Part 8 out of 8
chamber. "Marty," she said, quickly, "I cannot look my father in
the face until he knows the true circumstances of my life here.
Go and tell him--what you have told me--what you saw--that he gave
up his house to me."
She sat down, her face buried in her hands, and Marty went, and
after a short absence returned. Then Grace rose, and going out
asked her father if he had met her husband.
"Yes," said Melbury.
"And you know all that has happened?"
"I do. Forgive me, Grace, for suspecting ye of worse than
rashness--I ought to know ye better. Are you coming with me to
what was once your home?"
"No. I stay here with HIM. Take no account of me any more."
The unwonted, perplexing, agitating relations in which she had
stood to Winterborne quite lately--brought about by Melbury's own
contrivance--could not fail to soften the natural anger of a
parent at her more recent doings. "My daughter, things are bad,"
he rejoined. "But why do you persevere to make 'em worse? What
good can you do to Giles by staying here with him? Mind, I ask no
questions. I don't inquire why you decided to come here, or
anything as to what your course would have been if he had not
died, though I know there's no deliberate harm in ye. As for me,
I have lost all claim upon you, and I make no complaint. But I do
say that by coming back with me now you will show no less kindness
to him, and escape any sound of shame.
"But I don't wish to escape it."
"If you don't on your own account, cannot you wish to on mine and
hers? Nobody except our household knows that you have left home.
Then why should you, by a piece of perverseness, bring down my
gray hairs with sorrow to the grave?"
"If it were not for my husband--" she began, moved by his words.
"But how can I meet him there? How can any woman who is not a mere
man's creature join him after what has taken place?"
"He would go away again rather than keep you out of my house."
"How do you know that, father?"
"We met him on our way here, and he told us so," said Mrs.
Melbury. "He had said something like it before. He seems very
much upset altogether."
"He declared to her when he came to our house that he would wait
for time and devotion to bring about his forgiveness," said her
husband. "That was it, wasn't it, Lucy?"
"Yes. That he would not intrude upon you, Grace, till you gave
him absolute permission," Mrs. Melbury added.
This antecedent considerateness in Fitzpiers was as welcome to
Grace as it was unexpected; and though she did not desire his
presence, she was sorry that by her retaliatory fiction she had
given him a different reason for avoiding her. She made no
further objections to accompanying her parents, taking them into
the inner room to give Winterborne a last look, and gathering up
the two or three things that belonged to her. While she was doing
this the two women came who had been called by Melbury, and at
their heels poor Creedle.
"Forgive me, but I can't rule my mourning nohow as a man should,
Mr. Melbury," he said. "I ha'n't seen him since Thursday
se'night, and have wondered for days and days where he's been
keeping. There was I expecting him to come and tell me to wash
out the cider-barrels against the making, and here was he-- Well,
I've knowed him from table-high; I knowed his father--used to bide
about upon two sticks in the sun afore he died!--and now I've seen
the end of the family, which we can ill afford to lose, wi' such a
scanty lot of good folk in Hintock as we've got. And now Robert
Creedle will be nailed up in parish boards 'a b'lieve; and noboby
will glutch down a sigh for he!"
They started for home, Marty and Creedle remaining behind. For a
time Grace and her father walked side by side without speaking.
It was just in the blue of the dawn, and the chilling tone of the
sky was reflected in her cold, wet face. The whole wood seemed to
be a house of death, pervaded by loss to its uttermost length and
breadth. Winterborne was gone, and the copses seemed to show the
want of him; those young trees, so many of which he had planted,
and of which he had spoken so truly when he said that he should
fall before they fell, were at that very moment sending out their
roots in the direction that he had given them with his subtle
"One thing made it tolerable to us that your husband should come
back to the house," said Melbury at last--"the death of Mrs.
"Ah, yes," said Grace, arousing slightly to the recollection, "he
told me so."
"Did he tell you how she died? It was no such death as Giles's.
She was shot--by a disappointed lover. It occurred in Germany.
