Part 2 out of 8
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."
"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 hedge-
row, 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
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 timber-
merchant, 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
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
"Bless my soul, I'd quite forgot," said Giles.
What he had forgotten was that there was a thousand young fir-
trees 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."
"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
"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
"It is well enough in one sense, but it will take yon away," said
"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
"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?"
"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 to-
morrow. 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 to-
day," 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,
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 sitting-
room; 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
"Very well, very well! I'll attend to it. You go and get 'em
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
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 hollow-
turner, 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."
"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
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 to-
day. '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 half-
unconscious 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
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?"
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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, good-
humoredly. 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
"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
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 cabbage-
plots, 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 up-
stairs. 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
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