Part 6 out of 8
heard her coming from the front staircase, and she entered where
At this time of the morning Mrs. Charmond looked her full age and
more. She might almost have been taken for the typical femme de
trente ans, though she was really not more than seven or eight and
twenty. There being no fire in the room, she came in with a shawl
thrown loosely round her shoulders, and obviously without the
least suspicion that Melbury had called upon any other errand than
timber. Felice was, indeed, the only woman in the parish who had
not heard the rumor of her own weaknesses; she was at this moment
living in a fool's paradise in respect of that rumor, though not
in respect of the weaknesses themselves, which, if the truth be
told, caused her grave misgivings.
"Do sit down, Mr. Melbury. You have felled all the trees that
were to be purchased by you this season, except the oaks, I
"Yes," said Melbury.
"How very nice! It must be so charming to work in the woods just
She was too careless to affect an interest in an extraneous
person's affairs so consummately as to deceive in the manner of
the perfect social machine. Hence her words "very nice," "so
charming," were uttered with a perfunctoriness that made them
sound absurdly unreal.
"Yes, yes," said Melbury, in a reverie. He did not take a chair,
and she also remained standing. Resting upon his stick, he began:
"Mrs. Charmond, I have called upon a more serious matter--at least
to me--than tree-throwing. And whatever mistakes I make in my
manner of speaking upon it to you, madam, do me the justice to set
'em down to my want of practice, and not to my want of care."
Mrs. Charmond looked ill at ease. She might have begun to guess
his meaning; but apart from that, she had such dread of contact
with anything painful, harsh, or even earnest, that his
preliminaries alone were enough to distress her. "Yes, what is
it?" she said.
"I am an old man," said Melbury, "whom, somewhat late in life, God
thought fit to bless with one child, and she a daughter. Her
mother was a very dear wife to me, but she was taken away from us
when the child was young, and the child became precious as the
apple of my eye to me, for she was all I had left to love. For
her sake entirely I married as second wife a homespun woman who
had been kind as a mother to her. In due time the question of her
education came on, and I said, 'I will educate the maid well, if I
live upon bread to do it.' Of her possible marriage I could not
bear to think, for it seemed like a death that she should cleave
to another man, and grow to think his house her home rather than
mine. But I saw it was the law of nature that this should be, and
that it was for the maid's happiness that she should have a home
when I was gone; and I made up my mind without a murmur to help it
on for her sake. In my youth I had wronged my dead friend, and to
make amends I determined to give her, my most precious possession,
to my friend's son, seeing that they liked each other well.
Things came about which made me doubt if it would be for my
daughter's happiness to do this, inasmuch as the young man was
poor, and she was delicately reared. Another man came and paid
court to her--one her equal in breeding and accomplishments; in
every way it seemed to me that he only could give her the home
which her training had made a necessity almost. I urged her on,
and she married him. But, ma'am, a fatal mistake was at the root
of my reckoning. I found that this well-born gentleman I had
calculated on so surely was not stanch of heart, and that therein
lay a danger of great sorrow for my daughter. Madam, he saw you,
and you know the rest....I have come to make no demands--to utter
no threats; I have come simply as a father in great grief about
this only child, and I beseech you to deal kindly with my
daughter, and to do nothing which can turn her husband's heart
away from her forever. Forbid him your presence, ma'am, and speak
to him on his duty as one with your power over him well can do,
and I am hopeful that the rent between them may be patched up.
For it is not as if you would lose by so doing; your course is far
higher than the courses of a simple professional man, and the
gratitude you would win from me and mine by your kindness is more
than I can say."
Mrs. Charmond had first rushed into a mood of indignation on
comprehending Melbury's story; hot and cold by turns, she had
murmured, "Leave me, leave me!" But as he seemed to take no notice
of this, his words began to influence her, and when he ceased
speaking she said, with hurried, hot breath, "What has led you to
think this of me? Who says I have won your daughter's husband
away from her? Some monstrous calumnies are afloat--of which I
have known nothing until now!"
Melbury started, and looked at her simply. "But surely, ma'am,
you know the truth better than I?"
Her features became a little pinched, and the touches of powder on
her handsome face for the first time showed themselves as an
extrinsic film. "Will you leave me to myself?" she said, with a
faintness which suggested a guilty conscience. "This is so
utterly unexpected--you obtain admission to my presence by
"As God's in heaven, ma'am, that's not true. I made no pretence;
and I thought in reason you would know why I had come. This
"I have heard nothing of it. Tell me of it, I say."
"Tell you, ma'am--not I. What the gossip is, no matter. What
really is, you know. Set facts right, and the scandal will right
of itself. But pardon me--I speak roughly; and I came to speak
gently, to coax you, beg you to be my daughter's friend. She
loved you once, ma'am; you began by liking her. Then you dropped
her without a reason, and it hurt her warm heart more than I can
tell ye. But you were within your right as the superior, no
doubt. But if you would consider her position now--surely,
surely, you would do her no harm!"
"Certainly I would do her no harm--I--" Melbury's eye met hers.
It was curious, but the allusion to Grace's former love for her
seemed to touch her more than all Melbury's other arguments. "Oh,
Melbury," she burst out, "you have made me so unhappy! How could
you come to me like this! It is too dreadful! Now go away--go,
"I will," he said, in a husky tone.
As soon as he was out of the room she went to a corner and there
sat and writhed under an emotion in which hurt pride and vexation
mingled with better sentiments.
Mrs. Charmond's mobile spirit was subject to these fierce periods
of stress and storm. She had never so clearly perceived till now
that her soul was being slowly invaded by a delirium which had
brought about all this; that she was losing judgment and dignity
under it, becoming an animated impulse only, a passion incarnate.
A fascination had led her on; it was as if she had been seized by
a hand of velvet; and this was where she found herself--
overshadowed with sudden night, as if a tornado had passed by.
While she sat, or rather crouched, unhinged by the interview,
lunch-time came, and then the early afternoon, almost without her
consciousness. Then "a strange gentleman who says it is not
necessary to give his name," was suddenly announced.
"I cannot see him, whoever he may be. I am not at home to
She heard no more of her visitor; and shortly after, in an attempt
to recover some mental serenity by violent physical exercise, she
put on her hat and cloak and went out-of-doors, taking a path
which led her up the slopes to the nearest spur of the wood. She
disliked the woods, but they had the advantage of being a place in
which she could walk comparatively unobserved.
There was agitation to-day in the lives of all whom these matters
concerned. It was not till the Hintock dinner-time--one o'clock--
that Grace discovered her father's absence from the house after a
departure in the morning under somewhat unusual conditions. By a
little reasoning and inquiry she was able to come to a conclusion
on his destination, and to divine his errand.
Her husband was absent, and her father did not return. He had, in
truth, gone on to Sherton after the interview, but this Grace did
not know. In an indefinite dread that something serious would
arise out of Melbury's visit by reason of the inequalities of
temper and nervous irritation to which he was subject, something
possibly that would bring her much more misery than accompanied
her present negative state of mind, she left the house about three
o'clock, and took a loitering walk in the woodland track by which
she imagined he would come home. This track under the bare trees
and over the cracking sticks, screened and roofed in from the
outer world of wind and cloud by a net-work of boughs, led her
slowly on till in time she had left the larger trees behind her
and swept round into the coppice where Winterborne and his men
were clearing the undergrowth.
Had Giles's attention been concentrated on his hurdles he would
not have seen her; but ever since Melbury's passage across the
opposite glade in the morning he had been as uneasy and unsettled
as Grace herself; and her advent now was the one appearance which,
since her father's avowal, could arrest him more than Melbury's
return with his tidings. Fearing that something might be the
matter, he hastened up to her.
She had not seen her old lover for a long time, and, too conscious
of the late pranks of her heart, she could not behold him calmly.
"I am only looking for my father," she said, in an unnecessarily
"I was looking for him too," said Giles. "I think he may perhaps
have gone on farther."
"Then you knew he was going to the House, Giles?" she said,
turning her large tender eyes anxiously upon him. "Did he tell
you what for?"
Winterborne glanced doubtingly at her, and then softly hinted that
her father had visited him the evening before, and that their old
friendship was quite restored, on which she guessed the rest.
"Oh, I am glad, indeed, that you two are friends again!" she
cried. And then they stood facing each other, fearing each other,
troubling each other's souls. Grace experienced acute misery at
the sight of these wood-cutting scenes, because she had estranged
herself from them, craving, even to its defects and
inconveniences, that homely sylvan life of her father which in the
best probable succession of events would shortly be denied her.
At a little distance, on the edge of the clearing, Marty South was
shaping spar-gads to take home for manufacture during the
evenings. While Winterborne and Mrs. Fitzpiers stood looking at
her in their mutual embarrassment at each other's presence, they
beheld approaching the girl a lady in a dark fur mantle and a
black hat, having a white veil tied picturesquely round it. She
spoke to Marty, who turned and courtesied, and the lady fell into
conversation with her. It was Mrs. Charmond.
On leaving her house, Mrs. Charmond had walked on and onward under
the fret and fever of her mind with more vigor than she was
accustomed to show in her normal moods--a fever which the solace
of a cigarette did not entirely allay. Reaching the coppice, she
listlessly observed Marty at work, threw away her cigarette, and
came near. Chop, chop, chop, went Marty's little billhook with
never more assiduity, till Mrs. Charmond spoke.
"Who is that young lady I see talking to the woodman yonder?" she
"Mrs. Fitzpiers, ma'am," said Marty.
"Oh," said Mrs. Charmond, with something like a start; for she had
not recognized Grace at that distance. "And the man she is
"That's Mr. Winterborne."
A redness stole into Marty's face as she mentioned Giles's name,
which Mrs. Charmond did not fail to notice informed her of the
state of the girl's heart. "Are you engaged to him?" she asked,
"No, ma'am," said Marty. "SHE was once; and I think--"
But Marty could not possibly explain the complications of her
thoughts on this matter--which were nothing less than one of
extraordinary acuteness for a girl so young and inexperienced--
namely, that she saw danger to two hearts naturally honest in
Grace being thrown back into Winterborne's society by the neglect
of her husband. Mrs. Charmond, however, with the almost
supersensory means to knowledge which women have on such
occasions, quite understood what Marty had intended to convey, and
the picture thus exhibited to her of lives drifting away,
involving the wreck of poor Marty's hopes, prompted her to more
generous resolves than all Melbury's remonstrances had been able
Full of the new feeling, she bade the girl good-afternoon, and
went on over the stumps of hazel to where Grace and Winterborne
were standing. They saw her approach, and Winterborne said, "She
is coming to you; it is a good omen. She dislikes me, so I'll go
away." He accordingly retreated to where he had been working
before Grace came, and Grace's formidable rival approached her,
each woman taking the other's measure as she came near.
