
direction, she made as if to go thither.
Grace barred the way. "He is not there," she said. "I have not
seen him any more than you. I have heard a report only--not so
bad as you think. It must have been exaggerated to you."
"Please do not conceal anything--let me know all!" said Felice,
"You shall know all I know--you have a perfect right to know--who
can have a better than either of you?" said Grace, with a delicate
sting which was lost upon Felice Charmond now. "I repeat, I have
only heard a less alarming account than you have heard; how much
it means, and how little, I cannot say. I pray God that it means
not much--in common humanity. You probably pray the same--for
other reasons."
She regarded them both there in the dim light a while.
They stood dumb in their trouble, not stinging back at her; not
heeding her mood. A tenderness spread over Grace like a dew. It
was well, very well, conventionally, to address either one of them
in the wife's regulation terms of virtuous sarcasm, as woman,
creature, or thing, for losing their hearts to her husband. But
life, what was it, and who was she? She had, like the singer of
the psalm of Asaph, been plagued and chastened all the day long;
but could she, by retributive words, in order to please herself--
the individual--"offend against the generation," as he would not?
"He is dying, perhaps," blubbered Suke Damson, putting her apron
to her eyes.
In their gestures and faces there were anxieties, affection, agony
of heart, all for a man who had wronged them--had never really
behaved towards either of them anyhow but selfishly. Neither one
but would have wellnigh sacrificed half her life to him, even now.
The tears which his possibly critical situation could not bring to
her eyes surged over at the contemplation of these fellow-women.
She turned to the balustrade, bent herself upon it, and wept.
Thereupon Felice began to cry also, without using her
handkerchief, and letting the tears run down silently. While
these three poor women stood together thus, pitying another though
most to be pitied themselves, the pacing of a horse or horses
became audible in the court, and in a moment Melbury's voice was
heard calling to his stableman. Grace at once started up, ran
down the stairs and out into the quadrangle as her father crossed
it towards the door. "Father, what is the matter with him?" she
"Who--Edgar?" said Melbury, abruptly. "Matter? Nothing. What, my
dear, and have you got home safe? Why, you are better already! But
you ought not to be out in the air like this."
"But he has been thrown off his horse!"
"I know; I know. I saw it. He got up again, and walked off as
well as ever. A fall on the leaves didn't hurt a spry fellow like
him. He did not come this way," he added, significantly. "I
suppose he went to look for his horse. I tried to find him, but
could not. But after seeing him go away under the trees I found
the horse, and have led it home for safety. So he must walk.
Now, don't you stay out here in this night air.
She returned to the house with her father. when she had again
ascended to the landing and to her own rooms beyond it was a great
relief to her to find that both Petticoat the First and Petticoat
the Second of her Bien-aime had silently disappeared. They had,
in all probability, heard the words of her father, and departed
with their anxieties relieved.
Presently her parents came up to Grace, and busied themselves to
see that she was comfortable. Perceiving soon that she would
prefer to be left alone they went away.
Grace waited on. The clock raised its voice now and then, but her
husband did not return. At her father's usual hour for retiring
he again came in to see her. "Do not stay up," she said, as soon
as he entered. "I am not at all tired. I will sit up for him."
"I think it will be useless, Grace," said Melbury, slowly.
"I have had a bitter quarrel with him; and on that account I
hardly think he will return to-night."
"A quarrel? Was that after the fall seen by the boy?"
Melbury nodded an affirmative, without taking his eyes off the
"Yes; it was as we were coming home together," he said.
Something had been swelling up in Grace while her father was
speaking. "How could you want to quarrel with him?" she cried,
suddenly. "Why could you not let him come home quietly if he were
inclined to? He is my husband; and now you have married me to him
surely you need not provoke him unnecessarily. First you induce
me to accept him, and then you do things that divide us more than
we should naturally be divided!"
"How can you speak so unjustly to me, Grace?" said Melbury, with
indignant sorrow. "I divide you from your husband, indeed! You
little think--"
He was inclined to say more--to tell her the whole story of the
encounter, and that the provocation he had received had lain
entirely in hearing her despised. But it would have greatly
distressed her, and he forbore. "You had better lie down. You
are tired," he said, soothingly. "Good-night."
The household went to bed, and a silence fell upon the dwelling,
broken only by the occasional skirr of a halter in Melbury's
stables. Despite her father's advice Grace still waited up. But
nobody came.
It was a critical time in Grace's emotional life that night. She
thought of her husband a good deal, and for the nonce forgot
"How these unhappy women must have admired Edgar!" she said to
herself. "How attractive he must be to everybody; and, indeed, he
is attractive." The possibility is that, piqued by rivalry, these
ideas might have been transformed into their corresponding
emotions by a show of the least reciprocity in Fitzpiers. There
was, in truth, a love-bird yearning to fly from her heart; and it
wanted a lodging badly.
But no husband came. The fact was that Melbury had been much
mistaken about the condition of Fitzpiers. People do not fall
headlong on stumps of underwood with impunity. Had the old man
been able to watch Fitzpiers narrowly enough, he would have
observed that on rising and walking into the thicket he dropped
blood as he went; that he had not proceeded fifty yards before he
showed signs of being dizzy, and, raising his hands to his head,
reeled and fell down.
Grace was not the only one who watched and meditated in Hintock
that night. Felice Charmond was in no mood to retire to rest at a
customary hour; and over her drawing-room fire at the Manor House
she sat as motionless and in as deep a reverie as Grace in her
little apartment at the homestead.
Having caught ear of Melbury's intelligence while she stood on the
landing at his house, and been eased of much of her mental
distress, her sense of personal decorum returned upon her with a
rush. She descended the stairs and left the door like a ghost,
keeping close to the walls of the building till she got round to
the gate of the quadrangle, through which she noiselessly passed
almost before Grace and her father had finished their discourse.
Suke Damson had thought it well to imitate her superior in this
respect, and, descending the back stairs as Felice descended the
front, went out at the side door and home to her cottage.
Once outside Melbury's gates Mrs. Charmond ran with all her speed
to the Manor House, without stopping or turning her head, and
splitting her thin boots in her haste. She entered her own
dwelling, as she had emerged from it, by the drawing-room window.
In other circumstances she would have felt some timidity at
undertaking such an unpremeditated excursion alone; but her
anxiety for another had cast out her fear for herself.
Everything in her drawing-room was just as she had left it--the
candles still burning, the casement closed, and the shutters
gently pulled to, so as to hide the state of the window from the
cursory glance of a servant entering the apartment. She had been
gone about three-quarters of an hour by the clock, and nobody
seemed to have discovered her absence. Tired in body but tense in
mind, she sat down, palpitating, round-eyed, bewildered at what
she had done.
She had been betrayed by affrighted love into a visit which, now
that the emotion instigating it had calmed down under her belief
that Fitzpiers was in no danger, was the saddest surprise to her.
This was how she had set about doing her best to escape her
passionate bondage to him! Somehow, in declaring to Grace and to
herself the unseemliness of her infatuation, she had grown a
convert to its irresistibility. If Heaven would only give her
strength; but Heaven never did! One thing was indispensable; she
must go away from Hintock if she meant to withstand further
temptation. The struggle was too wearying, too hopeless, while
she remained. It was but a continual capitulation of conscience
to what she dared not name.
By degrees, as she sat, Felice's mind--helped perhaps by the
anticlimax of learning that her lover was unharmed after all her
fright about him--grew wondrously strong in wise resolve. For the
moment she was in a mood, in the words of Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu,
"to run mad with discretion;" and was so persuaded that discretion
lay in departure that she wished to set about going that very
minute. Jumping up from her seat, she began to gather together
some small personal knick-knacks scattered about the room, to feel
that preparations were really in train.
While moving here and there she fancied that she heard a slight
noise out-of-doors, and stood still. Surely it was a tapping at
the window. A thought entered her mind, and burned her cheek. He
had come to that window before; yet was it possible that he should
dare to do so now! All the servants were in bed, and in the
ordinary course of affairs she would have retired also. Then she
remembered that on stepping in by the casement and closing it, she
had not fastened the window-shutter, so that a streak of light
from the interior of the room might have revealed her vigil to an
observer on the lawn. How all things conspired against her
keeping faith with Grace!
The tapping recommenced, light as from the bill of a little bird;
her illegitimate hope overcame her vow; she went and pulled back
the shutter, determining, however, to shake her head at him and
keep the casement securely closed.
What she saw outside might have struck terror into a heart stouter
than a helpless woman's at midnight. In the centre of the lowest
pane of the window, close to the glass, was a human face, which
she barely recognized as the face of Fitzpiers. It was surrounded
with the darkness of the night without, corpse-like in its pallor,
and covered with blood. As disclosed in the square area of the
pane it met her frightened eyes like a replica of the Sudarium of
St. Veronica.
He moved his lips, and looked at her imploringly. Her rapid mind
pieced together in an instant a possible concatenation of events
which might have led to this tragical issue. She unlatched the
casement with a terrified hand, and bending down to where he was
crouching, pressed her face to his with passionate solicitude.
She assisted him into the room without a word, to do which it was
almost necessary to lift him bodily. Quickly closing the window
and fastening the shutters, she bent over him breathlessly.
"Are you hurt much--much?" she cried, faintly. "Oh, oh, how is
"Rather much--but don't be frightened," he answered in a difficult
whisper, and turning himself to obtain an easier position if
possible. "A little water, please."
She ran across into the dining-room, and brought a bottle and
glass, from which he eagerly drank. He could then speak much
better, and with her help got upon the nearest couch.
"Are you dying, Edgar?" she said. "Do speak to me!"
"I am half dead," said Fitzpiers. "But perhaps I shall get over
it....It is chiefly loss of blood."
"But I thought your fall did not hurt you," said she. "Who did
"Felice--my father-in-law!...I have crawled to you more than a
mile on my hands and knees--God, I thought I should never have got
here!...I have come to you--be-cause you are the only friend--I
have in the world now....I can never go back to Hintock--never--to
the roof of the Melburys! Not poppy nor mandragora will ever
medicine this bitter feud!...If I were only well again--"
"Let me bind your head, now that you have rested."
"Yes--but wait a moment--it has stopped bleeding, fortunately, or
I should be a dead man before now. While in the wood I managed to
make a tourniquet of some half-pence and my handkerchief, as well
as I could in the dark....But listen, dear Felice! Can you hide me
till I am well? Whatever comes, I can be seen in Hintock no more.
My practice is nearly gone, you know--and after this I would not
care to recover it if I could."
By this time Felice's tears began to blind her. Where were now
her discreet plans for sundering their lives forever? To
administer to him in his pain, and trouble, and poverty, was her
single thought. The first step was to hide him, and she asked
herself where. A place occurred to her mind.
She got him some wine from the dining-room, which strengthened him
much. Then she managed to remove his boots, and, as he could now
keep himself upright by leaning upon her on one side and a
walking-stick on the other, they went thus in slow march out of
the room and up the stairs. At the top she took him along a
gallery, pausing whenever he required rest, and thence up a
smaller staircase to the least used part of the house, where she
unlocked a door. Within was a lumber-room, containing abandoned
furniture of all descriptions, built up in piles which obscured
the light of the windows, and formed between them nooks and lairs
in which a person would not be discerned even should an eye gaze
in at the door. The articles were mainly those that had belonged
to the previous owner of the house, and had been bought in by the
late Mr. Charmond at the auction; but changing fashion, and the
tastes of a young wife, had caused them to be relegated to this
Here Fitzpiers sat on the floor against the wall till she had
hauled out materials for a bed, which she spread on the floor in
one of the aforesaid nooks. She obtained water and a basin, and
washed the dried blood from his face and hands; and when he was
comfortably reclining, fetched food from the larder. While he ate
her eyes lingered anxiously on his face, following its every
movement with such loving-kindness as only a fond woman can show.
He was now in better condition, and discussed his position with
"What I fancy I said to Melbury must have been enough to enrage
any man, if uttered in cold blood, and with knowledge of his
presence. But I did not know him, and I was stupefied by what he
had given me, so that I hardly was aware of what I said. Well--
the veil of that temple is rent in twain!...As I am not going to
be seen again in Hintock, my first efforts must be directed to
allay any alarm that may be felt at my absence, before I am able
to get clear away. Nobody must suspect that I have been hurt, or
there will be a country talk about me. Felice, I must at once
concoct a letter to check all search for me. I think if you can
bring me a pen and paper I may be able to do it now. I could rest
better if it were done. Poor thing! how I tire her with running
up and down!"
She fetched writing materials, and held up the blotting-book as a
support to his hand, while he penned a brief note to his nominal
"The animosity shown towards me by your father," he wrote, in this
coldest of marital epistles, "is such that I cannot return again
to a roof which is his, even though it shelters you. A parting is
unavoidable, as you are sure to be on his side in this division.
I am starting on a journey which will take me a long way from
Hintock, and you must not expect to see me there again for some
He then gave her a few directions bearing upon his professional
engagements and other practical matters, concluding without a hint
of his destination, or a notion of when she would see him again.
He offered to read the note to Felice before he closed it up, but
she would not hear or see it; that side of his obligations
distressed her beyond endurance. She turned away from Fitzpiers,
and sobbed bitterly.
"If you can get this posted at a place some miles away," he
whispered, exhausted by the effort of writing--"at Shottsford or
Port-Bredy, or still better, Budmouth--it will divert all
suspicion from this house as the place of my refuge."
"I will drive to one or other of the places myself--anything to
keep it unknown," she murmured, her voice weighted with vague
foreboding, now that the excitement of helping him had passed
Fitzpiers told her that there was yet one thing more to he done.
"In creeping over the fence on to the lawn," he said, "I made the
rail bloody, and it shows rather much on the white paint--I could
see it in the dark. At all hazards it should be washed off.
Could you do that also, Felice?"
What will not women do on such devoted occasions? weary as she was
she went all the way down the rambling staircases to the groundfloor,
then to search for a lantern, which she lighted and hid
under her cloak; then for a wet sponge, and next went forth into
the night. The white railing stared out in the darkness at her
approach, and a ray from the enshrouded lantern fell upon the
blood--just where he had told her it would be found. she
shuddered. It was almost too much to bear in one day--but with a
shaking hand she sponged the rail clean, and returned to the
The time occupied by these several proceedings was not much less
than two hours. When all was done, and she had smoothed his
extemporized bed, and placed everything within his reach that she
could think of, she took her leave of him, and locked him in.
When her husband's letter reached Grace's hands, bearing upon it
the postmark of a distant town, it never once crossed her mind
that Fitzpiers was within a mile of her still. she felt relieved
that he did not write more bitterly of the quarrel with her
father, whatever its nature might have been; but the general
frigidity of his communication quenched in her the incipient spark
that events had kindled so shortly before.
From this centre of information it was made known in Hintock that
the doctor had gone away, and as none but the Melbury household
was aware that he did not return on the night of his accident, no
excitement manifested itself in the village.
Thus the early days of May passed by. None but the nocturnal
birds and animals observed that late one evening, towards the
middle of the month, a closely wrapped figure, with a crutch under
one arm and a stick in his hand, crept out from Hintock House
across the lawn to the shelter of the trees, taking thence a slow
and laborious walk to the nearest point of the turnpike-road. The
mysterious personage was so disguised that his own wife would
hardly have known him. Felice Charmond was a practised hand at
make-ups, as well she might be; and she had done her utmost in
padding and painting Fitzpiers with the old materials of her art
in the recesses of the lumber-room.
In the highway he was met by a covered carriage, which conveyed
him to Sherton-Abbas, whence he proceeded to the nearest port on
the south coast, and immediately crossed the Channel.
But it was known to everybody that three days after this time Mrs.
Charmond executed her long-deferred plan of setting out for a long
term of travel and residence on the Continent. She went off one
morning as unostentatiously as could be, and took no maid with
her, having, she said, engaged one to meet her at a point farther
on in her route. After that, Hintock House, so frequently
deserted, was again to be let. Spring had not merged in summer
when a clinching rumor, founded on the best of evidence, reached
the parish and neighborhood. Mrs. Charmond and Fitzpiers had been
seen together in Baden, in relations which set at rest the
question that had agitated the little community ever since the
Melbury had entered the Valley of Humiliation even farther than
Grace. His spirit seemed broken.
But once a week he mechanically went to market as usual, and here,
as he was passing by the conduit one day, his mental condition
expressed largely by his gait, he heard his name spoken by a voice
formerly familiar. He turned and saw a certain Fred Beaucock--
once a promising lawyer's clerk and local dandy, who had been
called the cleverest fellow in Sherton, without whose brains the
firm of solicitors employing him would be nowhere. But later on
Beaucock had fallen into the mire. He was invited out a good
deal, sang songs at agricultural meetings and burgesses' dinners;
in sum, victualled himself with spirits more frequently than was
good for the clever brains or body either. He lost his situation,
and after an absence spent in trying his powers elsewhere, came
back to his native town, where, at the time of the foregoing
events in Hintock, he gave legal advice for astonishingly small
fees--mostly carrying on his profession on public-house settles,
in whose recesses he might often have been overheard making
country-people's wills for half a crown; calling with a learned
voice for pen-and-ink and a halfpenny sheet of paper, on which he
drew up the testament while resting it in a little space wiped
with his hand on the table amid the liquid circles formed by the
cups and glasses. An idea implanted early in life is difficult to
uproot, and many elderly tradespeople still clung to the notion
that Fred Beaucock knew a great deal of law.
It was he who had called Melbury by name. "You look very down,
Mr. Melbury--very, if I may say as much," he observed, when the
timber-merchant turned. "But I know--I know. A very sad case--
very. I was bred to the law, as you know, and am professionally
no stranger to such matters. Well, Mrs. Fitzpiers has her
"How--what--a remedy?" said Melbury.
"Under the new law, sir. A new court was established last year,
and under the new statute, twenty and twenty-one Vic., cap.
eighty-five, unmarrying is as easy as marrying. No more Acts of
Parliament necessary; no longer one law for the rich and another
for the poor. But come inside--I was just going to have a
nibleykin of rum hot--I'll explain it all to you."
The intelligence amazed Melbury, who saw little of newspapers.
And though he was a severely correct man in his habits, and had no
taste for entering a tavern with Fred Beaucock--nay, would have
been quite uninfluenced by such a character on any other matter in
the world--such fascination lay in the idea of delivering his poor
girl from bondage, that it deprived him of the critical faculty.
He could not resist the ex-lawyer's clerk, and entered the inn.
Here they sat down to the rum, which Melbury paid for as a matter
of course, Beaucock leaning back in the settle with a legal
gravity which would hardly allow him to be conscious of the
spirits before him, though they nevertheless disappeared with
mysterious quickness.
How much of the exaggerated information on the then new divorce
laws which Beaucock imparted to his listener was the result of
ignorance, and how much of dupery, was never ascertained. But he
related such a plausible story of the ease with which Grace could
become a free woman that her father was irradiated with the
project; and though he scarcely wetted his lips, Melbury never
knew how he came out of the inn, or when or where he mounted his
gig to pursue his way homeward. But home he found himself, his
brain having all the way seemed to ring sonorously as a gong in
the intensity of its stir. Before he had seen Grace, he was
accidentally met by Winterborne, who found his face shining as if
he had, like the Law-giver, conversed with an angel.
He relinquished his horse, and took Winterborne by the arm to a
heap of rendlewood--as barked oak was here called--which lay under
a privet-hedge.
"Giles," he said, when they had sat down upon the logs, "there's a
new law in the land! Grace can be free quite easily. I only knew
it by the merest accident. I might not have found it out for the
next ten years. She can get rid of him--d'ye hear?--get rid of
him. Think of that, my friend Giles!"
He related what he had learned of the new legal remedy. A subdued
tremulousness about the mouth was all the response that
Winterborne made; and Melbury added, "My boy, you shall have her
yet--if you want her." His feelings had gathered volume as he said
this, and the articulate sound of the old idea drowned his sight
in mist.
"Are you sure--about this new law?" asked Winterborne, so
disquieted by a gigantic exultation which loomed alternately with
fearful doubt that he evaded the full acceptance of Melbury's last
Melbury said that he had no manner of doubt, for since his talk
with Beaucock it had come into his mind that he had seen some time
ago in the weekly paper an allusion to such a legal change; but,
having no interest in those desperate remedies at the moment, he
had passed it over. "But I'm not going to let the matter rest
doubtful for a single day," he continued. "I am going to London.
Beaucock will go with me, and we shall get the best advice as soon
as we possibly can. Beaucock is a thorough lawyer--nothing the
matter with him but a fiery palate. I knew him as the stay and
refuge of Sherton in knots of law at one time."
Winterborne's replies were of the vaguest. The new possibility
was almost unthinkable by him at the moment. He was what was
called at Hintock "a solid-going fellow;" he maintained his
abeyant mood, not from want of reciprocity, but from a taciturn
hesitancy, taught by life as he knew it.
"But," continued the timber-merchant, a temporary crease or two of
anxiety supplementing those already established in his forehead by
time and care, "Grace is not at all well. Nothing constitutional,
you know; but she has been in a low, nervous state ever since that
night of fright. I don't doubt but that she will be all right
soon....I wonder how she is this evening?" He rose with the words,
as if he had too long forgotten her personality in the excitement
of her previsioned career.
They had sat till the evening was beginning to dye the garden
brown, and now went towards Melbury's house, Giles a few steps in
the rear of his old friend, who was stimulated by the enthusiasm
of the moment to outstep the ordinary walking of Winterborne. He
felt shy of entering Grace's presence as her reconstituted lover--
which was how her father's manner would be sure to present him--
before definite information as to her future state was
forthcoming; it seemed too nearly like the act of those who rush
in where angels fear to tread.
A chill to counterbalance all the glowing promise of the day was
prompt enough in coming. No sooner had he followed the timbermerchant
in at the door than he heard Grammer inform him that Mrs.
Fitzpiers was still more unwell than she had been in the morning.
Old Dr. Jones being in the neighborhood they had called him in,
and he had instantly directed them to get her to bed. They were
not, however, to consider her illness serious--a feverish, nervous
attack the result of recent events, was what she was suffering
from, and she would doubtless be well in a few days.
Winterborne, therefore, did not remain, and his hope of seeing her
that evening was disappointed. Even this aggravation of her
morning condition did not greatly depress Melbury. He knew, he
said, that his daughter's constitution was sound enough. It was
only these domestic troubles that were pulling her down. Once
free she would be blooming again. Melbury diagnosed rightly, as
parents usually do.
He set out for London the next morning, Jones having paid another
visit and assured him that he might leave home without uneasiness,
especially on an errand of that sort, which would the sooner put
an end to her suspense.
