Part 7 out of 8
Melbury's man was going on other errands. Grace had no business
whatever in Sherton; but it crossed her mind that Winterborne
would probably be there, and this made the thought of such a drive
On the way she saw nothing of him; but when the horse was walking
slowly through the obstructions of Sheep Street, she discerned the
young man on the pavement. She thought of that time when he had
been standing under his apple-tree on her return from school, and
of the tender opportunity then missed through her fastidiousness.
Her heart rose in her throat. She abjured all such fastidiousness
now. Nor did she forget the last occasion on which she had beheld
him in that town, making cider in the court-yard of the Earl of
Wessex Hotel, while she was figuring as a fine lady in the balcony
Grace directed the man to set her down there in the midst, and
immediately went up to her lover. Giles had not before observed
her, and his eyes now suppressedly looked his pleasure, without
the embarrassment that had formerly marked him at such meetings.
When a few words had been spoken, she said, archly, "I have
nothing to do. Perhaps you are deeply engaged?"
"I? Not a bit. My business now at the best of times is small, I
am sorry to say."
"Well, then, I am going into the Abbey. Come along with me."
The proposition had suggested itself as a quick escape from
publicity, for many eyes were regarding her. She had hoped that
sufficient time had elapsed for the extinction of curiosity; but
it was quite otherwise. The people looked at her with tender
interest as the deserted girl-wife--without obtrusiveness, and
without vulgarity; but she was ill prepared for scrutiny in any
They walked about the Abbey aisles, and presently sat down. Not a
soul was in the building save themselves. She regarded a stained
window, with her head sideways, and tentatively asked him if he
remembered the last time they were in that town alone.
He remembered it perfectly, and remarked, "You were a proud miss
then, and as dainty as you were high. Perhaps you are now?"
Grace slowly shook her head. "Affliction has taken all that out
of me," she answered, impressively. "Perhaps I am too far the
other way now." As there was something lurking in this that she
could not explain, she added, so quickly as not to allow him time
to think of it, "Has my father written to you at all?"
"Yes," said Winterborne.
She glanced ponderingly up at him. "Not about me?"
His mouth was lined with charactery which told her that he had
been bidden to take the hint as to the future which she had been
bidden to give. The unexpected discovery sent a scarlet pulsation
through Grace for the moment. However, it was only Giles who
stood there, of whom she had no fear; and her self-possession
"He said I was to sound you with a view to--what you will
understand, if you care to," continued Winterborne, in a low
voice. Having been put on this track by herself, he was not
disposed to abandon it in a hurry.
They had been children together, and there was between them that
familiarity as to personal affairs which only such
acquaintanceship can give. "You know, Giles," she answered,
speaking in a very practical tone, "that that is all very well;
but I am in a very anomalous position at present, and I cannot say
anything to the point about such things as those."
"No?" he said, with a stray air as regarded the subject. He was
looking at her with a curious consciousness of discovery. He had
not been imagining that their renewed intercourse would show her
to him thus. For the first time he realized an unexpectedness in
her, which, after all, should not have been unexpected. She
before him was not the girl Grace Melbury whom he used to know.
Of course, he might easily have prefigured as much; but it had
never occurred to him. She was a woman who had been married; she
had moved on; and without having lost her girlish modesty, she had
lost her girlish shyness. The inevitable change, though known to
him, had not been heeded; and it struck him into a momentary
fixity. The truth was that he had never come into close
comradeship with her since her engagement to Fitzpiers, with the
brief exception of the evening encounter on Rubdown Hill, when she
met him with his cider apparatus; and that interview had been of
too cursory a kind for insight.
Winterborne had advanced, too. He could criticise her. Times had
been when to criticise a single trait in Grace Melbury would have
lain as far beyond his powers as to criticise a deity. This thing
was sure: it was a new woman in many ways whom he had come out to
see; a creature of more ideas, more dignity, and, above all, more
assurance, than the original Grace had been capable of. He could
not at first decide whether he were pleased or displeased at this.
But upon the whole the novelty attracted him.
She was so sweet and sensitive that she feared his silence
betokened something in his brain of the nature of an enemy to her.
"What are you thinking of that makes those lines come in your
forehead?" she asked. "I did not mean to offend you by speaking
of the time being premature as yet."
Touched by the genuine loving-kindness which had lain at the
foundation of these words, and much moved, Winterborne turned his
face aside, as he took her by the hand. He was grieved that he
had criticised her.
"You are very good, dear Grace," he said, in a low voice. "You
are better, much better, than you used to be."
He could not very well tell her how, and said, with an evasive
smile, "You are prettier;" which was not what he really had meant.
He then remained still holding her right hand in his own right, so
that they faced in opposite ways; and as he did not let go, she
ventured upon a tender remonstrance.
"I think we have gone as far as we ought to go at present--and far
enough to satisfy my poor father that we are the same as ever.
You see, Giles, my case is not settled yet, and if--Oh, suppose I
NEVER get free!--there should be any hitch or informality!"
She drew a catching breath, and turned pale. The dialogue had
been affectionate comedy up to this point. The gloomy atmosphere
of the past, and the still gloomy horizon of the present, had been
for the interval forgotten. Now the whole environment came back,
the due balance of shade among the light was restored.
"It is sure to be all right, I trust?" she resumed, in uneasy
accents. "What did my father say the solicitor had told him?"
"Oh--that all is sure enough. The case is so clear--nothing could
be clearer. But the legal part is not yet quite done and
finished, as is natural."
"Oh no--of course not," she said, sunk in meek thought. "But
father said it was ALMOST--did he not? Do you know anything about
the new law that makes these things so easy?"
"Nothing--except the general fact that it enables ill-assorted
husbands and wives to part in a way they could not formerly do
without an Act of Parliament."
"Have you to sign a paper, or swear anything? Is it something like
"Yes, I believe so."
"How long has it been introduced?"
"About six months or a year, the lawyer said, I think."
To hear these two poor Arcadian innocents talk of imperial law
would have made a humane person weep who should have known what a
dangerous structure they were building up on their supposed
knowledge. They remained in thought, like children in the
presence of the incomprehensible.
"Giles," she said, at last, "it makes me quite weary when I think
how serious my situation is, or has been. Shall we not go out
from here now, as it may seem rather fast of me--our being so long
together, I mean--if anybody were to see us? I am almost sure,"
she added, uncertainly, "that I ought not to let you hold my hand
yet, knowing that the documents--or whatever it may be--have not
been signed; so that I--am still as married as ever--or almost.
My dear father has forgotten himself. Not that I feel morally
bound to any one else, after what has taken place--no woman of
spirit could--now, too, that several months have passed. But I
wish to keep the proprieties as well as I can."
"Yes, yes. Still, your father reminds us that life is short. I
myself feel that it is; that is why I wished to understand you in
this that we have begun. At times, dear Grace, since receiving
your father's letter, I am as uneasy and fearful as a child at
what he said. If one of us were to die before the formal signing
and sealing that is to release you have been done--if we should
drop out of the world and never have made the most of this little,
short, but real opportunity, I should think to myself as I sunk
down dying, 'Would to my God that I had spoken out my whole heart--
given her one poor little kiss when I had the chance to give it!
But I never did, although she had promised to be mine some day;
and now I never can.' That's what I should think."
She had begun by watching the words from his lips with a mournful
regard, as though their passage were visible; but as he went on
she dropped her glance. "Yes," she said, "I have thought that,
too. And, because I have thought it, I by no means meant, in
speaking of the proprieties, to be reserved and cold to you who
loved me so long ago, or to hurt your heart as I used to do at
that thoughtless time. Oh, not at all, indeed! But--ought I to
allow you?--oh, it is too quick--surely!" Her eyes filled with
tears of bewildered, alarmed emotion.
Winterborne was too straightforward to influence her further
against her better judgment. "Yes--I suppose it is," he said,
repentantly. "I'll wait till all is settled. What did your
father say in that last letter?"
He meant about his progress with the petition; but she, mistaking
him, frankly spoke of the personal part. "He said--what I have
implied. Should I tell more plainly?"
"Oh no--don't, if it is a secret."
"Not at all. I will tell every word, straight out, Giles, if you
wish. He said I was to encourage you. There. But I cannot obey
him further to-day. Come, let us go now." She gently slid her
hand from his, and went in front of him out of the Abbey.
"I was thinking of getting some dinner," said Winterborne,
changing to the prosaic, as they walked. "And you, too, must
require something. Do let me take you to a place I know."
Grace was almost without a friend in the world outside her
father's house; her life with Fitzpiers had brought her no
society; had sometimes, indeed, brought her deeper solitude and
inconsideration than any she had ever known before. Hence it was
a treat to her to find herself again the object of thoughtful
care. But she questioned if to go publicly to dine with Giles
Winterborne were not a proposal, due rather to his
unsophistication than to his discretion. She said gently that she
would much prefer his ordering her lunch at some place and then
coming to tell her it was ready, while she remained in the Abbey
porch. Giles saw her secret reasoning, thought how hopelessly
blind to propriety he was beside her, and went to do as she
He was not absent more than ten minutes, and found Grace where he
had left her. "It will be quite ready by the time you get there,"
he said, and told her the name of the inn at which the meal had
been ordered, which was one that she had never heard of.
"I'll find it by inquiry," said Grace, setting out.
"And shall I see you again?"
"Oh yes--come to me there. It will not be like going together. I
shall want you to find my father's man and the gig for me."
He waited on some ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, till he
thought her lunch ended, and that he might fairly take advantage
of her invitation to start her on her way home. He went straight
to The Three Tuns--a little tavern in a side street, scrupulously
clean, but humble and inexpensive. On his way he had an
occasional misgiving as to whether the place had been elegant
enough for her; and as soon as he entered it, and saw her
ensconced there, he perceived that he had blundered.