"Dear--Mrs. Fitzpiers," said Felice Charmond, with some inward
turmoil which stopped her speech. "I have not seen you for a long
She held out her hand tentatively, while Grace stood like a wild
animal on first confronting a mirror or other puzzling product of
civilization. Was it really Mrs. Charmond speaking to her thus?
If it was, she could no longer form any guess as to what it
"I want to talk with you," said Mrs. Charmond, imploringly, for
the gaze of the young woman had chilled her through. "Can you
walk on with me till we are quite alone?"
Sick with distaste, Grace nevertheless complied, as by clockwork
and they moved evenly side by side into the deeper recesses of the
woods. They went farther, much farther than Mrs. Charmond had
meant to go; but she could not begin her conversation, and in
default of it kept walking.
"I have seen your father," she at length resumed. "And--I am much
troubled by what he told me."
"What did he tell you? I have not been admitted to his confidence
on anything he may have said to you."
"Nevertheless, why should I repeat to you what you can easily
"True--true," returned Grace, mournfully. "Why should you repeat
what we both know to be in our minds already?"
"Mrs. Fitzpiers, your husband--" The moment that the speaker's
tongue touched the dangerous subject a vivid look of self-
consciousness flashed over her, in which her heart revealed, as by
a lightning gleam, what filled it to overflowing. So transitory
was the expression that none but a sensitive woman, and she in
Grace's position, would have had the power to catch its meaning.
Upon her the phase was not lost.
"Then you DO love him!" she exclaimed, in a tone of much surprise.
"What do you mean, my young friend?"
"Why," cried Grace, "I thought till now that you had only been
cruelly flirting with my husband, to amuse your idle moments--a
rich lady with a poor professional gentleman whom in her heart she
despised not much less than her who belongs to him. But I guess
from your manner that you love him desperately, and I don't hate
you as I did before."
"Yes, indeed," continued Mrs. Fitzpiers, with a trembling tongue,
"since it is not playing in your case at all, but REAL. Oh, I do
pity you, more than I despise you, for you will s-s-suffer most!"
Mrs. Charmond was now as much agitated as Grace. "I ought not to
allow myself to argue with you," she exclaimed. "I demean myself
by doing it. But I liked you once, and for the sake of that time
I try to tell you how mistaken you are!" Much of her confusion
resulted from her wonder and alarm at finding herself in a sense
dominated mentally and emotionally by this simple school-girl. "I
do not love him," she went on, with desperate untruth. "It was a
kindness--my making somewhat more of him than one usually does of
one's doctor. I was lonely; I talked--well, I trifled with him.
I am very sorry if such child's playing out of pure friendship has
been a serious matter to you. Who could have expected it? But the
world is so simple here."
"Oh, that's affectation," said Grace, shaking her head. "It is no
use--you love him. I can see in your face that in this matter of
my husband you have not let your acts belie your feelings. During
these last four or six months you have been terribly indiscreet;
but you have not been insincere, and that almost disarms me."
"I HAVE been insincere--if you will have the word--I mean I HAVE
coquetted, and do NOT love him!"
But Grace clung to her position like a limpet. "You may have
trifled with others, but him you love as you never loved another
"Oh, well--I won't argue," said Mrs. Charmond, laughing faintly.
"And you come to reproach me for it, child."
"No," said Grace, magnanimously. "You may go on loving him if you
like--I don't mind at all. You'll find it, let me tell you, a
bitterer business for yourself than for me in the end. He'll get
tired of you soon, as tired as can be--you don't know him so well
as I--and then you may wish you had never seen him!"
Mrs. Charmond had grown quite pale and weak under this prophecy.
It was extraordinary that Grace, whom almost every one would have
characterized as a gentle girl, should be of stronger fibre than
her interlocutor. "You exaggerate--cruel, silly young woman," she
reiterated, writhing with little agonies. "It is nothing but
playful friendship--nothing! It will be proved by my future
conduct. I shall at once refuse to see him more--since it will
make no difference to my heart, and much to my name."
"I question if you will refuse to see him again," said Grace,
dryly, as with eyes askance she bent a sapling down. "But I am
not incensed against you as you are against me," she added,
abandoning the tree to its natural perpendicular. "Before I came
I had been despising you for wanton cruelty; now I only pity you
for misplaced affection. When Edgar has gone out of the house in
hope of seeing you, at seasonable hours and unseasonable; when I
have found him riding miles and miles across the country at
midnight, and risking his life, and getting covered with mud, to
get a glimpse of you, I have called him a foolish man--the
plaything of a finished coquette. I thought that what was getting
to be a tragedy to me was a comedy to you. But now I see that
tragedy lies on YOUR side of the situation no less than on MINE,
and more; that if I have felt trouble at my position, you have
felt anguish at yours; that if I have had disappointments, you
have had despairs. Heaven may fortify me--God help you!"
"I cannot attempt to reply to your raving eloquence," returned the
other, struggling to restore a dignity which had completely
collapsed. "My acts will be my proofs. In the world which you
have seen nothing of, friendships between men and women are not
unknown, and it would have been better both for you and your
father if you had each judged me more respectfully, and left me
alone. As it is I wish never to see or speak to you, madam, any
Grace bowed, and Mrs. Charmond turned away. The two went apart in
directly opposite courses, and were soon hidden from each other by
their umbrageous surroundings and by the shadows of eve.
In the excitement of their long argument they had walked onward
and zigzagged about without regarding direction or distance. All
sound of the woodcutters had long since faded into remoteness, and
even had not the interval been too great for hearing them they
would have been silent and homeward bound at this twilight hour.
But Grace went on her course without any misgiving, though there
was much underwood here, with only the narrowest passages for
walking, across which brambles hung. She had not, however,
traversed this the wildest part of the wood since her childhood,
and the transformation of outlines had been great; old trees which
once were landmarks had been felled or blown down, and the bushes
which then had been small and scrubby were now large and
overhanging. She soon found that her ideas as to direction were
vague--that she had indeed no ideas as to direction at all. If
the evening had not been growing so dark, and the wind had not put
on its night moan so distinctly, Grace would not have minded; but
she was rather frightened now, and began to strike across hither
and thither in random courses.
Denser grew the darkness, more developed the wind-voices, and
still no recognizable spot or outlet of any kind appeared, nor any
sound of the Hintocks floated near, though she had wandered
probably between one and two hours, and began to be weary. She
was vexed at her foolishness, since the ground she had covered, if
in a straight line, must inevitably have taken her out of the wood
to some remote village or other; but she had wasted her forces in
countermarches; and now, in much alarm, wondered if she would have
to pass the night here. She stood still to meditate, and fancied
that between the soughing of the wind she heard shuffling
footsteps on the leaves heavier than those of rabbits or hares.
Though fearing at first to meet anybody on the chance of his being
a friend, she decided that the fellow night-rambler, even if a
poacher, would not injure her, and that he might possibly be some
one sent to search for her. She accordingly shouted a rather
The cry was immediately returned by the other person; and Grace
running at once in the direction whence it came beheld an
indistinct figure hastening up to her as rapidly. They were
almost in each other's arms when she recognized in her vis-a-vis
the outline and white veil of her whom she had parted from an hour
and a half before--Mrs. Charmond.
"I have lost my way, I have lost my way," cried that lady. "Oh--
is it indeed you? I am so glad to meet you or anybody. I have
been wandering up and down ever since we parted, and am nearly
dead with terror and misery and fatigue!"
"So am I," said Grace. "What shall we, shall we do?"
"You won't go away from me?" asked her companion, anxiously.
"No, indeed. Are you very tired?"
"I can scarcely move, and I am scratched dreadfully about the
Grace reflected. "Perhaps, as it is dry under foot, the best
thing for us to do would be to sit down for half an hour, and then
start again when we have thoroughly rested. By walking straight
we must come to a track leading somewhere before the morning."
They found a clump of bushy hollies which afforded a shelter from
the wind, and sat down under it, some tufts of dead fern, crisp
and dry, that remained from the previous season forming a sort of
nest for them. But it was cold, nevertheless, on this March
night, particularly for Grace, who with the sanguine prematureness
of youth in matters of dress, had considered it spring-time, and
hence was not so warmly clad as Mrs. Charmond, who still wore her
winter fur. But after sitting a while the latter lady shivered no
less than Grace as the warmth imparted by her hasty walking began
to go off, and they felt the cold air drawing through the holly
leaves which scratched their backs and shoulders. Moreover, they
could hear some drops of rain falling on the trees, though none
reached the nook in which they had ensconced themselves.
"If we were to cling close together," said Mrs. Charmond, "we
should keep each other warm. But," she added, in an uneven voice,
"I suppose you won't come near me for the world!"
"Because--well, you know."
"Yes. I will--I don't hate you at all."
They consequently crept up to one another, and being in the dark,
lonely and weary, did what neither had dreamed of doing
beforehand, clasped each other closely, Mrs. Charmond's furs
consoling Grace's cold face, and each one's body as she breathed
alternately heaving against that of her companion.
When a few minutes had been spent thus, Mrs. Charmond said, "I am
so wretched!" in a heavy, emotional whisper.
"You are frightened," said Grace, kindly. "But there is nothing
to fear; I know these woods well."
"I am not at all frightened at the wood, but I am at other
Mrs. Charmond embraced Grace more and more tightly, and the
younger woman could feel her neighbor's breathings grow deeper and
more spasmodic, as though uncontrollable feelings were
"After I had left you," she went on, "I regretted something I had
said. I have to make a confession--I must make it!" she
whispered, brokenly, the instinct to indulge in warmth of
sentiment which had led this woman of passions to respond to
Fitzpiers in the first place leading her now to find luxurious
comfort in opening her heart to his wife. "I said to you I could
give him up without pain or deprivation--that he had only been my
pastime. That was untrue--it was said to deceive you. I could
not do it without much pain; and, what is more dreadful, I cannot
give him up--even if I would--of myself alone."