The timber-merchant had been away only a day or two when it was
told in Hintock that Mr. Fitzpiers's hat had been found in the
wood. Later on in the afternoon the hat was brought to Melbury,
and, by a piece of ill-fortune, into Grace's presence. It had
doubtless lain in the wood ever since his fall from the horse, but
it looked so clean and uninjured--the summer weather and leafy
shelter having much favored its preservation--that Grace could not
believe it had remained so long concealed. A very little of fact
was enough to set her fevered fancy at work at this juncture; she
thought him still in the neighborhood; she feared his sudden
appearance; and her nervous malady developed consequences so grave
that Dr. Jones began to look serious, and the household was
It was the beginning of June, and the cuckoo at this time of the
summer scarcely ceased his cry for more than two or three hours
during the night. The bird's note, so familiar to her ears from
infancy, was now absolute torture to the poor girl. On the Friday
following the Wednesday of Melbury's departure, and the day after
the discovery of Fitzpiers's hat, the cuckoo began at two o'clock
in the morning with a sudden cry from one of Melbury's appletrees,
not three yards from the window of Grace's room.
"Oh, he is coming!" she cried, and in her terror sprang clean from
the bed out upon the floor.
These starts and frights continued till noon; and when the doctor
had arrived and had seen her, and had talked with Mrs. Melbury, he
sat down and meditated. That ever-present terror it was
indispensable to remove from her mind at all hazards; and he
thought how this might be done.
Without saying a word to anybody in the house, or to the
disquieted Winterborne waiting in the lane below, Dr. Jones went
home and wrote to Mr. Melbury at the London address he had
obtained from his wife. The gist of his communication was that
Mrs. Fitzpiers should be assured as soon as possible that steps
were being taken to sever the bond which was becoming a torture to
her; that she would soon be free, and was even then virtually so.
"If you can say it AT ONCE it may be the means of averting much
harm," he said. "Write to herself; not to me."
On Saturday he drove over to Hintock, and assured her with
mysterious pacifications that in a day or two she might expect to
receive some assuring news. So it turned out. When Sunday
morning came there was a letter for Grace from her father. It
arrived at seven o'clock, the usual time at which the toddling
postman passed by Hintock; at eight Grace awoke, having slept an
hour or two for a wonder, and Mrs. Melbury brought up the letter.
"Can you open it yourself?" said she.
"Oh yes, yes!" said Grace, with feeble impatience. She tore the
envelope, unfolded the sheet, and read; when a creeping blush
tinctured her white neck and cheek.
Her father had exercised a bold discretion. He informed her that
she need have no further concern about Fitzpiers's return; that
she would shortly be a free woman; and therefore, if she should
desire to wed her old lover--which he trusted was the case, since
it was his own deep wish--she would be in a position to do so. In
this Melbury had not written beyond his belief. But he very much
stretched the facts in adding that the legal formalities for
dissolving her union were practically settled. The truth was that
on the arrival of the doctor's letter poor Melbury had been much
agitated, and could with difficulty be prevented by Beaucock from
returning to her bedside. What was the use of his rushing back to
Hintock? Beaucock had asked him. The only thing that could do her
any good was a breaking of the bond. Though he had not as yet had
an interview with the eminent solicitor they were about to
consult, he was on the point of seeing him; and the case was clear
enough. Thus the simple Melbury, urged by his parental alarm at
her danger by the representations of his companion, and by the
doctor's letter, had yielded, and sat down to tell her roundly
that she was virtually free.
"And you'd better write also to the gentleman," suggested
Beaucock, who, scenting notoriety and the germ of a large practice
in the case, wished to commit Melbury to it irretrievably; to
effect which he knew that nothing would be so potent as awakening
the passion of Grace for Winterborne, so that her father might not
have the heart to withdraw from his attempt to make her love
legitimate when he discovered that there were difficulties in the
The nervous, impatient Melbury was much pleased with the idea of
"starting them at once," as he called it. To put his long-delayed
reparative scheme in train had become a passion with him now. He
added to the letter addressed to his daughter a passage hinting
that she ought to begin to encourage Winterborne, lest she should
lose him altogether; and he wrote to Giles that the path was
virtually open for him at last. Life was short, he declared;
there were slips betwixt the cup and the lip; her interest in him
should be reawakened at once, that all might be ready when the
good time came for uniting them.
At these warm words Winterborne was not less dazed than he was
moved in heart. The novelty of the avowal rendered what it
carried with it inapprehensible by him in its entirety.
Only a few short months ago completely estranged from this family--
beholding Grace going to and fro in the distance, clothed with
the alienating radiance of obvious superiority, the wife of the
then popular and fashionable Fitzpiers, hopelessly outside his
social boundary down to so recent a time that flowers then folded
were hardly faded yet--he was now asked by that jealously guarding
father of hers to take courage--to get himself ready for the day
when he should be able to claim her.
The old times came back to him in dim procession. How he had been
snubbed; how Melbury had despised his Christmas party; how that
sweet, coy Grace herself had looked down upon him and his
household arrangements, and poor Creedle's contrivances!
Well, he could not believe it. Surely the adamantine barrier of
marriage with another could not be pierced like this! It did
violence to custom. Yet a new law might do anything. But was it
at all within the bounds of probability that a woman who, over and
above her own attainments, had been accustomed to those of a
cultivated professional man, could ever be the wife of such as he?
Since the date of his rejection he had almost grown to see the
reasonableness of that treatment. He had said to himself again
and again that her father was right; that the poor ceorl, Giles
Winterborne, would never have been able to make such a dainty girl
happy. Yet, now that she had stood in a position farther removed
from his own than at first, he was asked to prepare to woo her.
He was full of doubt.
Nevertheless, it was not in him to show backwardness. To act so
promptly as Melbury desired him to act seemed, indeed, scarcely
wise, because of the uncertainty of events. Giles knew nothing of
legal procedure, but he did know that for him to step up to Grace
as a lover before the bond which bound her was actually dissolved
was simply an extravagant dream of her father's overstrained mind.
He pitied Melbury for his almost childish enthusiasm, and saw that
the aging man must have suffered acutely to be weakened to this
unreasoning desire.
Winterborne was far too magnanimous to harbor any cynical
conjecture that the timber-merchant, in his intense affection for
Grace, was courting him now because that young lady, when
disunited, would be left in an anomalous position, to escape which
a bad husband was better than none. He felt quite sure that his
old friend was simply on tenterhooks of anxiety to repair the
almost irreparable error of dividing two whom Nature had striven
to join together in earlier days, and that in his ardor to do this
he was oblivious of formalities. The cautious supervision of his
past years had overleaped itself at last. hence, Winterborne
perceived that, in this new beginning, the necessary care not to
compromise Grace by too early advances must be exercised by
Perhaps Winterborne was not quite so ardent as heretofore. There
is no such thing as a stationary love: men are either loving more
or loving less. But Giles himself recognized no decline in his
sense of her dearness. If the flame did indeed burn lower now
than when he had fetched her from Sherton at her last return from
school, the marvel was small. He had been laboring ever since his
rejection and her marriage to reduce his former passion to a
docile friendship, out of pure regard to its expediency; and their
separation may have helped him to a partial success.
A week and more passed, and there was no further news of Melbury.
But the effect of the intelligence he had already transmitted upon
the elastic-nerved daughter of the woods had been much what the
old surgeon Jones had surmised. It had soothed her perturbed
spirit better than all the opiates in the pharmacopoeia. She had
slept unbrokenly a whole night and a day. The "new law" was to
her a mysterious, beneficent, godlike entity, lately descended
upon earth, that would make her as she once had been without
trouble or annoyance. Her position fretted her, its abstract
features rousing an aversion which was even greater than her
aversion to the personality of him who had caused it. It was
mortifying, productive of slights, undignified. Him she could
forget; her circumstances she had always with her.
She saw nothing of Winterborne during the days of her recovery;
and perhaps on that account her fancy wove about him a more
romantic tissue than it could have done if he had stood before her
with all the specks and flaws inseparable from corporeity. He
rose upon her memory as the fruit-god and the wood-god in
alternation; sometimes leafy, and smeared with green lichen, as
she had seen him among the sappy boughs of the plantations;
sometimes cider-stained, and with apple-pips in the hair of his
arms, as she had met him on his return from cider-making in White
Hart Vale, with his vats and presses beside him. In her secret
heart she almost approximated to her father's enthusiasm in
wishing to show Giles once for all how she still regarded him.
The question whether the future would indeed bring them together
for life was a standing wonder with her. She knew that it could
not with any propriety do so just yet. But reverently believing
in her father's sound judgment and knowledge, as good girls are
wont to do, she remembered what he had written about her giving a
hint to Winterborne lest there should be risk in delay, and her
feelings were not averse to such a step, so far as it could be
done without danger at this early stage of the proceedings.
From being a frail phantom of her former equable self she returned
in bounds to a condition of passable philosophy. She bloomed
again in the face in the course of a few days, and was well enough
to go about as usual. One day Mrs. Melbury proposed that for a
change she should be driven in the gig to Sherton market, whither
Melbury's man was going on other errands. Grace had no business
whatever in Sherton; but it crossed her mind that Winterborne
would probably be there, and this made the thought of such a drive
On the way she saw nothing of him; but when the horse was walking
slowly through the obstructions of Sheep Street, she discerned the
young man on the pavement. She thought of that time when he had
been standing under his apple-tree on her return from school, and
of the tender opportunity then missed through her fastidiousness.
Her heart rose in her throat. She abjured all such fastidiousness
now. Nor did she forget the last occasion on which she had beheld
him in that town, making cider in the court-yard of the Earl of
Wessex Hotel, while she was figuring as a fine lady in the balcony
Grace directed the man to set her down there in the midst, and
immediately went up to her lover. Giles had not before observed
her, and his eyes now suppressedly looked his pleasure, without
the embarrassment that had formerly marked him at such meetings.
When a few words had been spoken, she said, archly, "I have
nothing to do. Perhaps you are deeply engaged?"
"I? Not a bit. My business now at the best of times is small, I
am sorry to say."
"Well, then, I am going into the Abbey. Come along with me."
The proposition had suggested itself as a quick escape from
publicity, for many eyes were regarding her. She had hoped that
sufficient time had elapsed for the extinction of curiosity; but
it was quite otherwise. The people looked at her with tender
interest as the deserted girl-wife--without obtrusiveness, and
without vulgarity; but she was ill prepared for scrutiny in any
They walked about the Abbey aisles, and presently sat down. Not a
soul was in the building save themselves. She regarded a stained
window, with her head sideways, and tentatively asked him if he
remembered the last time they were in that town alone.
He remembered it perfectly, and remarked, "You were a proud miss
then, and as dainty as you were high. Perhaps you are now?"
Grace slowly shook her head. "Affliction has taken all that out
of me," she answered, impressively. "Perhaps I am too far the
other way now." As there was something lurking in this that she
could not explain, she added, so quickly as not to allow him time
to think of it, "Has my father written to you at all?"
"Yes," said Winterborne.
She glanced ponderingly up at him. "Not about me?"
His mouth was lined with charactery which told her that he had
been bidden to take the hint as to the future which she had been
bidden to give. The unexpected discovery sent a scarlet pulsation
through Grace for the moment. However, it was only Giles who
stood there, of whom she had no fear; and her self-possession
"He said I was to sound you with a view to--what you will
understand, if you care to," continued Winterborne, in a low
voice. Having been put on this track by herself, he was not
disposed to abandon it in a hurry.
They had been children together, and there was between them that
familiarity as to personal affairs which only such
acquaintanceship can give. "You know, Giles," she answered,
speaking in a very practical tone, "that that is all very well;
but I am in a very anomalous position at present, and I cannot say
anything to the point about such things as those."
"No?" he said, with a stray air as regarded the subject. He was
looking at her with a curious consciousness of discovery. He had
not been imagining that their renewed intercourse would show her
to him thus. For the first time he realized an unexpectedness in
her, which, after all, should not have been unexpected. She
before him was not the girl Grace Melbury whom he used to know.
Of course, he might easily have prefigured as much; but it had
never occurred to him. She was a woman who had been married; she
had moved on; and without having lost her girlish modesty, she had
lost her girlish shyness. The inevitable change, though known to
him, had not been heeded; and it struck him into a momentary
fixity. The truth was that he had never come into close
comradeship with her since her engagement to Fitzpiers, with the
brief exception of the evening encounter on Rubdown Hill, when she
met him with his cider apparatus; and that interview had been of
too cursory a kind for insight.
Winterborne had advanced, too. He could criticise her. Times had
been when to criticise a single trait in Grace Melbury would have
lain as far beyond his powers as to criticise a deity. This thing
was sure: it was a new woman in many ways whom he had come out to
see; a creature of more ideas, more dignity, and, above all, more
assurance, than the original Grace had been capable of. He could
not at first decide whether he were pleased or displeased at this.
But upon the whole the novelty attracted him.
She was so sweet and sensitive that she feared his silence
betokened something in his brain of the nature of an enemy to her.
"What are you thinking of that makes those lines come in your
forehead?" she asked. "I did not mean to offend you by speaking
of the time being premature as yet."
Touched by the genuine loving-kindness which had lain at the
foundation of these words, and much moved, Winterborne turned his
face aside, as he took her by the hand. He was grieved that he
had criticised her.
"You are very good, dear Grace," he said, in a low voice. "You
are better, much better, than you used to be."
He could not very well tell her how, and said, with an evasive
smile, "You are prettier;" which was not what he really had meant.
He then remained still holding her right hand in his own right, so
that they faced in opposite ways; and as he did not let go, she
ventured upon a tender remonstrance.
"I think we have gone as far as we ought to go at present--and far
enough to satisfy my poor father that we are the same as ever.
You see, Giles, my case is not settled yet, and if--Oh, suppose I
NEVER get free!--there should be any hitch or informality!"
She drew a catching breath, and turned pale. The dialogue had
been affectionate comedy up to this point. The gloomy atmosphere
of the past, and the still gloomy horizon of the present, had been
for the interval forgotten. Now the whole environment came back,
the due balance of shade among the light was restored.
"It is sure to be all right, I trust?" she resumed, in uneasy
accents. "What did my father say the solicitor had told him?"
"Oh--that all is sure enough. The case is so clear--nothing could
be clearer. But the legal part is not yet quite done and
finished, as is natural."
"Oh no--of course not," she said, sunk in meek thought. "But
father said it was ALMOST--did he not? Do you know anything about
the new law that makes these things so easy?"
"Nothing--except the general fact that it enables ill-assorted
husbands and wives to part in a way they could not formerly do
without an Act of Parliament."
"Have you to sign a paper, or swear anything? Is it something like
"Yes, I believe so."
"How long has it been introduced?"
"About six months or a year, the lawyer said, I think."
To hear these two poor Arcadian innocents talk of imperial law
would have made a humane person weep who should have known what a
dangerous structure they were building up on their supposed
knowledge. They remained in thought, like children in the
presence of the incomprehensible.
"Giles," she said, at last, "it makes me quite weary when I think
how serious my situation is, or has been. Shall we not go out
from here now, as it may seem rather fast of me--our being so long
together, I mean--if anybody were to see us? I am almost sure,"
she added, uncertainly, "that I ought not to let you hold my hand
yet, knowing that the documents--or whatever it may be--have not
been signed; so that I--am still as married as ever--or almost.
My dear father has forgotten himself. Not that I feel morally
bound to any one else, after what has taken place--no woman of
spirit could--now, too, that several months have passed. But I
wish to keep the proprieties as well as I can."
"Yes, yes. Still, your father reminds us that life is short. I
myself feel that it is; that is why I wished to understand you in
this that we have begun. At times, dear Grace, since receiving
your father's letter, I am as uneasy and fearful as a child at
what he said. If one of us were to die before the formal signing
and sealing that is to release you have been done--if we should
drop out of the world and never have made the most of this little,
short, but real opportunity, I should think to myself as I sunk
down dying, 'Would to my God that I had spoken out my whole heart--
given her one poor little kiss when I had the chance to give it!
But I never did, although she had promised to be mine some day;
and now I never can.' That's what I should think."
She had begun by watching the words from his lips with a mournful
regard, as though their passage were visible; but as he went on
she dropped her glance. "Yes," she said, "I have thought that,
too. And, because I have thought it, I by no means meant, in
speaking of the proprieties, to be reserved and cold to you who
loved me so long ago, or to hurt your heart as I used to do at
that thoughtless time. Oh, not at all, indeed! But--ought I to
allow you?--oh, it is too quick--surely!" Her eyes filled with
tears of bewildered, alarmed emotion.
Winterborne was too straightforward to influence her further
against her better judgment. "Yes--I suppose it is," he said,
repentantly. "I'll wait till all is settled. What did your
father say in that last letter?"
He meant about his progress with the petition; but she, mistaking
him, frankly spoke of the personal part. "He said--what I have
implied. Should I tell more plainly?"
"Oh no--don't, if it is a secret."
"Not at all. I will tell every word, straight out, Giles, if you
wish. He said I was to encourage you. There. But I cannot obey
him further to-day. Come, let us go now." She gently slid her
hand from his, and went in front of him out of the Abbey.
"I was thinking of getting some dinner," said Winterborne,
changing to the prosaic, as they walked. "And you, too, must
require something. Do let me take you to a place I know."
Grace was almost without a friend in the world outside her
father's house; her life with Fitzpiers had brought her no
society; had sometimes, indeed, brought her deeper solitude and
inconsideration than any she had ever known before. Hence it was
a treat to her to find herself again the object of thoughtful
care. But she questioned if to go publicly to dine with Giles
Winterborne were not a proposal, due rather to his
unsophistication than to his discretion. She said gently that she
would much prefer his ordering her lunch at some place and then
coming to tell her it was ready, while she remained in the Abbey
porch. Giles saw her secret reasoning, thought how hopelessly
blind to propriety he was beside her, and went to do as she
He was not absent more than ten minutes, and found Grace where he
had left her. "It will be quite ready by the time you get there,"
he said, and told her the name of the inn at which the meal had
been ordered, which was one that she had never heard of.
"I'll find it by inquiry," said Grace, setting out.
"And shall I see you again?"
"Oh yes--come to me there. It will not be like going together. I
shall want you to find my father's man and the gig for me."
He waited on some ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, till he
thought her lunch ended, and that he might fairly take advantage
of her invitation to start her on her way home. He went straight
to The Three Tuns--a little tavern in a side street, scrupulously
clean, but humble and inexpensive. On his way he had an
occasional misgiving as to whether the place had been elegant
enough for her; and as soon as he entered it, and saw her
ensconced there, he perceived that he had blundered.
Grace was seated in the only dining-room that the simple old
hostelry could boast of, which was also a general parlor on
market-days; a long, low apartment, with a sanded floor herringboned
with a broom; a wide, red-curtained window to the street,
and another to the garden. Grace had retreated to the end of the
room looking out upon the latter, the front part being full of a
mixed company which had dropped in since he was there.
She was in a mood of the greatest depression. On arriving, and
seeing what the tavern was like, she had been taken by surprise;
but having gone too far to retreat, she had heroically entered and
sat down on the well-scrubbed settle, opposite the narrow table
with its knives and steel forks, tin pepper-boxes, blue saltcellars,
and posters advertising the sale of bullocks against the
wall. The last time that she had taken any meal in a public place
it had been with Fitzpiers at the grand new Earl of Wessex Hotel
in that town, after a two months' roaming and sojourning at the
gigantic hotels of the Continent. How could she have expected any
other kind of accommodation in present circumstances than such as
Giles had provided? And yet how unprepared she was for this
change! The tastes that she had acquired from Fitzpiers had been
imbibed so subtly that she hardly knew she possessed them till
confronted by this contrast. The elegant Fitzpiers, in fact, at
that very moment owed a long bill at the above-mentioned hotel for
the luxurious style in which he used to put her up there whenever
they drove to Sherton. But such is social sentiment, that she had
been quite comfortable under those debt-impending conditions,
while she felt humiliated by her present situation, which
Winterborne had paid for honestly on the nail.
He had noticed in a moment that she shrunk from her position, and
all his pleasure was gone. It was the same susceptibility over
again which had spoiled his Christmas party long ago.
But he did not know that this recrudescence was only the casual
result of Grace's apprenticeship to what she was determined to
learn in spite of it--a consequence of one of those sudden
surprises which confront everybody bent upon turning over a new
leaf. She had finished her lunch, which he saw had been a very
mincing performance; and he brought her out of the house as soon
as he could.
"Now," he said, with great sad eyes, "you have not finished at all
well, I know. Come round to the Earl of Wessex. I'll order a tea
there. I did not remember that what was good enough for me was
not good enough for you."
Her face faded into an aspect of deep distress when she saw what
had happened. "Oh no, Giles," she said, with extreme pathos;
"certainly not. Why do you--say that when you know better? You
EVER will misunderstand me."
"Indeed, that's not so, Mrs. Fitzpiers. Can you deny that you
felt out of place at The Three Tuns?"
"I don't know. Well, since you make me speak, I do not deny it."
"And yet I have felt at home there these twenty years. Your
husband used always to take you to the Earl of Wessex, did he
"Yes," she reluctantly admitted. How could she explain in the
street of a market-town that it was her superficial and transitory
taste which had been offended, and not her nature or her
affection? Fortunately, or unfortunately, at that moment they saw
Melbury's man driving vacantly along the street in search of her,
the hour having passed at which he had been told to take her up.
Winterborne hailed him, and she was powerless then to prolong the
discourse. She entered the vehicle sadly, and the horse trotted
All night did Winterborne think over that unsatisfactory ending of
a pleasant time, forgetting the pleasant time itself. He feared
anew that they could never be happy together, even should she be
free to choose him. She was accomplished; he was unrefined. It
was the original difficulty, which he was too sensitive to
recklessly ignore, as some men would have done in his place.
He was one of those silent, unobtrusive beings who want little
from others in the way of favor or condescension, and perhaps on
that very account scrutinize those others' behavior too closely.
He was not versatile, but one in whom a hope or belief which had
once had its rise, meridian, and decline seldom again exactly
recurred, as in the breasts of more sanguine mortals. He had once
worshipped her, laid out his life to suit her, wooed her, and lost
her. Though it was with almost the same zest, it was with not
quite the same hope, that he had begun to tread the old tracks
again, and allowed himself to be so charmed with her that day.
Move another step towards her he would not. He would even repulse
her--as a tribute to conscience. It would be sheer sin to let her
prepare a pitfall for her happiness not much smaller than the
first by inveigling her into a union with such as he. Her poor
father was now blind to these subtleties, which he had formerly
beheld as in noontide light. It was his own duty to declare them--
for her dear sake.