The unfortunate man shot himself afterwards. He was that South
Carolina gentleman of very passionate nature who used to haunt
this place to force her to an interview, and followed her about
everywhere. So ends the brilliant Felice Charmond--once a good
friend to me--but no friend to you."
"I can forgive her," said Grace, absently. "Did Edgar tell you of
"No; but he put a London newspaper, giving an account of it, on
the hall table, folded in such a way that we should see it. It
will be in the Sherton paper this week, no doubt. To make the
event more solemn still to him, he had just before had sharp words
with her, and left her. He told Lucy this, as nothing about him
appears in the newspaper. And the cause of the quarrel was, of
all people, she we've left behind us."
"Do you mean Marty?" Grace spoke the words but perfunctorily.
For, pertinent and pointed as Melbury's story was, she had no
heart for it now.
"Yes. Marty South." Melbury persisted in his narrative, to
divert her from her present grief, if possible. "Before he went
away she wrote him a letter, which he kept in his, pocket a long
while before reading. He chanced to pull it out in Mrs.
Charmond's, presence, and read it out loud. It contained
something which teased her very much, and that led to the rupture.
She was following him to make it up when she met with her terrible
Melbury did not know enough to give the gist of the incident,
which was that Marty South's letter had been concerning a certain
personal adornment common to herself and Mrs. Charmond. Her
bullet reached its billet at last. The scene between Fitzpiers
and Felice had been sharp, as only a scene can be which arises out
of the mortification of one woman by another in the presence of a
lover. True, Marty had not effected it by word of mouth; the
charge about the locks of hair was made simply by Fitzpiers
reading her letter to him aloud to Felice in the playfully
ironical tones of one who had become a little weary of his
situation, and was finding his friend, in the phrase of George
Herbert, a "flat delight." He had stroked those false tresses
with his hand many a time without knowing them to be transplanted,
and it was impossible when the discovery was so abruptly made to
avoid being finely satirical, despite her generous disposition.
That was how it had begun, and tragedy had been its end. On his
abrupt departure she had followed him to the station but the train
was gone; and in travelling to Baden in search of him she had met
his rival, whose reproaches led to an altercation, and the death
of both. Of that precipitate scene of passion and crime Fitzpiers
had known nothing till he saw an account of it in the papers,
where, fortunately for himself, no mention was made of his prior
acquaintance with the unhappy lady; nor was there any allusion to
him in the subsequent inquiry, the double death being attributed
to some gambling losses, though, in point of fact, neither one of
them had visited the tables.
Melbury and his daughter drew near their house, having seen but
one living thing on their way, a squirrel, which did not run up
its tree, but, dropping the sweet chestnut which it carried, cried
chut-chut-chut, and stamped with its hind legs on the ground.
When the roofs and chimneys of the homestead began to emerge from
the screen of boughs, Grace started, and checked herself in her
"You clearly understand," she said to her step-mother some of her
old misgiving returning, "that I am coming back only on condition
of his leaving as he promised? Will you let him know this, that
there may be no mistake?"
Mrs. Melbury, who had some long private talks with Fitzpiers,
assured Grace that she need have no doubts on that point, and that
he would probably be gone by the evening. Grace then entered with
them into Melbury's wing of the house, and sat down listlessly in
the parlor, while her step-mother went to Fitzpiers.
The prompt obedience to her wishes which the surgeon showed did
honor to him, if anything could. Before Mrs. Melbury had returned
to the room Grace, who was sitting on the parlor window-bench, saw
her husband go from the door under the increasing light of
morning, with a bag in his hand. While passing through the gate
he turned his head. The firelight of the room she sat in threw
her figure into dark relief against the window as she looked
through the panes, and he must have seen her distinctly. In a
moment he went on, the gate fell to, and he disappeared. At the
hut she had declared that another had displaced him; and now she
had banished him.
Fitzpiers had hardly been gone an hour when Grace began to sicken.