"Why? Because you love him, you mean."
Felice Charmond denoted assent by a movement.
"I knew I was right!" said Grace, exaltedly. "But that should not
deter you," she presently added, in a moral tone. "Oh, do
struggle against it, and you will conquer!"
"You are so simple, so simple!" cried Felice. "You think, because
you guessed my assumed indifference to him to be a sham, that you
know the extremes that people are capable of going to! But a good
deal more may have been going on than you have fathomed with all
your insight. I CANNOT give him up until he chooses to give up
"But surely you are the superior in station and in every way, and
the cut must come from you."
"Tchut! Must I tell verbatim, you simple child? Oh, I suppose I
must! I shall eat away my heart if I do not let out all, after
meeting you like this and finding how guileless you are." She
thereupon whispered a few words in the girl's ear, and burst into
a violent fit of sobbing.
Grace started roughly away from the shelter of the fur, and sprang
to her feet.
"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed, thunderstruck at a revelation
transcending her utmost suspicion. "Can it be--can it be!"
She turned as if to hasten away. But Felice Charmond's sobs came
to her ear: deep darkness circled her about, the funereal trees
rocked and chanted their diriges and placebos around her, and she
did not know which way to go. After a moment of energy she felt
mild again, and turned to the motionless woman at her feet.
"Are you rested?" she asked, in what seemed something like her own
voice grown ten years older.
Without an answer Mrs. Charmond slowly rose.
"You mean to betray me!" she said from the bitterest depths of her
soul. "Oh fool, fool I!"
"No," said Grace, shortly. "I mean no such thing. But let us be
quick now. We have a serious undertaking before us. Think of
nothing but going straight on."
They walked on in profound silence, pulling back boughs now
growing wet, and treading down woodbine, but still keeping a
pretty straight course. Grace began to be thoroughly worn out,
and her companion too, when, on a sudden, they broke into the
deserted highway at the hill-top on which the Sherton man had
waited for Mrs. Dollery's van. Grace recognized the spot as soon
as she looked around her.
"How we have got here I cannot tell," she said, with cold
civility. "We have made a complete circuit of Little Hintock.
The hazel copse is quite on the other side. Now we have only to
follow the road."
They dragged themselves onward, turned into the lane, passed the
track to Little Hintock, and so reached the park.
"Here I turn back," said Grace, in the same passionless voice.
"You are quite near home."
Mrs. Charmond stood inert, seeming appalled by her late admission.
"I have told you something in a moment of irresistible desire to
unburden my soul which all but a fool would have kept silent as
the grave," she said. "I cannot help it now. Is it to be a
secret--or do you mean war?"
"A secret, certainly," said Grace, mournfully. "How can you
expect war from such a helpless, wretched being as I!"
"And I'll do my best not to see him. I am his slave; but I'll
Grace was naturally kind; but she could not help using a small
"Pray don't distress yourself," she said, with exquisitely fine
scorn. "You may keep him--for me." Had she been wounded instead
of mortified she could not have used the words; but Fitzpiers's
hold upon her heart was slight.
They parted thus and there, and Grace went moodily homeward.
Passing Marty's cottage she observed through the window that the
girl was writing instead of chopping as usual, and wondered what
her correspondence could be. Directly afterwards she met people
in search of her, and reached the house to find all in serious
alarm. She soon explained that she had lost her way, and her
general depression was attributed to exhaustion on that account.
Could she have known what Marty was writing she would have been
The rumor which agitated the other folk of Hintock had reached the
young girl, and she was penning a letter to Fitzpiers, to tell him
that Mrs. Charmond wore her hair. It was poor Marty's only card,
and she played it, knowing nothing of fashion, and thinking her
revelation a fatal one for a lover.
It was at the beginning of April, a few days after the meeting
between Grace and Mrs. Charmond in the wood, that Fitzpiers, just
returned from London, was travelling from Sherton-Abbas to Hintock
in a hired carriage. In his eye there was a doubtful light, and
the lines of his refined face showed a vague disquietude. He
appeared now like one of those who impress the beholder as having
suffered wrong in being born.
His position was in truth gloomy, and to his appreciative mind it
seemed even gloomier than it was. His practice had been slowly
dwindling of late, and now threatened to die out altogether, the
irrepressible old Dr. Jones capturing patients up to Fitzpiers's
very door. Fitzpiers knew only too well the latest and greatest
cause of his unpopularity; and yet, so illogical is man, the
second branch of his sadness grew out of a remedial measure
proposed for the first--a letter from Felice Charmond imploring
him not to see her again. To bring about their severance still
more effectually, she added, she had decided during his absence
upon almost immediate departure for the Continent.
The time was that dull interval in a woodlander's life which
coincides with great activity in the life of the woodland itself--
a period following the close of the winter tree-cutting, and
preceding the barking season, when the saps are just beginning to
heave with the force of hydraulic lifts inside all the trunks of
Winterborne's contract was completed, and the plantations were
deserted. It was dusk; there were no leaves as yet; the
nightingales would not begin to sing for a fortnight; and "the
Mother of the Months" was in her most attenuated phase--starved
and bent to a mere bowed skeleton, which glided along behind the
bare twigs in Fitzpiers's company
When he reached home he went straight up to his wife's sitting-
room. He found it deserted, and without a fire. He had mentioned
no day for his return; nevertheless, he wondered why she was not
there waiting to receive him. On descending to the other wing of
the house and inquiring of Mrs. Melbury, he learned with much
surprise that Grace had gone on a visit to an acquaintance at
Shottsford-Forum three days earlier; that tidings had on this
morning reached her father of her being very unwell there, in
consequence of which he had ridden over to see her.
Fitzpiers went up-stairs again, and the little drawing-room, now
lighted by a solitary candle, was not rendered more cheerful by
the entrance of Grammer Oliver with an apronful of wood, which she
threw on the hearth while she raked out the grate and rattled
about the fire-irons, with a view to making things comfortable.
Fitzpiers considered that Grace ought to have let him know her
plans more accurately before leaving home in a freak like this.
He went desultorily to the window, the blind of which had not been
pulled down, and looked out at the thin, fast-sinking moon, and at
the tall stalk of smoke rising from the top of Suke Damson's
chimney, signifying that the young woman had just lit her fire to
He became conscious of a discussion in progress on the opposite
side of the court. Somebody had looked over the wall to talk to
the sawyers, and was telling them in a loud voice news in which
the name of Mrs. Charmond soon arrested his ears.
"Grammer, don't make so much noise with that grate," said the
surgeon; at which Grammer reared herself upon her knees and held
the fuel suspended in her hand, while Fitzpiers half opened the
"She is off to foreign lands again at last--hev made up her mind
quite sudden-like--and it is thoughted she'll leave in a day or
two. She's been all as if her mind were low for some days past--
with a sort of sorrow in her face, as if she reproached her own
soul. She's the wrong sort of woman for Hintock--hardly knowing a
beech from a woak--that I own. But I don't care who the man is,
she's been a very kind friend to me.
"Well, the day after to-morrow is the Sabbath day, and without
charity we are but tinkling simples; but this I do say, that her
going will be a blessed thing for a certain married couple who
The fire was lighted, and Fitzpiers sat down in front of it,
restless as the last leaf upon a tree. "A sort of sorrow in her
face, as if she reproached her own soul." Poor Felice. How
Felice's frame must be pulsing under the conditions of which he
had just heard the caricature; how her fair temples must ache;
what a mood of wretchedness she must be in! But for the mixing up
of his name with hers, and her determination to sunder their too
close acquaintance on that account, she would probably have sent
for him professionally. She was now sitting alone, suffering,
perhaps wishing that she had not forbidden him to come again.
Unable to remain in this lonely room any longer, or to wait for
the meal which was in course of preparation, he made himself ready
for riding, descended to the yard, stood by the stable-door while
Darling was being saddled, and rode off down the lane. He would
have preferred walking, but was weary with his day's travel.
As he approached the door of Marty South's cottage, which it was
necessary to pass on his way, she came from the porch as if she
had been awaiting him, and met him in the middle of the road,
holding up a letter. Fitzpiers took it without stopping, and
asked over his shoulder from whom it came.
Marty hesitated. "From me," she said, shyly, though with
This letter contained, in fact, Marty's declaration that she was
the original owner of Mrs. Charmond's supplementary locks, and
enclosed a sample from the native stock, which had grown
considerably by this time. It was her long contemplated apple of
discord, and much her hand trembled as she handed the document up
But it was impossible on account of the gloom for Fitzpiers to
read it then, while he had the curiosity to do so, and he put it
in his pocket. His imagination having already centred itself on
Hintock House, in his pocket the letter remained unopened and
forgotten, all the while that Marty was hopefully picturing its
excellent weaning effect upon him.
He was not long in reaching the precincts of the Manor House. He
drew rein under a group of dark oaks commanding a view of the
front, and reflected a while. His entry would not be altogether
unnatural in the circumstances of her possible indisposition; but
upon the whole he thought it best to avoid riding up to the door.
By silently approaching he could retreat unobserved in the event
of her not being alone. Thereupon he dismounted, hitched Darling
to a stray bough hanging a little below the general browsing line
of the trees, and proceeded to the door on foot.
In the mean time Melbury had returned from Shottsford-Forum. The
great court or quadrangle of the timber-merchant's house, divided
from the shady lane by an ivy-covered wall, was entered by two
white gates, one standing near each extremity of the wall. It so
happened that at the moment when Fitzpiers was riding out at the
lower gate on his way to the Manor House, Melbury was approaching
the upper gate to enter it. Fitzpiers being in front of Melbury
was seen by the latter, but the surgeon, never turning his head,
did not observe his father-in-law, ambling slowly and silently
along under the trees, though his horse too was a gray one.
"How is Grace?" said his wife, as soon as he entered.
Melbury looked gloomy. "She is not at all well," he said. "I
don't like the looks of her at all. I couldn't bear the notion of
her biding away in a strange place any longer, and I begged her to
let me get her home. At last she agreed to it, but not till after
much persuading. I was then sorry that I rode over instead of
driving; but I have hired a nice comfortable carriage--the
easiest-going I could get--and she'll be here in a couple of hours
or less. I rode on ahead to tell you to get her room ready; but I
see her husband has come back."