Grace, too, had a very uncomfortable night, and her solicitous
embarrassment was not lessened the next morning when another
letter from her father was put into her hands. Its tenor was an
intenser strain of the one that had preceded it. After stating
how extremely glad he was to hear that she was better, and able to
get out-of-doors, he went on:
"This is a wearisome business, the solicitor we have come to see
being out of town. I do not know when I shall get home. My great
anxiety in this delay is still lest you should lose Giles
Winterborne. I cannot rest at night for thinking that while our
business is hanging fire he may become estranged, or go away from
the neighborhood. I have set my heart upon seeing him your
husband, if you ever have another. Do, then, Grace, give him some
temporary encouragement, even though it is over-early. For when I
consider the past I do think God will forgive me and you for being
a little forward. I have another reason for this, my dear. I
feel myself going rapidly downhill, and late affairs have still
further helped me that way. And until this thing is done I cannot
rest in peace."
He added a postscript:
"I have just heard that the solicitor is to be seen to-morrow.
Possibly, therefore, I shall return in the evening after you get
The paternal longing ran on all fours with her own desire; and yet
in forwarding it yesterday she had been on the brink of giving
offence. While craving to be a country girl again just as her
father requested; to put off the old Eve, the fastidious miss--or
rather madam--completely, her first attempt had been beaten by the
unexpected vitality of that fastidiousness. Her father on
returning and seeing the trifling coolness of Giles would be sure
to say that the same perversity which had led her to make
difficulties about marrying Fitzpiers was now prompting her to
blow hot and cold with poor Winterborne.
If the latter had been the most subtle hand at touching the stops
of her delicate soul instead of one who had just bound himself to
let her drift away from him again (if she would) on the wind of
her estranging education, he could not have acted more seductively
than he did that day. He chanced to be superintending some
temporary work in a field opposite her windows. She could not
discover what he was doing, but she read his mood keenly and
truly: she could see in his coming and going an air of determined
abandonment of the whole landscape that lay in her direction.
Oh, how she longed to make it up with him! Her father coming in
the evening--which meant, she supposed, that all formalities would
be in train, her marriage virtually annulled, and she be free to
be won again--how could she look him in the face if he should see
them estranged thus?
It was a fair green evening in June. She was seated in the
garden, in the rustic chair which stood under the laurel-bushes--
made of peeled oak-branches that came to Melbury's premises as
refuse after barking-time. The mass of full-juiced leafage on the
heights around her was just swayed into faint gestures by a nearly
spent wind which, even in its enfeebled state, did not reach her
shelter. All day she had expected Giles to call--to inquire how
she had got home, or something or other; but he had not come. And
he still tantalized her by going athwart and across that orchard
opposite. She could see him as she sat.
A slight diversion was presently created by Creedle bringing him a
letter. She knew from this that Creedle had just come from
Sherton, and had called as usual at the post-office for anything
that had arrived by the afternoon post, of which there was no
delivery at Hintock. She pondered on what the letter might
contain--particularly whether it were a second refresher for
Winterborne from her father, like her own of the morning.
But it appeared to have no bearing upon herself whatever. Giles
read its contents; and almost immediately turned away to a gap in
the hedge of the orchard--if that could be called a hedge which,
owing to the drippings of the trees, was little more than a bank
with a bush upon it here and there. He entered the plantation,
and was no doubt going that way homeward to the mysterious hut he
occupied on the other side of the woodland.
The sad sands were running swiftly through Time's glass; she had
often felt it in these latter days; and, like Giles, she felt it
doubly now after the solemn and pathetic reminder in her father's
communication. Her freshness would pass, the long-suffering
devotion of Giles might suddenly end--might end that very hour.
Men were so strange. The thought took away from her all her
former reticence, and made her action bold. She started from her
seat. If the little breach, quarrel, or whatever it might be
called, of yesterday, was to be healed up it must be done by her
on the instant. She crossed into the orchard, and clambered
through the gap after Giles, just as he was diminishing to a faunlike
figure under the green canopy and over the brown floor.
Grace had been wrong--very far wrong--in assuming that the letter
had no reference to herself because Giles had turned away into the
wood after its perusal. It was, sad to say, because the missive
had so much reference to herself that he had thus turned away. He
feared that his grieved discomfiture might be observed. The
letter was from Beaucock, written a few hours later than Melbury's
to his daughter. It announced failure.
Giles had once done that thriftless man a good turn, and now was
the moment when Beaucock had chosen to remember it in his own way.
During his absence in town with Melbury, the lawyer's clerk had
naturally heard a great deal of the timber-merchant's family
scheme of justice to Giles, and his communication was to inform
Winterborne at the earliest possible moment that their attempt had
failed, in order that the young man should not place himself in a
false position towards Grace in the belief of its coming success.
The news was, in sum, that Fitzpiers's conduct had not been
sufficiently cruel to Grace to enable her to snap the bond. She
was apparently doomed to be his wife till the end of the chapter.
Winterborne quite forgot his superficial differences with the poor
girl under the warm rush of deep and distracting love for her
which the almost tragical information engendered.
To renounce her forever--that was then the end of it for him,
after all. There was no longer any question about suitability, or
room for tiffs on petty tastes. The curtain had fallen again
between them. She could not be his. The cruelty of their late
revived hope was now terrible. How could they all have been so
simple as to suppose this thing could be done?
It was at this moment that, hearing some one coming behind him, he
turned and saw her hastening on between the thickets. He
perceived in an instant that she did not know the blighting news.
"Giles, why didn't you come across to me?" she asked, with arch
reproach. "Didn't you see me sitting there ever so long?"
"Oh yes," he said, in unprepared, extemporized tones, for her
unexpected presence caught him without the slightest plan of
behavior in the conjuncture. His manner made her think that she
had been too chiding in her speech; and a mild scarlet wave passed
over her as she resolved to soften it.
"I have had another letter from my father," she hastened to
continue. "He thinks he may come home this evening. And--in view
of his hopes--it will grieve him if there is any little difference
between us, Giles."
"There is none," he said, sadly regarding her from the face
downward as he pondered how to lay the cruel truth bare.
"Still--I fear you have not quite forgiven me about my being
uncomfortable at the inn."
"I have, Grace, I'm sure."
"But you speak in quite an unhappy way," she returned, coming up
close to him with the most winning of the many pretty airs that
appertained to her. "Don't you think you will ever be happy,
He did not reply for some instants. "When the sun shines on the
north front of Sherton Abbey--that's when my happiness will come
to me!" said he, staring as it were into the earth.
"But--then that means that there is something more than my
offending you in not liking The Three Tuns. If it is because I--
did not like to let you kiss me in the Abbey--well, you know,
Giles, that it was not on account of my cold feelings, but because
I did certainly, just then, think it was rather premature, in
spite of my poor father. That was the true reason--the sole one.
But I do not want to be hard--God knows I do not," she said, her
voice fluctuating. "And perhaps--as I am on the verge of freedom--
I am not right, after all, in thinking there is any harm in your
kissing me."
"Oh God!" said Winterborne within himself. His head was turned
askance as he still resolutely regarded the ground. For the last
several minutes he had seen this great temptation approaching him
in regular siege; and now it had come. The wrong, the social sin,
of now taking advantage of the offer of her lips had a magnitude,
in the eyes of one whose life had been so primitive, so ruled by
purest household laws, as Giles's, which can hardly be explained.
"Did you say anything?" she asked, timidly.
"Oh no--only that--"
"You mean that it must BE settled, since my father is coming
home?" she said, gladly.
Winterborne, though fighting valiantly against himself all this
while--though he would have protected Grace's good repute as the
apple of his eye--was a man; and, as Desdemona said, men are not
gods. In face of the agonizing seductiveness shown by her, in her
unenlightened school-girl simplicity about the laws and
ordinances, he betrayed a man's weakness. Since it was so--since
it had come to this, that Grace, deeming herself free to do it,
was virtually asking him to demonstrate that he loved her--since
he could demonstrate it only too truly--since life was short and
love was strong--he gave way to the temptation, notwithstanding
that he perfectly well knew her to be wedded irrevocably to
Fitzpiers. Indeed, he cared for nothing past or future, simply
accepting the present and what it brought, desiring once in his
life to clasp in his arms her he had watched over and loved so
She started back suddenly from his embrace, influenced by a sort
of inspiration. "Oh, I suppose," she stammered, "that I am really
free?--that this is right? Is there REALLY a new law? Father
cannot have been too sanguine in saying--"
He did not answer, and a moment afterwards Grace burst into tears
in spite of herself. "Oh, why does not my father come home and
explain," she sobbed, "and let me know clearly what I am? It is
too trying, this, to ask me to--and then to leave me so long in so
vague a state that I do not know what to do, and perhaps do
Winterborne felt like a very Cain, over and above his previous
sorrow. How he had sinned against her in not telling her what he
knew. He turned aside; the feeling of his cruelty mounted higher
and higher. How could he have dreamed of kissing her? He could
hardly refrain from tears. Surely nothing more pitiable had ever
been known than the condition of this poor young thing, now as
heretofore the victim of her father's well-meant but blundering
Even in the hour of Melbury's greatest assurance Winterborne had
harbored a suspicion that no law, new or old, could undo Grace's
marriage without her appearance in public; though he was not
sufficiently sure of what might have been enacted to destroy by
his own words her pleasing idea that a mere dash of the pen, on
her father's testimony, was going to be sufficient. But he had
never suspected the sad fact that the position was irremediable.
Poor Grace, perhaps feeling that she had indulged in too much
fluster for a mere kiss, calmed herself at finding how grave he
was. "I am glad we are friends again anyhow," she said, smiling
through her tears. "Giles, if you had only shown half the
boldness before I married that you show now, you would have
carried me off for your own first instead of second. If we do
marry, I hope you will never think badly of me for encouraging you
a little, but my father is SO impatient, you know, as his years
and infirmities increase, that he will wish to see us a little
advanced when he comes. That is my only excuse."
To Winterborne all this was sadder than it was sweet. How could
she so trust her father's conjectures? He did not know how to tell
her the truth and shame himself. And yet he felt that it must be
done. "We may have been wrong," he began, almost fearfully, "in
supposing that it can all be carried out while we stay here at
Hintock. I am not sure but that people may have to appear in a
public court even under the new Act; and if there should be any
difficulty, and we cannot marry after all--"
Her cheeks became slowly bloodless. "Oh, Giles," she said,
grasping his arm, "you have heard something! What--cannot my
father conclude it there and now? Surely he has done it? Oh,
Giles, Giles, don't deceive me. What terrible position am I in?"
He could not tell her, try as he would. The sense of her implicit
trust in his honor absolutely disabled him. "I cannot inform
you," he murmured, his voice as husky as that of the leaves
underfoot. "Your father will soon be here. Then we shall know.
I will take you home."
Inexpressibly dear as she was to him, he offered her his arm with
the most reserved air, as he added, correctingly, "I will take
you, at any rate, into the drive."
Thus they walked on together. Grace vibrating between happiness
and misgiving. It was only a few minutes' walk to where the drive
ran, and they had hardly descended into it when they heard a voice
behind them cry, "Take out that arm!"
For a moment they did not heed, and the voice repeated, more
loudly and hoarsely,
"Take out that arm!"
It was Melbury's. He had returned sooner than they expected, and
now came up to them. Grace's hand had been withdrawn like
lightning on her hearing the second command. "I don't blame you--
I don't blame you," he said, in the weary cadence of one broken
down with scourgings. "But you two must walk together no more--I
have been surprised--I have been cruelly deceived--Giles, don't
say anything to me; but go away!"
He was evidently not aware that Winterborne had known the truth
before he brought it; and Giles would not stay to discuss it with
him then. When the young man had gone Melbury took his daughter
in-doors to the room he used as his office. There he sat down,
and bent over the slope of the bureau, her bewildered gaze fixed
upon him.
When Melbury had recovered a little he said, "You are now, as
ever, Fitzpiers's wife. I was deluded. He has not done you
ENOUGH harm. You are still subject to his beck and call."
"Then let it be, and never mind, father," she said, with dignified
sorrow. "I can bear it. It is your trouble that grieves me
most." She stooped over him, and put her arm round his neck, which
distressed Melbury still more. "I don't mind at all what comes to
me," Grace continued; "whose wife I am, or whose I am not. I do
love Giles; I cannot help that; and I have gone further with him
than I should have done if I had known exactly how things were.
But I do not reproach you."
"Then Giles did not tell you?" said Melbury.
"No," said she. "He could not have known it. His behavior to me
proved that he did not know."
Her father said nothing more, and Grace went away to the solitude
of her chamber.
Her heavy disquietude had many shapes; and for a time she put
aside the dominant fact to think of her too free conduct towards
Giles. His love-making had been brief as it was sweet; but would
he on reflection contemn her for forwardness? How could she have
been so simple as to suppose she was in a position to behave as
she had done! Thus she mentally blamed her ignorance; and yet in
the centre of her heart she blessed it a little for what it had
momentarily brought her.
Life among the people involved in these events seemed to be
suppressed and hide-bound for a while. Grace seldom showed
herself outside the house, never outside the garden; for she
feared she might encounter Giles Winterborne; and that she could
not bear.
This pensive intramural existence of the self-constituted nun
appeared likely to continue for an indefinite time. She had
learned that there was one possibility in which her formerly
imagined position might become real, and only one; that her
husband's absence should continue long enough to amount to
positive desertion. But she never allowed her mind to dwell much
upon the thought; still less did she deliberately hope for such a
result. Her regard for Winterborne had been rarefied by the shock
which followed its avowal into an ethereal emotion that had little
to do with living and doing.
As for Giles, he was lying--or rather sitting--ill at his hut. A
feverish indisposition which had been hanging about him for some
time, the result of a chill caught the previous winter, seemed to
acquire virulence with the prostration of his hopes. But not a
soul knew of his languor, and he did not think the case serious
enough to send for a medical man. After a few days he was better
again, and crept about his home in a great coat, attending to his
simple wants as usual with his own hands. So matters stood when
the limpid inertion of Grace's pool-like existence was disturbed
as by a geyser. She received a letter from Fitzpiers.
Such a terrible letter it was in its import, though couched in the
gentlest language. In his absence Grace had grown to regard him
with toleration, and her relation to him with equanimity, till she
had almost forgotten how trying his presence would be. He wrote
briefly and unaffectedly; he made no excuses, but informed her
that he was living quite alone, and had been led to think that
they ought to be together, if she would make up her mind to
forgive him. He therefore purported to cross the Channel to
Budmouth by the steamer on a day he named, which she found to be
three days after the time of her present reading.
He said that he could not come to Hintock for obvious reasons,
which her father would understand even better than herself. As
the only alternative she was to be on the quay to meet the steamer
when it arrived from the opposite coast, probably about half an
hour before midnight, bringing with her any luggage she might
require; join him there, and pass with him into the twin vessel,
which left immediately the other entered the harbor; returning
thus with him to his continental dwelling-place, which he did not
name. He had no intention of showing himself on land at all.
The troubled Grace took the letter to her father, who now
continued for long hours by the fireless summer chimney-corner, as
if he thought it were winter, the pitcher of cider standing beside
him, mostly untasted, and coated with a film of dust. After
reading it he looked up.
"You sha'n't go," said he.
"I had felt I would not," she answered. "But I did not know what
you would say."
"If he comes and lives in England, not too near here and in a
respectable way, and wants you to come to him, I am not sure that
I'll oppose him in wishing it," muttered Melbury. "I'd stint
myself to keep you both in a genteel and seemly style. But go
abroad you never shall with my consent."
There the question rested that day. Grace was unable to reply to
her husband in the absence of an address, and the morrow came, and
the next day, and the evening on which he had requested her to
meet him. Throughout the whole of it she remained within the four
walls of her room.
The sense of her harassment, carking doubt of what might be
impending, hung like a cowl of blackness over the Melbury
household. They spoke almost in whispers, and wondered what
Fitzpiers would do next. It was the hope of every one that,
finding she did not arrive, he would return again to France; and
as for Grace, she was willing to write to him on the most kindly
terms if he would only keep away.
The night passed, Grace lying tense and wide awake, and her
relatives, in great part, likewise. When they met the next
morning they were pale and anxious, though neither speaking of the
subject which occupied all their thoughts. The day passed as
quietly as the previous ones, and she began to think that in the
rank caprice of his moods he had abandoned the idea of getting her
to join him as quickly as it was formed. All on a sudden, some
person who had just come from Sherton entered the house with the
news that Mr. Fitzpiers was on his way home to Hintock. He had
been seen hiring a carriage at the Earl of Wessex Hotel.
Her father and Grace were both present when the intelligence was
"Now," said Melbury, "we must make the best of what has been a
very bad matter. The man is repenting; the partner of his shame,
I hear, is gone away from him to Switzerland, so that chapter of
his life is probably over. If he chooses to make a home for ye I
think you should not say him nay, Grace. Certainly he cannot very
well live at Hintock without a blow to his pride; but if he can
bear that, and likes Hintock best, why, there's the empty wing of
the house as it was before."
"Oh, father!" said Grace, turning white with dismay.
"Why not?" said he, a little of his former doggedness returning.
He was, in truth, disposed to somewhat more leniency towards her
husband just now than he had shown formerly, from a conviction
that he had treated him over-roughly in his anger. "Surely it is
the most respectable thing to do?" he continued. "I don't like
this state that you are in--neither married nor single. It hurts
me, and it hurts you, and it will always be remembered against us
in Hintock. There has never been any scandal like it in the
family before."
"He will be here in less than an hour," murmured Grace. The
twilight of the room prevented her father seeing the despondent
misery of her face. The one intolerable condition, the condition
she had deprecated above all others, was that of Fitzpiers's
reinstatement there. "Oh, I won't, I won't see him," she said,
sinking down. She was almost hysterical.
"Try if you cannot," he returned, moodily.
"Oh yes, I will, I will," she went on, inconsequently. "I'll
try;" and jumping up suddenly, she left the room.
In the darkness of the apartment to which she flew nothing could
have been seen during the next half-hour; but from a corner a
quick breathing was audible from this impressible creature, who
combined modern nerves with primitive emotions, and was doomed by
such coexistence to be numbered among the distressed, and to take
her scourgings to their exquisite extremity.
The window was open. On this quiet, late summer evening, whatever
sound arose in so secluded a district--the chirp of a bird, a call
from a voice, the turning of a wheel--extended over bush and tree
to unwonted distances. Very few sounds did arise. But as Grace
invisibly breathed in the brown glooms of the chamber, the small
remote noise of light wheels came in to her, accompanied by the
trot of a horse on the turnpike-road. There seemed to be a sudden
hitch or pause in the progress of the vehicle, which was what
first drew her attention to it. She knew the point whence the
sound proceeded--the hill-top over which travellers passed on
their way hitherward from Sherton Abbas--the place at which she
had emerged from the wood with Mrs. Charmond. Grace slid along
the floor, and bent her head over the window-sill, listening with
open lips. The carriage had stopped, and she heard a man use
exclamatory words. Then another said, "What the devil is the
matter with the horse?" She recognized the voice as her husband's.
The accident, such as it had been, was soon remedied, and the
carriage could be heard descending the hill on the Hintock side,
soon to turn into the lane leading out of the highway, and then
into the "drong" which led out of the lane to the house where she
A spasm passed through Grace. The Daphnean instinct,
exceptionally strong in her as a girl, had been revived by her
widowed seclusion; and it was not lessened by her affronted
sentiments towards the comer, and her regard for another man. She
opened some little ivory tablets that lay on the dressing-table,
scribbled in pencil on one of them, "I am gone to visit one of my
school-friends," gathered a few toilet necessaries into a handbag,
and not three minutes after that voice had been heard, her
slim form, hastily wrapped up from observation, might have been
seen passing out of the back door of Melbury's house. Thence she
skimmed up the garden-path, through the gap in the hedge, and into
the mossy cart-track under the trees which led into the depth of
the woods.
The leaves overhead were now in their latter green--so opaque,
that it was darker at some of the densest spots than in wintertime,
scarce a crevice existing by which a ray could get down to
the ground. But in open places she could see well enough. Summer
was ending: in the daytime singing insects hung in every sunbeam;
vegetation was heavy nightly with globes of dew; and after showers
creeping damps and twilight chills came up from the hollows. The
plantations were always weird at this hour of eve--more spectral
far than in the leafless season, when there were fewer masses and
more minute lineality. The smooth surfaces of glossy plants came
out like weak, lidless eyes; there were strange faces and figures
from expiring lights that had somehow wandered into the canopied
obscurity; while now and then low peeps of the sky between the
trunks were like sheeted shapes, and on the tips of boughs sat
faint cloven tongues.
But Grace's fear just now was not imaginative or spiritual, and
she heeded these impressions but little. She went on as silently
as she could, avoiding the hollows wherein leaves had accumulated,
and stepping upon soundless moss and grass-tufts. She paused
breathlessly once or twice, and fancied that she could hear, above
the beat of her strumming pulse, the vehicle containing Fitzpiers
turning in at the gate of her father's premises. She hastened on
The Hintock woods owned by Mrs. Charmond were presently left
behind, and those into which she next plunged were divided from
the latter by a bank, from whose top the hedge had long ago
perished--starved for want of sun. It was with some caution that
Grace now walked, though she was quite free from any of the
commonplace timidities of her ordinary pilgrimages to such spots.
She feared no lurking harms, but that her effort would be all in
vain, and her return to the house rendered imperative.
She had walked between three and four miles when that prescriptive
comfort and relief to wanderers in woods--a distant light--broke
at last upon her searching eyes. It was so very small as to be
almost sinister to a stranger, but to her it was what she sought.
She pushed forward, and the dim outline of a dwelling was
The house was a square cot of one story only, sloping up on all
sides to a chimney in the midst. It had formerly been the home of
a charcoal-burner, in times when that fuel was still used in the
county houses. Its only appurtenance was a paled enclosure, there
being no garden, the shade of the trees preventing the growth of
vegetables. She advanced to the window whence the rays of light
proceeded, and the shutters being as yet unclosed, she could
survey the whole interior through the panes.
The room within was kitchen, parlor, and scullery all in one; the
natural sandstone floor was worn into hills and dales by long
treading, so that none of the furniture stood level, and the table
slanted like a desk. A fire burned on the hearth, in front of
which revolved the skinned carcass of a rabbit, suspended by a
string from a nail. Leaning with one arm on the mantle-shelf
stood Winterborne, his eyes on the roasting animal, his face so
rapt that speculation could build nothing on it concerning his
thoughts, more than that they were not with the scene before him.
She thought his features had changed a little since she saw them
last. The fire-light did not enable her to perceive that they
were positively haggard.
Grace's throat emitted a gasp of relief at finding the result so
nearly as she had hoped. She went to the door and tapped lightly.
He seemed to be accustomed to the noises of woodpeckers,
squirrels, and such small creatures, for he took no notice of her
tiny signal, and she knocked again. This time he came and opened
the door. When the light of the room fell upon her face he
started, and, hardly knowing what he did, crossed the threshold to
her, placing his hands upon her two arms, while surprise, joy,
alarm, sadness, chased through him by turns. With Grace it was
the same: even in this stress there was the fond fact that they
had met again. Thus they stood,
"Long tears upon their faces, waxen white
With extreme sad delight."