Grace was seated in the only dining-room that the simple old
hostelry could boast of, which was also a general parlor on
market-days; a long, low apartment, with a sanded floor herring-
boned with a broom; a wide, red-curtained window to the street,
and another to the garden. Grace had retreated to the end of the
room looking out upon the latter, the front part being full of a
mixed company which had dropped in since he was there.
She was in a mood of the greatest depression. On arriving, and
seeing what the tavern was like, she had been taken by surprise;
but having gone too far to retreat, she had heroically entered and
sat down on the well-scrubbed settle, opposite the narrow table
with its knives and steel forks, tin pepper-boxes, blue salt-
cellars, and posters advertising the sale of bullocks against the
wall. The last time that she had taken any meal in a public place
it had been with Fitzpiers at the grand new Earl of Wessex Hotel
in that town, after a two months' roaming and sojourning at the
gigantic hotels of the Continent. How could she have expected any
other kind of accommodation in present circumstances than such as
Giles had provided? And yet how unprepared she was for this
change! The tastes that she had acquired from Fitzpiers had been
imbibed so subtly that she hardly knew she possessed them till
confronted by this contrast. The elegant Fitzpiers, in fact, at
that very moment owed a long bill at the above-mentioned hotel for
the luxurious style in which he used to put her up there whenever
they drove to Sherton. But such is social sentiment, that she had
been quite comfortable under those debt-impending conditions,
while she felt humiliated by her present situation, which
Winterborne had paid for honestly on the nail.
He had noticed in a moment that she shrunk from her position, and
all his pleasure was gone. It was the same susceptibility over
again which had spoiled his Christmas party long ago.
But he did not know that this recrudescence was only the casual
result of Grace's apprenticeship to what she was determined to
learn in spite of it--a consequence of one of those sudden
surprises which confront everybody bent upon turning over a new
leaf. She had finished her lunch, which he saw had been a very
mincing performance; and he brought her out of the house as soon
as he could.
"Now," he said, with great sad eyes, "you have not finished at all
well, I know. Come round to the Earl of Wessex. I'll order a tea
there. I did not remember that what was good enough for me was
not good enough for you."
Her face faded into an aspect of deep distress when she saw what
had happened. "Oh no, Giles," she said, with extreme pathos;
"certainly not. Why do you--say that when you know better? You
EVER will misunderstand me."
"Indeed, that's not so, Mrs. Fitzpiers. Can you deny that you
felt out of place at The Three Tuns?"
"I don't know. Well, since you make me speak, I do not deny it."
"And yet I have felt at home there these twenty years. Your
husband used always to take you to the Earl of Wessex, did he
"Yes," she reluctantly admitted. How could she explain in the
street of a market-town that it was her superficial and transitory
taste which had been offended, and not her nature or her
affection? Fortunately, or unfortunately, at that moment they saw
Melbury's man driving vacantly along the street in search of her,
the hour having passed at which he had been told to take her up.
Winterborne hailed him, and she was powerless then to prolong the
discourse. She entered the vehicle sadly, and the horse trotted
All night did Winterborne think over that unsatisfactory ending of
a pleasant time, forgetting the pleasant time itself. He feared
anew that they could never be happy together, even should she be
free to choose him. She was accomplished; he was unrefined. It
was the original difficulty, which he was too sensitive to
recklessly ignore, as some men would have done in his place.
He was one of those silent, unobtrusive beings who want little
from others in the way of favor or condescension, and perhaps on
that very account scrutinize those others' behavior too closely.
He was not versatile, but one in whom a hope or belief which had
once had its rise, meridian, and decline seldom again exactly
recurred, as in the breasts of more sanguine mortals. He had once
worshipped her, laid out his life to suit her, wooed her, and lost
her. Though it was with almost the same zest, it was with not
quite the same hope, that he had begun to tread the old tracks
again, and allowed himself to be so charmed with her that day.
Move another step towards her he would not. He would even repulse
her--as a tribute to conscience. It would be sheer sin to let her
prepare a pitfall for her happiness not much smaller than the
first by inveigling her into a union with such as he. Her poor
father was now blind to these subtleties, which he had formerly
beheld as in noontide light. It was his own duty to declare them--
for her dear sake.
Grace, too, had a very uncomfortable night, and her solicitous
embarrassment was not lessened the next morning when another
letter from her father was put into her hands. Its tenor was an
intenser strain of the one that had preceded it. After stating
how extremely glad he was to hear that she was better, and able to
get out-of-doors, he went on:
"This is a wearisome business, the solicitor we have come to see
being out of town. I do not know when I shall get home. My great
anxiety in this delay is still lest you should lose Giles
Winterborne. I cannot rest at night for thinking that while our
business is hanging fire he may become estranged, or go away from
the neighborhood. I have set my heart upon seeing him your
husband, if you ever have another. Do, then, Grace, give him some
temporary encouragement, even though it is over-early. For when I
consider the past I do think God will forgive me and you for being
a little forward. I have another reason for this, my dear. I
feel myself going rapidly downhill, and late affairs have still
further helped me that way. And until this thing is done I cannot
rest in peace."
He added a postscript:
"I have just heard that the solicitor is to be seen to-morrow.
Possibly, therefore, I shall return in the evening after you get
The paternal longing ran on all fours with her own desire; and yet
in forwarding it yesterday she had been on the brink of giving
offence. While craving to be a country girl again just as her
father requested; to put off the old Eve, the fastidious miss--or
rather madam--completely, her first attempt had been beaten by the
unexpected vitality of that fastidiousness. Her father on
returning and seeing the trifling coolness of Giles would be sure
to say that the same perversity which had led her to make
difficulties about marrying Fitzpiers was now prompting her to
blow hot and cold with poor Winterborne.
If the latter had been the most subtle hand at touching the stops
of her delicate soul instead of one who had just bound himself to
let her drift away from him again (if she would) on the wind of
her estranging education, he could not have acted more seductively
than he did that day. He chanced to be superintending some
temporary work in a field opposite her windows. She could not
discover what he was doing, but she read his mood keenly and
truly: she could see in his coming and going an air of determined
abandonment of the whole landscape that lay in her direction.
Oh, how she longed to make it up with him! Her father coming in
the evening--which meant, she supposed, that all formalities would
be in train, her marriage virtually annulled, and she be free to
be won again--how could she look him in the face if he should see
them estranged thus?
It was a fair green evening in June. She was seated in the
garden, in the rustic chair which stood under the laurel-bushes--
made of peeled oak-branches that came to Melbury's premises as
refuse after barking-time. The mass of full-juiced leafage on the
heights around her was just swayed into faint gestures by a nearly
spent wind which, even in its enfeebled state, did not reach her
shelter. All day she had expected Giles to call--to inquire how
she had got home, or something or other; but he had not come. And
he still tantalized her by going athwart and across that orchard
opposite. She could see him as she sat.
A slight diversion was presently created by Creedle bringing him a
letter. She knew from this that Creedle had just come from
Sherton, and had called as usual at the post-office for anything
that had arrived by the afternoon post, of which there was no
delivery at Hintock. She pondered on what the letter might
contain--particularly whether it were a second refresher for
Winterborne from her father, like her own of the morning.
But it appeared to have no bearing upon herself whatever. Giles
read its contents; and almost immediately turned away to a gap in
the hedge of the orchard--if that could be called a hedge which,
owing to the drippings of the trees, was little more than a bank
with a bush upon it here and there. He entered the plantation,
and was no doubt going that way homeward to the mysterious hut he
occupied on the other side of the woodland.
The sad sands were running swiftly through Time's glass; she had
often felt it in these latter days; and, like Giles, she felt it
doubly now after the solemn and pathetic reminder in her father's
communication. Her freshness would pass, the long-suffering
devotion of Giles might suddenly end--might end that very hour.
Men were so strange. The thought took away from her all her
former reticence, and made her action bold. She started from her
seat. If the little breach, quarrel, or whatever it might be
called, of yesterday, was to be healed up it must be done by her
on the instant. She crossed into the orchard, and clambered
through the gap after Giles, just as he was diminishing to a faun-
like figure under the green canopy and over the brown floor.
Grace had been wrong--very far wrong--in assuming that the letter
had no reference to herself because Giles had turned away into the
wood after its perusal. It was, sad to say, because the missive
had so much reference to herself that he had thus turned away. He
feared that his grieved discomfiture might be observed. The
letter was from Beaucock, written a few hours later than Melbury's
to his daughter. It announced failure.
Giles had once done that thriftless man a good turn, and now was
the moment when Beaucock had chosen to remember it in his own way.
During his absence in town with Melbury, the lawyer's clerk had
naturally heard a great deal of the timber-merchant's family
scheme of justice to Giles, and his communication was to inform
Winterborne at the earliest possible moment that their attempt had
failed, in order that the young man should not place himself in a
false position towards Grace in the belief of its coming success.
The news was, in sum, that Fitzpiers's conduct had not been
sufficiently cruel to Grace to enable her to snap the bond. She
was apparently doomed to be his wife till the end of the chapter.
Winterborne quite forgot his superficial differences with the poor
girl under the warm rush of deep and distracting love for her
which the almost tragical information engendered.
To renounce her forever--that was then the end of it for him,
after all. There was no longer any question about suitability, or
room for tiffs on petty tastes. The curtain had fallen again
between them. She could not be his. The cruelty of their late
revived hope was now terrible. How could they all have been so
simple as to suppose this thing could be done?
It was at this moment that, hearing some one coming behind him, he
turned and saw her hastening on between the thickets. He
perceived in an instant that she did not know the blighting news.
"Giles, why didn't you come across to me?" she asked, with arch
reproach. "Didn't you see me sitting there ever so long?"