"Yes," said Mrs. Melbury. She expressed her concern that her
husband had hired a carriage all the way from Shottsford. "What
it will cost!" she said.
"I don't care what it costs!" he exclaimed, testily. "I was
determined to get her home. Why she went away I can't think! She
acts in a way that is not at all likely to mend matters as far as
I can see." (Grace had not told her father of her interview with
Mrs. Charmond, and the disclosure that had been whispered in her
startled ear.) "Since Edgar is come," he continued, "he might have
waited in till I got home, to ask me how she was, if only for a
compliment. I saw him go out; where is he gone?"
Mrs. Melbury did not know positively; but she told her husband
that there was not much doubt about the place of his first visit
after an absence. She had, in fact, seen Fitzpiers take the
direction of the Manor House.
Melbury said no more. It was exasperating to him that just at
this moment, when there was every reason for Fitzpiers to stay
indoors, or at any rate to ride along the Shottsford road to meet
his ailing wife, he should be doing despite to her by going
elsewhere. The old man went out-of-doors again; and his horse
being hardly unsaddled as yet, he told Upjohn to retighten the
girths, when he again mounted, and rode off at the heels of the
By the time that Melbury reached the park, he was prepared to go
any lengths in combating this rank and reckless errantry of his
daughter's husband. He would fetch home Edgar Fitzpiers to-night
by some means, rough or fair: in his view there could come of his
interference nothing worse than what existed at present. And yet
to every bad there is a worse.
He had entered by the bridle-gate which admitted to the park on
this side, and cantered over the soft turf almost in the tracks of
Fitzpiers's horse, till he reached the clump of trees under which
his precursor had halted. The whitish object that was
indistinctly visible here in the gloom of the boughs he found to
be Darling, as left by Fitzpiers.
"D--n him! why did he not ride up to the house in an honest way?"
He profited by Fitzpiers's example; dismounting, he tied his horse
under an adjoining tree, and went on to the house on foot, as the
other had done. He was no longer disposed to stick at trifles in
his investigation, and did not hesitate to gently open the front
door without ringing.
The large square hall, with its oak floor, staircase, and
wainscot, was lighted by a dim lamp hanging from a beam. Not a
soul was visible. He went into the corridor and listened at a
door which he knew to be that of the drawing-room; there was no
sound, and on turning the handle he found the room empty. A fire
burning low in the grate was the sole light of the apartment; its
beams flashed mockingly on the somewhat showy Versaillese
furniture and gilding here, in style as unlike that of the
structural parts of the building as it was possible to be, and
probably introduced by Felice to counteract the fine old-English
gloom of the place. Disappointed in his hope of confronting his
son-in-law here, he went on to the dining-room; this was without
light or fire, and pervaded by a cold atmosphere, which signified
that she had not dined there that day.
By this time Melbury's mood had a little mollified. Everything
here was so pacific, so unaggressive in its repose, that he was no
longer incited to provoke a collision with Fitzpiers or with
anybody. The comparative stateliness of the apartments influenced
him to an emotion, rather than to a belief, that where all was
outwardly so good and proper there could not be quite that
delinquency within which he had suspected. It occurred to him,
too, that even if his suspicion were justified, his abrupt, if not
unwarrantable, entry into the house might end in confounding its
inhabitant at the expense of his daughter's dignity and his own.
Any ill result would be pretty sure to hit Grace hardest in the
long-run. He would, after all, adopt the more rational course,
and plead with Fitzpiers privately, as he had pleaded with Mrs.
He accordingly retreated as silently as he had come. Passing the
door of the drawing-room anew, he fancied that he heard a noise
within which was not the crackling of the fire. Melbury gently
reopened the door to a distance of a few inches, and saw at the
opposite window two figures in the act of stepping out--a man and
a woman--in whom he recognized the lady of the house and his son-
in-law. In a moment they had disappeared amid the gloom of the
He returned into the hall, and let himself out by the carriage-
entrance door, coming round to the lawn front in time to see the
two figures parting at the railing which divided the precincts of
the house from the open park. Mrs. Charmond turned to hasten back
immediately that Fitzpiers had left her side, and he was speedily
absorbed into the duskiness of the trees.
Melbury waited till Mrs. Charmond had re-entered the drawing-room,
and then followed after Fitzpiers, thinking that he would allow
the latter to mount and ride ahead a little way before overtaking
him and giving him a piece of his mind. His son-in-law might
possibly see the second horse near his own; but that would do him
no harm, and might prepare him for what he was to expect.
The event, however, was different from the plan. On plunging into
the thick shade of the clump of oaks, he could not perceive his
horse Blossom anywhere; but feeling his way carefully along, he
by-and-by discerned Fitzpiers's mare Darling still standing as
before under the adjoining tree. For a moment Melbury thought
that his own horse, being young and strong, had broken away from
her fastening; but on listening intently he could hear her ambling
comfortably along a little way ahead, and a creaking of the saddle
which showed that she had a rider. Walking on as far as the small
gate in the corner of the park, he met a laborer, who, in reply to
Melbury's inquiry if he had seen any person on a gray horse, said
that he had only met Dr. Fitzpiers.
It was just what Melbury had begun to suspect: Fitzpiers had
mounted the mare which did not belong to him in mistake for his
own--an oversight easily explicable, in a man ever unwitting in
horse-flesh, by the darkness of the spot and the near similarity
of the animals in appearance, though Melbury's was readily enough
seen to be the grayer horse by day. He hastened back, and did
what seemed best in the circumstances--got upon old Darling, and
rode rapidly after Fitzpiers.
Melbury had just entered the wood, and was winding along the cart-
way which led through it, channelled deep in the leaf-mould with
large ruts that were formed by the timber-wagons in fetching the
spoil of the plantations, when all at once he descried in front,
at a point where the road took a turning round a large chestnut-
tree, the form of his own horse Blossom, at which Melbury
quickened Darling's pace, thinking to come up with Fitzpiers.
Nearer view revealed that the horse had no rider. At Melbury's
approach it galloped friskily away under the trees in a homeward
direction. Thinking something was wrong, the timber-merchant
dismounted as soon as he reached the chestnut, and after feeling
about for a minute or two discovered Fitzpiers lying on the
"Here--help!" cried the latter as soon as he felt Melbury's touch;
"I have been thrown off, but there's not much harm done, I think."
Since Melbury could not now very well read the younger man the
lecture he had intended, and as friendliness would be hypocrisy,
his instinct was to speak not a single word to his son-in-law. He
raised Fitzpiers into a sitting posture, and found that he was a
little stunned and stupefied, but, as he had said, not otherwise
hurt. How this fall had come about was readily conjecturable:
Fitzpiers, imagining there was only old Darling under him, had
been taken unawares by the younger horse's sprightliness.
Melbury was a traveller of the old-fashioned sort; having just
come from Shottsford-Forum, he still had in his pocket the
pilgrim's flask of rum which he always carried on journeys
exceeding a dozen miles, though he seldom drank much of it. He
poured it down the surgeon's throat, with such effect that he
quickly revived. Melbury got him on his legs; but the question
was what to do with him. He could not walk more than a few steps,
and the other horse had gone away.
With great exertion Melbury contrived to get him astride Darling,
mounting himself behind, and holding Fitzpiers round his waist
with one arm. Darling being broad, straight-backed, and high in
the withers, was well able to carry double, at any rate as far as
Hintock, and at a gentle pace.
The mare paced along with firm and cautious tread through the
copse where Winterborne had worked, and into the heavier soil
where the oaks grew; past Great Willy, the largest oak in the
wood, and thence towards Nellcombe Bottom, intensely dark now with
overgrowth, and popularly supposed to be haunted by the spirits of
the fratricides exorcised from Hintock House.
By this time Fitzpiers was quite recovered as to physical
strength. But he had eaten nothing since making a hasty breakfast
in London that morning, his anxiety about Felice having hurried
him away from home before dining; as a consequence, the old rum
administered by his father-in-law flew to the young man's head and
loosened his tongue, without his ever having recognized who it was
that had lent him a kindly hand. He began to speak in desultory
sentences, Melbury still supporting him.
"I've come all the way from London to-day," said Fitzpiers. "Ah,
that's the place to meet your equals. I live at Hintock--worse,
at Little Hintock--and I am quite lost there. There's not a man
within ten miles of Hintock who can comprehend me. I tell you,
Farmer What's-your-name, that I'm a man of education. I know
several languages; the poets and I are familiar friends; I used to
read more in metaphysics than anybody within fifty miles; and
since I gave that up there's nobody can match me in the whole
county of Wessex as a scientist. Yet I an doomed to live with
tradespeople in a miserable little hole like Hintock!"
"Indeed!" muttered Melbury.
Fitzpiers, increasingly energized by the alcohol, here reared
himself up suddenly from the bowed posture he had hitherto held,
thrusting his shoulders so violently against Melbury's breast as
to make it difficult for the old man to keep a hold on the reins.
"People don't appreciate me here!" the surgeon exclaimed; lowering
his voice, he added, softly and slowly, "except one--except
one!...A passionate soul, as warm as she is clever, as beautiful
as she is warm, and as rich as she is beautiful. I say, old
fellow, those claws of yours clutch me rather tight--rather like
the eagle's, you know, that ate out the liver of Pro--Pre--the man
on Mount Caucasus. People don't appreciate me, I say, except HER.
Ah, gods, I am an unlucky man! She would have been mine, she
would have taken my name; but unfortunately it cannot be so. I
stooped to mate beneath me, and now I rue it."
The position was becoming a very trying one for Melbury,
corporeally and mentally. He was obliged to steady Fitzpiers with
his left arm, and he began to hate the contact. He hardly knew
what to do. It was useless to remonstrate with Fitzpiers, in his
intellectual confusion from the rum and from the fall. He
remained silent, his hold upon his companion, however, being stern
rather than compassionate.
"You hurt me a little, farmer--though I am much obliged to you for
your kindness. People don't appreciate me, I say. Between
ourselves, I am losing my practice here; and why? Because I see
matchless attraction where matchless attraction is, both in person
and position. I mention no names, so nobody will be the wiser.