He broke the silence by saying in a whisper, "Come in."
"No, no, Giles!" she answered, hurriedly, stepping yet farther
back from the door. "I am passing by--and I have called on you--I
won't enter. Will you help me? I am afraid. I want to get by a
roundabout way to Sherton, and so to Exbury. I have a schoolfellow
there--but I cannot get to Sherton alone. Oh, if you will
only accompany me a little way! Don't condemn me, Giles, and be
offended! I was obliged to come to you because--I have no other
help here. Three months ago you were my lover; now you are only
my friend. The law has stepped in, and forbidden what we thought
of. It must not be. But we can act honestly, and yet you can be
my friend for one little hour? I have no other--"
She could get no further. Covering her eyes with one hand, by an
effort of repression she wept a silent trickle, without a sigh or
sob. Winterborne took her other hand. "What has happened?" he
"He has come."
There was a stillness as of death, till Winterborne asked, "You
mean this, Grace--that I am to help you to get away?"
"Yes," said she. "Appearance is no matter, when the reality is
right. I have said to myself I can trust you."
Giles knew from this that she did not suspect his treachery--if it
could be called such--earlier in the summer, when they met for the
last time as lovers; and in the intensity of his contrition for
that tender wrong, he determined to deserve her faith now at
least, and so wipe out that reproach from his conscience. "I'll
come at once," he said. "I'll light a lantern."
He unhooked a dark-lantern from a nail under the eaves and she did
not notice how his hand shook with the slight strain, or dream
that in making this offer he was taxing a convalescence which
could ill afford such self-sacrifice. The lantern was lit, and
they started.
The first hundred yards of their course lay under motionless
trees, whose upper foliage began to hiss with falling drops of
rain. By the time that they emerged upon a glade it rained
"This is awkward," said Grace, with an effort to hide her concern.
Winterborne stopped. "Grace," he said, preserving a strictly
business manner which belied him, "you cannot go to Sherton tonight."
"But I must!"
"Why? It is nine miles from here. It is almost an impossibility
in this rain."
"True--WHY?" she replied, mournfully, at the end of a silence.
"What is reputation to me?"
"Now hearken," said Giles. "You won't--go back to your--"
"No, no, no! Don't make me!" she cried, piteously.
"Then let us turn." They slowly retraced their steps, and again
stood before his door. "Now, this house from this moment is
yours, and not mine," he said, deliberately. "I have a place near
by where I can stay very well."
Her face had drooped. "Oh!" she murmured, as she saw the dilemma.
"What have I done!"
There was a smell of something burning within, and he looked
through the window. The rabbit that he had been cooking to coax a
weak appetite was beginning to char. "Please go in and attend to
it," he said. "Do what you like. Now I leave. You will find
everything about the hut that is necessary."
"But, Giles--your supper," she exclaimed. "An out-house would do
for me--anything--till to-morrow at day-break!"
He signified a negative. "I tell you to go in--you may catch
agues out here in your delicate state. You can give me my supper
through the window, if you feel well enough. I'll wait a while."
He gently urged her to pass the door-way, and was relieved when he
saw her within the room sitting down. Without so much as crossing
the threshold himself, he closed the door upon her, and turned the
key in the lock. Tapping at the window, he signified that she
should open the casement, and when she had done this he handed in
the key to her.
"You are locked in," he said; "and your own mistress."
Even in her trouble she could not refrain from a faint smile at
his scrupulousness, as she took the door-key.
"Do you feel better?" he went on. "If so, and you wish to give me
some of your supper, please do. If not, it is of no importance.
I can get some elsewhere."
The grateful sense of his kindness stirred her to action, though
she only knew half what that kindness really was. At the end of
some ten minutes she again came to the window, pushed it open, and
said in a whisper, "Giles!" He at once emerged from the shade,
and saw that she was preparing to hand him his share of the meal
upon a plate.
"I don't like to treat you so hardly," she murmured, with deep
regret in her words as she heard the rain pattering on the leaves.
"But--I suppose it is best to arrange like this?"
"Oh yes," he said, quickly.
"I feel that I could never have reached Sherton."
"It was impossible."
"Are you sure you have a snug place out there?" (With renewed
"Quite. Have you found everything you want? I am afraid it is
rather rough accommodation."
"Can I notice defects? I have long passed that stage, and you
know it, Giles, or you ought to."
His eyes sadly contemplated her face as its pale responsiveness
modulated through a crowd of expressions that showed only too
clearly to what a pitch she was strung. If ever Winterborne's
heart fretted his bosom it was at this sight of a perfectly
defenceless creature conditioned by such circumstances. He forgot
his own agony in the satisfaction of having at least found her a
shelter. He took his plate and cup from her hands, saying, "Now
I'll push the shutter to, and you will find an iron pin on the
inside, which you must fix into the bolt. Do not stir in the
morning till I come and call you."
She expressed an alarmed hope that he would not go very far away.
"Oh no--I shall be quite within hail," said Winterborne.
She bolted the window as directed, and he retreated. His snug
place proved to be a wretched little shelter of the roughest kind,
formed of four hurdles thatched with brake-fern. Underneath were
dry sticks, hay, and other litter of the sort, upon which he sat
down; and there in the dark tried to eat his meal. But his
appetite was quite gone. He pushed the plate aside, and shook up
the hay and sacks, so as to form a rude couch, on which he flung
himself down to sleep, for it was getting late.
But sleep he could not, for many reasons, of which not the least
was thought of his charge. He sat up, and looked towards the cot
through the damp obscurity. With all its external features the
same as usual, he could scarcely believe that it contained the
dear friend--he would not use a warmer name--who had come to him
so unexpectedly, and, he could not help admitting, so rashly.
He had not ventured to ask her any particulars; but the position
was pretty clear without them. Though social law had negatived
forever their opening paradise of the previous June, it was not
without stoical pride that he accepted the present trying
conjuncture. There was one man on earth in whom she believed
absolutely, and he was that man. That this crisis could end in
nothing but sorrow was a view for a moment effaced by this
triumphant thought of her trust in him; and the purity of the
affection with which he responded to that trust rendered him more
than proof against any frailty that besieged him in relation to
The rain, which had never ceased, now drew his attention by
beginning to drop through the meagre screen that covered him. He
rose to attempt some remedy for this discomfort, but the trembling
of his knees and the throbbing of his pulse told him that in his
weakness he was unable to fence against the storm, and he lay down
to bear it as best he might. He was angry with himself for his
feebleness--he who had been so strong. It was imperative that she
should know nothing of his present state, and to do that she must
not see his face by daylight, for its color would inevitably
betray him.
The next morning, accordingly, when it was hardly light, he rose
and dragged his stiff limbs about the precincts, preparing for her
everything she could require for getting breakfast within. On the
bench outside the window-sill he placed water, wood, and other
necessaries, writing with a piece of chalk beside them, "It is
best that I should not see you. Put my breakfast on the bench."
At seven o'clock he tapped at her window, as he had promised,
retreating at once, that she might not catch sight of him. But
from his shelter under the boughs he could see her very well,
when, in response to his signal, she opened the window and the
light fell upon her face. The languid largeness of her eyes
showed that her sleep had been little more than his own, and the
pinkness of their lids, that her waking hours had not been free
from tears.
She read the writing, seemed, he thought, disappointed, but took
up the materials he had provided, evidently thinking him some way
off. Giles waited on, assured that a girl who, in spite of her
culture, knew what country life was, would find no difficulty in
the simple preparation of their food.
Within the cot it was all very much as he conjectured, though
Grace had slept much longer than he. After the loneliness of the
night, she would have been glad to see him; but appreciating his
feeling when she read the writing, she made no attempt to recall
him. She found abundance of provisions laid in, his plan being to
replenish his buttery weekly, and this being the day after the
victualling van had called from Sherton. When the meal was ready,
she put what he required outside, as she had done with the supper;
and, notwithstanding her longing to see him, withdrew from the
window promptly, and left him to himself.
It had been a leaden dawn, and the rain now steadily renewed its
fall. As she heard no more of Winterborne, she concluded that he
had gone away to his daily work, and forgotten that he had
promised to accompany her to Sherton; an erroneous conclusion, for
he remained all day, by force of his condition, within fifty yards
of where she was. The morning wore on; and in her doubt when to
start, and how to travel, she lingered yet, keeping the door
carefully bolted, lest an intruder should discover her. Locked in
this place, she was comparatively safe, at any rate, and doubted
if she would be safe elsewhere.
The humid gloom of an ordinary wet day was doubled by the shade
and drip of the leafage. Autumn, this year, was coming in with
rains. Gazing, in her enforced idleness, from the one window of
the living-room, she could see various small members of the animal
community that lived unmolested there--creatures of hair, fluff,
and scale, the toothed kind and the billed kind; underground
creatures, jointed and ringed--circumambulating the hut, under the
impression that, Giles having gone away, nobody was there; and
eying it inquisitively with a view to winter-quarters. Watching
these neighbors, who knew neither law nor sin, distracted her a
little from her trouble; and she managed to while away some
portion of the afternoon by putting Giles's home in order and
making little improvements which she deemed that he would value
when she was gone.
Once or twice she fancied that she heard a faint noise amid the
trees, resembling a cough; but as it never came any nearer she
concluded that it was a squirrel or a bird.
At last the daylight lessened, and she made up a larger fire for
the evenings were chilly. As soon as it was too dark--which was
comparatively early--to discern the human countenance in this
place of shadows, there came to the window to her great delight, a
tapping which she knew from its method to be Giles's.
She opened the casement instantly, and put out her hand to him,
though she could only just perceive his outline. He clasped her
fingers, and she noticed the heat of his palm and its shakiness.
"He has been walking fast, in order to get here quickly," she
thought. How could she know that he had just crawled out from the
straw of the shelter hard by; and that the heat of his hand was
"My dear, good Giles!" she burst out, impulsively.
"Anybody would have done it for you," replied Winterborne, with as
much matter-of-fact as he could summon.
"About my getting to Exbury?" she said.
"I have been thinking," responded Giles, with tender deference,
"that you had better stay where you are for the present, if you
wish not to be caught. I need not tell you that the place is
yours as long as you like; and perhaps in a day or two, finding
you absent, he will go away. At any rate, in two or three days I
could do anything to assist--such as make inquiries, or go a great
way towards Sherton-Abbas with you; for the cider season will soon
be coming on, and I want to run down to the Vale to see how the
crops are, and I shall go by the Sherton road. But for a day or
two I am busy here." He was hoping that by the time mentioned he
would be strong enough to engage himself actively on her behalf.
"I hope you do not feel over-much melancholy in being a prisoner?"
She declared that she did not mind it; but she sighed.
From long acquaintance they could read each other's heart-symptoms
like books of large type. "I fear you are sorry you came," said
Giles, "and that you think I should have advised you more firmly
than I did not to stay."
"Oh no, dear, dear friend," answered Grace, with a heaving bosom.
"Don't think that that is what I regret. What I regret is my
enforced treatment of you--dislodging you, excluding you from your
own house. Why should I not speak out? You know what I feel for
you--what I have felt for no other living man, what I shall never
feel for a man again! But as I have vowed myself to somebody else
than you, and cannot be released, I must behave as I do behave,
and keep that vow. I am not bound to him by any divine law, after
what he has done; but I have promised, and I will pay."
The rest of the evening was passed in his handing her such things
as she would require the next day, and casual remarks thereupon,
an occupation which diverted her mind to some degree from pathetic
views of her attitude towards him, and of her life in general.
The only infringement--if infringement it could be called--of his
predetermined bearing towards her was an involuntary pressing of
her hand to his lips when she put it through the casement to bid
him good-night. He knew she was weeping, though he could not see
her tears.
She again entreated his forgiveness for so selfishly appropriating
the cottage. But it would only be for a day or two more, she
thought, since go she must.
He replied, yearningly, "I--I don't like you to go away."
"Oh, Giles," said she, "I know--I know! But--I am a woman, and you
are a man. I cannot speak more plainly. 'Whatsoever things are
pure, whatsoever things are of good report'--you know what is in
my mind, because you know me so well."
"Yes, Grace, yes. I do not at all mean that the question between
us has not been settled by the fact of your marriage turning out
hopelessly unalterable. I merely meant--well, a feeling no more."
"In a week, at the outside, I should be discovered if I stayed
here: and I think that by law he could compel me to return to
"Yes; perhaps you are right. Go when you wish, dear Grace."
His last words that evening were a hopeful remark that all might
be well with her yet; that Mr. Fitzpiers would not intrude upon
her life, if he found that his presence cost her so much pain.
Then the window was closed, the shutters folded, and the rustle of
his footsteps died away.
No sooner had she retired to rest that night than the wind began
to rise, and, after a few prefatory blasts, to be accompanied by
rain. The wind grew more violent, and as the storm went on, it
was difficult to believe that no opaque body, but only an
invisible colorless thing, was trampling and climbing over the
roof, making branches creak, springing out of the trees upon the
chimney, popping its head into the flue, and shrieking and
blaspheming at every corner of the walls. As in the old story,
the assailant was a spectre which could be felt but not seen. She
had never before been so struck with the devilry of a gusty night
in a wood, because she had never been so entirely alone in spirit
as she was now. She seemed almost to be apart from herself--a
vacuous duplicate only. The recent self of physical animation and
clear intentions was not there.
Sometimes a bough from an adjoining tree was swayed so low as to
smite the roof in the manner of a gigantic hand smiting the mouth
of an adversary, to be followed by a trickle of rain, as blood
from the wound. To all this weather Giles must be more or less
exposed; how much, she did not know.
At last Grace could hardly endure the idea of such a hardship in
relation to him. Whatever he was suffering, it was she who had
caused it; he vacated his house on account of her. She was not
worth such self-sacrifice; she should not have accepted it of him.
And then, as her anxiety increased with increasing thought, there
returned upon her mind some incidents of her late intercourse with
him, which she had heeded but little at the time. The look of his
face--what had there been about his face which seemed different
from its appearance as of yore? Was it not thinner, less rich in
hue, less like that of ripe autumn's brother to whom she had
formerly compared him? And his voice; she had distinctly noticed a
change in tone. And his gait; surely it had been feebler,
stiffer, more like the gait of a weary man. That slight
occasional noise she had heard in the day, and attributed to
squirrels, it might have been his cough after all.
Thus conviction took root in her perturbed mind that Winterborne
was ill, or had been so, and that he had carefully concealed his
condition from her that she might have no scruples about accepting
a hospitality which by the nature of the case expelled her
"My own, own, true l---, my dear kind friend!" she cried to
herself. "Oh, it shall not be--it shall not be!"
She hastily wrapped herself up, and obtained a light, with which
she entered the adjoining room, the cot possessing only one floor.
Setting down the candle on the table here, she went to the door
with the key in her hand, and placed it in the lock. Before
turning it she paused, her fingers still clutching it; and
pressing her other hand to her forehead, she fell into agitating
A tattoo on the window, caused by the tree-droppings blowing
against it, brought her indecision to a close. She turned the key
and opened the door.
The darkness was intense, seeming to touch her pupils like a
substance. She only now became aware how heavy the rainfall had
been and was; the dripping of the eaves splashed like a fountain.
She stood listening with parted lips, and holding the door in one
hand, till her eyes, growing accustomed to the obscurity,
discerned the wild brandishing of their boughs by the adjoining
trees. At last she cried loudly with an effort, "Giles! you may
come in!"
There was no immediate answer to her cry, and overpowered by her
own temerity, Grace retreated quickly, shut the door, and stood
looking on the floor. But it was not for long. She again lifted
the latch, and with far more determination than at first.
"Giles, Giles!" she cried, with the full strength of her voice,
and without any of the shamefacedness that had characterized her
first cry. "Oh, come in--come in! Where are you? I have been
wicked. I have thought too much of myself! Do you hear? I don't
want to keep you out any longer. I cannot bear that you should
suffer so. Gi-i-iles!"
A reply! It was a reply! Through the darkness and wind a voice
reached her, floating upon the weather as though a part of it.
"Here I am--all right. Don't trouble about me."
"Don't you want to come in? Are you not ill? I don't mind what
they say, or what they think any more."
"I am all right," he repeated. "It is not necessary for me to
come. Good-night! good-night!"
Grace sighed, turned and shut the door slowly. Could she have
been mistaken about his health? Perhaps, after all, she had
perceived a change in him because she had not seen him for so
long. Time sometimes did his ageing work in jerks, as she knew.
Well, she had done all she could. He would not come in. She
retired to rest again.
The next morning Grace was at the window early. She felt
determined to see him somehow that day, and prepared his breakfast
eagerly. Eight o'clock struck, and she had remembered that he had
not come to arouse her by a knocking, as usual, her own anxiety
having caused her to stir.
The breakfast was set in its place without. But he did not arrive
to take it; and she waited on. Nine o'clock arrived, and the
breakfast was cold; and still there was no Giles. A thrush, that
had been repeating itself a good deal on an opposite bush for some
time, came and took a morsel from the plate and bolted it, waited,
looked around, and took another. At ten o'clock she drew in the
tray, and sat down to her own solitary meal. He must have been
called away on business early, the rain having cleared off.
Yet she would have liked to assure herself, by thoroughly
exploring the precincts of the hut, that he was nowhere in its
vicinity; but as the day was comparatively fine, the dread lest
some stray passenger or woodman should encounter her in such a
reconnoitre paralyzed her wish. The solitude was further
accentuated to-day by the stopping of the clock for want of
winding, and the fall into the chimney-corner of flakes of soot
loosened by the rains. At noon she heard a slight rustling
outside the window, and found that it was caused by an eft which
had crept out of the leaves to bask in the last sun-rays that
would be worth having till the following May.
She continually peeped out through the lattice, but could see
little. In front lay the brown leaves of last year, and upon them
some yellowish-green ones of this season that had been prematurely
blown down by the gale. Above stretched an old beech, with vast
armpits, and great pocket-holes in its sides where branches had
been amputated in past times; a black slug was trying to climb it.
Dead boughs were scattered about like ichthyosauri in a museum,
and beyond them were perishing woodbine stems resembling old
From the other window all she could see were more trees, jacketed
with lichen and stockinged with moss. At their roots were
stemless yellow fungi like lemons and apricots, and tall fungi
with more stem than stool. Next were more trees close together,
wrestling for existence, their branches disfigured with wounds
resulting from their mutual rubbings and blows. It was the
struggle between these neighbors that she had heard in the night.
Beneath them were the rotting stumps of those of the group that
had been vanquished long ago, rising from their mossy setting like
decayed teeth from green gums. Farther on were other tufts of
moss in islands divided by the shed leaves--variety upon variety,
dark green and pale green; moss-like little fir-trees, like plush,
like malachite stars, like nothing on earth except moss.
The strain upon Grace's mind in various ways was so great on this
the most desolate day she had passed there that she felt it would
be well-nigh impossible to spend another in such circumstances.
The evening came at last; the sun, when its chin was on the earth,
found an opening through which to pierce the shade, and stretched
irradiated gauzes across the damp atmosphere, making the wet
trunks shine, and throwing splotches of such ruddiness on the
leaves beneath the beech that they were turned to gory hues. When
night at last arrived, and with it the time for his return, she
was nearly broken down with suspense.
The simple evening meal, partly tea, partly supper, which Grace
had prepared, stood waiting upon the hearth; and yet Giles did not
come. It was now nearly twenty-four hours since she had seen him.
As the room grew darker, and only the firelight broke against the
gloom of the walls, she was convinced that it would be beyond her
staying power to pass the night without hearing from him or from
somebody. Yet eight o'clock drew on, and his form at the window
did not appear.
The meal remained untasted. Suddenly rising from before the
hearth of smouldering embers, where she had been crouching with
her hands clasped over her knees, she crossed the room, unlocked
the door, and listened. Every breath of wind had ceased with the
decline of day, but the rain had resumed the steady dripping of
the night before. Grace might have stood there five minutes when
she fancied she heard that old sound, a cough, at no great
distance; and it was presently repeated. If it were
Winterborne's, he must be near her; why, then, had he not visited
A horrid misgiving that he could not visit her took possession of
Grace, and she looked up anxiously for the lantern, which was
hanging above her head. To light it and go in the direction of
the sound would be the obvious way to solve the dread problem; but
the conditions made her hesitate, and in a moment a cold sweat
pervaded her at further sounds from the same quarter.
They were low mutterings; at first like persons in conversation,
but gradually resolving themselves into varieties of one voice.
It was an endless monologue, like that we sometimes hear from
inanimate nature in deep secret places where water flows, or where
ivy leaves flap against stones; but by degrees she was convinced
that the voice was Winterborne's. Yet who could be his listener,
so mute and patient; for though he argued so rapidly and
persistently, nobody replied.
A dreadful enlightenment spread through the mind of Grace. "Oh,"
she cried, in her anguish, as she hastily prepared herself to go
out, "how selfishly correct I am always--too, too correct! Cruel
propriety is killing the dearest heart that ever woman clasped to
her own."
While speaking thus to herself she had lit the lantern, and
hastening out without further thought, took the direction whence
the mutterings had proceeded. The course was marked by a little
path, which ended at a distance of about forty yards in a small
erection of hurdles, not much larger than a shock of corn, such as
were frequent in the woods and copses when the cutting season was
going on. It was too slight even to be called a hovel, and was
not high enough to stand upright in; appearing, in short, to be
erected for the temporary shelter of fuel. The side towards Grace
was open, and turning the light upon the interior, she beheld what
her prescient fear had pictured in snatches all the way thither.
Upon the straw within, Winterborne lay in his clothes, just as she
had seen him during the whole of her stay here, except that his
hat was off, and his hair matted and wild.
Both his clothes and the straw were saturated with rain. His arms
were flung over his head; his face was flushed to an unnatural
crimson. His eyes had a burning brightness, and though they met
her own, she perceived that he did not recognize her.
"Oh, my Giles," she cried, "what have I done to you!"
But she stopped no longer even to reproach herself. She saw that
the first thing to be thought of was to get him indoors.
How Grace performed that labor she never could have exactly
explained. But by dint of clasping her arms round him, rearing
him into a sitting posture, and straining her strength to the
uttermost, she put him on one of the hurdles that was loose
alongside, and taking the end of it in both her hands, dragged him
along the path to the entrance of the hut, and, after a pause for
breath, in at the door-way.
It was somewhat singular that Giles in his semi-conscious state
acquiesced unresistingly in all that she did. But he never for a
moment recognized her--continuing his rapid conversation to
himself, and seeming to look upon her as some angel, or other
supernatural creature of the visionary world in which he was
mentally living. The undertaking occupied her more than ten
minutes; but by that time, to her great thankfulness, he was in
the inner room, lying on the bed, his damp outer clothing removed.