"Oh yes," he said, in unprepared, extemporized tones, for her
unexpected presence caught him without the slightest plan of
behavior in the conjuncture. His manner made her think that she
had been too chiding in her speech; and a mild scarlet wave passed
over her as she resolved to soften it.
"I have had another letter from my father," she hastened to
continue. "He thinks he may come home this evening. And--in view
of his hopes--it will grieve him if there is any little difference
between us, Giles."
"There is none," he said, sadly regarding her from the face
downward as he pondered how to lay the cruel truth bare.
"Still--I fear you have not quite forgiven me about my being
uncomfortable at the inn."
"I have, Grace, I'm sure."
"But you speak in quite an unhappy way," she returned, coming up
close to him with the most winning of the many pretty airs that
appertained to her. "Don't you think you will ever be happy,
He did not reply for some instants. "When the sun shines on the
north front of Sherton Abbey--that's when my happiness will come
to me!" said he, staring as it were into the earth.
"But--then that means that there is something more than my
offending you in not liking The Three Tuns. If it is because I--
did not like to let you kiss me in the Abbey--well, you know,
Giles, that it was not on account of my cold feelings, but because
I did certainly, just then, think it was rather premature, in
spite of my poor father. That was the true reason--the sole one.
But I do not want to be hard--God knows I do not," she said, her
voice fluctuating. "And perhaps--as I am on the verge of freedom--
I am not right, after all, in thinking there is any harm in your
"Oh God!" said Winterborne within himself. His head was turned
askance as he still resolutely regarded the ground. For the last
several minutes he had seen this great temptation approaching him
in regular siege; and now it had come. The wrong, the social sin,
of now taking advantage of the offer of her lips had a magnitude,
in the eyes of one whose life had been so primitive, so ruled by
purest household laws, as Giles's, which can hardly be explained.
"Did you say anything?" she asked, timidly.
"Oh no--only that--"
"You mean that it must BE settled, since my father is coming
home?" she said, gladly.
Winterborne, though fighting valiantly against himself all this
while--though he would have protected Grace's good repute as the
apple of his eye--was a man; and, as Desdemona said, men are not
gods. In face of the agonizing seductiveness shown by her, in her
unenlightened school-girl simplicity about the laws and
ordinances, he betrayed a man's weakness. Since it was so--since
it had come to this, that Grace, deeming herself free to do it,
was virtually asking him to demonstrate that he loved her--since
he could demonstrate it only too truly--since life was short and
love was strong--he gave way to the temptation, notwithstanding
that he perfectly well knew her to be wedded irrevocably to
Fitzpiers. Indeed, he cared for nothing past or future, simply
accepting the present and what it brought, desiring once in his
life to clasp in his arms her he had watched over and loved so
She started back suddenly from his embrace, influenced by a sort
of inspiration. "Oh, I suppose," she stammered, "that I am really
free?--that this is right? Is there REALLY a new law? Father
cannot have been too sanguine in saying--"
He did not answer, and a moment afterwards Grace burst into tears
in spite of herself. "Oh, why does not my father come home and
explain," she sobbed, "and let me know clearly what I am? It is
too trying, this, to ask me to--and then to leave me so long in so
vague a state that I do not know what to do, and perhaps do
Winterborne felt like a very Cain, over and above his previous
sorrow. How he had sinned against her in not telling her what he
knew. He turned aside; the feeling of his cruelty mounted higher
and higher. How could he have dreamed of kissing her? He could
hardly refrain from tears. Surely nothing more pitiable had ever
been known than the condition of this poor young thing, now as
heretofore the victim of her father's well-meant but blundering
Even in the hour of Melbury's greatest assurance Winterborne had
harbored a suspicion that no law, new or old, could undo Grace's
marriage without her appearance in public; though he was not
sufficiently sure of what might have been enacted to destroy by
his own words her pleasing idea that a mere dash of the pen, on
her father's testimony, was going to be sufficient. But he had
never suspected the sad fact that the position was irremediable.
Poor Grace, perhaps feeling that she had indulged in too much
fluster for a mere kiss, calmed herself at finding how grave he
was. "I am glad we are friends again anyhow," she said, smiling
through her tears. "Giles, if you had only shown half the
boldness before I married that you show now, you would have
carried me off for your own first instead of second. If we do
marry, I hope you will never think badly of me for encouraging you
a little, but my father is SO impatient, you know, as his years
and infirmities increase, that he will wish to see us a little
advanced when he comes. That is my only excuse."
To Winterborne all this was sadder than it was sweet. How could
she so trust her father's conjectures? He did not know how to tell
her the truth and shame himself. And yet he felt that it must be
done. "We may have been wrong," he began, almost fearfully, "in
supposing that it can all be carried out while we stay here at
Hintock. I am not sure but that people may have to appear in a
public court even under the new Act; and if there should be any
difficulty, and we cannot marry after all--"
Her cheeks became slowly bloodless. "Oh, Giles," she said,
grasping his arm, "you have heard something! What--cannot my
father conclude it there and now? Surely he has done it? Oh,
Giles, Giles, don't deceive me. What terrible position am I in?"
He could not tell her, try as he would. The sense of her implicit
trust in his honor absolutely disabled him. "I cannot inform
you," he murmured, his voice as husky as that of the leaves
underfoot. "Your father will soon be here. Then we shall know.
I will take you home."
Inexpressibly dear as she was to him, he offered her his arm with
the most reserved air, as he added, correctingly, "I will take
you, at any rate, into the drive."
Thus they walked on together. Grace vibrating between happiness
and misgiving. It was only a few minutes' walk to where the drive
ran, and they had hardly descended into it when they heard a voice
behind them cry, "Take out that arm!"
For a moment they did not heed, and the voice repeated, more
loudly and hoarsely,
"Take out that arm!"
It was Melbury's. He had returned sooner than they expected, and
now came up to them. Grace's hand had been withdrawn like
lightning on her hearing the second command. "I don't blame you--
I don't blame you," he said, in the weary cadence of one broken
down with scourgings. "But you two must walk together no more--I
have been surprised--I have been cruelly deceived--Giles, don't
say anything to me; but go away!"
He was evidently not aware that Winterborne had known the truth
before he brought it; and Giles would not stay to discuss it with
him then. When the young man had gone Melbury took his daughter
in-doors to the room he used as his office. There he sat down,
and bent over the slope of the bureau, her bewildered gaze fixed
When Melbury had recovered a little he said, "You are now, as
ever, Fitzpiers's wife. I was deluded. He has not done you
ENOUGH harm. You are still subject to his beck and call."
"Then let it be, and never mind, father," she said, with dignified
sorrow. "I can bear it. It is your trouble that grieves me
most." She stooped over him, and put her arm round his neck, which
distressed Melbury still more. "I don't mind at all what comes to
me," Grace continued; "whose wife I am, or whose I am not. I do
love Giles; I cannot help that; and I have gone further with him
than I should have done if I had known exactly how things were.
But I do not reproach you."
"Then Giles did not tell you?" said Melbury.
"No," said she. "He could not have known it. His behavior to me
proved that he did not know."
Her father said nothing more, and Grace went away to the solitude
of her chamber.
Her heavy disquietude had many shapes; and for a time she put
aside the dominant fact to think of her too free conduct towards
Giles. His love-making had been brief as it was sweet; but would
he on reflection contemn her for forwardness? How could she have
been so simple as to suppose she was in a position to behave as
she had done! Thus she mentally blamed her ignorance; and yet in
the centre of her heart she blessed it a little for what it had
momentarily brought her.
Life among the people involved in these events seemed to be
suppressed and hide-bound for a while. Grace seldom showed
herself outside the house, never outside the garden; for she
feared she might encounter Giles Winterborne; and that she could
This pensive intramural existence of the self-constituted nun
appeared likely to continue for an indefinite time. She had
learned that there was one possibility in which her formerly
imagined position might become real, and only one; that her
husband's absence should continue long enough to amount to
positive desertion. But she never allowed her mind to dwell much
upon the thought; still less did she deliberately hope for such a
result. Her regard for Winterborne had been rarefied by the shock
which followed its avowal into an ethereal emotion that had little
to do with living and doing.
As for Giles, he was lying--or rather sitting--ill at his hut. A
feverish indisposition which had been hanging about him for some
time, the result of a chill caught the previous winter, seemed to
acquire virulence with the prostration of his hopes. But not a
soul knew of his languor, and he did not think the case serious
enough to send for a medical man. After a few days he was better
again, and crept about his home in a great coat, attending to his
simple wants as usual with his own hands. So matters stood when
the limpid inertion of Grace's pool-like existence was disturbed
as by a geyser. She received a letter from Fitzpiers.
Such a terrible letter it was in its import, though couched in the
gentlest language. In his absence Grace had grown to regard him
with toleration, and her relation to him with equanimity, till she
had almost forgotten how trying his presence would be. He wrote
briefly and unaffectedly; he made no excuses, but informed her
that he was living quite alone, and had been led to think that
they ought to be together, if she would make up her mind to
forgive him. He therefore purported to cross the Channel to
Budmouth by the steamer on a day he named, which she found to be
three days after the time of her present reading.
He said that he could not come to Hintock for obvious reasons,
which her father would understand even better than herself. As
the only alternative she was to be on the quay to meet the steamer
when it arrived from the opposite coast, probably about half an
hour before midnight, bringing with her any luggage she might
require; join him there, and pass with him into the twin vessel,
which left immediately the other entered the harbor; returning
thus with him to his continental dwelling-place, which he did not
name. He had no intention of showing himself on land at all.
The troubled Grace took the letter to her father, who now
continued for long hours by the fireless summer chimney-corner, as
if he thought it were winter, the pitcher of cider standing beside
him, mostly untasted, and coated with a film of dust. After
reading it he looked up.