But I have lost her, in a legitimate sense, that is. If I were a
free man now, things have come to such a pass that she could not
refuse me; while with her fortune (which I don't covet for itself)
I should have a chance of satisfying an honorable ambition--a
chance I have never had yet, and now never, never shall have,
Melbury, his heart throbbing against the other's backbone, and his
brain on fire with indignation, ventured to mutter huskily, "Why?"
The horse ambled on some steps before Fitzpiers replied, "Because
I am tied and bound to another by law, as tightly as I am to you
by your arm--not that I complain of your arm--I thank you for
helping me. Well, where are we? Not nearly home yet?...Home, say
I. It is a home! When I might have been at the other house over
there." In a stupefied way he flung his hand in the direction of
the park. "I was just two months too early in committing myself.
Had I only seen the other first--"
Here the old man's arm gave Fitzpiers a convulsive shake. "What
are you doing?" continued the latter. "Keep still, please, or put
me down. I was saying that I lost her by a mere little two
months! There is no chance for me now in this world, and it makes
me reckless--reckless! Unless, indeed, anything should happen to
the other one. She is amiable enough; but if anything should
happen to her--and I hear she is ill--well, if it should, I should
be free--and my fame, my happiness, would be insured."
These were the last words that Fitzpiers uttered in his seat in
front of the timber-merchant. Unable longer to master himself,
Melbury, the skin of his face compressed, whipped away his spare
arm from Fitzpiers's waist, and seized him by the collar.
"You heartless villain--after all that we have done for ye!" he
cried, with a quivering lip. "And the money of hers that you've
had, and the roof we've provided to shelter ye! It is to me,
George Melbury, that you dare to talk like that!" The exclamation
was accompanied by a powerful swing from the shoulder, which flung
the young man head-long into the road, Fitzpiers fell with a heavy
thud upon the stumps of some undergrowth which had been cut during
the winter preceding. Darling continued her walk for a few paces
farther and stopped.
"God forgive me!" Melbury murmured, repenting of what he had done.
"He tried me too sorely; and now perhaps I've murdered him!"
He turned round in the saddle and looked towards the spot on which
Fitzpiers had fallen. To his great surprise he beheld the surgeon
rise to his feet with a bound, as if unhurt, and walk away rapidly
under the trees.
Melbury listened till the rustle of Fitzpiers's footsteps died
away. "It might have been a crime, but for the mercy of
Providence in providing leaves for his fall," he said to himself.
And then his mind reverted to the words of Fitzpiers, and his
indignation so mounted within him that he almost wished the fall
had put an end to the young man there and then.
He had not ridden far when he discerned his own gray mare standing
under some bushes. Leaving Darling for a moment, Melbury went
forward and easily caught the younger animal, now disheartened at
its freak. He then made the pair of them fast to a tree, and
turning back, endeavored to find some trace of Fitzpiers, feeling
pitifully that, after all, he had gone further than he intended
with the offender.
But though he threaded the wood hither and thither, his toes
ploughing layer after layer of the little horny scrolls that had
once been leaves, he could not find him. He stood still listening
and looking round. The breeze was oozing through the network of
boughs as through a strainer; the trunks and larger branches stood
against the light of the sky in the forms of writhing men,
gigantic candelabra, pikes, halberds, lances, and whatever besides
the fancy chose to make of them. Giving up the search, Melbury
came back to the horses, and walked slowly homeward, leading one
in each hand.
It happened that on this self-same evening a boy had been
returning from Great to Little Hintock about the time of
Fitzpiers's and Melbury's passage home along that route. A horse-
collar that had been left at the harness-mender's to be repaired
was required for use at five o'clock next morning, and in
consequence the boy had to fetch it overnight. He put his head
through the collar, and accompanied his walk by whistling the one
tune he knew, as an antidote to fear.
The boy suddenly became aware of a horse trotting rather friskily
along the track behind him, and not knowing whether to expect
friend or foe, prudence suggested that he should cease his
whistling and retreat among the trees till the horse and his rider
had gone by; a course to which he was still more inclined when he
found how noiselessly they approached, and saw that the horse
looked pale, and remembered what he had read about Death in the
Revelation. He therefore deposited the collar by a tree, and hid
himself behind it. The horseman came on, and the youth, whose
eyes were as keen as telescopes, to his great relief recognized
As Melbury surmised, Fitzpiers had in the darkness taken Blossom
for Darling, and he had not discovered his mistake when he came up
opposite the boy, though he was somewhat surprised at the
liveliness of his usually placid mare. The only other pair of
eyes on the spot whose vision was keen as the young carter's were
those of the horse; and, with that strongly conservative objection
to the unusual which animals show, Blossom, on eying the collar
under the tree--quite invisible to Fitzpiers--exercised none of
the patience of the older horse, but shied sufficiently to unseat
so second-rate an equestrian as the surgeon.
He fell, and did not move, lying as Melbury afterwards found him.
The boy ran away, salving his conscience for the desertion by
thinking how vigorously he would spread the alarm of the accident
when he got to Hintock--which he uncompromisingly did, incrusting
the skeleton event with a load of dramatic horrors.
Grace had returned, and the fly hired on her account, though not
by her husband, at the Crown Hotel, Shottsford-Forum, had been
paid for and dismissed. The long drive had somewhat revived her,
her illness being a feverish intermittent nervousness which had
more to do with mind than body, and she walked about her sitting-
room in something of a hopeful mood. Mrs. Melbury had told her as
soon as she arrived that her husband had returned from London. He
had gone out, she said, to see a patient, as she supposed, and he
must soon be back, since he had had no dinner or tea. Grace would
not allow her mind to harbor any suspicion of his whereabouts, and
her step-mother said nothing of Mrs. Charmond's rumored sorrows
and plans of departure.
So the young wife sat by the fire, waiting silently. She had left
Hintock in a turmoil of feeling after the revelation of Mrs.
Charmond, and had intended not to be at home when her husband
returned. But she had thought the matter over, and had allowed
her father's influence to prevail and bring her back; and now
somewhat regretted that Edgar's arrival had preceded hers.
By-and-by Mrs. Melbury came up-stairs with a slight air of flurry
"I have something to tell--some bad news," she said. "But you
must not be alarmed, as it is not so bad as it might have been.
Edgar has been thrown off his horse. We don't think he is hurt
much. It happened in the wood the other side of Nellcombe Bottom,
where 'tis said the ghosts of the brothers walk."
She went on to give a few of the particulars, but none of the
invented horrors that had been communicated by the boy. "I
thought it better to tell you at once," she added, "in case he
should not be very well able to walk home, and somebody should
Mrs. Melbury really thought matters much worse than she
represented, and Grace knew that she thought so. She sat down
dazed for a few minutes, returning a negative to her step-mother's
inquiry if she could do anything for her. "But please go into the
bedroom," Grace said, on second thoughts, "and see if all is ready
there--in case it is serious." Mrs. Melbury thereupon called
Grammer, and they did as directed, supplying the room with
everything they could think of for the accommodation of an injured
Nobody was left in the lower part of the house. Not many minutes
passed when Grace heard a knock at the door--a single knock, not
loud enough to reach the ears of those in the bedroom. She went
to the top of the stairs and said, faintly, "Come up," knowing
that the door stood, as usual in such houses, wide open.
Retreating into the gloom of the broad landing she saw rise up the
stairs a woman whom at first she did not recognize, till her voice
revealed her to be Suke Damson, in great fright and sorrow. A
streak of light from the partially closed door of Grace's room
fell upon her face as she came forward, and it was drawn and pale.
"Oh, Miss Melbury--I would say Mrs. Fitzpiers," she said, wringing
her hands. "This terrible news. Is he dead? Is he hurted very
bad? Tell me; I couldn't help coming; please forgive me, Miss
Melbury--Mrs. Fitzpiers I would say!"
Grace sank down on the oak chest which stood on the landing, and
put her hands to her now flushed face and head. Could she order
Suke Damson down-stairs and out of the house? Her husband might be
brought in at any moment, and what would happen? But could she
order this genuinely grieved woman away?
There was a dead silence of half a minute or so, till Suke said,
"Why don't ye speak? Is he here? Is he dead? If so, why can't I
see him--would it be so very wrong?"
Before Grace had answered somebody else came to the door below--a
foot-fall light as a roe's. There was a hurried tapping upon the
panel, as if with the impatient tips of fingers whose owner
thought not whether a knocker were there or no. Without a pause,
and possibly guided by the stray beam of light on the landing, the
newcomer ascended the staircase as the first had done. Grace was
sufficiently visible, and the lady, for a lady it was, came to her
"I could make nobody hear down-stairs," said Felice Charmond, with
lips whose dryness could almost be heard, and panting, as she
stood like one ready to sink on the floor with distress. "What
is--the matter--tell me the worst! Can he live?" She looked at
Grace imploringly, without perceiving poor Suke, who, dismayed at
such a presence, had shrunk away into the shade.
Mrs. Charmond's little feet were covered with mud; she was quite
unconscious of her appearance now. "I have heard such a dreadful
report," she went on; "I came to ascertain the truth of it. Is
"She won't tell us--he's dying--he's in that room!" burst out
Suke, regardless of consequences, as she heard the distant
movements of Mrs. Melbury and Grammer in the bedroom at the end of
"Where?" said Mrs. Charmond; and on Suke pointing out the
direction, she made as if to go thither.
Grace barred the way. "He is not there," she said. "I have not
seen him any more than you. I have heard a report only--not so
bad as you think. It must have been exaggerated to you."
"Please do not conceal anything--let me know all!" said Felice,
"You shall know all I know--you have a perfect right to know--who
can have a better than either of you?" said Grace, with a delicate
sting which was lost upon Felice Charmond now. "I repeat, I have
only heard a less alarming account than you have heard; how much
it means, and how little, I cannot say. I pray God that it means
not much--in common humanity. You probably pray the same--for
She regarded them both there in the dim light a while.
They stood dumb in their trouble, not stinging back at her; not
heeding her mood. A tenderness spread over Grace like a dew. It
was well, very well, conventionally, to address either one of them
in the wife's regulation terms of virtuous sarcasm, as woman,
creature, or thing, for losing their hearts to her husband. But
life, what was it, and who was she? She had, like the singer of
the psalm of Asaph, been plagued and chastened all the day long;
but could she, by retributive words, in order to please herself--
the individual--"offend against the generation," as he would not?