Then the unhappy Grace regarded him by the light of the candle.
There was something in his look which agonized her, in the rush of
his thoughts, accelerating their speed from minute to minute. He
seemed to be passing through the universe of ideas like a comet--
erratic, inapprehensible, untraceable.
Grace's distraction was almost as great as his. In a few moments
she firmly believed he was dying. Unable to withstand her
impulse, she knelt down beside him, kissed his hands and his face
and his hair, exclaiming, in a low voice, "How could I? How could
Her timid morality had, indeed, underrated his chivalry till now,
though she knew him so well. The purity of his nature, his
freedom from the grosser passions, his scrupulous delicacy, had
never been fully understood by Grace till this strange selfsacrifice
in lonely juxtaposition to her own person was revealed.
The perception of it added something that was little short of
reverence to the deep affection for him of a woman who, herself,
had more of Artemis than of Aphrodite in her constitution.
All that a tender nurse could do, Grace did; and the power to
express her solicitude in action, unconscious though the sufferer
was, brought her mournful satisfaction. She bathed his hot head,
wiped his perspiring hands, moistened his lips, cooled his fiery
eyelids, sponged his heated skin, and administered whatever she
could find in the house that the imagination could conceive as
likely to be in any way alleviating. That she might have been the
cause, or partially the cause, of all this, interfused misery with
her sorrow.
Six months before this date a scene, almost similar in its
mechanical parts, had been enacted at Hintock House. It was
between a pair of persons most intimately connected in their lives
with these. Outwardly like as it had been, it was yet infinite in
spiritual difference, though a woman's devotion had been common to
Grace rose from her attitude of affection, and, bracing her
energies, saw that something practical must immediately be done.
Much as she would have liked, in the emotion of the moment, to
keep him entirely to herself, medical assistance was necessary
while there remained a possibility of preserving him alive. Such
assistance was fatal to her own concealment; but even had the
chance of benefiting him been less than it was, she would have run
the hazard for his sake. The question was, where should she get a
medical man, competent and near?
There was one such man, and only one, within accessible distance;
a man who, if it were possible to save Winterborne's life, had the
brain most likely to do it. If human pressure could bring him,
that man ought to be brought to the sick Giles's side. The
attempt should be made.
Yet she dreaded to leave her patient, and the minutes raced past,
and yet she postponed her departure. At last, when it was after
eleven o'clock, Winterborne fell into a fitful sleep, and it
seemed to afford her an opportunity.
She hastily made him as comfortable as she could, put on her
things, cut a new candle from the bunch hanging in the cupboard,
and having set it up, and placed it so that the light did not fall
upon his eyes, she closed the door and started.
The spirit of Winterborne seemed to keep her company and banish
all sense of darkness from her mind. The rains had imparted a
phosphorescence to the pieces of touchwood and rotting leaves that
lay about her path, which, as scattered by her feet, spread abroad
like spilt milk. She would not run the hazard of losing her way
by plunging into any short, unfrequented track through the denser
parts of the woodland, but followed a more open course, which
eventually brought her to the highway. Once here, she ran along
with great speed, animated by a devoted purpose which had much
about it that was stoical; and it was with scarcely any faltering
of spirit that, after an hour's progress, she passed over Rubdown
Hill, and onward towards that same Hintock, and that same house,
out of which she had fled a few days before in irresistible alarm.
But that had happened which, above all other things of chance and
change, could make her deliberately frustrate her plan of flight
and sink all regard of personal consequences.
One speciality of Fitzpiers's was respected by Grace as much as
ever--his professional skill. In this she was right. Had his
persistence equalled his insight, instead of being the spasmodic
and fitful thing it was, fame and fortune need never have remained
a wish with him. His freedom from conventional errors and crusted
prejudices had, indeed, been such as to retard rather than
accelerate his advance in Hintock and its neighborhood, where
people could not believe that nature herself effected cures, and
that the doctor's business was only to smooth the way.
It was past midnight when Grace arrived opposite her father's
house, now again temporarily occupied by her husband, unless he
had already gone away. Ever since her emergence from the denser
plantations about Winterborne's residence a pervasive lightness
had hung in the damp autumn sky, in spite of the vault of cloud,
signifying that a moon of some age was shining above its arch.
The two white gates were distinct, and the white balls on the
pillars, and the puddles and damp ruts left by the recent rain,
had a cold, corpse-eyed luminousness. She entered by the lower
gate, and crossed the quadrangle to the wing wherein the
apartments that had been hers since her marriage were situate,
till she stood under a window which, if her husband were in the
house, gave light to his bedchamber.
She faltered, and paused with her hand on her heart, in spite of
herself. Could she call to her presence the very cause of all her
foregoing troubles? Alas!--old Jones was seven miles off; Giles
was possibly dying--what else could she do?
It was in a perspiration, wrought even more by consciousness than
by exercise, that she picked up some gravel, threw it at the
panes, and waited to see the result. The night-bell which had
been fixed when Fitzpiers first took up his residence there still
remained; but as it had fallen into disuse with the collapse of
his practice, and his elopement, she did not venture to pull it
Whoever slept in the room had heard her signal, slight as it was.
In half a minute the window was opened, and a voice said "Yes?"
inquiringly. Grace recognized her husband in the speaker at once.
Her effort was now to disguise her own accents.
"Doctor," she said, in as unusual a tone as she could command, "a
man is dangerously ill in One-chimney Hut, out towards Delborough,
and you must go to him at once--in all mercy!"
"I will, readily."
The alacrity, surprise, and pleasure expressed in his reply amazed
her for a moment. But, in truth, they denoted the sudden relief
of a man who, having got back in a mood of contrition, from
erratic abandonment to fearful joys, found the soothing routine of
professional practice unexpectedly opening anew to him. The
highest desire of his soul just now was for a respectable life of
painstaking. If this, his first summons since his return, had
been to attend upon a cat or dog, he would scarcely have refused
it in the circumstances.
"Do you know the way?" she asked.
"Yes," said he.
"One-chimney Hut," she repeated. "And--immediately!"
"Yes, yes," said Fitzpiers.
Grace remained no longer. She passed out of the white gate
without slamming it, and hastened on her way back. Her husband,
then, had re-entered her father's house. How he had been able to
effect a reconciliation with the old man, what were the terms of
the treaty between them, she could not so much as conjecture.
Some sort of truce must have been entered into, that was all she
could say. But close as the question lay to her own life, there
was a more urgent one which banished it; and she traced her steps
quickly along the meandering track-ways.
Meanwhile, Fitzpiers was preparing to leave the house. The state
of his mind, over and above his professional zeal, was peculiar.
At Grace's first remark he had not recognized or suspected her
presence; but as she went on, he was awakened to the great
resemblance of the speaker's voice to his wife's. He had taken in
such good faith the statement of the household on his arrival,
that she had gone on a visit for a time because she could not at
once bring her mind to be reconciled to him, that he could not
quite actually believe this comer to be she. It was one of the
features of Fitzpiers's repentant humor at this date that, on
receiving the explanation of her absence, he had made no attempt
to outrage her feelings by following her; though nobody had
informed him how very shortly her departure had preceded his
entry, and of all that might have been inferred from her
Melbury, after much alarm and consideration, had decided not to
follow her either. He sympathized with her flight, much as he
deplored it; moreover, the tragic color of the antecedent events
that he had been a great means of creating checked his instinct to
interfere. He prayed and trusted that she had got into no danger
on her way (as he supposed) to Sherton, and thence to Exbury, if
that were the place she had gone to, forbearing all inquiry which
the strangeness of her departure would have made natural. A few
months before this time a performance by Grace of one-tenth the
magnitude of this would have aroused him to unwonted
It was in the same spirit that he had tacitly assented to
Fitzpiers's domicilation there. The two men had not met face to
face, but Mrs. Melbury had proposed herself as an intermediary,
who made the surgeon's re-entrance comparatively easy to him.
Everything was provisional, and nobody asked questions. Fitzpiers
had come in the performance of a plan of penitence, which had
originated in circumstances hereafter to be explained; his selfhumiliation
to the very bass-string was deliberate; and as soon as
a call reached him from the bedside of a dying man his desire was
to set to work and do as much good as he could with the least
possible fuss or show. He therefore refrained from calling up a
stableman to get ready any horse or gig, and set out for Onechimney
Hut on foot, as Grace had done.
She re-entered the hut, flung off her bonnet and cloak, and
approached the sufferer. He had begun anew those terrible
mutterings, and his hands were cold. As soon as she saw him there
returned to her that agony of mind which the stimulus of her
journey had thrown off for a time.
Could he really be dying? She bathed him, kissed him, forgot all
things but the fact that lying there before her was he who had
loved her more than the mere lover would have loved; had martyred
himself for her comfort, cared more for her self-respect than she
had thought of caring. This mood continued till she heard quick,
smart footsteps without; she knew whose footsteps they were.
Grace sat on the inside of the bed against the wall, holding
Giles's hand, so that when her husband entered the patient lay
between herself and him. He stood transfixed at first, noticing
Grace only. Slowly he dropped his glance and discerned who the
prostrate man was. Strangely enough, though Grace's distaste for
her husband's company had amounted almost to dread, and culminated
in actual flight, at this moment her last and least feeling was
personal. Sensitive femininity was eclipsed by self-effacing
purpose, and that it was a husband who stood there was forgotten.
The first look that possessed her face was relief; satisfaction at
the presence of the physician obliterated thought of the man,
which only returned in the form of a sub-consciousness that did
not interfere with her words.
"Is he dying--is there any hope?" she cried.
"Grace!" said Fitzpiers, in an indescribable whisper--more than
invocating, if not quite deprecatory.
He was arrested by the spectacle, not so much in its intrinsic
character--though that was striking enough to a man who called
himself the husband of the sufferer's friend and nurse--but in its
character as the counterpart of one that had its hour many months
before, in which he had figured as the patient, and the woman had
been Felice Charmond.
"Is he in great danger--can you save him?" she cried again.
Fitzpiers aroused himself, came a little nearer, and examined
Winterborne as he stood. His inspection was concluded in a mere
glance. Before he spoke he looked at her contemplatively as to
the effect of his coming words.
"He is dying," he said, with dry precision.
"What?" said she.
"Nothing can be done, by me or any other man. It will soon be all
over. The extremities are dead already." His eyes still remained
fixed on her; the conclusion to which he had come seeming to end
his interest, professional and otherwise, in Winterborne forever.
"But it cannot be! He was well three days ago."
"Not well, I suspect. This seems like a secondary attack, which
has followed some previous illness--possibly typhoid--it may have
been months ago, or recently."
"Ah--he was not well--you are right. He was ill--he was ill when
I came."
There was nothing more to do or say. She crouched down at the
side of the bed, and Fitzpiers took a seat. Thus they remained in
silence, and long as it lasted she never turned her eyes, or
apparently her thoughts, at all to her husband. He occasionally
murmured, with automatic authority, some slight directions for
alleviating the pain of the dying man, which she mechanically
obeyed, bending over him during the intervals in silent tears.
Winterborne never recovered consciousness of what was passing; and
that he was going became soon perceptible also to her. In less
than an hour the delirium ceased; then there was an interval of
somnolent painlessness and soft breathing, at the end of which
Winterborne passed quietly away.
Then Fitzpiers broke the silence. "Have you lived here long?"
said he.
Grace was wild with sorrow--with all that had befallen her--with
the cruelties that had attacked her--with life--with Heaven. She
answered at random. "Yes. By what right do you ask?"
"Don't think I claim any right," said Fitzpiers, sadly. "It is
for you to do and say what you choose. I admit, quite as much as
you feel, that I am a vagabond--a brute--not worthy to possess the
smallest fragment of you. But here I am, and I have happened to
take sufficient interest in you to make that inquiry."
"He is everything to me!" said Grace, hardly heeding her husband,
and laying her hand reverently on the dead man's eyelids, where
she kept it a long time, pressing down their lashes with gentle
touches, as if she were stroking a little bird.
He watched her a while, and then glanced round the chamber where
his eyes fell upon a few dressing necessaries that she had
"Grace--if I may call you so," he said, "I have been already
humiliated almost to the depths. I have come back since you
refused to join me elsewhere--I have entered your father's house,
and borne all that that cost me without flinching, because I have
felt that I deserved humiliation. But is there a yet greater
humiliation in store for me? You say you have been living here--
that he is everything to you. Am I to draw from that the obvious,
the extremest inference?"
Triumph at any price is sweet to men and women--especially the
latter. It was her first and last opportunity of repaying him for
the cruel contumely which she had borne at his hands so docilely.
"Yes," she answered; and there was that in her subtly compounded
nature which made her feel a thrill of pride as she did so.
Yet the moment after she had so mightily belied her character she
half repented. Her husband had turned as white as the wall behind
him. It seemed as if all that remained to him of life and spirit
had been abstracted at a stroke. Yet he did not move, and in his
efforts at self-control closed his mouth together as a vice. His
determination was fairly successful, though she saw how very much
greater than she had expected her triumph had been. Presently he
looked across at Winterborne.
"Would it startle you to hear," he said, as if he hardly had
breath to utter the words, "that she who was to me what he was to
you is dead also?"
"Dead--SHE dead?" exclaimed Grace.
"Yes. Felice Charmond is where this young man is."
"Never!" said Grace, vehemently.
He went on without heeding the insinuation: "And I came back to
try to make it up with you--but--"
Fitzpiers rose, and moved across the room to go away, looking
downward with the droop of a man whose hope was turned to apathy,
if not despair. In going round the door his eye fell upon her
once more. She was still bending over the body of Winterborne,
her face close to the young man's.
"Have you been kissing him during his illness?" asked her husband.
"Since his fevered state set in?"
"On his lips?"
"Then you will do well to take a few drops of this in water as
soon as possible." He drew a small phial from his pocket and
returned to offer it to her.
Grace shook her head.
"If you don't do as I tell you you may soon be like him."
"I don't care. I wish to die."
"I'll put it here," said Fitzpiers, placing the bottle on a ledge
beside him. "The sin of not having warned you will not be upon my
head at any rate, among my other sins. I am now going, and I will
send somebody to you. Your father does not know that you are
here, so I suppose I shall be bound to tell him?"
Fitzpiers left the cot, and the stroke of his feet was soon
immersed in the silence that prevaded the spot. Grace remained
kneeling and weeping, she hardly knew how long, and then she sat
up, covered poor Giles's features, and went towards the door where
her husband had stood. No sign of any other comer greeted her
ear, the only perceptible sounds being the tiny cracklings of the
dead leaves, which, like a feather-bed, had not yet done rising to
their normal level where indented by the pressure of her husband's
receding footsteps. It reminded her that she had been struck with
the change in his aspect; the extremely intellectual look that had
always been in his face was wrought to a finer phase by thinness,
and a care-worn dignity had been superadded. She returned to
Winterborne's side, and during her meditations another tread drew
near the door, entered the outer room, and halted at the entrance
of the chamber where Grace was.
"What--Marty!" said Grace.
"Yes. I have heard," said Marty, whose demeanor had lost all its
girlishness under the stroke that seemed almost literally to have
bruised her.
"He died for me!" murmured Grace, heavily.
Marty did not fully comprehend; and she answered, "He belongs to
neither of us now, and your beauty is no more powerful with him
than my plainness. I have come to help you, ma'am. He never
cared for me, and he cared much for you; but he cares for us both
alike now."
"Oh don't, don't, Marty!"
Marty said no more, but knelt over Winterborne from the other
"Did you meet my hus--Mr. Fitzpiers?"
"Then what brought you here?"
"I come this way sometimes. I have got to go to the farther side
of the wood this time of the year, and am obliged to get there
before four o'clock in the morning, to begin heating the oven for
the early baking. I have passed by here often at this time."
Grace looked at her quickly. "Then did you know I was here?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Did you tell anybody?"
"No. I knew you lived in the hut, that he had gied it up to ye,
and lodged out himself."
"Did you know where he lodged?"
"No. That I couldn't find out. Was it at Delborough?"
"No. It was not there, Marty. Would it had been! It would have
saved--saved--" To check her tears she turned, and seeing a book
on the window-bench, took it up. "Look, Marty, this is a Psalter.
He was not an outwardly religious man, but he was pure and perfect
in his heart. Shall we read a psalm over him?"
"Oh yes--we will--with all my heart!"
Grace opened the thin brown book, which poor Giles had kept at
hand mainly for the convenience of whetting his pen-knife upon its
leather covers. She began to read in that rich, devotional voice
peculiar to women only on such occasions. When it was over, Marty
said, "I should like to pray for his soul."
"So should I," said her companion. "But we must not."
"Why? Nobody would know."
Grace could not resist the argument, influenced as she was by the
sense of making amends for having neglected him in the body; and
their tender voices united and filled the narrow room with
supplicatory murmurs that a Calvinist might have envied. They had
hardly ended when now and more numerous foot-falls were audible,
also persons in conversation, one of whom Grace recognized as her
She rose, and went to the outer apartment, in which there was only
such light as beamed from the inner one. Melbury and Mrs. Melbury
were standing there.
"I don't reproach you, Grace," said her father, with an estranged
manner, and in a voice not at all like his old voice. "What has
come upon you and us is beyond reproach, beyond weeping, and
beyond wailing. Perhaps I drove you to it. But I am hurt; I am
scourged; I am astonished. In the face of this there is nothing
to be said."
Without replying, Grace turned and glided back to the inner
chamber. "Marty," she said, quickly, "I cannot look my father in
the face until he knows the true circumstances of my life here.
Go and tell him--what you have told me--what you saw--that he gave
up his house to me."
She sat down, her face buried in her hands, and Marty went, and
after a short absence returned. Then Grace rose, and going out
asked her father if he had met her husband.
"Yes," said Melbury.
"And you know all that has happened?"
"I do. Forgive me, Grace, for suspecting ye of worse than
rashness--I ought to know ye better. Are you coming with me to
what was once your home?"
"No. I stay here with HIM. Take no account of me any more."
The unwonted, perplexing, agitating relations in which she had
stood to Winterborne quite lately--brought about by Melbury's own
contrivance--could not fail to soften the natural anger of a
parent at her more recent doings. "My daughter, things are bad,"
he rejoined. "But why do you persevere to make 'em worse? What
good can you do to Giles by staying here with him? Mind, I ask no
questions. I don't inquire why you decided to come here, or
anything as to what your course would have been if he had not
died, though I know there's no deliberate harm in ye. As for me,
I have lost all claim upon you, and I make no complaint. But I do
say that by coming back with me now you will show no less kindness
to him, and escape any sound of shame.
"But I don't wish to escape it."
"If you don't on your own account, cannot you wish to on mine and
hers? Nobody except our household knows that you have left home.
Then why should you, by a piece of perverseness, bring down my
gray hairs with sorrow to the grave?"
"If it were not for my husband--" she began, moved by his words.
"But how can I meet him there? How can any woman who is not a mere
man's creature join him after what has taken place?"
"He would go away again rather than keep you out of my house."
"How do you know that, father?"
"We met him on our way here, and he told us so," said Mrs.
Melbury. "He had said something like it before. He seems very
much upset altogether."
"He declared to her when he came to our house that he would wait
for time and devotion to bring about his forgiveness," said her
husband. "That was it, wasn't it, Lucy?"
"Yes. That he would not intrude upon you, Grace, till you gave
him absolute permission," Mrs. Melbury added.
This antecedent considerateness in Fitzpiers was as welcome to
Grace as it was unexpected; and though she did not desire his
presence, she was sorry that by her retaliatory fiction she had
given him a different reason for avoiding her. She made no
further objections to accompanying her parents, taking them into
the inner room to give Winterborne a last look, and gathering up
the two or three things that belonged to her. While she was doing
this the two women came who had been called by Melbury, and at
their heels poor Creedle.
"Forgive me, but I can't rule my mourning nohow as a man should,
Mr. Melbury," he said. "I ha'n't seen him since Thursday
se'night, and have wondered for days and days where he's been
keeping. There was I expecting him to come and tell me to wash
out the cider-barrels against the making, and here was he-- Well,
I've knowed him from table-high; I knowed his father--used to bide
about upon two sticks in the sun afore he died!--and now I've seen
the end of the family, which we can ill afford to lose, wi' such a
scanty lot of good folk in Hintock as we've got. And now Robert
Creedle will be nailed up in parish boards 'a b'lieve; and noboby
will glutch down a sigh for he!"
They started for home, Marty and Creedle remaining behind. For a
time Grace and her father walked side by side without speaking.
It was just in the blue of the dawn, and the chilling tone of the
sky was reflected in her cold, wet face. The whole wood seemed to
be a house of death, pervaded by loss to its uttermost length and
breadth. Winterborne was gone, and the copses seemed to show the
want of him; those young trees, so many of which he had planted,
and of which he had spoken so truly when he said that he should
fall before they fell, were at that very moment sending out their
roots in the direction that he had given them with his subtle
"One thing made it tolerable to us that your husband should come
back to the house," said Melbury at last--"the death of Mrs.
"Ah, yes," said Grace, arousing slightly to the recollection, "he
told me so."
"Did he tell you how she died? It was no such death as Giles's.
She was shot--by a disappointed lover. It occurred in Germany.
The unfortunate man shot himself afterwards. He was that South
Carolina gentleman of very passionate nature who used to haunt
this place to force her to an interview, and followed her about
everywhere. So ends the brilliant Felice Charmond--once a good
friend to me--but no friend to you."
"I can forgive her," said Grace, absently. "Did Edgar tell you of
"No; but he put a London newspaper, giving an account of it, on
the hall table, folded in such a way that we should see it. It
will be in the Sherton paper this week, no doubt. To make the
event more solemn still to him, he had just before had sharp words
with her, and left her. He told Lucy this, as nothing about him
appears in the newspaper. And the cause of the quarrel was, of
all people, she we've left behind us."
"Do you mean Marty?" Grace spoke the words but perfunctorily.
For, pertinent and pointed as Melbury's story was, she had no
heart for it now.
"Yes. Marty South." Melbury persisted in his narrative, to
divert her from her present grief, if possible. "Before he went
away she wrote him a letter, which he kept in his, pocket a long
while before reading. He chanced to pull it out in Mrs.
Charmond's, presence, and read it out loud. It contained
something which teased her very much, and that led to the rupture.
She was following him to make it up when she met with her terrible
Melbury did not know enough to give the gist of the incident,
which was that Marty South's letter had been concerning a certain
personal adornment common to herself and Mrs. Charmond. Her
bullet reached its billet at last. The scene between Fitzpiers
and Felice had been sharp, as only a scene can be which arises out
of the mortification of one woman by another in the presence of a
lover. True, Marty had not effected it by word of mouth; the
charge about the locks of hair was made simply by Fitzpiers
reading her letter to him aloud to Felice in the playfully
ironical tones of one who had become a little weary of his
situation, and was finding his friend, in the phrase of George
Herbert, a "flat delight." He had stroked those false tresses
with his hand many a time without knowing them to be transplanted,
and it was impossible when the discovery was so abruptly made to
avoid being finely satirical, despite her generous disposition.