"You sha'n't go," said he.
"I had felt I would not," she answered. "But I did not know what
you would say."
"If he comes and lives in England, not too near here and in a
respectable way, and wants you to come to him, I am not sure that
I'll oppose him in wishing it," muttered Melbury. "I'd stint
myself to keep you both in a genteel and seemly style. But go
abroad you never shall with my consent."
There the question rested that day. Grace was unable to reply to
her husband in the absence of an address, and the morrow came, and
the next day, and the evening on which he had requested her to
meet him. Throughout the whole of it she remained within the four
walls of her room.
The sense of her harassment, carking doubt of what might be
impending, hung like a cowl of blackness over the Melbury
household. They spoke almost in whispers, and wondered what
Fitzpiers would do next. It was the hope of every one that,
finding she did not arrive, he would return again to France; and
as for Grace, she was willing to write to him on the most kindly
terms if he would only keep away.
The night passed, Grace lying tense and wide awake, and her
relatives, in great part, likewise. When they met the next
morning they were pale and anxious, though neither speaking of the
subject which occupied all their thoughts. The day passed as
quietly as the previous ones, and she began to think that in the
rank caprice of his moods he had abandoned the idea of getting her
to join him as quickly as it was formed. All on a sudden, some
person who had just come from Sherton entered the house with the
news that Mr. Fitzpiers was on his way home to Hintock. He had
been seen hiring a carriage at the Earl of Wessex Hotel.
Her father and Grace were both present when the intelligence was
"Now," said Melbury, "we must make the best of what has been a
very bad matter. The man is repenting; the partner of his shame,
I hear, is gone away from him to Switzerland, so that chapter of
his life is probably over. If he chooses to make a home for ye I
think you should not say him nay, Grace. Certainly he cannot very
well live at Hintock without a blow to his pride; but if he can
bear that, and likes Hintock best, why, there's the empty wing of
the house as it was before."
"Oh, father!" said Grace, turning white with dismay.
"Why not?" said he, a little of his former doggedness returning.
He was, in truth, disposed to somewhat more leniency towards her
husband just now than he had shown formerly, from a conviction
that he had treated him over-roughly in his anger. "Surely it is
the most respectable thing to do?" he continued. "I don't like
this state that you are in--neither married nor single. It hurts
me, and it hurts you, and it will always be remembered against us
in Hintock. There has never been any scandal like it in the
"He will be here in less than an hour," murmured Grace. The
twilight of the room prevented her father seeing the despondent
misery of her face. The one intolerable condition, the condition
she had deprecated above all others, was that of Fitzpiers's
reinstatement there. "Oh, I won't, I won't see him," she said,
sinking down. She was almost hysterical.
"Try if you cannot," he returned, moodily.
"Oh yes, I will, I will," she went on, inconsequently. "I'll
try;" and jumping up suddenly, she left the room.
In the darkness of the apartment to which she flew nothing could
have been seen during the next half-hour; but from a corner a
quick breathing was audible from this impressible creature, who
combined modern nerves with primitive emotions, and was doomed by
such coexistence to be numbered among the distressed, and to take
her scourgings to their exquisite extremity.
The window was open. On this quiet, late summer evening, whatever
sound arose in so secluded a district--the chirp of a bird, a call
from a voice, the turning of a wheel--extended over bush and tree
to unwonted distances. Very few sounds did arise. But as Grace
invisibly breathed in the brown glooms of the chamber, the small
remote noise of light wheels came in to her, accompanied by the
trot of a horse on the turnpike-road. There seemed to be a sudden
hitch or pause in the progress of the vehicle, which was what
first drew her attention to it. She knew the point whence the
sound proceeded--the hill-top over which travellers passed on
their way hitherward from Sherton Abbas--the place at which she
had emerged from the wood with Mrs. Charmond. Grace slid along
the floor, and bent her head over the window-sill, listening with
open lips. The carriage had stopped, and she heard a man use
exclamatory words. Then another said, "What the devil is the
matter with the horse?" She recognized the voice as her husband's.
The accident, such as it had been, was soon remedied, and the
carriage could be heard descending the hill on the Hintock side,
soon to turn into the lane leading out of the highway, and then
into the "drong" which led out of the lane to the house where she
A spasm passed through Grace. The Daphnean instinct,
exceptionally strong in her as a girl, had been revived by her
widowed seclusion; and it was not lessened by her affronted
sentiments towards the comer, and her regard for another man. She
opened some little ivory tablets that lay on the dressing-table,
scribbled in pencil on one of them, "I am gone to visit one of my
school-friends," gathered a few toilet necessaries into a hand-
bag, and not three minutes after that voice had been heard, her
slim form, hastily wrapped up from observation, might have been
seen passing out of the back door of Melbury's house. Thence she
skimmed up the garden-path, through the gap in the hedge, and into
the mossy cart-track under the trees which led into the depth of
The leaves overhead were now in their latter green--so opaque,
that it was darker at some of the densest spots than in winter-
time, scarce a crevice existing by which a ray could get down to
the ground. But in open places she could see well enough. Summer
was ending: in the daytime singing insects hung in every sunbeam;
vegetation was heavy nightly with globes of dew; and after showers
creeping damps and twilight chills came up from the hollows. The
plantations were always weird at this hour of eve--more spectral
far than in the leafless season, when there were fewer masses and
more minute lineality. The smooth surfaces of glossy plants came
out like weak, lidless eyes; there were strange faces and figures
from expiring lights that had somehow wandered into the canopied
obscurity; while now and then low peeps of the sky between the
trunks were like sheeted shapes, and on the tips of boughs sat
faint cloven tongues.
But Grace's fear just now was not imaginative or spiritual, and
she heeded these impressions but little. She went on as silently
as she could, avoiding the hollows wherein leaves had accumulated,
and stepping upon soundless moss and grass-tufts. She paused
breathlessly once or twice, and fancied that she could hear, above
the beat of her strumming pulse, the vehicle containing Fitzpiers
turning in at the gate of her father's premises. She hastened on
The Hintock woods owned by Mrs. Charmond were presently left
behind, and those into which she next plunged were divided from
the latter by a bank, from whose top the hedge had long ago
perished--starved for want of sun. It was with some caution that
Grace now walked, though she was quite free from any of the
commonplace timidities of her ordinary pilgrimages to such spots.
She feared no lurking harms, but that her effort would be all in
vain, and her return to the house rendered imperative.
She had walked between three and four miles when that prescriptive
comfort and relief to wanderers in woods--a distant light--broke
at last upon her searching eyes. It was so very small as to be
almost sinister to a stranger, but to her it was what she sought.
She pushed forward, and the dim outline of a dwelling was
The house was a square cot of one story only, sloping up on all
sides to a chimney in the midst. It had formerly been the home of
a charcoal-burner, in times when that fuel was still used in the
county houses. Its only appurtenance was a paled enclosure, there
being no garden, the shade of the trees preventing the growth of
vegetables. She advanced to the window whence the rays of light
proceeded, and the shutters being as yet unclosed, she could
survey the whole interior through the panes.
The room within was kitchen, parlor, and scullery all in one; the
natural sandstone floor was worn into hills and dales by long
treading, so that none of the furniture stood level, and the table
slanted like a desk. A fire burned on the hearth, in front of
which revolved the skinned carcass of a rabbit, suspended by a
string from a nail. Leaning with one arm on the mantle-shelf
stood Winterborne, his eyes on the roasting animal, his face so
rapt that speculation could build nothing on it concerning his
thoughts, more than that they were not with the scene before him.
She thought his features had changed a little since she saw them
last. The fire-light did not enable her to perceive that they
were positively haggard.
Grace's throat emitted a gasp of relief at finding the result so
nearly as she had hoped. She went to the door and tapped lightly.
He seemed to be accustomed to the noises of woodpeckers,
squirrels, and such small creatures, for he took no notice of her
tiny signal, and she knocked again. This time he came and opened
the door. When the light of the room fell upon her face he
started, and, hardly knowing what he did, crossed the threshold to
her, placing his hands upon her two arms, while surprise, joy,
alarm, sadness, chased through him by turns. With Grace it was
the same: even in this stress there was the fond fact that they
had met again. Thus they stood,
"Long tears upon their faces, waxen white
With extreme sad delight."
He broke the silence by saying in a whisper, "Come in."
"No, no, Giles!" she answered, hurriedly, stepping yet farther
back from the door. "I am passing by--and I have called on you--I
won't enter. Will you help me? I am afraid. I want to get by a
roundabout way to Sherton, and so to Exbury. I have a school-
fellow there--but I cannot get to Sherton alone. Oh, if you will
only accompany me a little way! Don't condemn me, Giles, and be
offended! I was obliged to come to you because--I have no other
help here. Three months ago you were my lover; now you are only
my friend. The law has stepped in, and forbidden what we thought
of. It must not be. But we can act honestly, and yet you can be
my friend for one little hour? I have no other--"
She could get no further. Covering her eyes with one hand, by an
effort of repression she wept a silent trickle, without a sigh or
sob. Winterborne took her other hand. "What has happened?" he
"He has come."
There was a stillness as of death, till Winterborne asked, "You
mean this, Grace--that I am to help you to get away?"
"Yes," said she. "Appearance is no matter, when the reality is
right. I have said to myself I can trust you."
Giles knew from this that she did not suspect his treachery--if it
could be called such--earlier in the summer, when they met for the
last time as lovers; and in the intensity of his contrition for
that tender wrong, he determined to deserve her faith now at
least, and so wipe out that reproach from his conscience. "I'll
come at once," he said. "I'll light a lantern."