The next day she kept her room. Old Jones was called in; he
murmured some statements in which the words "feverish symptoms"
occurred. Grace heard them, and guessed the means by which she
had brought this visitation upon herself.
One day, while she still lay there with her head throbbing,
wondering if she were really going to join him who had gone
before, Grammer Oliver came to her bedside. "I don't know whe'r
this is meant for you to take, ma'am," she said, "but I have found
it on the table. It was left by Marty, I think, when she came
Grace turned her hot eyes upon what Grammer held up. It was the
phial left at the hut by her husband when he had begged her to
take some drops of its contents if she wished to preserve herself
from falling a victim to the malady which had pulled down
Winterborne. She examined it as well as she could. The liquid
was of an opaline hue, and bore a label with an inscription in
Italian. He had probably got it in his wanderings abroad. She
knew but little Italian, but could understand that the cordial was
a febrifuge of some sort. Her father, her mother, and all the
household were anxious for her recovery, and she resolved to obey
her husband's directions. Whatever the risk, if any, she was
prepared to run it. A glass of water was brought, and the drops
The effect, though not miraculous, was remarkable. In less than
an hour she felt calmer, cooler, better able to reflect--less
inclined to fret and chafe and wear herself away. She took a few
drops more. From that time the fever retreated, and went out like
a damped conflagration.
"How clever he is!" she said, regretfully. "Why could he not have
had more principle, so as to turn his great talents to good
account? Perhaps he has saved my useless life. But he doesn't
know it, and doesn't care whether he has saved it or not; and on
that account will never be told by me! Probably he only gave it to
me in the arrogance of his skill, to show the greatness of his
resources beside mine, as Elijah drew down fire from heaven."
As soon as she had quite recovered from this foiled attack upon
her life, Grace went to Marty South's cottage. The current of her
being had again set towards the lost Giles Winterborne.
"Marty," she said, "we both loved him. We will go to his grave
Great Hintock church stood at the upper part of the village, and
could be reached without passing through the street. In the dusk
of the late September day they went thither by secret ways,
walking mostly in silence side by side, each busied with her own
thoughts. Grace had a trouble exceeding Marty's--that haunting
sense of having put out the light of his life by her own hasty
doings. She had tried to persuade herself that he might have died
of his illness, even if she had not taken possession of his house.
Sometimes she succeeded in her attempt; sometimes she did not.
They stood by the grave together, and though the sun had gone
down, they could see over the woodland for miles, and down to the
vale in which he had been accustomed to descend every year, with
his portable mill and press, to make cider about this time.
Perhaps Grace's first grief, the discovery that if he had lived he
could never have claimed her, had some power in softening this,
the second. On Marty's part there was the same consideration;
never would she have been his. As no anticipation of gratified
affection had been in existence while he was with them, there was
none to be disappointed now that he had gone.
Grace was abased when, by degrees, she found that she had never
understood Giles as Marty had done. Marty South alone, of all the
women in Hintock and the world, had approximated to Winterborne's
level of intelligent intercourse with nature. In that respect she
had formed the complement to him in the other sex, had lived as
his counterpart, had subjoined her thought to his as a corollary.
The casual glimpses which the ordinary population bestowed upon
that wondrous world of sap and leaves called the Hintock woods had
been with these two, Giles and Marty, a clear gaze. They had been
possessed of its finer mysteries as of commonplace knowledge; had
been able to read its hieroglyphs as ordinary writing; to them the
sights and sounds of night, winter, wind, storm, amid those dense
boughs, which had to Grace a touch of the uncanny, and even the
supernatural, were simple occurrences whose origin, continuance,
and laws they foreknew. They had planted together, and together
they had felled; together they had, with the run of the years,
mentally collected those remoter signs and symbols which, seen in
few, were of runic obscurity, but all together made an alphabet.
From the light lashing of the twigs upon their faces, when
brushing through them in the dark, they could pronounce upon the
species of the tree whence they stretched; from the quality of the
wind's murmur through a bough they could in like manner name its
sort afar off. They knew by a glance at a trunk if its heart were
sound, or tainted with incipient decay, and by the state of its
upper twigs, the stratum that had been reached by its roots. The
artifices of the seasons were seen by them from the conjuror's own
point of view, and not from that of the spectator's.