That was how it had begun, and tragedy had been its end. On his
abrupt departure she had followed him to the station but the train
was gone; and in travelling to Baden in search of him she had met
his rival, whose reproaches led to an altercation, and the death
of both. Of that precipitate scene of passion and crime Fitzpiers
had known nothing till he saw an account of it in the papers,
where, fortunately for himself, no mention was made of his prior
acquaintance with the unhappy lady; nor was there any allusion to
him in the subsequent inquiry, the double death being attributed
to some gambling losses, though, in point of fact, neither one of
them had visited the tables.
Melbury and his daughter drew near their house, having seen but
one living thing on their way, a squirrel, which did not run up
its tree, but, dropping the sweet chestnut which it carried, cried
chut-chut-chut, and stamped with its hind legs on the ground.
When the roofs and chimneys of the homestead began to emerge from
the screen of boughs, Grace started, and checked herself in her
abstracted advance.
"You clearly understand," she said to her step-mother some of her
old misgiving returning, "that I am coming back only on condition
of his leaving as he promised? Will you let him know this, that
there may be no mistake?"
Mrs. Melbury, who had some long private talks with Fitzpiers,
assured Grace that she need have no doubts on that point, and that
he would probably be gone by the evening. Grace then entered with
them into Melbury's wing of the house, and sat down listlessly in
the parlor, while her step-mother went to Fitzpiers.
The prompt obedience to her wishes which the surgeon showed did
honor to him, if anything could. Before Mrs. Melbury had returned
to the room Grace, who was sitting on the parlor window-bench, saw
her husband go from the door under the increasing light of
morning, with a bag in his hand. While passing through the gate
he turned his head. The firelight of the room she sat in threw
her figure into dark relief against the window as she looked
through the panes, and he must have seen her distinctly. In a
moment he went on, the gate fell to, and he disappeared. At the
hut she had declared that another had displaced him; and now she
had banished him.
Fitzpiers had hardly been gone an hour when Grace began to sicken.
The next day she kept her room. Old Jones was called in; he
murmured some statements in which the words "feverish symptoms"
occurred. Grace heard them, and guessed the means by which she
had brought this visitation upon herself.
One day, while she still lay there with her head throbbing,
wondering if she were really going to join him who had gone
before, Grammer Oliver came to her bedside. "I don't know whe'r
this is meant for you to take, ma'am," she said, "but I have found
it on the table. It was left by Marty, I think, when she came
this morning."
Grace turned her hot eyes upon what Grammer held up. It was the
phial left at the hut by her husband when he had begged her to
take some drops of its contents if she wished to preserve herself
from falling a victim to the malady which had pulled down
Winterborne. She examined it as well as she could. The liquid
was of an opaline hue, and bore a label with an inscription in
Italian. He had probably got it in his wanderings abroad. She
knew but little Italian, but could understand that the cordial was
a febrifuge of some sort. Her father, her mother, and all the
household were anxious for her recovery, and she resolved to obey
her husband's directions. Whatever the risk, if any, she was
prepared to run it. A glass of water was brought, and the drops
dropped in.
The effect, though not miraculous, was remarkable. In less than
an hour she felt calmer, cooler, better able to reflect--less
inclined to fret and chafe and wear herself away. She took a few
drops more. From that time the fever retreated, and went out like
a damped conflagration.
"How clever he is!" she said, regretfully. "Why could he not have
had more principle, so as to turn his great talents to good
account? Perhaps he has saved my useless life. But he doesn't
know it, and doesn't care whether he has saved it or not; and on
that account will never be told by me! Probably he only gave it to
me in the arrogance of his skill, to show the greatness of his
resources beside mine, as Elijah drew down fire from heaven."
As soon as she had quite recovered from this foiled attack upon
her life, Grace went to Marty South's cottage. The current of her
being had again set towards the lost Giles Winterborne.
"Marty," she said, "we both loved him. We will go to his grave
Great Hintock church stood at the upper part of the village, and
could be reached without passing through the street. In the dusk
of the late September day they went thither by secret ways,
walking mostly in silence side by side, each busied with her own
thoughts. Grace had a trouble exceeding Marty's--that haunting
sense of having put out the light of his life by her own hasty
doings. She had tried to persuade herself that he might have died
of his illness, even if she had not taken possession of his house.
Sometimes she succeeded in her attempt; sometimes she did not.
They stood by the grave together, and though the sun had gone
down, they could see over the woodland for miles, and down to the
vale in which he had been accustomed to descend every year, with
his portable mill and press, to make cider about this time.
Perhaps Grace's first grief, the discovery that if he had lived he
could never have claimed her, had some power in softening this,
the second. On Marty's part there was the same consideration;
never would she have been his. As no anticipation of gratified
affection had been in existence while he was with them, there was
none to be disappointed now that he had gone.
Grace was abased when, by degrees, she found that she had never
understood Giles as Marty had done. Marty South alone, of all the
women in Hintock and the world, had approximated to Winterborne's
level of intelligent intercourse with nature. In that respect she
had formed the complement to him in the other sex, had lived as
his counterpart, had subjoined her thought to his as a corollary.
The casual glimpses which the ordinary population bestowed upon
that wondrous world of sap and leaves called the Hintock woods had
been with these two, Giles and Marty, a clear gaze. They had been
possessed of its finer mysteries as of commonplace knowledge; had
been able to read its hieroglyphs as ordinary writing; to them the
sights and sounds of night, winter, wind, storm, amid those dense
boughs, which had to Grace a touch of the uncanny, and even the
supernatural, were simple occurrences whose origin, continuance,
and laws they foreknew. They had planted together, and together
they had felled; together they had, with the run of the years,
mentally collected those remoter signs and symbols which, seen in
few, were of runic obscurity, but all together made an alphabet.
From the light lashing of the twigs upon their faces, when
brushing through them in the dark, they could pronounce upon the
species of the tree whence they stretched; from the quality of the
wind's murmur through a bough they could in like manner name its
sort afar off. They knew by a glance at a trunk if its heart were
sound, or tainted with incipient decay, and by the state of its
upper twigs, the stratum that had been reached by its roots. The
artifices of the seasons were seen by them from the conjuror's own
point of view, and not from that of the spectator's.
"He ought to have married YOU, Marty, and nobody else in the
world!" said Grace, with conviction, after thinking somewhat in
the above strain.
Marty shook her head. "In all our out-door days and years
together, ma'am," she replied, "the one thing he never spoke of to
me was love; nor I to him."
"Yet you and he could speak in a tongue that nobody else knew--not
even my father, though he came nearest knowing--the tongue of the
trees and fruits and flowers themselves."
She could indulge in mournful fancies like this to Marty; but the
hard core to her grief--which Marty's had not--remained. Had she
been sure that Giles's death resulted entirely from his exposure,
it would have driven her well-nigh to insanity; but there was
always that bare possibility that his exposure had only
precipitated what was inevitable. She longed to believe that it
had not done even this.
There was only one man whose opinion on the circumstances she
would be at all disposed to trust. Her husband was that man. Yet
to ask him it would be necessary to detail the true conditions in
which she and Winterborne had lived during these three or four
critical days that followed her flight; and in withdrawing her
original defiant announcement on that point, there seemed a
weakness she did not care to show. She never doubted that
Fitzpiers would believe her if she made a clean confession of the
actual situation; but to volunteer the correction would seem like
signalling for a truce, and that, in her present frame of mind,
was what she did not feel the need of.
It will probably not appear a surprising statement, after what has
been already declared of Fitzpiers, that the man whom Grace's
fidelity could not keep faithful was stung into passionate throbs
of interest concerning her by her avowal of the contrary.
He declared to himself that he had never known her dangerously
full compass if she were capable of such a reprisal; and,
melancholy as it may be to admit the fact, his own humiliation and
regret engendered a smouldering admiration of her.
He passed a month or two of great misery at Exbury, the place to
which he had retired--quite as much misery indeed as Grace, could
she have known of it, would have been inclined to inflict upon any
living creature, how much soever he might have wronged her. Then
a sudden hope dawned upon him; he wondered if her affirmation were
true. He asked himself whether it were not the act of a woman
whose natural purity and innocence had blinded her to the
contingencies of such an announcement. His wide experience of the
sex had taught him that, in many cases, women who ventured on
hazardous matters did so because they lacked an imagination
sensuous enough to feel their full force. In this light Grace's
bold avowal might merely have denoted the desperation of one who
was a child to the realities of obliquity.
Fitzpiers's mental sufferings and suspense led him at last to take
a melancholy journey to the neighborhood of Little Hintock; and
here he hovered for hours around the scene of the purest emotional
experiences that he had ever known in his life. He walked about
the woods that surrounded Melbury's house, keeping out of sight
like a criminal. It was a fine evening, and on his way homeward
he passed near Marty South's cottage. As usual she had lighted
her candle without closing her shutters; he saw her within as he
had seen her many times before.
She was polishing tools, and though he had not wished to show
himself, he could not resist speaking in to her through the halfopen
door. "What are you doing that for, Marty?"
"Because I want to clean them. They are not mine." He could see,
indeed, that they were not hers, for one was a spade, large and
heavy, and another was a bill-hook which she could only have used
with both hands. The spade, though not a new one, had been so
completely burnished that it was bright as silver.
Fitzpiers somehow divined that they were Giles Winterborne's, and
he put the question to her.
She replied in the affirmative. "I am going to keep 'em," she
said, "but I can't get his apple-mill and press. I wish could; it
is going to be sold, they say."
"Then I will buy it for you," said Fitzpiers. "That will be
making you a return for a kindness you did me." His glance fell
upon the girl's rare-colored hair, which had grown again. "Oh,
Marty, those locks of yours--and that letter! But it was a
kindness to send it, nevertheless," he added, musingly.
After this there was confidence between them--such confidence as
there had never been before. Marty was shy, indeed, of speaking
about the letter, and her motives in writing it; but she thanked
him warmly for his promise of the cider-press. She would travel
with it in the autumn season, as he had done, she said. She would
be quite strong enough, with old Creedle as an assistant.
"Ah! there was one nearer to him than you," said Fitzpiers,
referring to Winterborne. "One who lived where he lived, and was
with him when he died."
Then Marty, suspecting that he did not know the true
circumstances, from the fact that Mrs. Fitzpiers and himself were
living apart, told him of Giles's generosity to Grace in giving up
his house to her at the risk, and possibly the sacrifice, of his
own life. When the surgeon heard it he almost envied Giles his
chivalrous character. He expressed a wish to Marty that his visit
to her should be kept secret, and went home thoughtful, feeling
that in more that one sense his journey to Hintock had not been in
He would have given much to win Grace's forgiveness then. But
whatever he dared hope for in that kind from the future, there was
nothing to be done yet, while Giles Winterborne's memory was
green. To wait was imperative. A little time might melt her
frozen thoughts, and lead her to look on him with toleration, if
not with love.
Weeks and months of mourning for Winterborne had been passed by
Grace in the soothing monotony of the memorial act to which she
and Marty had devoted themselves. Twice a week the pair went in
the dusk to Great Hintock, and, like the two mourners in
Cymbeline, sweetened his sad grave with their flowers and their
tears. Sometimes Grace thought that it was a pity neither one of
them had been his wife for a little while, and given the world a
copy of him who was so valuable in their eyes. Nothing ever had
brought home to her with such force as this death how little
acquirements and culture weigh beside sterling personal character.
While her simple sorrow for his loss took a softer edge with the
lapse of the autumn and winter seasons, her self-reproach at
having had a possible hand in causing it knew little abatement.
Little occurred at Hintock during these months of the fall and
decay of the leaf. Discussion of the almost contemporaneous death
of Mrs. Charmond abroad had waxed and waned. Fitzpiers had had a
marvellous escape from being dragged into the inquiry which
followed it, through the accident of their having parted just
before under the influence of Marty South's letter--the tiny
instrument of a cause deep in nature.
Her body was not brought home. It seemed to accord well with the
fitful fever of that impassioned woman's life that she should not
have found a native grave. She had enjoyed but a life-interest in
the estate, which, after her death, passed to a relative of her
husband's--one who knew not Felice, one whose purpose seemed to be
to blot out every vestige of her.
On a certain day in February--the cheerful day of St. Valentine,
in fact--a letter reached Mrs. Fitzpiers, which had been mentally
promised her for that particular day a long time before.
It announced that Fitzpiers was living at some midland town, where
he had obtained a temporary practice as assistant to some local
medical man, whose curative principles were all wrong, though he
dared not set them right. He had thought fit to communicate with
her on that day of tender traditions to inquire if, in the event
of his obtaining a substantial practice that he had in view
elsewhere, she could forget the past and bring herself to join
There the practical part ended; he then went on--
"My last year of experience has added ten years to my age, dear
Grace and dearest wife that ever erring man undervalued. You may
be absolutely indifferent to what I say, but let me say it: I have
never loved any woman alive or dead as I love, respect, and honor
you at this present moment. What you told me in the pride and
haughtiness of your heart I never believed [this, by the way, was
not strictly true]; but even if I had believed it, it could never
have estranged me from you. Is there any use in telling you--no,
there is not--that I dream of your ripe lips more frequently than
I say my prayers; that the old familiar rustle of your dress often
returns upon my mind till it distracts me? If you could condescend
even only to see me again you would be breathing life into a
corpse. My pure, pure Grace, modest as a turtledove, how came I
ever to possess you? For the sake of being present in your mind on
this lovers' day, I think I would almost rather have you hate me a
little than not think of me at all. You may call my fancies
whimsical; but remember, sweet, lost one, that 'nature is one in
love, and where 'tis fine it sends some instance of itself.' I
will not intrude upon you further now. Make me a little bit happy
by sending back one line to say that you will consent, at any
rate, to a short interview. I will meet you and leave you as a
mere acquaintance, if you will only afford me this slight means of
making a few explanations, and of putting my position before you.
Believe me, in spite of all you may do or feel, Your lover
always (once your husband),
It was, oddly enough, the first occasion, or nearly the first on
which Grace had ever received a love-letter from him, his
courtship having taken place under conditions which rendered
letter-writing unnecessary. Its perusal, therefore, had a certain
novelty for her. She thought that, upon the whole, he wrote loveletters
very well. But the chief rational interest of the letter
to the reflective Grace lay in the chance that such a meeting as
he proposed would afford her of setting her doubts at rest, one
way or the other, on her actual share in Winterborne's death. The
relief of consulting a skilled mind, the one professional man who
had seen Giles at that time, would be immense. As for that
statement that she had uttered in her disdainful grief, which at
the time she had regarded as her triumph, she was quite prepared
to admit to him that his belief was the true one; for in wronging
herself as she did when she made it, she had done what to her was
a far more serious thing, wronged Winterborne's memory.
Without consulting her father, or any one in the house or out of
it, Grace replied to the letter. She agreed to meet Fitzpiers on
two conditions, of which the first was that the place of meeting
should be the top of Rubdown Hill, the second that he would not
object to Marty South accompanying her.
Whatever part, much or little, there may have been in Fitzpiers's
so-called valentine to his wife, he felt a delight as of the
bursting of spring when her brief reply came. It was one of the
few pleasures that he had experienced of late years at all
resembling those of his early youth. He promptly replied that he
accepted the conditions, and named the day and hour at which he
would be on the spot she mentioned.
A few minutes before three on the appointed day found him climbing
the well-known hill, which had been the axis of so many critical
movements in their lives during his residence at Hintock.
The sight of each homely and well-remembered object swelled the
regret that seldom left him now. Whatever paths might lie open to
his future, the soothing shades of Hintock were forbidden him
forever as a permanent dwelling-place.
He longed for the society of Grace. But to lay offerings on her
slighted altar was his first aim, and until her propitiation was
complete he would constrain her in no way to return to him. The
least reparation that he could make, in a case where he would
gladly have made much, would be to let her feel herself absolutely
free to choose between living with him and without him.
Moreover, a subtlist in emotions, he cultivated as under glasses
strange and mournful pleasures that he would not willingly let die
just at present. To show any forwardness in suggesting a modus
vivendi to Grace would be to put an end to these exotics. To be
the vassal of her sweet will for a time, he demanded no more, and
found solace in the contemplation of the soft miseries she caused
Approaching the hill-top with a mind strung to these notions,
Fitzpiers discerned a gay procession of people coming over the
crest, and was not long in perceiving it to be a wedding-party.
Though the wind was keen the women were in light attire, and the
flowered waistcoats of the men had a pleasing vividness of
pattern. Each of the gentler ones clung to the arm of her partner
so tightly as to have with him one step, rise, swing, gait, almost
one centre of gravity. In the buxom bride Fitzpiers recognized no
other than Suke Damson, who in her light gown looked a giantess;
the small husband beside her he saw to be Tim Tangs.
Fitzpiers could not escape, for they had seen him; though of all
the beauties of the world whom he did not wish to meet Suke was
the chief. But he put the best face on the matter that he could
and came on, the approaching company evidently discussing him and
his separation from Mrs. Fitzpiers. As the couples closed upon
him he expressed his congratulations.
"We be just walking round the parishes to show ourselves a bit,"
said Tim. "First we het across to Delborough, then athwart to
here, and from here we go to Rubdown and Millshot, and then round
by the cross-roads home. Home says I, but it won't be that long!
We be off next month."
"Indeed. Where to?"
Tim informed him that they were going to New Zealand. Not but
that he would have been contented with Hintock, but his wife was
ambitious and wanted to leave, so he had given way.
"Then good-by," said Fitzpiers; "I may not see you again." He
shook hands with Tim and turned to the bride. "Good-by, Suke," he
said, taking her hand also. "I wish you and your husband
prosperity in the country you have chosen." With this he left
them, and hastened on to his appointment.
The wedding-party re-formed and resumed march likewise. But in
restoring his arm to Suke, Tim noticed that her full and blooming
countenance had undergone a change. "Holloa! me dear--what's the
matter?" said Tim.
"Nothing to speak o'," said she. But to give the lie to her
assertion she was seized with lachrymose twitches, that soon
produced a dribbling face.
"How--what the devil's this about!" exclaimed the bridegroom.
"She's a little wee bit overcome, poor dear!" said the first
bridesmaid, unfolding her handkerchief and wiping Suke's eyes.
"I never did like parting from people!" said Suke, as soon as she
could speak.
"Why him in particular?"
"Well--he's such a clever doctor, that 'tis a thousand pities we
sha'n't see him any more! There'll be no such clever doctor as he
in New Zealand, if I should require one; and the thought o't got
the better of my feelings!"
They walked on, but Tim's face had grown rigid and pale, for he
recalled slight circumstances, disregarded at the time of their
occurrence. The former boisterous laughter of the wedding-party
at the groomsman's jokes was heard ringing through the woods no
By this time Fitzpiers had advanced on his way to the top of the
hill, where he saw two figures emerging from the bank on the right
hand. These were the expected ones, Grace and Marty South, who
had evidently come there by a short and secret path through the
wood. Grace was muffled up in her winter dress, and he thought
that she had never looked so seductive as at this moment, in the
noontide bright but heatless sun, and the keen wind, and the
purplish-gray masses of brushwood around.
Fitzpiers continued to regard the nearing picture, till at length
their glances met for a moment, when she demurely sent off hers at
a tangent and gave him the benefit of her three-quarter face,
while with courteous completeness of conduct he lifted his hat in
a large arc. Marty dropped behind; and when Fitzpiers held out
his hand, Grace touched it with her fingers.
"I have agreed to be here mostly because I wanted to ask you
something important," said Mrs. Fitzpiers, her intonation
modulating in a direction that she had not quite wished it to
"I am most attentive," said her husband. "Shall we take to the
wood for privacy?"
Grace demurred, and Fitzpiers gave in, and they kept the public
At any rate she would take his arm? This also was gravely
negatived, the refusal being audible to Marty.
"Why not?" he inquired.
"Oh, Mr. Fitzpiers--how can you ask?"
"Right, right," said he, his effusiveness shrivelled up.
As they walked on she returned to her inquiry. "It is about a
matter that may perhaps be unpleasant to you. But I think I need
not consider that too carefully."
"Not at all," said Fitzpiers, heroically.
She then took him back to the time of poor Winterborne's death,
and related the precise circumstances amid which his fatal illness
had come upon him, particularizing the dampness of the shelter to
which he had betaken himself, his concealment from her of the
hardships that he was undergoing, all that he had put up with, all
that he had done for her in his scrupulous considerateness. The
retrospect brought her to tears as she asked him if he thought
that the sin of having driven him to his death was upon her.
Fitzpiers could hardly help showing his satisfaction at what her
narrative indirectly revealed, the actual harmlessness of an
escapade with her lover, which had at first, by her own showing,
looked so grave, and he did not care to inquire whether that
harmlessness had been the result of aim or of accident. With
regard to her question, he declared that in his judgment no human
being could answer it. He thought that upon the whole the balance
of probabilities turned in her favor. Winterborne's apparent
strength, during the last months of his life, must have been
delusive. It had often occurred that after a first attack of that
insidious disease a person's apparent recovery was a physiological
The relief which came to Grace lay almost as much in sharing her
knowledge of the particulars with an intelligent mind as in the
assurances Fitzpiers gave her. "Well, then, to put this case
before you, and obtain your professional opinion, was chiefly why
I consented to come here to-day," said she, when he had reached
the aforesaid conclusion.
"For no other reason at all?" he asked, ruefully.
"It was nearly the whole."
They stood and looked over a gate at twenty or thirty starlings
feeding in the grass, and he started the talk again by saying, in
a low voice, "And yet I love you more than ever I loved you in my
Grace did not move her eyes from the birds, and folded her
delicate lips as if to keep them in subjection.
"It is a different kind of love altogether," said he. "Less
passionate; more profound. It has nothing to do with the material
conditions of the object at all; much to do with her character and
goodness, as revealed by closer observation. 'Love talks with
better knowledge, and knowledge with dearer love.'"
"That's out of 'Measure for Measure,'" said she, slyly.
"Oh yes--I meant it as a citation," blandly replied Fitzpiers.
"Well, then, why not give me a very little bit of your heart
The crash of a felled tree in the remote depths of the wood
recalled the past at that moment, and all the homely faithfulness
of Winterborne. "Don't ask it! My heart is in the grave with
Giles," she replied, stanchly.
"Mine is with you--in no less deep a grave, I fear, according to
"I am very sorry; but it cannot be helped."
"How can you be sorry for me, when you wilfully keep open the
"Oh no--that's not so," returned Grace, quickly, and moved to go
away from him.