He unhooked a dark-lantern from a nail under the eaves and she did
not notice how his hand shook with the slight strain, or dream
that in making this offer he was taxing a convalescence which
could ill afford such self-sacrifice. The lantern was lit, and
The first hundred yards of their course lay under motionless
trees, whose upper foliage began to hiss with falling drops of
rain. By the time that they emerged upon a glade it rained
"This is awkward," said Grace, with an effort to hide her concern.
Winterborne stopped. "Grace," he said, preserving a strictly
business manner which belied him, "you cannot go to Sherton to-
"But I must!"
"Why? It is nine miles from here. It is almost an impossibility
in this rain."
"True--WHY?" she replied, mournfully, at the end of a silence.
"What is reputation to me?"
"Now hearken," said Giles. "You won't--go back to your--"
"No, no, no! Don't make me!" she cried, piteously.
"Then let us turn." They slowly retraced their steps, and again
stood before his door. "Now, this house from this moment is
yours, and not mine," he said, deliberately. "I have a place near
by where I can stay very well."
Her face had drooped. "Oh!" she murmured, as she saw the dilemma.
"What have I done!"
There was a smell of something burning within, and he looked
through the window. The rabbit that he had been cooking to coax a
weak appetite was beginning to char. "Please go in and attend to
it," he said. "Do what you like. Now I leave. You will find
everything about the hut that is necessary."
"But, Giles--your supper," she exclaimed. "An out-house would do
for me--anything--till to-morrow at day-break!"
He signified a negative. "I tell you to go in--you may catch
agues out here in your delicate state. You can give me my supper
through the window, if you feel well enough. I'll wait a while."
He gently urged her to pass the door-way, and was relieved when he
saw her within the room sitting down. Without so much as crossing
the threshold himself, he closed the door upon her, and turned the
key in the lock. Tapping at the window, he signified that she
should open the casement, and when she had done this he handed in
the key to her.
"You are locked in," he said; "and your own mistress."
Even in her trouble she could not refrain from a faint smile at
his scrupulousness, as she took the door-key.
"Do you feel better?" he went on. "If so, and you wish to give me
some of your supper, please do. If not, it is of no importance.
I can get some elsewhere."
The grateful sense of his kindness stirred her to action, though
she only knew half what that kindness really was. At the end of
some ten minutes she again came to the window, pushed it open, and
said in a whisper, "Giles!" He at once emerged from the shade,
and saw that she was preparing to hand him his share of the meal
upon a plate.
"I don't like to treat you so hardly," she murmured, with deep
regret in her words as she heard the rain pattering on the leaves.
"But--I suppose it is best to arrange like this?"
"Oh yes," he said, quickly.
"I feel that I could never have reached Sherton."
"It was impossible."
"Are you sure you have a snug place out there?" (With renewed
"Quite. Have you found everything you want? I am afraid it is
rather rough accommodation."
"Can I notice defects? I have long passed that stage, and you
know it, Giles, or you ought to."
His eyes sadly contemplated her face as its pale responsiveness
modulated through a crowd of expressions that showed only too
clearly to what a pitch she was strung. If ever Winterborne's
heart fretted his bosom it was at this sight of a perfectly
defenceless creature conditioned by such circumstances. He forgot
his own agony in the satisfaction of having at least found her a
shelter. He took his plate and cup from her hands, saying, "Now
I'll push the shutter to, and you will find an iron pin on the
inside, which you must fix into the bolt. Do not stir in the
morning till I come and call you."
She expressed an alarmed hope that he would not go very far away.
"Oh no--I shall be quite within hail," said Winterborne.
She bolted the window as directed, and he retreated. His snug
place proved to be a wretched little shelter of the roughest kind,
formed of four hurdles thatched with brake-fern. Underneath were
dry sticks, hay, and other litter of the sort, upon which he sat
down; and there in the dark tried to eat his meal. But his
appetite was quite gone. He pushed the plate aside, and shook up
the hay and sacks, so as to form a rude couch, on which he flung
himself down to sleep, for it was getting late.
But sleep he could not, for many reasons, of which not the least
was thought of his charge. He sat up, and looked towards the cot
through the damp obscurity. With all its external features the
same as usual, he could scarcely believe that it contained the
dear friend--he would not use a warmer name--who had come to him
so unexpectedly, and, he could not help admitting, so rashly.
He had not ventured to ask her any particulars; but the position
was pretty clear without them. Though social law had negatived
forever their opening paradise of the previous June, it was not
without stoical pride that he accepted the present trying
conjuncture. There was one man on earth in whom she believed
absolutely, and he was that man. That this crisis could end in
nothing but sorrow was a view for a moment effaced by this
triumphant thought of her trust in him; and the purity of the
affection with which he responded to that trust rendered him more
than proof against any frailty that besieged him in relation to
The rain, which had never ceased, now drew his attention by
beginning to drop through the meagre screen that covered him. He
rose to attempt some remedy for this discomfort, but the trembling
of his knees and the throbbing of his pulse told him that in his
weakness he was unable to fence against the storm, and he lay down
to bear it as best he might. He was angry with himself for his
feebleness--he who had been so strong. It was imperative that she
should know nothing of his present state, and to do that she must
not see his face by daylight, for its color would inevitably
The next morning, accordingly, when it was hardly light, he rose
and dragged his stiff limbs about the precincts, preparing for her
everything she could require for getting breakfast within. On the
bench outside the window-sill he placed water, wood, and other
necessaries, writing with a piece of chalk beside them, "It is
best that I should not see you. Put my breakfast on the bench."
At seven o'clock he tapped at her window, as he had promised,
retreating at once, that she might not catch sight of him. But
from his shelter under the boughs he could see her very well,
when, in response to his signal, she opened the window and the
light fell upon her face. The languid largeness of her eyes
showed that her sleep had been little more than his own, and the
pinkness of their lids, that her waking hours had not been free
She read the writing, seemed, he thought, disappointed, but took
up the materials he had provided, evidently thinking him some way
off. Giles waited on, assured that a girl who, in spite of her
culture, knew what country life was, would find no difficulty in
the simple preparation of their food.
Within the cot it was all very much as he conjectured, though
Grace had slept much longer than he. After the loneliness of the
night, she would have been glad to see him; but appreciating his
feeling when she read the writing, she made no attempt to recall
him. She found abundance of provisions laid in, his plan being to
replenish his buttery weekly, and this being the day after the
victualling van had called from Sherton. When the meal was ready,
she put what he required outside, as she had done with the supper;
and, notwithstanding her longing to see him, withdrew from the
window promptly, and left him to himself.
It had been a leaden dawn, and the rain now steadily renewed its
fall. As she heard no more of Winterborne, she concluded that he
had gone away to his daily work, and forgotten that he had
promised to accompany her to Sherton; an erroneous conclusion, for
he remained all day, by force of his condition, within fifty yards
of where she was. The morning wore on; and in her doubt when to
start, and how to travel, she lingered yet, keeping the door
carefully bolted, lest an intruder should discover her. Locked in
this place, she was comparatively safe, at any rate, and doubted
if she would be safe elsewhere.
The humid gloom of an ordinary wet day was doubled by the shade
and drip of the leafage. Autumn, this year, was coming in with
rains. Gazing, in her enforced idleness, from the one window of
the living-room, she could see various small members of the animal
community that lived unmolested there--creatures of hair, fluff,
and scale, the toothed kind and the billed kind; underground
creatures, jointed and ringed--circumambulating the hut, under the
impression that, Giles having gone away, nobody was there; and
eying it inquisitively with a view to winter-quarters. Watching
these neighbors, who knew neither law nor sin, distracted her a
little from her trouble; and she managed to while away some
portion of the afternoon by putting Giles's home in order and
making little improvements which she deemed that he would value
when she was gone.
Once or twice she fancied that she heard a faint noise amid the
trees, resembling a cough; but as it never came any nearer she
concluded that it was a squirrel or a bird.
At last the daylight lessened, and she made up a larger fire for
the evenings were chilly. As soon as it was too dark--which was
comparatively early--to discern the human countenance in this
place of shadows, there came to the window to her great delight, a
tapping which she knew from its method to be Giles's.
She opened the casement instantly, and put out her hand to him,
though she could only just perceive his outline. He clasped her
fingers, and she noticed the heat of his palm and its shakiness.
"He has been walking fast, in order to get here quickly," she
thought. How could she know that he had just crawled out from the
straw of the shelter hard by; and that the heat of his hand was
"My dear, good Giles!" she burst out, impulsively.
"Anybody would have done it for you," replied Winterborne, with as
much matter-of-fact as he could summon.
"About my getting to Exbury?" she said.
"I have been thinking," responded Giles, with tender deference,
"that you had better stay where you are for the present, if you
wish not to be caught. I need not tell you that the place is
yours as long as you like; and perhaps in a day or two, finding
you absent, he will go away. At any rate, in two or three days I
could do anything to assist--such as make inquiries, or go a great
way towards Sherton-Abbas with you; for the cider season will soon
be coming on, and I want to run down to the Vale to see how the
crops are, and I shall go by the Sherton road. But for a day or
two I am busy here." He was hoping that by the time mentioned he
would be strong enough to engage himself actively on her behalf.
"I hope you do not feel over-much melancholy in being a prisoner?"
She declared that she did not mind it; but she sighed.
From long acquaintance they could read each other's heart-symptoms
like books of large type. "I fear you are sorry you came," said
Giles, "and that you think I should have advised you more firmly
than I did not to stay."
"Oh no, dear, dear friend," answered Grace, with a heaving bosom.
"Don't think that that is what I regret. What I regret is my
enforced treatment of you--dislodging you, excluding you from your
own house. Why should I not speak out? You know what I feel for
you--what I have felt for no other living man, what I shall never
feel for a man again! But as I have vowed myself to somebody else
than you, and cannot be released, I must behave as I do behave,
and keep that vow. I am not bound to him by any divine law, after
what he has done; but I have promised, and I will pay."