"He is dying, perhaps," blubbered Suke Damson, putting her apron
to her eyes.
In their gestures and faces there were anxieties, affection, agony
of heart, all for a man who had wronged them--had never really
behaved towards either of them anyhow but selfishly. Neither one
but would have wellnigh sacrificed half her life to him, even now.
The tears which his possibly critical situation could not bring to
her eyes surged over at the contemplation of these fellow-women.
She turned to the balustrade, bent herself upon it, and wept.
Thereupon Felice began to cry also, without using her
handkerchief, and letting the tears run down silently. While
these three poor women stood together thus, pitying another though
most to be pitied themselves, the pacing of a horse or horses
became audible in the court, and in a moment Melbury's voice was
heard calling to his stableman. Grace at once started up, ran
down the stairs and out into the quadrangle as her father crossed
it towards the door. "Father, what is the matter with him?" she
"Who--Edgar?" said Melbury, abruptly. "Matter? Nothing. What, my
dear, and have you got home safe? Why, you are better already! But
you ought not to be out in the air like this."
"But he has been thrown off his horse!"
"I know; I know. I saw it. He got up again, and walked off as
well as ever. A fall on the leaves didn't hurt a spry fellow like
him. He did not come this way," he added, significantly. "I
suppose he went to look for his horse. I tried to find him, but
could not. But after seeing him go away under the trees I found
the horse, and have led it home for safety. So he must walk.
Now, don't you stay out here in this night air.
She returned to the house with her father. when she had again
ascended to the landing and to her own rooms beyond it was a great
relief to her to find that both Petticoat the First and Petticoat
the Second of her Bien-aime had silently disappeared. They had,
in all probability, heard the words of her father, and departed
with their anxieties relieved.
Presently her parents came up to Grace, and busied themselves to
see that she was comfortable. Perceiving soon that she would
prefer to be left alone they went away.
Grace waited on. The clock raised its voice now and then, but her
husband did not return. At her father's usual hour for retiring
he again came in to see her. "Do not stay up," she said, as soon
as he entered. "I am not at all tired. I will sit up for him."
"I think it will be useless, Grace," said Melbury, slowly.
"I have had a bitter quarrel with him; and on that account I
hardly think he will return to-night."
"A quarrel? Was that after the fall seen by the boy?"
Melbury nodded an affirmative, without taking his eyes off the
"Yes; it was as we were coming home together," he said.
Something had been swelling up in Grace while her father was
speaking. "How could you want to quarrel with him?" she cried,
suddenly. "Why could you not let him come home quietly if he were
inclined to? He is my husband; and now you have married me to him
surely you need not provoke him unnecessarily. First you induce
me to accept him, and then you do things that divide us more than
we should naturally be divided!"
"How can you speak so unjustly to me, Grace?" said Melbury, with
indignant sorrow. "I divide you from your husband, indeed! You
He was inclined to say more--to tell her the whole story of the
encounter, and that the provocation he had received had lain
entirely in hearing her despised. But it would have greatly
distressed her, and he forbore. "You had better lie down. You
are tired," he said, soothingly. "Good-night."
The household went to bed, and a silence fell upon the dwelling,
broken only by the occasional skirr of a halter in Melbury's
stables. Despite her father's advice Grace still waited up. But
It was a critical time in Grace's emotional life that night. She
thought of her husband a good deal, and for the nonce forgot
"How these unhappy women must have admired Edgar!" she said to
herself. "How attractive he must be to everybody; and, indeed, he
is attractive." The possibility is that, piqued by rivalry, these
ideas might have been transformed into their corresponding
emotions by a show of the least reciprocity in Fitzpiers. There
was, in truth, a love-bird yearning to fly from her heart; and it
wanted a lodging badly.
But no husband came. The fact was that Melbury had been much
mistaken about the condition of Fitzpiers. People do not fall
headlong on stumps of underwood with impunity. Had the old man
been able to watch Fitzpiers narrowly enough, he would have
observed that on rising and walking into the thicket he dropped
blood as he went; that he had not proceeded fifty yards before he
showed signs of being dizzy, and, raising his hands to his head,
reeled and fell down.
Grace was not the only one who watched and meditated in Hintock
that night. Felice Charmond was in no mood to retire to rest at a
customary hour; and over her drawing-room fire at the Manor House
she sat as motionless and in as deep a reverie as Grace in her
little apartment at the homestead.
Having caught ear of Melbury's intelligence while she stood on the
landing at his house, and been eased of much of her mental
distress, her sense of personal decorum returned upon her with a
rush. She descended the stairs and left the door like a ghost,
keeping close to the walls of the building till she got round to
the gate of the quadrangle, through which she noiselessly passed
almost before Grace and her father had finished their discourse.
Suke Damson had thought it well to imitate her superior in this
respect, and, descending the back stairs as Felice descended the
front, went out at the side door and home to her cottage.
Once outside Melbury's gates Mrs. Charmond ran with all her speed
to the Manor House, without stopping or turning her head, and
splitting her thin boots in her haste. She entered her own
dwelling, as she had emerged from it, by the drawing-room window.
In other circumstances she would have felt some timidity at
undertaking such an unpremeditated excursion alone; but her
anxiety for another had cast out her fear for herself.
Everything in her drawing-room was just as she had left it--the
candles still burning, the casement closed, and the shutters
gently pulled to, so as to hide the state of the window from the
cursory glance of a servant entering the apartment. She had been
gone about three-quarters of an hour by the clock, and nobody
seemed to have discovered her absence. Tired in body but tense in
mind, she sat down, palpitating, round-eyed, bewildered at what
she had done.
She had been betrayed by affrighted love into a visit which, now
that the emotion instigating it had calmed down under her belief
that Fitzpiers was in no danger, was the saddest surprise to her.
This was how she had set about doing her best to escape her
passionate bondage to him! Somehow, in declaring to Grace and to
herself the unseemliness of her infatuation, she had grown a
convert to its irresistibility. If Heaven would only give her
strength; but Heaven never did! One thing was indispensable; she
must go away from Hintock if she meant to withstand further
temptation. The struggle was too wearying, too hopeless, while
she remained. It was but a continual capitulation of conscience
to what she dared not name.
By degrees, as she sat, Felice's mind--helped perhaps by the
anticlimax of learning that her lover was unharmed after all her
fright about him--grew wondrously strong in wise resolve. For the
moment she was in a mood, in the words of Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu,
"to run mad with discretion;" and was so persuaded that discretion
lay in departure that she wished to set about going that very
minute. Jumping up from her seat, she began to gather together
some small personal knick-knacks scattered about the room, to feel
that preparations were really in train.
While moving here and there she fancied that she heard a slight
noise out-of-doors, and stood still. Surely it was a tapping at
the window. A thought entered her mind, and burned her cheek. He
had come to that window before; yet was it possible that he should
dare to do so now! All the servants were in bed, and in the
ordinary course of affairs she would have retired also. Then she
remembered that on stepping in by the casement and closing it, she
had not fastened the window-shutter, so that a streak of light
from the interior of the room might have revealed her vigil to an
observer on the lawn. How all things conspired against her
keeping faith with Grace!
The tapping recommenced, light as from the bill of a little bird;
her illegitimate hope overcame her vow; she went and pulled back
the shutter, determining, however, to shake her head at him and
keep the casement securely closed.
What she saw outside might have struck terror into a heart stouter
than a helpless woman's at midnight. In the centre of the lowest
pane of the window, close to the glass, was a human face, which
she barely recognized as the face of Fitzpiers. It was surrounded
with the darkness of the night without, corpse-like in its pallor,
and covered with blood. As disclosed in the square area of the
pane it met her frightened eyes like a replica of the Sudarium of
He moved his lips, and looked at her imploringly. Her rapid mind
pieced together in an instant a possible concatenation of events
which might have led to this tragical issue. She unlatched the
casement with a terrified hand, and bending down to where he was
crouching, pressed her face to his with passionate solicitude.
She assisted him into the room without a word, to do which it was
almost necessary to lift him bodily. Quickly closing the window
and fastening the shutters, she bent over him breathlessly.
"Are you hurt much--much?" she cried, faintly. "Oh, oh, how is
"Rather much--but don't be frightened," he answered in a difficult
whisper, and turning himself to obtain an easier position if
possible. "A little water, please."
She ran across into the dining-room, and brought a bottle and
glass, from which he eagerly drank. He could then speak much
better, and with her help got upon the nearest couch.
"Are you dying, Edgar?" she said. "Do speak to me!"
"I am half dead," said Fitzpiers. "But perhaps I shall get over
it....It is chiefly loss of blood."
"But I thought your fall did not hurt you," said she. "Who did
"Felice--my father-in-law!...I have crawled to you more than a
mile on my hands and knees--God, I thought I should never have got
here!...I have come to you--be-cause you are the only friend--I
have in the world now....I can never go back to Hintock--never--to
the roof of the Melburys! Not poppy nor mandragora will ever
medicine this bitter feud!...If I were only well again--"
"Let me bind your head, now that you have rested."
"Yes--but wait a moment--it has stopped bleeding, fortunately, or
I should be a dead man before now. While in the wood I managed to
make a tourniquet of some half-pence and my handkerchief, as well
as I could in the dark....But listen, dear Felice! Can you hide me
till I am well? Whatever comes, I can be seen in Hintock no more.
My practice is nearly gone, you know--and after this I would not
care to recover it if I could."
By this time Felice's tears began to blind her. Where were now
her discreet plans for sundering their lives forever? To
administer to him in his pain, and trouble, and poverty, was her
single thought. The first step was to hide him, and she asked
herself where. A place occurred to her mind.
She got him some wine from the dining-room, which strengthened him
much. Then she managed to remove his boots, and, as he could now
keep himself upright by leaning upon her on one side and a
walking-stick on the other, they went thus in slow march out of
the room and up the stairs. At the top she took him along a
gallery, pausing whenever he required rest, and thence up a
smaller staircase to the least used part of the house, where she
unlocked a door. Within was a lumber-room, containing abandoned
furniture of all descriptions, built up in piles which obscured
the light of the windows, and formed between them nooks and lairs
in which a person would not be discerned even should an eye gaze
in at the door. The articles were mainly those that had belonged
to the previous owner of the house, and had been bought in by the
late Mr. Charmond at the auction; but changing fashion, and the
tastes of a young wife, had caused them to be relegated to this
Here Fitzpiers sat on the floor against the wall till she had
hauled out materials for a bed, which she spread on the floor in
one of the aforesaid nooks. She obtained water and a basin, and
washed the dried blood from his face and hands; and when he was
comfortably reclining, fetched food from the larder. While he ate
her eyes lingered anxiously on his face, following its every
movement with such loving-kindness as only a fond woman can show.