"He ought to have married YOU, Marty, and nobody else in the
world!" said Grace, with conviction, after thinking somewhat in
the above strain.
Marty shook her head. "In all our out-door days and years
together, ma'am," she replied, "the one thing he never spoke of to
me was love; nor I to him."
"Yet you and he could speak in a tongue that nobody else knew--not
even my father, though he came nearest knowing--the tongue of the
trees and fruits and flowers themselves."
She could indulge in mournful fancies like this to Marty; but the
hard core to her grief--which Marty's had not--remained. Had she
been sure that Giles's death resulted entirely from his exposure,
it would have driven her well-nigh to insanity; but there was
always that bare possibility that his exposure had only
precipitated what was inevitable. She longed to believe that it
had not done even this.
There was only one man whose opinion on the circumstances she
would be at all disposed to trust. Her husband was that man. Yet
to ask him it would be necessary to detail the true conditions in
which she and Winterborne had lived during these three or four
critical days that followed her flight; and in withdrawing her
original defiant announcement on that point, there seemed a
weakness she did not care to show. She never doubted that
Fitzpiers would believe her if she made a clean confession of the
actual situation; but to volunteer the correction would seem like
signalling for a truce, and that, in her present frame of mind,
was what she did not feel the need of.
It will probably not appear a surprising statement, after what has
been already declared of Fitzpiers, that the man whom Grace's
fidelity could not keep faithful was stung into passionate throbs
of interest concerning her by her avowal of the contrary.
He declared to himself that he had never known her dangerously
full compass if she were capable of such a reprisal; and,
melancholy as it may be to admit the fact, his own humiliation and
regret engendered a smouldering admiration of her.
He passed a month or two of great misery at Exbury, the place to
which he had retired--quite as much misery indeed as Grace, could
she have known of it, would have been inclined to inflict upon any
living creature, how much soever he might have wronged her. Then
a sudden hope dawned upon him; he wondered if her affirmation were
true. He asked himself whether it were not the act of a woman
whose natural purity and innocence had blinded her to the
contingencies of such an announcement. His wide experience of the
sex had taught him that, in many cases, women who ventured on
hazardous matters did so because they lacked an imagination
sensuous enough to feel their full force. In this light Grace's
bold avowal might merely have denoted the desperation of one who
was a child to the realities of obliquity.
Fitzpiers's mental sufferings and suspense led him at last to take
a melancholy journey to the neighborhood of Little Hintock; and
here he hovered for hours around the scene of the purest emotional
experiences that he had ever known in his life. He walked about
the woods that surrounded Melbury's house, keeping out of sight
like a criminal. It was a fine evening, and on his way homeward
he passed near Marty South's cottage. As usual she had lighted
her candle without closing her shutters; he saw her within as he
had seen her many times before.
She was polishing tools, and though he had not wished to show
himself, he could not resist speaking in to her through the half-
open door. "What are you doing that for, Marty?"
"Because I want to clean them. They are not mine." He could see,
indeed, that they were not hers, for one was a spade, large and
heavy, and another was a bill-hook which she could only have used
with both hands. The spade, though not a new one, had been so
completely burnished that it was bright as silver.
Fitzpiers somehow divined that they were Giles Winterborne's, and
he put the question to her.
She replied in the affirmative. "I am going to keep 'em," she
said, "but I can't get his apple-mill and press. I wish could; it
is going to be sold, they say."
"Then I will buy it for you," said Fitzpiers. "That will be
making you a return for a kindness you did me." His glance fell
upon the girl's rare-colored hair, which had grown again. "Oh,
Marty, those locks of yours--and that letter! But it was a
kindness to send it, nevertheless," he added, musingly.