The rest of the evening was passed in his handing her such things
as she would require the next day, and casual remarks thereupon,
an occupation which diverted her mind to some degree from pathetic
views of her attitude towards him, and of her life in general.
The only infringement--if infringement it could be called--of his
predetermined bearing towards her was an involuntary pressing of
her hand to his lips when she put it through the casement to bid
him good-night. He knew she was weeping, though he could not see
She again entreated his forgiveness for so selfishly appropriating
the cottage. But it would only be for a day or two more, she
thought, since go she must.
He replied, yearningly, "I--I don't like you to go away."
"Oh, Giles," said she, "I know--I know! But--I am a woman, and you
are a man. I cannot speak more plainly. 'Whatsoever things are
pure, whatsoever things are of good report'--you know what is in
my mind, because you know me so well."
"Yes, Grace, yes. I do not at all mean that the question between
us has not been settled by the fact of your marriage turning out
hopelessly unalterable. I merely meant--well, a feeling no more."
"In a week, at the outside, I should be discovered if I stayed
here: and I think that by law he could compel me to return to
"Yes; perhaps you are right. Go when you wish, dear Grace."
His last words that evening were a hopeful remark that all might
be well with her yet; that Mr. Fitzpiers would not intrude upon
her life, if he found that his presence cost her so much pain.
Then the window was closed, the shutters folded, and the rustle of
his footsteps died away.
No sooner had she retired to rest that night than the wind began
to rise, and, after a few prefatory blasts, to be accompanied by
rain. The wind grew more violent, and as the storm went on, it
was difficult to believe that no opaque body, but only an
invisible colorless thing, was trampling and climbing over the
roof, making branches creak, springing out of the trees upon the
chimney, popping its head into the flue, and shrieking and
blaspheming at every corner of the walls. As in the old story,
the assailant was a spectre which could be felt but not seen. She
had never before been so struck with the devilry of a gusty night
in a wood, because she had never been so entirely alone in spirit
as she was now. She seemed almost to be apart from herself--a
vacuous duplicate only. The recent self of physical animation and
clear intentions was not there.
Sometimes a bough from an adjoining tree was swayed so low as to
smite the roof in the manner of a gigantic hand smiting the mouth
of an adversary, to be followed by a trickle of rain, as blood
from the wound. To all this weather Giles must be more or less
exposed; how much, she did not know.
At last Grace could hardly endure the idea of such a hardship in
relation to him. Whatever he was suffering, it was she who had
caused it; he vacated his house on account of her. She was not
worth such self-sacrifice; she should not have accepted it of him.
And then, as her anxiety increased with increasing thought, there
returned upon her mind some incidents of her late intercourse with
him, which she had heeded but little at the time. The look of his
face--what had there been about his face which seemed different
from its appearance as of yore? Was it not thinner, less rich in
hue, less like that of ripe autumn's brother to whom she had
formerly compared him? And his voice; she had distinctly noticed a
change in tone. And his gait; surely it had been feebler,
stiffer, more like the gait of a weary man. That slight
occasional noise she had heard in the day, and attributed to
squirrels, it might have been his cough after all.
Thus conviction took root in her perturbed mind that Winterborne
was ill, or had been so, and that he had carefully concealed his
condition from her that she might have no scruples about accepting
a hospitality which by the nature of the case expelled her
"My own, own, true l---, my dear kind friend!" she cried to
herself. "Oh, it shall not be--it shall not be!"
She hastily wrapped herself up, and obtained a light, with which
she entered the adjoining room, the cot possessing only one floor.
Setting down the candle on the table here, she went to the door
with the key in her hand, and placed it in the lock. Before
turning it she paused, her fingers still clutching it; and
pressing her other hand to her forehead, she fell into agitating
A tattoo on the window, caused by the tree-droppings blowing
against it, brought her indecision to a close. She turned the key
and opened the door.
The darkness was intense, seeming to touch her pupils like a
substance. She only now became aware how heavy the rainfall had
been and was; the dripping of the eaves splashed like a fountain.
She stood listening with parted lips, and holding the door in one
hand, till her eyes, growing accustomed to the obscurity,
discerned the wild brandishing of their boughs by the adjoining
trees. At last she cried loudly with an effort, "Giles! you may
There was no immediate answer to her cry, and overpowered by her
own temerity, Grace retreated quickly, shut the door, and stood
looking on the floor. But it was not for long. She again lifted
the latch, and with far more determination than at first.
"Giles, Giles!" she cried, with the full strength of her voice,
and without any of the shamefacedness that had characterized her
first cry. "Oh, come in--come in! Where are you? I have been
wicked. I have thought too much of myself! Do you hear? I don't
want to keep you out any longer. I cannot bear that you should
suffer so. Gi-i-iles!"
A reply! It was a reply! Through the darkness and wind a voice
reached her, floating upon the weather as though a part of it.
"Here I am--all right. Don't trouble about me."
"Don't you want to come in? Are you not ill? I don't mind what
they say, or what they think any more."
"I am all right," he repeated. "It is not necessary for me to
come. Good-night! good-night!"
Grace sighed, turned and shut the door slowly. Could she have
been mistaken about his health? Perhaps, after all, she had
perceived a change in him because she had not seen him for so
long. Time sometimes did his ageing work in jerks, as she knew.
Well, she had done all she could. He would not come in. She
retired to rest again.
The next morning Grace was at the window early. She felt
determined to see him somehow that day, and prepared his breakfast
eagerly. Eight o'clock struck, and she had remembered that he had
not come to arouse her by a knocking, as usual, her own anxiety
having caused her to stir.
The breakfast was set in its place without. But he did not arrive
to take it; and she waited on. Nine o'clock arrived, and the
breakfast was cold; and still there was no Giles. A thrush, that
had been repeating itself a good deal on an opposite bush for some
time, came and took a morsel from the plate and bolted it, waited,
looked around, and took another. At ten o'clock she drew in the
tray, and sat down to her own solitary meal. He must have been
called away on business early, the rain having cleared off.
Yet she would have liked to assure herself, by thoroughly
exploring the precincts of the hut, that he was nowhere in its
vicinity; but as the day was comparatively fine, the dread lest
some stray passenger or woodman should encounter her in such a
reconnoitre paralyzed her wish. The solitude was further
accentuated to-day by the stopping of the clock for want of
winding, and the fall into the chimney-corner of flakes of soot
loosened by the rains. At noon she heard a slight rustling
outside the window, and found that it was caused by an eft which
had crept out of the leaves to bask in the last sun-rays that
would be worth having till the following May.
She continually peeped out through the lattice, but could see
little. In front lay the brown leaves of last year, and upon them
some yellowish-green ones of this season that had been prematurely
blown down by the gale. Above stretched an old beech, with vast
armpits, and great pocket-holes in its sides where branches had
been amputated in past times; a black slug was trying to climb it.
Dead boughs were scattered about like ichthyosauri in a museum,
and beyond them were perishing woodbine stems resembling old
From the other window all she could see were more trees, jacketed
with lichen and stockinged with moss. At their roots were
stemless yellow fungi like lemons and apricots, and tall fungi
with more stem than stool. Next were more trees close together,
wrestling for existence, their branches disfigured with wounds
resulting from their mutual rubbings and blows. It was the
struggle between these neighbors that she had heard in the night.
Beneath them were the rotting stumps of those of the group that
had been vanquished long ago, rising from their mossy setting like
decayed teeth from green gums. Farther on were other tufts of
moss in islands divided by the shed leaves--variety upon variety,
dark green and pale green; moss-like little fir-trees, like plush,
like malachite stars, like nothing on earth except moss.
The strain upon Grace's mind in various ways was so great on this
the most desolate day she had passed there that she felt it would
be well-nigh impossible to spend another in such circumstances.
The evening came at last; the sun, when its chin was on the earth,
found an opening through which to pierce the shade, and stretched
irradiated gauzes across the damp atmosphere, making the wet
trunks shine, and throwing splotches of such ruddiness on the
leaves beneath the beech that they were turned to gory hues. When
night at last arrived, and with it the time for his return, she
was nearly broken down with suspense.
The simple evening meal, partly tea, partly supper, which Grace
had prepared, stood waiting upon the hearth; and yet Giles did not
come. It was now nearly twenty-four hours since she had seen him.
As the room grew darker, and only the firelight broke against the
gloom of the walls, she was convinced that it would be beyond her
staying power to pass the night without hearing from him or from
somebody. Yet eight o'clock drew on, and his form at the window
did not appear.
The meal remained untasted. Suddenly rising from before the
hearth of smouldering embers, where she had been crouching with
her hands clasped over her knees, she crossed the room, unlocked
the door, and listened. Every breath of wind had ceased with the
decline of day, but the rain had resumed the steady dripping of
the night before. Grace might have stood there five minutes when
she fancied she heard that old sound, a cough, at no great
distance; and it was presently repeated. If it were
Winterborne's, he must be near her; why, then, had he not visited
A horrid misgiving that he could not visit her took possession of
Grace, and she looked up anxiously for the lantern, which was
hanging above her head. To light it and go in the direction of
the sound would be the obvious way to solve the dread problem; but
the conditions made her hesitate, and in a moment a cold sweat
pervaded her at further sounds from the same quarter.
They were low mutterings; at first like persons in conversation,
but gradually resolving themselves into varieties of one voice.
It was an endless monologue, like that we sometimes hear from
inanimate nature in deep secret places where water flows, or where
ivy leaves flap against stones; but by degrees she was convinced
that the voice was Winterborne's. Yet who could be his listener,
so mute and patient; for though he argued so rapidly and
persistently, nobody replied.