He was now in better condition, and discussed his position with
"What I fancy I said to Melbury must have been enough to enrage
any man, if uttered in cold blood, and with knowledge of his
presence. But I did not know him, and I was stupefied by what he
had given me, so that I hardly was aware of what I said. Well--
the veil of that temple is rent in twain!...As I am not going to
be seen again in Hintock, my first efforts must be directed to
allay any alarm that may be felt at my absence, before I am able
to get clear away. Nobody must suspect that I have been hurt, or
there will be a country talk about me. Felice, I must at once
concoct a letter to check all search for me. I think if you can
bring me a pen and paper I may be able to do it now. I could rest
better if it were done. Poor thing! how I tire her with running
up and down!"
She fetched writing materials, and held up the blotting-book as a
support to his hand, while he penned a brief note to his nominal
"The animosity shown towards me by your father," he wrote, in this
coldest of marital epistles, "is such that I cannot return again
to a roof which is his, even though it shelters you. A parting is
unavoidable, as you are sure to be on his side in this division.
I am starting on a journey which will take me a long way from
Hintock, and you must not expect to see me there again for some
He then gave her a few directions bearing upon his professional
engagements and other practical matters, concluding without a hint
of his destination, or a notion of when she would see him again.
He offered to read the note to Felice before he closed it up, but
she would not hear or see it; that side of his obligations
distressed her beyond endurance. She turned away from Fitzpiers,
and sobbed bitterly.
"If you can get this posted at a place some miles away," he
whispered, exhausted by the effort of writing--"at Shottsford or
Port-Bredy, or still better, Budmouth--it will divert all
suspicion from this house as the place of my refuge."
"I will drive to one or other of the places myself--anything to
keep it unknown," she murmured, her voice weighted with vague
foreboding, now that the excitement of helping him had passed
Fitzpiers told her that there was yet one thing more to he done.
"In creeping over the fence on to the lawn," he said, "I made the
rail bloody, and it shows rather much on the white paint--I could
see it in the dark. At all hazards it should be washed off.
Could you do that also, Felice?"
What will not women do on such devoted occasions? weary as she was
she went all the way down the rambling staircases to the ground-
floor, then to search for a lantern, which she lighted and hid
under her cloak; then for a wet sponge, and next went forth into
the night. The white railing stared out in the darkness at her
approach, and a ray from the enshrouded lantern fell upon the
blood--just where he had told her it would be found. she
shuddered. It was almost too much to bear in one day--but with a
shaking hand she sponged the rail clean, and returned to the
The time occupied by these several proceedings was not much less
than two hours. When all was done, and she had smoothed his
extemporized bed, and placed everything within his reach that she
could think of, she took her leave of him, and locked him in.
When her husband's letter reached Grace's hands, bearing upon it
the postmark of a distant town, it never once crossed her mind
that Fitzpiers was within a mile of her still. she felt relieved
that he did not write more bitterly of the quarrel with her
father, whatever its nature might have been; but the general
frigidity of his communication quenched in her the incipient spark
that events had kindled so shortly before.
From this centre of information it was made known in Hintock that
the doctor had gone away, and as none but the Melbury household
was aware that he did not return on the night of his accident, no
excitement manifested itself in the village.
Thus the early days of May passed by. None but the nocturnal
birds and animals observed that late one evening, towards the
middle of the month, a closely wrapped figure, with a crutch under
one arm and a stick in his hand, crept out from Hintock House
across the lawn to the shelter of the trees, taking thence a slow
and laborious walk to the nearest point of the turnpike-road. The
mysterious personage was so disguised that his own wife would
hardly have known him. Felice Charmond was a practised hand at
make-ups, as well she might be; and she had done her utmost in
padding and painting Fitzpiers with the old materials of her art
in the recesses of the lumber-room.
In the highway he was met by a covered carriage, which conveyed
him to Sherton-Abbas, whence he proceeded to the nearest port on
the south coast, and immediately crossed the Channel.
But it was known to everybody that three days after this time Mrs.
Charmond executed her long-deferred plan of setting out for a long
term of travel and residence on the Continent. She went off one
morning as unostentatiously as could be, and took no maid with
her, having, she said, engaged one to meet her at a point farther
on in her route. After that, Hintock House, so frequently
deserted, was again to be let. Spring had not merged in summer
when a clinching rumor, founded on the best of evidence, reached
the parish and neighborhood. Mrs. Charmond and Fitzpiers had been
seen together in Baden, in relations which set at rest the
question that had agitated the little community ever since the
Melbury had entered the Valley of Humiliation even farther than
Grace. His spirit seemed broken.
But once a week he mechanically went to market as usual, and here,
as he was passing by the conduit one day, his mental condition
expressed largely by his gait, he heard his name spoken by a voice
formerly familiar. He turned and saw a certain Fred Beaucock--
once a promising lawyer's clerk and local dandy, who had been
called the cleverest fellow in Sherton, without whose brains the
firm of solicitors employing him would be nowhere. But later on
Beaucock had fallen into the mire. He was invited out a good
deal, sang songs at agricultural meetings and burgesses' dinners;
in sum, victualled himself with spirits more frequently than was
good for the clever brains or body either. He lost his situation,
and after an absence spent in trying his powers elsewhere, came
back to his native town, where, at the time of the foregoing
events in Hintock, he gave legal advice for astonishingly small
fees--mostly carrying on his profession on public-house settles,
in whose recesses he might often have been overheard making
country-people's wills for half a crown; calling with a learned
voice for pen-and-ink and a halfpenny sheet of paper, on which he
drew up the testament while resting it in a little space wiped
with his hand on the table amid the liquid circles formed by the
cups and glasses. An idea implanted early in life is difficult to
uproot, and many elderly tradespeople still clung to the notion
that Fred Beaucock knew a great deal of law.
It was he who had called Melbury by name. "You look very down,
Mr. Melbury--very, if I may say as much," he observed, when the
timber-merchant turned. "But I know--I know. A very sad case--
very. I was bred to the law, as you know, and am professionally
no stranger to such matters. Well, Mrs. Fitzpiers has her
"How--what--a remedy?" said Melbury.
"Under the new law, sir. A new court was established last year,
and under the new statute, twenty and twenty-one Vic., cap.
eighty-five, unmarrying is as easy as marrying. No more Acts of
Parliament necessary; no longer one law for the rich and another
for the poor. But come inside--I was just going to have a
nibleykin of rum hot--I'll explain it all to you."
The intelligence amazed Melbury, who saw little of newspapers.
And though he was a severely correct man in his habits, and had no
taste for entering a tavern with Fred Beaucock--nay, would have
been quite uninfluenced by such a character on any other matter in
the world--such fascination lay in the idea of delivering his poor
girl from bondage, that it deprived him of the critical faculty.
He could not resist the ex-lawyer's clerk, and entered the inn.
Here they sat down to the rum, which Melbury paid for as a matter
of course, Beaucock leaning back in the settle with a legal
gravity which would hardly allow him to be conscious of the
spirits before him, though they nevertheless disappeared with
How much of the exaggerated information on the then new divorce
laws which Beaucock imparted to his listener was the result of
ignorance, and how much of dupery, was never ascertained. But he
related such a plausible story of the ease with which Grace could
become a free woman that her father was irradiated with the
project; and though he scarcely wetted his lips, Melbury never
knew how he came out of the inn, or when or where he mounted his
gig to pursue his way homeward. But home he found himself, his
brain having all the way seemed to ring sonorously as a gong in
the intensity of its stir. Before he had seen Grace, he was
accidentally met by Winterborne, who found his face shining as if
he had, like the Law-giver, conversed with an angel.
He relinquished his horse, and took Winterborne by the arm to a
heap of rendlewood--as barked oak was here called--which lay under
"Giles," he said, when they had sat down upon the logs, "there's a
new law in the land! Grace can be free quite easily. I only knew
it by the merest accident. I might not have found it out for the
next ten years. She can get rid of him--d'ye hear?--get rid of
him. Think of that, my friend Giles!"
He related what he had learned of the new legal remedy. A subdued
tremulousness about the mouth was all the response that
Winterborne made; and Melbury added, "My boy, you shall have her
yet--if you want her." His feelings had gathered volume as he said
this, and the articulate sound of the old idea drowned his sight
"Are you sure--about this new law?" asked Winterborne, so
disquieted by a gigantic exultation which loomed alternately with
fearful doubt that he evaded the full acceptance of Melbury's last
Melbury said that he had no manner of doubt, for since his talk
with Beaucock it had come into his mind that he had seen some time
ago in the weekly paper an allusion to such a legal change; but,
having no interest in those desperate remedies at the moment, he
had passed it over. "But I'm not going to let the matter rest
doubtful for a single day," he continued. "I am going to London.
Beaucock will go with me, and we shall get the best advice as soon
as we possibly can. Beaucock is a thorough lawyer--nothing the
matter with him but a fiery palate. I knew him as the stay and
refuge of Sherton in knots of law at one time."
Winterborne's replies were of the vaguest. The new possibility
was almost unthinkable by him at the moment. He was what was
called at Hintock "a solid-going fellow;" he maintained his
abeyant mood, not from want of reciprocity, but from a taciturn
hesitancy, taught by life as he knew it.
"But," continued the timber-merchant, a temporary crease or two of
anxiety supplementing those already established in his forehead by
time and care, "Grace is not at all well. Nothing constitutional,
you know; but she has been in a low, nervous state ever since that
night of fright. I don't doubt but that she will be all right
soon....I wonder how she is this evening?" He rose with the words,
as if he had too long forgotten her personality in the excitement
of her previsioned career.