After this there was confidence between them--such confidence as
there had never been before. Marty was shy, indeed, of speaking
about the letter, and her motives in writing it; but she thanked
him warmly for his promise of the cider-press. She would travel
with it in the autumn season, as he had done, she said. She would
be quite strong enough, with old Creedle as an assistant.
"Ah! there was one nearer to him than you," said Fitzpiers,
referring to Winterborne. "One who lived where he lived, and was
with him when he died."
Then Marty, suspecting that he did not know the true
circumstances, from the fact that Mrs. Fitzpiers and himself were
living apart, told him of Giles's generosity to Grace in giving up
his house to her at the risk, and possibly the sacrifice, of his
own life. When the surgeon heard it he almost envied Giles his
chivalrous character. He expressed a wish to Marty that his visit
to her should be kept secret, and went home thoughtful, feeling
that in more that one sense his journey to Hintock had not been in
He would have given much to win Grace's forgiveness then. But
whatever he dared hope for in that kind from the future, there was
nothing to be done yet, while Giles Winterborne's memory was
green. To wait was imperative. A little time might melt her
frozen thoughts, and lead her to look on him with toleration, if
not with love.
Weeks and months of mourning for Winterborne had been passed by
Grace in the soothing monotony of the memorial act to which she
and Marty had devoted themselves. Twice a week the pair went in
the dusk to Great Hintock, and, like the two mourners in
Cymbeline, sweetened his sad grave with their flowers and their
tears. Sometimes Grace thought that it was a pity neither one of
them had been his wife for a little while, and given the world a
copy of him who was so valuable in their eyes. Nothing ever had
brought home to her with such force as this death how little
acquirements and culture weigh beside sterling personal character.
While her simple sorrow for his loss took a softer edge with the
lapse of the autumn and winter seasons, her self-reproach at
having had a possible hand in causing it knew little abatement.
Little occurred at Hintock during these months of the fall and
decay of the leaf. Discussion of the almost contemporaneous death
of Mrs. Charmond abroad had waxed and waned. Fitzpiers had had a
marvellous escape from being dragged into the inquiry which
followed it, through the accident of their having parted just
before under the influence of Marty South's letter--the tiny
instrument of a cause deep in nature.
Her body was not brought home. It seemed to accord well with the
fitful fever of that impassioned woman's life that she should not
have found a native grave. She had enjoyed but a life-interest in
the estate, which, after her death, passed to a relative of her
husband's--one who knew not Felice, one whose purpose seemed to be
to blot out every vestige of her.
On a certain day in February--the cheerful day of St. Valentine,
in fact--a letter reached Mrs. Fitzpiers, which had been mentally
promised her for that particular day a long time before.
It announced that Fitzpiers was living at some midland town, where
he had obtained a temporary practice as assistant to some local
medical man, whose curative principles were all wrong, though he
dared not set them right. He had thought fit to communicate with
her on that day of tender traditions to inquire if, in the event
of his obtaining a substantial practice that he had in view
elsewhere, she could forget the past and bring herself to join
There the practical part ended; he then went on--
"My last year of experience has added ten years to my age, dear
Grace and dearest wife that ever erring man undervalued. You may
be absolutely indifferent to what I say, but let me say it: I have
never loved any woman alive or dead as I love, respect, and honor
you at this present moment. What you told me in the pride and
haughtiness of your heart I never believed [this, by the way, was
not strictly true]; but even if I had believed it, it could never
have estranged me from you. Is there any use in telling you--no,
there is not--that I dream of your ripe lips more frequently than
I say my prayers; that the old familiar rustle of your dress often
returns upon my mind till it distracts me? If you could condescend
even only to see me again you would be breathing life into a
corpse. My pure, pure Grace, modest as a turtledove, how came I
ever to possess you? For the sake of being present in your mind on
this lovers' day, I think I would almost rather have you hate me a
little than not think of me at all. You may call my fancies
whimsical; but remember, sweet, lost one, that 'nature is one in
love, and where 'tis fine it sends some instance of itself.' I
will not intrude upon you further now. Make me a little bit happy
by sending back one line to say that you will consent, at any
rate, to a short interview. I will meet you and leave you as a
mere acquaintance, if you will only afford me this slight means of
making a few explanations, and of putting my position before you.