"But, dearest Grace," said he, "you have condescended to come; and
I thought from it that perhaps when I had passed through a long
state of probation you would be generous. But if there can be no
hope of our getting completely reconciled, treat me gently--wretch
though I am."
"I did not say you were a wretch, nor have I ever said so."
"But you have such a contemptuous way of looking at me that I fear
you think so."
Grace's heart struggled between the wish not to be harsh and the
fear that she might mislead him. "I cannot look contemptuous
unless I feel contempt," she said, evasively. "And all I feel is
"I have been very bad, I know," he returned. "But unless you can
really love me again, Grace, I would rather go away from you
forever. I don't want you to receive me again for duty's sake, or
anything of that sort. If I had not cared more for your affection
and forgiveness than my own personal comfort, I should never have
come back here. I could have obtained a practice at a distance,
and have lived my own life without coldness or reproach. But I
have chosen to return to the one spot on earth where my name is
tarnished--to enter the house of a man from whom I have had worse
treatment than from any other man alive--all for you!"
This was undeniably true, and it had its weight with Grace, who
began to look as if she thought she had been shockingly severe.
"Before you go," he continued, "I want to know your pleasure about
me--what you wish me to do, or not to do."
"You are independent of me, and it seems a mockery to ask that.
Far be it from me to advise. But I will think it over. I rather
need advice myself than stand in a position to give it."
"YOU don't need advice, wisest, dearest woman that ever lived. If
you did--"
"Would you give it to me?"
"Would you act upon what I gave?"
"That's not a fair inquiry," said she, smiling despite her
gravity. "I don't mind hearing it--what you do really think the
most correct and proper course for me."
"It is so easy for me to say, and yet I dare not, for it would be
provoking you to remonstrances."
Knowing, of course, what the advice would be, she did not press
him further, and was about to beckon Marty forward and leave him,
when he interrupted her with, "Oh, one moment, dear Grace--you
will meet me again?"
She eventually agreed to see him that day fortnight. Fitzpiers
expostulated at the interval, but the half-alarmed earnestness
with which she entreated him not to come sooner made him say
hastily that he submitted to her will--that he would regard her as
a friend only, anxious for his reform and well-being, till such
time as she might allow him to exceed that privilege.
All this was to assure her; it was only too clear that he had not
won her confidence yet. It amazed Fitzpiers, and overthrew all
his deductions from previous experience, to find that this girl,
though she had been married to him, could yet be so coy.
Notwithstanding a certain fascination that it carried with it, his
reflections were sombre as he went homeward; he saw how deep had
been his offence to produce so great a wariness in a gentle and
once unsuspicious soul.
He was himself too fastidious to care to coerce her. To be an
object of misgiving or dislike to a woman who shared his home was
what he could not endure the thought of. Life as it stood was
more tolerable.
When he was gone, Marty joined Mrs. Fitzpiers. She would fain
have consulted Marty on the question of Platonic relations with
her former husband, as she preferred to regard him. But Marty
showed no great interest in their affairs, so Grace said nothing.
They came onward, and saw Melbury standing at the scene of the
felling which had been audible to them, when, telling Marty that
she wished her meeting with Mr. Fitzpiers to be kept private, she
left the girl to join her father. At any rate, she would consult
him on the expediency of occasionally seeing her husband.
Her father was cheerful, and walked by her side as he had done in
earlier days. "I was thinking of you when you came up," he said.
"I have considered that what has happened is for the best. Since
your husband is gone away, and seems not to wish to trouble you,
why, let him go, and drop out of your life. Many women are worse
off. You can live here comfortably enough, and he can emigrate,
or do what he likes for his good. I wouldn't mind sending him the
further sum of money he might naturally expect to come to him, so
that you may not be bothered with him any more. He could hardly
have gone on living here without speaking to me, or meeting me;
and that would have been very unpleasant on both sides."
These remarks checked her intention. There was a sense of
weakness in following them by saying that she had just met her
husband by appointment. "Then you would advise me not to
communicate with him?" she observed.
"I shall never advise ye again. You are your own mistress--do as
you like. But my opinion is that if you don't live with him, you
had better live without him, and not go shilly-shallying and
playing bopeep. You sent him away; and now he's gone. Very well;
trouble him no more."
Grace felt a guiltiness--she hardly knew why--and made no
The woods were uninteresting, and Grace stayed in-doors a great
deal. She became quite a student, reading more than she had done
since her marriage But her seclusion was always broken for the
periodical visit to Winterborne's grave with Marty, which was kept
up with pious strictness, for the purpose of putting snow-drops,
primroses, and other vernal flowers thereon as they came.
One afternoon at sunset she was standing just outside her father's
garden, which, like the rest of the Hintock enclosures, abutted
into the wood. A slight foot-path led along here, forming a
secret way to either of the houses by getting through its boundary
hedge. Grace was just about to adopt this mode of entry when a
figure approached along the path, and held up his hand to detain
her. It was her husband.
"I am delighted," he said, coming up out of breath; and there
seemed no reason to doubt his words. "I saw you some way off--I
was afraid you would go in before I could reach you."
"It is a week before the time," said she, reproachfully. "I said
a fortnight from the last meeting."
"My dear, you don't suppose I could wait a fortnight without
trying to get a glimpse of you, even though you had declined to
meet me! Would it make you angry to know that I have been along
this path at dusk three or four times since our last meeting?
Well, how are you?"
She did not refuse her hand, but when he showed a wish to retain
it a moment longer than mere formality required, she made it
smaller, so that it slipped away from him, with again that same
alarmed look which always followed his attempts in this direction.
He saw that she was not yet out of the elusive mood; not yet to be
treated presumingly; and he was correspondingly careful to
tranquillize her.
His assertion had seemed to impress her somewhat. "I had no idea
you came so often," she said. "How far do you come from?"
"From Exbury. I always walk from Sherton-Abbas, for if I hire,
people will know that I come; and my success with you so far has
not been great enough to justify such overtness. Now, my dear
one--as I MUST call you--I put it to you: will you see me a little
oftener as the spring advances?"
Grace lapsed into unwonted sedateness, and avoiding the question,
said, "I wish you would concentrate on your profession, and give
up those strange studies that used to distract you so much. I am
sure you would get on."
"It is the very thing I am doing. I was going to ask you to burn--
or, at least, get rid of--all my philosophical literature. It is
in the bookcases in your rooms. The fact is, I never cared much
for abstruse studies."
"I am so glad to hear you say that. And those other books--those
piles of old plays--what good are they to a medical man?"
"None whatever!" he replied, cheerfully. "Sell them at Sherton
for what they will fetch."
"And those dreadful old French romances, with their horrid
spellings of 'filz' and 'ung' and 'ilz' and 'mary' and 'ma foy?'"
"You haven't been reading them, Grace?"
"Oh no--I just looked into them, that was all."
"Make a bonfire of 'em directly you get home. I meant to do it
myself. I can't think what possessed me ever to collect them. I
have only a few professional hand-books now, and am quite a
practical man. I am in hopes of having some good news to tell you
soon, and then do you think you could--come to me again?"
"I would rather you did not press me on that just now," she
replied, with some feeling. "You have said you mean to lead a
new, useful, effectual life; but I should like to see you put it
in practice for a little while before you address that query to
me. Besides--I could not live with you."
"Why not?"
Grace was silent a few instants. "I go with Marty to Giles's
grave. We swore we would show him that devotion. And I mean to
keep it up."
"Well, I wouldn't mind that at all. I have no right to expect
anything else, and I will not wish you to keep away. I liked the
man as well as any I ever knew. In short, I would accompany you a
part of the way to the place, and smoke a cigar on the stile while
I waited till you came back."
"Then you haven't given up smoking?"
"Well--ahem--no. I have thought of doing so, but--"
His extreme complacence had rather disconcerted Grace, and the
question about smoking had been to effect a diversion. Presently
she said, firmly, and with a moisture in her eye that he could not
see, as her mind returned to poor Giles's "frustrate ghost," "I
don't like you--to speak lightly on that subject, if you did speak
lightly. To be frank with you--quite frank--I think of him as my
betrothed lover still. I cannot help it. So that it would be
wrong for me to join you."
Fitzpiers was now uneasy. "You say your betrothed lover still,"
he rejoined. "When, then, were you betrothed to him, or engaged,
as we common people say?"
"When you were away."
"How could that be?"
Grace would have avoided this; but her natural candor led her on.
"It was when I was under the impression that my marriage with you
was about to be annulled, and that he could then marry me. So I
encouraged him to love me."
Fitzpiers winced visibly; and yet, upon the whole, she was right
in telling it. Indeed, his perception that she was right in her
absolute sincerity kept up his affectionate admiration for her
under the pain of the rebuff. Time had been when the avowal that
Grace had deliberately taken steps to replace him would have
brought him no sorrow. But she so far dominated him now that he
could not bear to hear her words, although the object of her high
regard was no more.
"It is rough upon me--that!" he said, bitterly. "Oh, Grace--I did
not know you--tried to get rid of me! I suppose it is of no use,
but I ask, cannot you hope to--find a little love in your heart
for me again?"
"If I could I would oblige you; but I fear I cannot!" she replied,
with illogical ruefulness. "And I don't see why you should mind
my having had one lover besides yourself in my life, when you have
had so many."
"But I can tell you honestly that I love you better than all of
them put together, and that's what you will not tell me!"
"I am sorry; but I fear I cannot," she said, sighing again.
"I wonder if you ever will?" He looked musingly into her
indistinct face, as if he would read the future there. "Now have
pity, and tell me: will you try?"
"To love you again?"
"Yes; if you can."
"I don't know how to reply," she answered, her embarrassment
proving her truth. "Will you promise to leave me quite free as to
seeing you or not seeing you?"
"Certainly. Have I given any ground for you to doubt my first
promise in that respect?"
She was obliged to admit that he had not.
"Then I think that you might get your heart out of that grave,"
said he, with playful sadness. "It has been there a long time."
She faintly shook her head, but said, "I'll try to think of you
more--if I can."
With this Fitzpiers was compelled to be satisfied, and he asked
her when she would meet him again.
"As we arranged--in a fortnight."
"If it must be a fortnight it must!"
"This time at least. I'll consider by the day I see you again if
I can shorten the interval."
"Well, be that as it may, I shall come at least twice a week to
look at your window."
"You must do as you like about that. Good-night."
"Say 'husband.'"
She seemed almost inclined to give him the word; but exclaiming,
"No, no; I cannot," slipped through the garden-hedge and
Fitzpiers did not exaggerate when he told her that he should haunt
the precincts of the dwelling. But his persistence in this course
did not result in his seeing her much oftener than at the
fortnightly interval which she had herself marked out as proper.
At these times, however, she punctually appeared, and as the
spring wore on the meetings were kept up, though their character
changed but little with the increase in their number.
The small garden of the cottage occupied by the Tangs family--
father, son, and now son's wife--aligned with the larger one of
the timber-dealer at its upper end; and when young Tim, after
leaving work at Melbury's, stood at dusk in the little bower at
the corner of his enclosure to smoke a pipe, he frequently
observed the surgeon pass along the outside track beforementioned.
Fitzpiers always walked loiteringly, pensively,
looking with a sharp eye into the gardens one after another as he
proceeded; for Fitzpiers did not wish to leave the now absorbing
spot too quickly, after travelling so far to reach it; hoping
always for a glimpse of her whom he passionately desired to take
to his arms anew.
Now Tim began to be struck with these loitering progresses along
the garden boundaries in the gloaming, and wondered what they
boded. It was, naturally, quite out of his power to divine the
singular, sentimental revival in Fitzpiers's heart; the fineness
of tissue which could take a deep, emotional--almost also an
artistic--pleasure in being the yearning inamorato of a woman he
once had deserted, would have seemed an absurdity to the young
sawyer. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzpiers were separated; therefore the
question of affection as between them was settled. But his Suke
had, since that meeting on their marriage-day, repentantly
admitted, to the urgency of his questioning, a good deal
concerning her past levities. Putting all things together, he
could hardly avoid connecting Fitzpiers's mysterious visits to
this spot with Suke's residence under his roof. But he made
himself fairly easy: the vessel in which they were about to
emigrate sailed that month; and then Suke would be out of
Fitzpiers's way forever.
The interval at last expired, and the eve of their departure
arrived. They were pausing in the room of the cottage allotted to
them by Tim's father, after a busy day of preparation, which left
them weary. In a corner stood their boxes, crammed and corded,
their large case for the hold having already been sent away. The
firelight shone upon Suke's fine face and form as she stood
looking into it, and upon the face of Tim seated in a corner, and
upon the walls of his father's house, which he was beholding that
night almost for the last time.
Tim Tangs was not happy. This scheme of emigration was dividing
him from his father--for old Tangs would on no account leave
Hintock--and had it not been for Suke's reputation and his own
dignity, Tim would at the last moment have abandoned the project.
As he sat in the back part of the room he regarded her moodily,
and the fire and the boxes. One thing he had particularly noticed
this evening--she was very restless; fitful in her actions, unable
to remain seated, and in a marked degree depressed.
"Sorry that you be going, after all, Suke?" he said.
She sighed involuntarily. "I don't know but that I be," she
answered. "'Tis natural, isn't it, when one is going away?"
"But you wasn't born here as I was."
"There's folk left behind that you'd fain have with 'ee, I
"Why do you think that?"
"I've seen things and I've heard things; and, Suke, I say 'twill
be a good move for me to get 'ee away. I don't mind his leavings
abroad, but I do mind 'em at home."
Suke's face was not changed from its aspect of listless
indifference by the words. She answered nothing; and shortly
after he went out for his customary pipe of tobacco at the top of
the garden.
The restlessness of Suke had indeed owed its presence to the
gentleman of Tim's suspicions, but in a different--and it must be
added in justice to her--more innocent sense than he supposed,
judging from former doings. She had accidentally discovered that
Fitzpiers was in the habit of coming secretly once or twice a week
to Hintock, and knew that this evening was a favorite one of the
seven for his journey. As she was going next day to leave the
country, Suke thought there could be no great harm in giving way
to a little sentimentality by obtaining a glimpse of him quite
unknown to himself or to anybody, and thus taking a silent last
farewell. Aware that Fitzpiers's time for passing was at hand she
thus betrayed her feeling. No sooner, therefore, had Tim left the
room than she let herself noiselessly out of the house, and
hastened to the corner of the garden, whence she could witness the
surgeon's transit across the scene--if he had not already gone by.
Her light cotton dress was visible to Tim lounging in the arbor of
the opposite corner, though he was hidden from her. He saw her
stealthily climb into the hedge, and so ensconce herself there
that nobody could have the least doubt her purpose was to watch
unseen for a passer-by.
He went across to the spot and stood behind her. Suke started,
having in her blundering way forgotten that he might be near. She
at once descended from the hedge.
"So he's coming to-night," said Tim, laconically. "And we be
always anxious to see our dears."
"He IS coming to-night," she replied, with defiance. "And we BE
anxious for our dears."
"Then will you step in-doors, where your dear will soon jine 'ee?
We've to mouster by half-past three to-morrow, and if we don't get
to bed by eight at latest our faces will be as long as clock-cases
all day."
She hesitated for a minute, but ultimately obeyed, going slowly
down the garden to the house, where he heard the door-latch click
behind her.
Tim was incensed beyond measure. His marriage had so far been a
total failure, a source of bitter regret; and the only course for
improving his case, that of leaving the country, was a sorry, and
possibly might not be a very effectual one. Do what he would, his
domestic sky was likely to be overcast to the end of the day.
Thus he brooded, and his resentment gathered force. He craved a
means of striking one blow back at the cause of his cheerless
plight, while he was still on the scene of his discomfiture. For
some minutes no method suggested itself, and then he had an idea.
Coming to a sudden resolution, he hastened along the garden, and
entered the one attached to the next cottage, which had formerly
been the dwelling of a game-keeper. Tim descended the path to the
back of the house, where only an old woman lived at present, and
reaching the wall he stopped. Owing to the slope of the ground
the roof-eaves of the linhay were here within touch, and he thrust
his arm up under them, feeling about in the space on the top of
the wall-plate.
"Ah, I thought my memory didn't deceive me!" he lipped silently.
With some exertion he drew down a cobwebbed object curiously
framed in iron, which clanked as he moved it. It was about three
feet in length and half as wide. Tim contemplated it as well as
he could in the dying light of day, and raked off the cobwebs with
his hand.
"That will spoil his pretty shins for'n, I reckon!" he said.
It was a man-trap.
Were the inventors of automatic machines to be ranged according to
the excellence of their devices for producing sound artistic
torture, the creator of the man-trap would occupy a very
respectable if not a very high place.
It should rather, however, be said, the inventor of the particular
form of man-trap of which this found in the keeper's out-house was
a specimen. For there were other shapes and other sizes,
instruments which, if placed in a row beside one of the type
disinterred by Tim, would have worn the subordinate aspect of the
bears, wild boars, or wolves in a travelling menagerie, as
compared with the leading lion or tiger. In short, though many
varieties had been in use during those centuries which we are
accustomed to look back upon as the true and only period of merry
England--in the rural districts more especially--and onward down
to the third decade of the nineteenth century, this model had
borne the palm, and had been most usually followed when the
orchards and estates required new ones.
There had been the toothless variety used by the softer-hearted
landlords--quite contemptible in their clemency. The jaws of
these resembled the jaws of an old woman to whom time has left
nothing but gums. There were also the intermediate or halftoothed
sorts, probably devised by the middle-natured squires, or
those under the influence of their wives: two inches of mercy, two
inches of cruelty, two inches of mere nip, two inches of probe,
and so on, through the whole extent of the jaws. There were also,
as a class apart, the bruisers, which did not lacerate the flesh,
but only crushed the bone
The sight of one of these gins when set produced a vivid
impression that it was endowed with life. It exhibited the
combined aspects of a shark, a crocodile, and a scorpion. Each
tooth was in the form of a tapering spine, two and a quarter
inches long, which, when the jaws were closed, stood in
alternation from this side and from that. When they were open,
the two halves formed a complete circle between two and three feet
in diameter, the plate or treading-place in the midst being about
a foot square, while from beneath extended in opposite directions
the soul of the apparatus, the pair of springs, each one being of
a stiffness to render necessary a lever or the whole weight of the
body when forcing it down.
There were men at this time still living at Hintock who remembered
when the gin and others like it were in use. Tim Tangs's greatuncle
had endured a night of six hours in this very trap, which
lamed him for life. Once a keeper of Hintock woods set it on the
track of a poacher, and afterwards, coming back that way,
forgetful of what he had done, walked into it himself. The wound
brought on lockjaw, of which he died. This event occurred during
the thirties, and by the year 1840 the use of such implements was
well-nigh discontinued in the neighborhood. But being made
entirely of iron, they by no means disappeared, and in almost
every village one could be found in some nook or corner as readily
as this was found by Tim. It had, indeed, been a fearful
amusement of Tim and other Hintock lads--especially those who had
a dim sense of becoming renowned poachers when they reached their
prime--to drag out this trap from its hiding, set it, and throw it
with billets of wood, which were penetrated by the teeth to the
depth of near an inch.
As soon as he had examined the trap, and found that the hinges and
springs were still perfect, he shouldered it without more ado, and
returned with his burden to his own garden, passing on through the
hedge to the path immediately outside the boundary. Here, by the
help of a stout stake, he set the trap, and laid it carefully
behind a bush while he went forward to reconnoitre. As has been
stated, nobody passed this way for days together sometimes; but
there was just a possibility that some other pedestrian than the
one in request might arrive, and it behooved Tim to be careful as
to the identity of his victim.
Going about a hundred yards along the rising ground to the right,
he reached a ridge whereon a large and thick holly grew. Beyond
this for some distance the wood was more open, and the course
which Fitzpiers must pursue to reach the point, if he came tonight,
was visible a long way forward.
For some time there was no sign of him or of anybody. Then there
shaped itself a spot out of the dim mid-distance, between the
masses of brushwood on either hand. And it enlarged, and Tim
could hear the brushing of feet over the tufts of sour-grass. The
airy gait revealed Fitzpiers even before his exact outline could
be seen.
Tim Tangs turned about, and ran down the opposite side of the
hill, till he was again at the head of his own garden. It was the
work of a few moments to drag out the man-trap, very gently--that
the plate might not be disturbed sufficiently to throw it--to a
space between a pair of young oaks which, rooted in contiguity,
grew apart upward, forming a V-shaped opening between; and, being
backed up by bushes, left this as the only course for a footpassenger.
In it he laid the trap with the same gentleness of
handling, locked the chain round one of the trees, and finally
slid back the guard which was placed to keep the gin from
accidentally catching the arms of him who set it, or, to use the
local and better word, "toiled" it.
Having completed these arrangements, Tim sprang through the
adjoining hedge of his father's garden, ran down the path, and
softly entered the house.
Obedient to his order, Suke had gone to bed; and as soon as he had
bolted the door, Tim unlaced and kicked off his boots at the foot
of the stairs, and retired likewise, without lighting a candle.
His object seemed to be to undress as soon as possible. Before,
however, he had completed the operation, a long cry resounded
without--penetrating, but indescribable.
"What's that?" said Suke, starting up in bed.
"Sounds as if somebody had caught a hare in his gin."
"Oh no," said she. "It was not a hare, 'twas louder. Hark!"
"Do 'ee get to sleep," said Tim. "How be you going to wake at
half-past three else?"
She lay down and was silent. Tim stealthily opened the window and
listened. Above the low harmonies produced by the instrumentation
of the various species of trees around the premises he could hear
the twitching of a chain from the spot whereon he had set the mantrap.
But further human sound there was none.
Tim was puzzled. In the haste of his project he had not
calculated upon a cry; but if one, why not more? He soon ceased to
essay an answer, for Hintock was dead to him already. In half a
dozen hours he would be out of its precincts for life, on his way
to the antipodes. He closed the window and lay down.
The hour which had brought these movements of Tim to birth had
been operating actively elsewhere. Awaiting in her father's house
the minute of her appointment with her husband, Grace Fitzpiers
deliberated on many things. Should she inform her father before
going out that the estrangement of herself and Edgar was not so
complete as he had imagined, and deemed desirable for her
happiness? If she did so she must in some measure become the
apologist of her husband, and she was not prepared to go so far.
As for him, he kept her in a mood of considerate gravity. He
certainly had changed. He had at his worst times always been
gentle in his manner towards her. Could it be that she might make
of him a true and worthy husband yet? She had married him; there
was no getting over that; and ought she any longer to keep him at
a distance? His suave deference to her lightest whim on the
question of his comings and goings, when as her lawful husband he
might show a little independence, was a trait in his character as
unexpected as it was engaging. If she had been his empress, and
he her thrall, he could not have exhibited a more sensitive care
to avoid intruding upon her against her will.
