Part 5 out of 8
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 brown-
thatched 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
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
"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
"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
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
"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."
"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 greenish-
white 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 out-
of-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,
"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.
"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
"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
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 breast-
pocket, 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 fruit-
market. 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.
"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 tooth-
drawing 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 nut-
gatherers, 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).
"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
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
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
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 lime-
tree, 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
"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
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
"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
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 country-
house; 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 beech-
tree. 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
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
"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
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 self-
reproaches 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
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
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 timber-
"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