Believe me, in spite of all you may do or feel, Your lover
always (once your husband),
It was, oddly enough, the first occasion, or nearly the first on
which Grace had ever received a love-letter from him, his
courtship having taken place under conditions which rendered
letter-writing unnecessary. Its perusal, therefore, had a certain
novelty for her. She thought that, upon the whole, he wrote love-
letters very well. But the chief rational interest of the letter
to the reflective Grace lay in the chance that such a meeting as
he proposed would afford her of setting her doubts at rest, one
way or the other, on her actual share in Winterborne's death. The
relief of consulting a skilled mind, the one professional man who
had seen Giles at that time, would be immense. As for that
statement that she had uttered in her disdainful grief, which at
the time she had regarded as her triumph, she was quite prepared
to admit to him that his belief was the true one; for in wronging
herself as she did when she made it, she had done what to her was
a far more serious thing, wronged Winterborne's memory.
Without consulting her father, or any one in the house or out of
it, Grace replied to the letter. She agreed to meet Fitzpiers on
two conditions, of which the first was that the place of meeting
should be the top of Rubdown Hill, the second that he would not
object to Marty South accompanying her.
Whatever part, much or little, there may have been in Fitzpiers's
so-called valentine to his wife, he felt a delight as of the
bursting of spring when her brief reply came. It was one of the
few pleasures that he had experienced of late years at all
resembling those of his early youth. He promptly replied that he
accepted the conditions, and named the day and hour at which he
would be on the spot she mentioned.
A few minutes before three on the appointed day found him climbing
the well-known hill, which had been the axis of so many critical
movements in their lives during his residence at Hintock.
The sight of each homely and well-remembered object swelled the
regret that seldom left him now. Whatever paths might lie open to
his future, the soothing shades of Hintock were forbidden him
forever as a permanent dwelling-place.
He longed for the society of Grace. But to lay offerings on her
slighted altar was his first aim, and until her propitiation was
complete he would constrain her in no way to return to him. The
least reparation that he could make, in a case where he would
gladly have made much, would be to let her feel herself absolutely
free to choose between living with him and without him.
Moreover, a subtlist in emotions, he cultivated as under glasses
strange and mournful pleasures that he would not willingly let die
just at present. To show any forwardness in suggesting a modus
vivendi to Grace would be to put an end to these exotics. To be
the vassal of her sweet will for a time, he demanded no more, and
found solace in the contemplation of the soft miseries she caused
Approaching the hill-top with a mind strung to these notions,
Fitzpiers discerned a gay procession of people coming over the
crest, and was not long in perceiving it to be a wedding-party.
Though the wind was keen the women were in light attire, and the
flowered waistcoats of the men had a pleasing vividness of
pattern. Each of the gentler ones clung to the arm of her partner
so tightly as to have with him one step, rise, swing, gait, almost
one centre of gravity. In the buxom bride Fitzpiers recognized no
other than Suke Damson, who in her light gown looked a giantess;
the small husband beside her he saw to be Tim Tangs.
Fitzpiers could not escape, for they had seen him; though of all
the beauties of the world whom he did not wish to meet Suke was
the chief. But he put the best face on the matter that he could
and came on, the approaching company evidently discussing him and
his separation from Mrs. Fitzpiers. As the couples closed upon
him he expressed his congratulations.
"We be just walking round the parishes to show ourselves a bit,"
said Tim. "First we het across to Delborough, then athwart to
here, and from here we go to Rubdown and Millshot, and then round
by the cross-roads home. Home says I, but it won't be that long!
We be off next month."
"Indeed. Where to?"
Tim informed him that they were going to New Zealand. Not but
that he would have been contented with Hintock, but his wife was
ambitious and wanted to leave, so he had given way.