Impelled by a remembrance she took down a prayer-book and turned
to the marriage-service. Reading it slowly through, she became
quite appalled at her recent off-handedness, when she rediscovered
what awfully solemn promises she had made him at those chancel
steps not so very long ago.
She became lost in long ponderings on how far a person's
conscience might be bound by vows made without at the time a full
recognition of their force. That particular sentence, beginning
"Whom God hath joined together," was a staggerer for a gentlewoman
of strong devotional sentiment. She wondered whether God really
did join them together. Before she had done deliberating the time
of her engagement drew near, and she went out of the house almost
at the moment that Tim Tangs retired to his own.
The position of things at that critical juncture was briefly as
Two hundred yards to the right of the upper end of Tangs's garden
Fitzpiers was still advancing, having now nearly reached the
summit of the wood-clothed ridge, the path being the actual one
which further on passed between the two young oaks. Thus far it
was according to Tim's conjecture. But about two hundred yards to
the left, or rather less, was arising a condition which he had not
divined, the emergence of Grace as aforesaid from the upper corner
of her father's garden, with the view of meeting Tim's intended
victim. Midway between husband and wife was the diabolical trap,
silent, open, ready.
Fitzpiers's walk that night had been cheerful, for he was
convinced that the slow and gentle method he had adopted was
promising success. The very restraint that he was obliged to
exercise upon himself, so as not to kill the delicate bud of
returning confidence, fed his flame. He walked so much more
rapidly than Grace that, if they continued advancing as they had
begun, he would reach the trap a good half-minute before she could
reach the same spot.
But here a new circumstance came in; to escape the unpleasantness
of being watched or listened to by lurkers--naturally curious by
reason of their strained relations--they had arranged that their
meeting for to-night should be at the holm-tree on the ridge above
named. So soon, accordingly, as Fitzpiers reached the tree he
stood still to await her.
He had not paused under the prickly foliage more than two minutes
when he thought he heard a scream from the other side of the
ridge. Fitzpiers wondered what it could mean; but such wind as
there was just now blew in an adverse direction, and his mood was
light. He set down the origin of the sound to one of the
superstitious freaks or frolicsome scrimmages between sweethearts
that still survived in Hintock from old-English times; and waited
on where he stood till ten minutes had passed. Feeling then a
little uneasy, his mind reverted to the scream; and he went
forward over the summit and down the embowered incline, till he
reached the pair of sister oaks with the narrow opening between
Fitzpiers stumbled and all but fell. Stretching down his hand to
ascertain the obstruction, it came in contact with a confused mass
of silken drapery and iron-work that conveyed absolutely no
explanatory idea to his mind at all. It was but the work of a
moment to strike a match; and then he saw a sight which congealed
his blood.
The man-trap was thrown; and between its jaws was part of a
woman's clothing--a patterned silk skirt--gripped with such
violence that the iron teeth had passed through it, skewering its
tissue in a score of places. He immediately recognized the skirt
as that of one of his wife's gowns--the gown that she had worn
when she met him on the very last occasion.
Fitzpiers had often studied the effect of these instruments when
examining the collection at Hintock House, and the conception
instantly flashed through him that Grace had been caught, taken
out mangled by some chance passer, and carried home, some of her
clothes being left behind in the difficulty of getting her free.
The shock of this conviction, striking into the very current of
high hope, was so great that he cried out like one in corporal
agony, and in his misery bowed himself down to the ground.
Of all the degrees and qualities of punishment that Fitzpiers had
undergone since his sins against Grace first began, not any even
approximated in intensity to this.
"Oh, my own--my darling! Oh, cruel Heaven--it is too much, this!"
he cried, writhing and rocking himself over the sorry accessaries
of her he deplored.
The voice of his distress was sufficiently loud to be audible to
any one who might have been there to hear it; and one there was.
Right and left of the narrow pass between the oaks were dense
bushes; and now from behind these a female figure glided, whose
appearance even in the gloom was, though graceful in outline,
noticeably strange.
She was in white up to the waist, and figured above. She was, in
short, Grace, his wife, lacking the portion of her dress which the
gin retained.
"Don't be grieved about me--don't, dear Edgar!" she exclaimed,
rushing up and bending over him. "I am not hurt a bit! I was
coming on to find you after I had released myself, but I heard
footsteps; and I hid away, because I was without some of my
clothing, and I did not know who the person might be."
Fitzpiers had sprung to his feet, and his next act was no less
unpremeditated by him than it was irresistible by her, and would
have been so by any woman not of Amazonian strength. He clasped
his arms completely round, pressed her to his breast, and kissed
her passionately.
"You are not dead!--you are not hurt! Thank God--thank God!" he
said, almost sobbing in his delight and relief from the horror of
his apprehension. "Grace, my wife, my love, how is this--what has
"I was coming on to you," she said as distinctly as she could in
the half-smothered state of her face against his. "I was trying
to be as punctual as possible, and as I had started a minute late
I ran along the path very swiftly--fortunately for myself. Just
when I had passed between these trees I felt something clutch at
my dress from behind with a noise, and the next moment I was
pulled backward by it, and fell to the ground. I screamed with
terror, thinking it was a man lying down there to murder me, but
the next moment I discovered it was iron, and that my clothes were
caught in a trap. I pulled this way and that, but the thing would
not let go, drag it as I would, and I did not know what to do. I
did not want to alarm my father or anybody, as I wished nobody to
know of these meetings with you; so I could think of no other plan
than slipping off my skirt, meaning to run on and tell you what a
strange accident had happened to me. But when I had just freed
myself by leaving the dress behind, I heard steps, and not being
sure it was you, I did not like to be seen in such a pickle, so I
hid away."
"It was only your speed that saved you! One or both of your legs
would have been broken if you had come at ordinary walking pace."
"Or yours, if you had got here first," said she, beginning to
realize the whole ghastliness of the possibility. "Oh, Edgar,
there has been an Eye watching over us to-night, and we should be
thankful indeed!"
He continued to press his face to hers. "You are mine--mine again
She gently owned that she supposed she was. "I heard what you
said when you thought I was injured," she went on, shyly, "and I
know that a man who could suffer as you were suffering must have a
tender regard for me. But how does this awful thing come here?"
"I suppose it has something to do with poachers." Fitzpiers was
still so shaken by the sense of her danger that he was obliged to
sit awhile, and it was not until Grace said, "If I could only get
my skirt out nobody would know anything about it," that he
bestirred himself.
By their united efforts, each standing on one of the springs of
the trap, they pressed them down sufficiently to insert across the
jaws a billet which they dragged from a faggot near at hand; and
it was then possible to extract the silk mouthful from the
monster's bite, creased and pierced with many holes, but not torn.
Fitzpiers assisted her to put it on again; and when her customary
contours were thus restored they walked on together, Grace taking
his arm, till he effected an improvement by clasping it round her
The ice having been broken in this unexpected manner, she made no
further attempt at reserve. "I would ask you to come into the
house," she said, "but my meetings with you have been kept secret
from my father, and I should like to prepare him."
"Never mind, dearest. I could not very well have accepted the
invitation. I shall never live here again--as much for your sake
as for mine. I have news to tell you on this very point, but my
alarm had put it out of my head. I have bought a practice, or
rather a partnership, in the Midlands, and I must go there in a
week to take up permanent residence. My poor old great-aunt died
about eight months ago, and left me enough to do this. I have
taken a little furnished house for a time, till we can get one of
our own."
He described the place, and the surroundings, and the view from
the windows, and Grace became much interested. "But why are you
not there now?" she said.
"Because I cannot tear myself away from here till I have your
promise. Now, darling, you will accompany me there--will you not?
To-night has settled that."
Grace's tremblings had gone off, and she did not say nay. They
went on together.
The adventure, and the emotions consequent upon the reunion which
that event had forced on, combined to render Grace oblivious of
the direction of their desultory ramble, till she noticed they
were in an encircled glade in the densest part of the wood,
whereon the moon, that had imperceptibly added its rays to the
scene, shone almost vertically. It was an exceptionally soft,
balmy evening for the time of year, which was just that transient
period in the May month when beech-trees have suddenly unfolded
large limp young leaves of the softness of butterflies' wings.
Boughs bearing such leaves hung low around, and completely
enclosed them, so that it was as if they were in a great green
vase, which had moss for its bottom and leaf sides.
The clouds having been packed in the west that evening so as to
retain the departing glare a long while, the hour had seemed much
earlier than it was. But suddenly the question of time occurred
to her.
"I must go back," she said; and without further delay they set
their faces towards Hintock. As they walked he examined his watch
by the aid of the now strong moonlight.
"By the gods, I think I have lost my train!" said Fitzpiers.
"Dear me--whereabouts are we?" said she.
"Two miles in the direction of Sherton."
"Then do you hasten on, Edgar. I am not in the least afraid. I
recognize now the part of the wood we are in and I can find my way
back quite easily. I'll tell my father that we have made it up.
I wish I had not kept our meetings so private, for it may vex him
a little to know I have been seeing you. He is getting old and
irritable, that was why I did not. Good-by."
"But, as I must stay at the Earl of Wessex to-night, for I cannot
possibly catch the train, I think it would be safer for you to let
me take care of you."
"But what will my father think has become of me? He does not know
in the least where I am--he thinks I only went into the garden for
a few minutes."
"He will surely guess--somebody has seen me for certain. I'll go
all the way back with you to-morrow."
"But that newly done-up place--the Earl of Wessex!"
"If you are so very particular about the publicity I will stay at
the Three Tuns."
"Oh no--it is not that I am particular--but I haven't a brush or
comb or anything!"
All the evening Melbury had been coming to his door, saying, "I
wonder where in the world that girl is! Never in all my born days
did I know her bide out like this! She surely said she was going
into the garden to get some parsley."
Melbury searched the garden, the parsley-bed, and the orchard, but
could find no trace of her, and then he made inquiries at the
cottages of such of his workmen as had not gone to bed, avoiding
Tangs's because he knew the young people were to rise early to
leave. In these inquiries one of the men's wives somewhat
incautiously let out the fact that she had heard a scream in the
wood, though from which direction she could not say.
This set Melbury's fears on end. He told the men to light
lanterns, and headed by himself they started, Creedle following at
the last moment with quite a burden of grapnels and ropes, which
he could not be persuaded to leave behind, and the company being
joined by the hollow-turner and the man who kept the cider-house
as they went along.
They explored the precincts of the village, and in a short time
lighted upon the man-trap. Its discovery simply added an item of
fact without helping their conjectures; but Melbury's indefinite
alarm was greatly increased when, holding a candle to the ground,
he saw in the teeth of the instrument some frayings from Grace's
clothing. No intelligence of any kind was gained till they met a
woodman of Delborough, who said that he had seen a lady answering
to the description her father gave of Grace, walking through the
wood on a gentleman's arm in the direction of Sherton.
"Was he clutching her tight?" said Melbury.
"Well--rather," said the man.
"Did she walk lame?"
"Well, 'tis true her head hung over towards him a bit."
Creedle groaned tragically.
Melbury, not suspecting the presence of Fitzpiers, coupled this
account with the man-trap and the scream; he could not understand
what it all meant; but the sinister event of the trap made him
follow on. Accordingly, they bore away towards the town, shouting
as they went, and in due course emerged upon the highway.
Nearing Sherton-Abbas, the previous information was confirmed by
other strollers, though the gentleman's supporting arm had
disappeared from these later accounts. At last they were so near
Sherton that Melbury informed his faithful followers that he did
not wish to drag them farther at so late an hour, since he could
go on alone and inquire if the woman who had been seen were really
Grace. But they would not leave him alone in his anxiety, and
trudged onward till the lamplight from the town began to
illuminate their fronts. At the entrance to the High Street they
got fresh scent of the pursued, but coupled with the new condition
that the lady in the costume described had been going up the
street alone.
"Faith!--I believe she's mesmerized, or walking in her sleep,"
said Melbury.
However, the identity of this woman with Grace was by no means
certain; but they plodded along the street. Percombe, the hairdresser,
who had despoiled Marty of her tresses, was standing at
his door, and they duly put inquiries to him.
"Ah--how's Little Hintock folk by now?" he said, before replying.
"Never have I been over there since one winter night some three
year ago--and then I lost myself finding it. How can ye live in
such a one-eyed place? Great Hintock is bad enough--hut Little
Hintock--the bats and owls would drive me melancholy-mad! It took
two days to raise my sperrits to their true pitch again after that
night I went there. Mr. Melbury, sir, as a man's that put by
money, why not retire and live here, and see something of the
The responses at last given by him to their queries guided them to
the building that offered the best accommodation in Sherton--
having been enlarged contemporaneously with the construction of
the railway--namely, the Earl of Wessex Hotel.
Leaving the others without, Melbury made prompt inquiry here. His
alarm was lessened, though his perplexity was increased, when he
received a brief reply that such a lady was in the house.
"Do you know if it is my daughter?" asked Melbury.
The waiter did not.
"Do you know the lady's name?"
Of this, too, the household was ignorant, the hotel having been
taken by brand-new people from a distance. They knew the
gentleman very well by sight, and had not thought it necessary to
ask him to enter his name.
"Oh, the gentleman appears again now," said Melbury to himself.
"Well, I want to see the lady," he declared.
A message was taken up, and after some delay the shape of Grace
appeared descending round the bend of the stair-case, looking as
if she lived there, but in other respects rather guilty and
"Why--what the name--" began her father. "I thought you went out
to get parsley!"
"Oh, yes--I did--but it is all right," said Grace, in a flurried
whisper. "I am not alone here. I am here with Edgar. It is
entirely owing to an accident, father."
"Edgar! An accident! How does he come here? I thought he was two
hundred mile off."
"Yes, so he is--I mean he has got a beautiful practice two hundred
miles off; he has bought it with his own money, some that came to
him. But he travelled here, and I was nearly caught in a mantrap,
and that's how it is I am here. We were just thinking of
sending a messenger to let you know."
Melbury did not seem to be particularly enlightened by this
"You were caught in a man-trap?"
"Yes; my dress was. That's how it arose. Edgar is up-stairs in
his own sitting-room," she went on. "He would not mind seeing
you, I am sure."
"Oh, faith, I don't want to see him! I have seen him too often
a'ready. I'll see him another time, perhaps, if 'tis to oblige
"He came to see me; he wanted to consult me about this large
partnership I speak of, as it is very promising."
"Oh, I am glad to hear it," said Melbury, dryly.
A pause ensued, during which the inquiring faces and whity-brown
clothes of Melbury's companions appeared in the door-way.
"Then bain't you coming home with us?" he asked.
"I--I think not," said Grace, blushing.
"H'm--very well--you are your own mistress," he returned, in tones
which seemed to assert otherwise. "Good-night;" and Melbury
retreated towards the door.
"Don't be angry, father," she said, following him a few steps. "I
have done it for the best."
"I am not angry, though it is true I have been a little misled in
this. However, good-night. I must get home along."
He left the hotel, not without relief, for to be under the eyes of
strangers while he conversed with his lost child had embarrassed
him much. His search-party, too, had looked awkward there, having
rushed to the task of investigation--some in their shirt sleeves,
others in their leather aprons, and all much stained--just as they
had come from their work of barking, and not in their Sherton
marketing attire; while Creedle, with his ropes and grapnels and
air of impending tragedy, had added melancholy to gawkiness.
"Now, neighbors," said Melbury, on joining them, "as it is getting
late, we'll leg it home again as fast as we can. I ought to tell
you that there has been some mistake--some arrangement entered
into between Mr. and Mrs. Fitzpiers which I didn't quite
understand--an important practice in the Midland counties has come
to him, which made it necessary for her to join him to-night--so
she says. That's all it was--and I'm sorry I dragged you out."
"Well," said the hollow-turner, "here be we six mile from home,
and night-time, and not a hoss or four-footed creeping thing to
our name. I say, we'll have a mossel and a drop o' summat to
strengthen our nerves afore we vamp all the way back again? My
throat's as dry as a kex. What d'ye say so's?"
They all concurred in the need for this course, and proceeded to
the antique and lampless back street, in which the red curtain of
the Three Tuns was the only radiant object. As soon as they had
stumbled down into the room Melbury ordered them to be served,
when they made themselves comfortable by the long table, and
stretched out their legs upon the herring-boned sand of the floor.
Melbury himself, restless as usual, walked to the door while he
waited for them, and looked up and down the street.
"I'd gie her a good shaking if she were my maid; pretending to go
out in the garden, and leading folk a twelve-mile traipse that
have got to get up at five o'clock to morrow," said a bark-ripper;
who, not working regularly for Melbury, could afford to indulge in
strong opinions.
"I don't speak so warm as that," said the hollow-turner, "but if
'tis right for couples to make a country talk about their
separating, and excite the neighbors, and then make fools of 'em
like this, why, I haven't stood upon one leg for five-and-twenty
All his listeners knew that when he alluded to his foot-lathe in
these enigmatic terms, the speaker meant to be impressive; and
Creedle chimed in with, "Ah, young women do wax wanton in these
days! Why couldn't she ha' bode with her father, and been
faithful?" Poor Creedle was thinking of his old employer.
"But this deceiving of folks is nothing unusual in matrimony,"
said Farmer Bawtree. "I knowed a man and wife--faith, I don't
mind owning, as there's no strangers here, that the pair were my
own relations--they'd be at it that hot one hour that you'd hear
the poker and the tongs and the bellows and the warming-pan flee
across the house with the movements of their vengeance; and the
next hour you'd hear 'em singing 'The Spotted Cow' together as
peaceable as two holy twins; yes--and very good voices they had,
and would strike in like professional ballet-singers to one
another's support in the high notes."
"And I knowed a woman, and the husband o' her went away for fourand-
twenty year," said the bark-ripper. "And one night he came
home when she was sitting by the fire, and thereupon he sat down
himself on the other side of the chimney-corner. 'Well,' says
she, 'have ye got any news?' 'Don't know as I have,' says he;
'have you?' 'No,' says she, 'except that my daughter by my second
husband was married last month, which was a year after I was made
a widow by him.' 'Oh! Anything else?' he says. 'No,' says she.
And there they sat, one on each side of that chimney-corner, and
were found by their neighbors sound asleep in their chairs, not
having known what to talk about at all."
"Well, I don't care who the man is," said Creedle, "they required
a good deal to talk about, and that's true. It won't be the same
with these."
"No. He is such a projick, you see. And she is a wonderful
scholar too!"
"What women do know nowadays!" observed the hollow-turner. "You
can't deceive 'em as you could in my time."
"What they knowed then was not small," said John Upjohn. "Always
a good deal more than the men! Why, when I went courting my wife
that is now, the skilfulness that she would show in keeping me on
her pretty side as she walked was beyond all belief. Perhaps
you've noticed that she's got a pretty side to her face as well as
a plain one?"
"I can't say I've noticed it particular much," said the hollowturner,
"Well," continued Upjohn, not disconcerted, "she has. All women
under the sun be prettier one side than t'other. And, as I was
saying, the pains she would take to make me walk on the pretty
side were unending! I warrant that whether we were going with the
sun or against the sun, uphill or downhill, in wind or in lewth,
that wart of hers was always towards the hedge, and that dimple
towards me. There was I, too simple to see her wheelings and
turnings; and she so artful, though two years younger, that she
could lead me with a cotton thread, like a blind ram; for that was
in the third climate of our courtship. No; I don't think the
women have got cleverer, for they was never otherwise."
"How many climates may there be in courtship, Mr. Upjohn?"
inquired a youth--the same who had assisted at Winterborne's
Christmas party.
"Five--from the coolest to the hottest--leastwise there was five
in mine."
"Can ye give us the chronicle of 'em, Mr. Upjohn?"
"Yes--I could. I could certainly. But 'tis quite unnecessary.
They'll come to ye by nater, young man, too soon for your good."
"At present Mrs. Fitzpiers can lead the doctor as your mis'ess
could lead you," the hollow-turner remarked. "She's got him quite
tame. But how long 'twill last I can't say. I happened to be
setting a wire on the top of my garden one night when he met her
on the other side of the hedge; and the way she queened it, and
fenced, and kept that poor feller at a distance, was enough to
freeze yer blood. I should never have supposed it of such a
Melbury now returned to the room, and the men having declared
themselves refreshed, they all started on the homeward journey,
which was by no means cheerless under the rays of the high moon.
Having to walk the whole distance they came by a foot-path rather
shorter than the highway, though difficult except to those who
knew the country well. This brought them by way of Great Hintock;
and passing the church-yard they observed, as they talked, a
motionless figure standing by the gate.
"I think it was Marty South," said the hollow-turner,
"I think 'twas; 'a was always a lonely maid," said Upjohn. And
they passed on homeward, and thought of the matter no more.
It was Marty, as they had supposed. That evening had been the
particular one of the week upon which Grace and herself had been
accustomed to privately deposit flowers on Giles's grave, and this
was the first occasion since his death, eight months earlier, on
which Grace had failed to keep her appointment. Marty had waited
in the road just outside Little Hintock, where her fellow-pilgrim
had been wont to join her, till she was weary; and at last,
thinking that Grace had missed her and gone on alone, she followed
the way to Great Hintock, but saw no Grace in front of her. It
got later, and Marty continued her walk till she reached the
church-yard gate; but still no Grace. Yet her sense of
comradeship would not allow her to go on to the grave alone, and
still thinking the delay had been unavoidable, she stood there
with her little basket of flowers in her clasped hands, and her
feet chilled by the damp ground, till more than two hours had
She then heard the footsteps of Melbury's men, who presently
passed on their return from the search. In the silence of the
night Marty could not help hearing fragments of their
conversation, from which she acquired a general idea of what had
occurred, and where Mrs. Fitzpiers then was.
Immediately they had dropped down the hill she entered the churchyard,
going to a secluded corner behind the bushes, where rose the
unadorned stone that marked the last bed of Giles Winterborne. As
this solitary and silent girl stood there in the moonlight, a
straight slim figure, clothed in a plaitless gown, the contours of
womanhood so undeveloped as to be scarcely perceptible, the marks
of poverty and toil effaced by the misty hour, she touched
sublimity at points, and looked almost like a being who had
rejected with indifference the attribute of sex for the loftier
quality of abstract humanism. She stooped down and cleared away
the withered flowers that Grace and herself had laid there the
previous week, and put her fresh ones in their place.
"Now, my own, own love," she whispered, "you are mine, and on'y
mine; for she has forgot 'ee at last, although for her you died.
But I--whenever I get up I'll think of 'ee, and whenever I lie
down I'll think of 'ee. Whenever I plant the young larches I'll
think that none can plant as you planted; and whenever I split a
gad, and whenever I turn the cider-wring, I'll say none could do
it like you. If ever I forget your name, let me forget home and
Heaven!--But no, no, my love, I never can forget 'ee; for you was
a GOOD man, and did good things!"

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