They had sat till the evening was beginning to dye the garden
brown, and now went towards Melbury's house, Giles a few steps in
the rear of his old friend, who was stimulated by the enthusiasm
of the moment to outstep the ordinary walking of Winterborne. He
felt shy of entering Grace's presence as her reconstituted lover--
which was how her father's manner would be sure to present him--
before definite information as to her future state was
forthcoming; it seemed too nearly like the act of those who rush
in where angels fear to tread.
A chill to counterbalance all the glowing promise of the day was
prompt enough in coming. No sooner had he followed the timber-
merchant in at the door than he heard Grammer inform him that Mrs.
Fitzpiers was still more unwell than she had been in the morning.
Old Dr. Jones being in the neighborhood they had called him in,
and he had instantly directed them to get her to bed. They were
not, however, to consider her illness serious--a feverish, nervous
attack the result of recent events, was what she was suffering
from, and she would doubtless be well in a few days.
Winterborne, therefore, did not remain, and his hope of seeing her
that evening was disappointed. Even this aggravation of her
morning condition did not greatly depress Melbury. He knew, he
said, that his daughter's constitution was sound enough. It was
only these domestic troubles that were pulling her down. Once
free she would be blooming again. Melbury diagnosed rightly, as
parents usually do.
He set out for London the next morning, Jones having paid another
visit and assured him that he might leave home without uneasiness,
especially on an errand of that sort, which would the sooner put
an end to her suspense.
The timber-merchant had been away only a day or two when it was
told in Hintock that Mr. Fitzpiers's hat had been found in the
wood. Later on in the afternoon the hat was brought to Melbury,
and, by a piece of ill-fortune, into Grace's presence. It had
doubtless lain in the wood ever since his fall from the horse, but
it looked so clean and uninjured--the summer weather and leafy
shelter having much favored its preservation--that Grace could not
believe it had remained so long concealed. A very little of fact
was enough to set her fevered fancy at work at this juncture; she
thought him still in the neighborhood; she feared his sudden
appearance; and her nervous malady developed consequences so grave
that Dr. Jones began to look serious, and the household was
It was the beginning of June, and the cuckoo at this time of the
summer scarcely ceased his cry for more than two or three hours
during the night. The bird's note, so familiar to her ears from
infancy, was now absolute torture to the poor girl. On the Friday
following the Wednesday of Melbury's departure, and the day after
the discovery of Fitzpiers's hat, the cuckoo began at two o'clock
in the morning with a sudden cry from one of Melbury's apple-
trees, not three yards from the window of Grace's room.
"Oh, he is coming!" she cried, and in her terror sprang clean from
the bed out upon the floor.
These starts and frights continued till noon; and when the doctor
had arrived and had seen her, and had talked with Mrs. Melbury, he
sat down and meditated. That ever-present terror it was
indispensable to remove from her mind at all hazards; and he
thought how this might be done.
Without saying a word to anybody in the house, or to the
disquieted Winterborne waiting in the lane below, Dr. Jones went
home and wrote to Mr. Melbury at the London address he had
obtained from his wife. The gist of his communication was that
Mrs. Fitzpiers should be assured as soon as possible that steps
were being taken to sever the bond which was becoming a torture to
her; that she would soon be free, and was even then virtually so.
"If you can say it AT ONCE it may be the means of averting much
harm," he said. "Write to herself; not to me."
On Saturday he drove over to Hintock, and assured her with
mysterious pacifications that in a day or two she might expect to
receive some assuring news. So it turned out. When Sunday
morning came there was a letter for Grace from her father. It
arrived at seven o'clock, the usual time at which the toddling
postman passed by Hintock; at eight Grace awoke, having slept an
hour or two for a wonder, and Mrs. Melbury brought up the letter.
"Can you open it yourself?" said she.
"Oh yes, yes!" said Grace, with feeble impatience. She tore the
envelope, unfolded the sheet, and read; when a creeping blush
tinctured her white neck and cheek.
Her father had exercised a bold discretion. He informed her that
she need have no further concern about Fitzpiers's return; that
she would shortly be a free woman; and therefore, if she should
desire to wed her old lover--which he trusted was the case, since
it was his own deep wish--she would be in a position to do so. In
this Melbury had not written beyond his belief. But he very much
stretched the facts in adding that the legal formalities for
dissolving her union were practically settled. The truth was that
on the arrival of the doctor's letter poor Melbury had been much
agitated, and could with difficulty be prevented by Beaucock from
returning to her bedside. What was the use of his rushing back to
Hintock? Beaucock had asked him. The only thing that could do her
any good was a breaking of the bond. Though he had not as yet had
an interview with the eminent solicitor they were about to
consult, he was on the point of seeing him; and the case was clear
enough. Thus the simple Melbury, urged by his parental alarm at
her danger by the representations of his companion, and by the
doctor's letter, had yielded, and sat down to tell her roundly
that she was virtually free.
"And you'd better write also to the gentleman," suggested
Beaucock, who, scenting notoriety and the germ of a large practice
in the case, wished to commit Melbury to it irretrievably; to
effect which he knew that nothing would be so potent as awakening
the passion of Grace for Winterborne, so that her father might not
have the heart to withdraw from his attempt to make her love
legitimate when he discovered that there were difficulties in the
The nervous, impatient Melbury was much pleased with the idea of
"starting them at once," as he called it. To put his long-delayed
reparative scheme in train had become a passion with him now. He
added to the letter addressed to his daughter a passage hinting
that she ought to begin to encourage Winterborne, lest she should
lose him altogether; and he wrote to Giles that the path was
virtually open for him at last. Life was short, he declared;
there were slips betwixt the cup and the lip; her interest in him
should be reawakened at once, that all might be ready when the
good time came for uniting them.
At these warm words Winterborne was not less dazed than he was
moved in heart. The novelty of the avowal rendered what it
carried with it inapprehensible by him in its entirety.
Only a few short months ago completely estranged from this family--
beholding Grace going to and fro in the distance, clothed with
the alienating radiance of obvious superiority, the wife of the
then popular and fashionable Fitzpiers, hopelessly outside his
social boundary down to so recent a time that flowers then folded
were hardly faded yet--he was now asked by that jealously guarding
father of hers to take courage--to get himself ready for the day
when he should be able to claim her.
The old times came back to him in dim procession. How he had been
snubbed; how Melbury had despised his Christmas party; how that
sweet, coy Grace herself had looked down upon him and his
household arrangements, and poor Creedle's contrivances!
Well, he could not believe it. Surely the adamantine barrier of
marriage with another could not be pierced like this! It did
violence to custom. Yet a new law might do anything. But was it
at all within the bounds of probability that a woman who, over and
above her own attainments, had been accustomed to those of a
cultivated professional man, could ever be the wife of such as he?
Since the date of his rejection he had almost grown to see the
reasonableness of that treatment. He had said to himself again
and again that her father was right; that the poor ceorl, Giles
Winterborne, would never have been able to make such a dainty girl
happy. Yet, now that she had stood in a position farther removed
from his own than at first, he was asked to prepare to woo her.
He was full of doubt.
Nevertheless, it was not in him to show backwardness. To act so
promptly as Melbury desired him to act seemed, indeed, scarcely
wise, because of the uncertainty of events. Giles knew nothing of
legal procedure, but he did know that for him to step up to Grace
as a lover before the bond which bound her was actually dissolved
was simply an extravagant dream of her father's overstrained mind.
He pitied Melbury for his almost childish enthusiasm, and saw that
the aging man must have suffered acutely to be weakened to this
Winterborne was far too magnanimous to harbor any cynical
conjecture that the timber-merchant, in his intense affection for
Grace, was courting him now because that young lady, when
disunited, would be left in an anomalous position, to escape which
a bad husband was better than none. He felt quite sure that his
old friend was simply on tenterhooks of anxiety to repair the
almost irreparable error of dividing two whom Nature had striven
to join together in earlier days, and that in his ardor to do this
he was oblivious of formalities. The cautious supervision of his
past years had overleaped itself at last. hence, Winterborne
perceived that, in this new beginning, the necessary care not to
compromise Grace by too early advances must be exercised by
Perhaps Winterborne was not quite so ardent as heretofore. There
is no such thing as a stationary love: men are either loving more
or loving less. But Giles himself recognized no decline in his
sense of her dearness. If the flame did indeed burn lower now
than when he had fetched her from Sherton at her last return from
school, the marvel was small. He had been laboring ever since his
rejection and her marriage to reduce his former passion to a
docile friendship, out of pure regard to its expediency; and their
separation may have helped him to a partial success.
A week and more passed, and there was no further news of Melbury.
But the effect of the intelligence he had already transmitted upon
the elastic-nerved daughter of the woods had been much what the
old surgeon Jones had surmised. It had soothed her perturbed
spirit better than all the opiates in the pharmacopoeia. She had
slept unbrokenly a whole night and a day. The "new law" was to
her a mysterious, beneficent, godlike entity, lately descended
upon earth, that would make her as she once had been without
trouble or annoyance. Her position fretted her, its abstract
features rousing an aversion which was even greater than her
aversion to the personality of him who had caused it. It was
mortifying, productive of slights, undignified. Him she could
forget; her circumstances she had always with her.
She saw nothing of Winterborne during the days of her recovery;
and perhaps on that account her fancy wove about him a more
romantic tissue than it could have done if he had stood before her
with all the specks and flaws inseparable from corporeity. He
rose upon her memory as the fruit-god and the wood-god in
alternation; sometimes leafy, and smeared with green lichen, as
she had seen him among the sappy boughs of the plantations;
sometimes cider-stained, and with apple-pips in the hair of his
arms, as she had met him on his return from cider-making in White
Hart Vale, with his vats and presses beside him. In her secret
heart she almost approximated to her father's enthusiasm in
wishing to show Giles once for all how she still regarded him.
The question whether the future would indeed bring them together
for life was a standing wonder with her. She knew that it could
not with any propriety do so just yet. But reverently believing
in her father's sound judgment and knowledge, as good girls are
wont to do, she remembered what he had written about her giving a
hint to Winterborne lest there should be risk in delay, and her
feelings were not averse to such a step, so far as it could be
done without danger at this early stage of the proceedings.
From being a frail phantom of her former equable self she returned
in bounds to a condition of passable philosophy. She bloomed
again in the face in the course of a few days, and was well enough
to go about as usual. One day Mrs. Melbury proposed that for a
change she should be driven in the gig to Sherton market, whither