"Then good-by," said Fitzpiers; "I may not see you again." He
shook hands with Tim and turned to the bride. "Good-by, Suke," he
said, taking her hand also. "I wish you and your husband
prosperity in the country you have chosen." With this he left
them, and hastened on to his appointment.
The wedding-party re-formed and resumed march likewise. But in
restoring his arm to Suke, Tim noticed that her full and blooming
countenance had undergone a change. "Holloa! me dear--what's the
matter?" said Tim.
"Nothing to speak o'," said she. But to give the lie to her
assertion she was seized with lachrymose twitches, that soon
produced a dribbling face.
"How--what the devil's this about!" exclaimed the bridegroom.
"She's a little wee bit overcome, poor dear!" said the first
bridesmaid, unfolding her handkerchief and wiping Suke's eyes.
"I never did like parting from people!" said Suke, as soon as she
"Why him in particular?"
"Well--he's such a clever doctor, that 'tis a thousand pities we
sha'n't see him any more! There'll be no such clever doctor as he
in New Zealand, if I should require one; and the thought o't got
the better of my feelings!"
They walked on, but Tim's face had grown rigid and pale, for he
recalled slight circumstances, disregarded at the time of their
occurrence. The former boisterous laughter of the wedding-party
at the groomsman's jokes was heard ringing through the woods no
By this time Fitzpiers had advanced on his way to the top of the
hill, where he saw two figures emerging from the bank on the right
hand. These were the expected ones, Grace and Marty South, who
had evidently come there by a short and secret path through the
wood. Grace was muffled up in her winter dress, and he thought
that she had never looked so seductive as at this moment, in the
noontide bright but heatless sun, and the keen wind, and the
purplish-gray masses of brushwood around.
Fitzpiers continued to regard the nearing picture, till at length
their glances met for a moment, when she demurely sent off hers at
a tangent and gave him the benefit of her three-quarter face,
while with courteous completeness of conduct he lifted his hat in
a large arc. Marty dropped behind; and when Fitzpiers held out
his hand, Grace touched it with her fingers.
"I have agreed to be here mostly because I wanted to ask you
something important," said Mrs. Fitzpiers, her intonation
modulating in a direction that she had not quite wished it to
"I am most attentive," said her husband. "Shall we take to the
wood for privacy?"
Grace demurred, and Fitzpiers gave in, and they kept the public
At any rate she would take his arm? This also was gravely
negatived, the refusal being audible to Marty.
"Why not?" he inquired.
"Oh, Mr. Fitzpiers--how can you ask?"
"Right, right," said he, his effusiveness shrivelled up.
As they walked on she returned to her inquiry. "It is about a
matter that may perhaps be unpleasant to you. But I think I need
not consider that too carefully."
"Not at all," said Fitzpiers, heroically.
She then took him back to the time of poor Winterborne's death,
and related the precise circumstances amid which his fatal illness
had come upon him, particularizing the dampness of the shelter to
which he had betaken himself, his concealment from her of the
hardships that he was undergoing, all that he had put up with, all
that he had done for her in his scrupulous considerateness. The
retrospect brought her to tears as she asked him if he thought
that the sin of having driven him to his death was upon her.
Fitzpiers could hardly help showing his satisfaction at what her
narrative indirectly revealed, the actual harmlessness of an
escapade with her lover, which had at first, by her own showing,
looked so grave, and he did not care to inquire whether that
harmlessness had been the result of aim or of accident. With
regard to her question, he declared that in his judgment no human
being could answer it. He thought that upon the whole the balance
of probabilities turned in her favor. Winterborne's apparent
strength, during the last months of his life, must have been
delusive. It had often occurred that after a first attack of that
insidious disease a person's apparent recovery was a physiological
The relief which came to Grace lay almost as much in sharing her
knowledge of the particulars with an intelligent mind as in the
assurances Fitzpiers gave her. "Well, then, to put this case
before you, and obtain your professional opinion, was chiefly why
I consented to come here to-day," said she, when he had reached
the aforesaid conclusion.