A dreadful enlightenment spread through the mind of Grace. "Oh,"
she cried, in her anguish, as she hastily prepared herself to go
out, "how selfishly correct I am always--too, too correct! Cruel
propriety is killing the dearest heart that ever woman clasped to
While speaking thus to herself she had lit the lantern, and
hastening out without further thought, took the direction whence
the mutterings had proceeded. The course was marked by a little
path, which ended at a distance of about forty yards in a small
erection of hurdles, not much larger than a shock of corn, such as
were frequent in the woods and copses when the cutting season was
going on. It was too slight even to be called a hovel, and was
not high enough to stand upright in; appearing, in short, to be
erected for the temporary shelter of fuel. The side towards Grace
was open, and turning the light upon the interior, she beheld what
her prescient fear had pictured in snatches all the way thither.
Upon the straw within, Winterborne lay in his clothes, just as she
had seen him during the whole of her stay here, except that his
hat was off, and his hair matted and wild.
Both his clothes and the straw were saturated with rain. His arms
were flung over his head; his face was flushed to an unnatural
crimson. His eyes had a burning brightness, and though they met
her own, she perceived that he did not recognize her.
"Oh, my Giles," she cried, "what have I done to you!"
But she stopped no longer even to reproach herself. She saw that
the first thing to be thought of was to get him indoors.
How Grace performed that labor she never could have exactly
explained. But by dint of clasping her arms round him, rearing
him into a sitting posture, and straining her strength to the
uttermost, she put him on one of the hurdles that was loose
alongside, and taking the end of it in both her hands, dragged him
along the path to the entrance of the hut, and, after a pause for
breath, in at the door-way.
It was somewhat singular that Giles in his semi-conscious state
acquiesced unresistingly in all that she did. But he never for a
moment recognized her--continuing his rapid conversation to
himself, and seeming to look upon her as some angel, or other
supernatural creature of the visionary world in which he was
mentally living. The undertaking occupied her more than ten
minutes; but by that time, to her great thankfulness, he was in
the inner room, lying on the bed, his damp outer clothing removed.
Then the unhappy Grace regarded him by the light of the candle.
There was something in his look which agonized her, in the rush of
his thoughts, accelerating their speed from minute to minute. He
seemed to be passing through the universe of ideas like a comet--
erratic, inapprehensible, untraceable.
Grace's distraction was almost as great as his. In a few moments
she firmly believed he was dying. Unable to withstand her
impulse, she knelt down beside him, kissed his hands and his face
and his hair, exclaiming, in a low voice, "How could I? How could
Her timid morality had, indeed, underrated his chivalry till now,
though she knew him so well. The purity of his nature, his
freedom from the grosser passions, his scrupulous delicacy, had
never been fully understood by Grace till this strange self-
sacrifice in lonely juxtaposition to her own person was revealed.
The perception of it added something that was little short of
reverence to the deep affection for him of a woman who, herself,
had more of Artemis than of Aphrodite in her constitution.
All that a tender nurse could do, Grace did; and the power to
express her solicitude in action, unconscious though the sufferer
was, brought her mournful satisfaction. She bathed his hot head,
wiped his perspiring hands, moistened his lips, cooled his fiery
eyelids, sponged his heated skin, and administered whatever she
could find in the house that the imagination could conceive as
likely to be in any way alleviating. That she might have been the
cause, or partially the cause, of all this, interfused misery with
Six months before this date a scene, almost similar in its
mechanical parts, had been enacted at Hintock House. It was
between a pair of persons most intimately connected in their lives
with these. Outwardly like as it had been, it was yet infinite in
spiritual difference, though a woman's devotion had been common to
Grace rose from her attitude of affection, and, bracing her
energies, saw that something practical must immediately be done.
Much as she would have liked, in the emotion of the moment, to
keep him entirely to herself, medical assistance was necessary
while there remained a possibility of preserving him alive. Such
assistance was fatal to her own concealment; but even had the
chance of benefiting him been less than it was, she would have run
the hazard for his sake. The question was, where should she get a
medical man, competent and near?
There was one such man, and only one, within accessible distance;
a man who, if it were possible to save Winterborne's life, had the
brain most likely to do it. If human pressure could bring him,
that man ought to be brought to the sick Giles's side. The
attempt should be made.
Yet she dreaded to leave her patient, and the minutes raced past,
and yet she postponed her departure. At last, when it was after
eleven o'clock, Winterborne fell into a fitful sleep, and it
seemed to afford her an opportunity.
She hastily made him as comfortable as she could, put on her
things, cut a new candle from the bunch hanging in the cupboard,
and having set it up, and placed it so that the light did not fall
upon his eyes, she closed the door and started.
The spirit of Winterborne seemed to keep her company and banish
all sense of darkness from her mind. The rains had imparted a
phosphorescence to the pieces of touchwood and rotting leaves that
lay about her path, which, as scattered by her feet, spread abroad
like spilt milk. She would not run the hazard of losing her way
by plunging into any short, unfrequented track through the denser
parts of the woodland, but followed a more open course, which
eventually brought her to the highway. Once here, she ran along
with great speed, animated by a devoted purpose which had much
about it that was stoical; and it was with scarcely any faltering
of spirit that, after an hour's progress, she passed over Rubdown
Hill, and onward towards that same Hintock, and that same house,
out of which she had fled a few days before in irresistible alarm.
But that had happened which, above all other things of chance and
change, could make her deliberately frustrate her plan of flight
and sink all regard of personal consequences.
One speciality of Fitzpiers's was respected by Grace as much as
ever--his professional skill. In this she was right. Had his
persistence equalled his insight, instead of being the spasmodic
and fitful thing it was, fame and fortune need never have remained
a wish with him. His freedom from conventional errors and crusted
prejudices had, indeed, been such as to retard rather than
accelerate his advance in Hintock and its neighborhood, where
people could not believe that nature herself effected cures, and
that the doctor's business was only to smooth the way.
It was past midnight when Grace arrived opposite her father's
house, now again temporarily occupied by her husband, unless he
had already gone away. Ever since her emergence from the denser
plantations about Winterborne's residence a pervasive lightness
had hung in the damp autumn sky, in spite of the vault of cloud,
signifying that a moon of some age was shining above its arch.
The two white gates were distinct, and the white balls on the
pillars, and the puddles and damp ruts left by the recent rain,
had a cold, corpse-eyed luminousness. She entered by the lower
gate, and crossed the quadrangle to the wing wherein the
apartments that had been hers since her marriage were situate,
till she stood under a window which, if her husband were in the
house, gave light to his bedchamber.
She faltered, and paused with her hand on her heart, in spite of
herself. Could she call to her presence the very cause of all her
foregoing troubles? Alas!--old Jones was seven miles off; Giles
was possibly dying--what else could she do?
It was in a perspiration, wrought even more by consciousness than
by exercise, that she picked up some gravel, threw it at the
panes, and waited to see the result. The night-bell which had
been fixed when Fitzpiers first took up his residence there still
remained; but as it had fallen into disuse with the collapse of
his practice, and his elopement, she did not venture to pull it
Whoever slept in the room had heard her signal, slight as it was.
In half a minute the window was opened, and a voice said "Yes?"
inquiringly. Grace recognized her husband in the speaker at once.
Her effort was now to disguise her own accents.
"Doctor," she said, in as unusual a tone as she could command, "a
man is dangerously ill in One-chimney Hut, out towards Delborough,
and you must go to him at once--in all mercy!"
"I will, readily."
The alacrity, surprise, and pleasure expressed in his reply amazed
her for a moment. But, in truth, they denoted the sudden relief
of a man who, having got back in a mood of contrition, from
erratic abandonment to fearful joys, found the soothing routine of
professional practice unexpectedly opening anew to him. The
highest desire of his soul just now was for a respectable life of
painstaking. If this, his first summons since his return, had
been to attend upon a cat or dog, he would scarcely have refused
it in the circumstances.
"Do you know the way?" she asked.
"Yes," said he.
"One-chimney Hut," she repeated. "And--immediately!"
"Yes, yes," said Fitzpiers.
Grace remained no longer. She passed out of the white gate
without slamming it, and hastened on her way back. Her husband,
then, had re-entered her father's house. How he had been able to
effect a reconciliation with the old man, what were the terms of
the treaty between them, she could not so much as conjecture.
Some sort of truce must have been entered into, that was all she
could say. But close as the question lay to her own life, there
was a more urgent one which banished it; and she traced her steps
quickly along the meandering track-ways.
Meanwhile, Fitzpiers was preparing to leave the house. The state
of his mind, over and above his professional zeal, was peculiar.
At Grace's first remark he had not recognized or suspected her
presence; but as she went on, he was awakened to the great
resemblance of the speaker's voice to his wife's. He had taken in
such good faith the statement of the household on his arrival,
that she had gone on a visit for a time because she could not at
once bring her mind to be reconciled to him, that he could not
quite actually believe this comer to be she. It was one of the
features of Fitzpiers's repentant humor at this date that, on
receiving the explanation of her absence, he had made no attempt
to outrage her feelings by following her; though nobody had
informed him how very shortly her departure had preceded his
entry, and of all that might have been inferred from her
Melbury, after much alarm and consideration, had decided not to
follow her either. He sympathized with her flight, much as he
deplored it; moreover, the tragic color of the antecedent events
that he had been a great means of creating checked his instinct to
interfere. He prayed and trusted that she had got into no danger
on her way (as he supposed) to Sherton, and thence to Exbury, if
that were the place she had gone to, forbearing all inquiry which
the strangeness of her departure would have made natural. A few
months before this time a performance by Grace of one-tenth the
magnitude of this would have aroused him to unwonted
It was in the same spirit that he had tacitly assented to
Fitzpiers's domicilation there. The two men had not met face to
face, but Mrs. Melbury had proposed herself as an intermediary,
who made the surgeon's re-entrance comparatively easy to him.
Everything was provisional, and nobody asked questions. Fitzpiers
had come in the performance of a plan of penitence, which had
originated in circumstances hereafter to be explained; his self-
humiliation to the very bass-string was deliberate; and as soon as
a call reached him from the bedside of a dying man his desire was
to set to work and do as much good as he could with the least
possible fuss or show. He therefore refrained from calling up a
stableman to get ready any horse or gig, and set out for One-
chimney Hut on foot, as Grace had done.
She re-entered the hut, flung off her bonnet and cloak, and
approached the sufferer. He had begun anew those terrible
mutterings, and his hands were cold. As soon as she saw him there
returned to her that agony of mind which the stimulus of her
journey had thrown off for a time.
Could he really be dying? She bathed him, kissed him, forgot all
things but the fact that lying there before her was he who had
loved her more than the mere lover would have loved; had martyred
himself for her comfort, cared more for her self-respect than she
had thought of caring. This mood continued till she heard quick,
smart footsteps without; she knew whose footsteps they were.
Grace sat on the inside of the bed against the wall, holding
Giles's hand, so that when her husband entered the patient lay
between herself and him. He stood transfixed at first, noticing
Grace only. Slowly he dropped his glance and discerned who the
prostrate man was. Strangely enough, though Grace's distaste for
her husband's company had amounted almost to dread, and culminated
in actual flight, at this moment her last and least feeling was
personal. Sensitive femininity was eclipsed by self-effacing
purpose, and that it was a husband who stood there was forgotten.
The first look that possessed her face was relief; satisfaction at
the presence of the physician obliterated thought of the man,
which only returned in the form of a sub-consciousness that did
not interfere with her words.
"Is he dying--is there any hope?" she cried.
"Grace!" said Fitzpiers, in an indescribable whisper--more than
invocating, if not quite deprecatory.
He was arrested by the spectacle, not so much in its intrinsic
character--though that was striking enough to a man who called
himself the husband of the sufferer's friend and nurse--but in its
character as the counterpart of one that had its hour many months
before, in which he had figured as the patient, and the woman had
been Felice Charmond.
"Is he in great danger--can you save him?" she cried again.
Fitzpiers aroused himself, came a little nearer, and examined
Winterborne as he stood. His inspection was concluded in a mere
glance. Before he spoke he looked at her contemplatively as to
the effect of his coming words.
"He is dying," he said, with dry precision.
"What?" said she.
"Nothing can be done, by me or any other man. It will soon be all
over. The extremities are dead already." His eyes still remained
fixed on her; the conclusion to which he had come seeming to end
his interest, professional and otherwise, in Winterborne forever.
"But it cannot be! He was well three days ago."
"Not well, I suspect. This seems like a secondary attack, which
has followed some previous illness--possibly typhoid--it may have
been months ago, or recently."
"Ah--he was not well--you are right. He was ill--he was ill when
There was nothing more to do or say. She crouched down at the
side of the bed, and Fitzpiers took a seat. Thus they remained in
silence, and long as it lasted she never turned her eyes, or
apparently her thoughts, at all to her husband. He occasionally
murmured, with automatic authority, some slight directions for
alleviating the pain of the dying man, which she mechanically
obeyed, bending over him during the intervals in silent tears.
Winterborne never recovered consciousness of what was passing; and
that he was going became soon perceptible also to her. In less
than an hour the delirium ceased; then there was an interval of
somnolent painlessness and soft breathing, at the end of which
Winterborne passed quietly away.
Then Fitzpiers broke the silence. "Have you lived here long?"
Grace was wild with sorrow--with all that had befallen her--with
the cruelties that had attacked her--with life--with Heaven. She
answered at random. "Yes. By what right do you ask?"
"Don't think I claim any right," said Fitzpiers, sadly. "It is
for you to do and say what you choose. I admit, quite as much as
you feel, that I am a vagabond--a brute--not worthy to possess the
smallest fragment of you. But here I am, and I have happened to
take sufficient interest in you to make that inquiry."
"He is everything to me!" said Grace, hardly heeding her husband,
and laying her hand reverently on the dead man's eyelids, where
she kept it a long time, pressing down their lashes with gentle
touches, as if she were stroking a little bird.
He watched her a while, and then glanced round the chamber where
his eyes fell upon a few dressing necessaries that she had
"Grace--if I may call you so," he said, "I have been already
humiliated almost to the depths. I have come back since you
refused to join me elsewhere--I have entered your father's house,
and borne all that that cost me without flinching, because I have
felt that I deserved humiliation. But is there a yet greater
humiliation in store for me? You say you have been living here--
that he is everything to you. Am I to draw from that the obvious,
the extremest inference?"
Triumph at any price is sweet to men and women--especially the
latter. It was her first and last opportunity of repaying him for
the cruel contumely which she had borne at his hands so docilely.
"Yes," she answered; and there was that in her subtly compounded
nature which made her feel a thrill of pride as she did so.
Yet the moment after she had so mightily belied her character she
half repented. Her husband had turned as white as the wall behind
him. It seemed as if all that remained to him of life and spirit
had been abstracted at a stroke. Yet he did not move, and in his
efforts at self-control closed his mouth together as a vice. His
determination was fairly successful, though she saw how very much
greater than she had expected her triumph had been. Presently he
looked across at Winterborne.
"Would it startle you to hear," he said, as if he hardly had
breath to utter the words, "that she who was to me what he was to
you is dead also?"
"Dead--SHE dead?" exclaimed Grace.
"Yes. Felice Charmond is where this young man is."
"Never!" said Grace, vehemently.
He went on without heeding the insinuation: "And I came back to
try to make it up with you--but--"
Fitzpiers rose, and moved across the room to go away, looking
downward with the droop of a man whose hope was turned to apathy,
if not despair. In going round the door his eye fell upon her
once more. She was still bending over the body of Winterborne,
her face close to the young man's.
"Have you been kissing him during his illness?" asked her husband.
"Since his fevered state set in?"
"On his lips?"
"Then you will do well to take a few drops of this in water as
soon as possible." He drew a small phial from his pocket and
returned to offer it to her.
Grace shook her head.
"If you don't do as I tell you you may soon be like him."
"I don't care. I wish to die."
"I'll put it here," said Fitzpiers, placing the bottle on a ledge
beside him. "The sin of not having warned you will not be upon my
head at any rate, among my other sins. I am now going, and I will
send somebody to you. Your father does not know that you are
here, so I suppose I shall be bound to tell him?"
Fitzpiers left the cot, and the stroke of his feet was soon
immersed in the silence that prevaded the spot. Grace remained
kneeling and weeping, she hardly knew how long, and then she sat
up, covered poor Giles's features, and went towards the door where
her husband had stood. No sign of any other comer greeted her
ear, the only perceptible sounds being the tiny cracklings of the
dead leaves, which, like a feather-bed, had not yet done rising to
their normal level where indented by the pressure of her husband's
receding footsteps. It reminded her that she had been struck with
the change in his aspect; the extremely intellectual look that had
always been in his face was wrought to a finer phase by thinness,
and a care-worn dignity had been superadded. She returned to
Winterborne's side, and during her meditations another tread drew
near the door, entered the outer room, and halted at the entrance
of the chamber where Grace was.
"What--Marty!" said Grace.
"Yes. I have heard," said Marty, whose demeanor had lost all its
girlishness under the stroke that seemed almost literally to have
"He died for me!" murmured Grace, heavily.
Marty did not fully comprehend; and she answered, "He belongs to
neither of us now, and your beauty is no more powerful with him
than my plainness. I have come to help you, ma'am. He never
cared for me, and he cared much for you; but he cares for us both
"Oh don't, don't, Marty!"
Marty said no more, but knelt over Winterborne from the other
"Did you meet my hus--Mr. Fitzpiers?"
"Then what brought you here?"
"I come this way sometimes. I have got to go to the farther side
of the wood this time of the year, and am obliged to get there
before four o'clock in the morning, to begin heating the oven for
the early baking. I have passed by here often at this time."
Grace looked at her quickly. "Then did you know I was here?"
"Did you tell anybody?"
"No. I knew you lived in the hut, that he had gied it up to ye,
and lodged out himself."
"Did you know where he lodged?"
"No. That I couldn't find out. Was it at Delborough?"
"No. It was not there, Marty. Would it had been! It would have
saved--saved--" To check her tears she turned, and seeing a book
on the window-bench, took it up. "Look, Marty, this is a Psalter.
He was not an outwardly religious man, but he was pure and perfect
in his heart. Shall we read a psalm over him?"
"Oh yes--we will--with all my heart!"
Grace opened the thin brown book, which poor Giles had kept at
hand mainly for the convenience of whetting his pen-knife upon its
leather covers. She began to read in that rich, devotional voice
peculiar to women only on such occasions. When it was over, Marty
said, "I should like to pray for his soul."
"So should I," said her companion. "But we must not."
"Why? Nobody would know."
Grace could not resist the argument, influenced as she was by the
sense of making amends for having neglected him in the body; and
their tender voices united and filled the narrow room with
supplicatory murmurs that a Calvinist might have envied. They had
hardly ended when now and more numerous foot-falls were audible,
also persons in conversation, one of whom Grace recognized as her
She rose, and went to the outer apartment, in which there was only
such light as beamed from the inner one. Melbury and Mrs. Melbury
were standing there.
"I don't reproach you, Grace," said her father, with an estranged
manner, and in a voice not at all like his old voice. "What has
come upon you and us is beyond reproach, beyond weeping, and
beyond wailing. Perhaps I drove you to it. But I am hurt; I am
scourged; I am astonished. In the face of this there is nothing
to be said."
Without replying, Grace turned and glided back to the inner