"For no other reason at all?" he asked, ruefully.
"It was nearly the whole."
They stood and looked over a gate at twenty or thirty starlings
feeding in the grass, and he started the talk again by saying, in
a low voice, "And yet I love you more than ever I loved you in my
Grace did not move her eyes from the birds, and folded her
delicate lips as if to keep them in subjection.
"It is a different kind of love altogether," said he. "Less
passionate; more profound. It has nothing to do with the material
conditions of the object at all; much to do with her character and
goodness, as revealed by closer observation. 'Love talks with
better knowledge, and knowledge with dearer love.'"
"That's out of 'Measure for Measure,'" said she, slyly.
"Oh yes--I meant it as a citation," blandly replied Fitzpiers.
"Well, then, why not give me a very little bit of your heart
The crash of a felled tree in the remote depths of the wood
recalled the past at that moment, and all the homely faithfulness
of Winterborne. "Don't ask it! My heart is in the grave with
Giles," she replied, stanchly.
"Mine is with you--in no less deep a grave, I fear, according to
"I am very sorry; but it cannot be helped."
"How can you be sorry for me, when you wilfully keep open the
"Oh no--that's not so," returned Grace, quickly, and moved to go
away from him.
"But, dearest Grace," said he, "you have condescended to come; and
I thought from it that perhaps when I had passed through a long
state of probation you would be generous. But if there can be no
hope of our getting completely reconciled, treat me gently--wretch
though I am."
"I did not say you were a wretch, nor have I ever said so."
"But you have such a contemptuous way of looking at me that I fear
you think so."
Grace's heart struggled between the wish not to be harsh and the
fear that she might mislead him. "I cannot look contemptuous
unless I feel contempt," she said, evasively. "And all I feel is
"I have been very bad, I know," he returned. "But unless you can
really love me again, Grace, I would rather go away from you
forever. I don't want you to receive me again for duty's sake, or
anything of that sort. If I had not cared more for your affection
and forgiveness than my own personal comfort, I should never have
come back here. I could have obtained a practice at a distance,
and have lived my own life without coldness or reproach. But I
have chosen to return to the one spot on earth where my name is
tarnished--to enter the house of a man from whom I have had worse
treatment than from any other man alive--all for you!"
This was undeniably true, and it had its weight with Grace, who
began to look as if she thought she had been shockingly severe.
"Before you go," he continued, "I want to know your pleasure about
me--what you wish me to do, or not to do."
"You are independent of me, and it seems a mockery to ask that.
Far be it from me to advise. But I will think it over. I rather
need advice myself than stand in a position to give it."
"YOU don't need advice, wisest, dearest woman that ever lived. If
"Would you give it to me?"
"Would you act upon what I gave?"
"That's not a fair inquiry," said she, smiling despite her
gravity. "I don't mind hearing it--what you do really think the
most correct and proper course for me."
"It is so easy for me to say, and yet I dare not, for it would be
provoking you to remonstrances."
Knowing, of course, what the advice would be, she did not press
him further, and was about to beckon Marty forward and leave him,
when he interrupted her with, "Oh, one moment, dear Grace--you
will meet me again?"
She eventually agreed to see him that day fortnight. Fitzpiers
expostulated at the interval, but the half-alarmed earnestness
with which she entreated him not to come sooner made him say
hastily that he submitted to her will--that he would regard her as
a friend only, anxious for his reform and well-being, till such
time as she might allow him to exceed that privilege.
All this was to assure her; it was only too clear that he had not
won her confidence yet. It amazed Fitzpiers, and overthrew all
his deductions from previous experience, to find that this girl,
though she had been married to him, could yet be so coy.
Notwithstanding a certain fascination that it carried with it, his
reflections were sombre as he went homeward; he saw how deep had
been his offence to produce so great a wariness in a gentle and
once unsuspicious soul.
He was himself too fastidious to care to coerce her. To be an
object of misgiving or dislike to a woman who shared his home was
what he could not endure the thought of. Life as it stood was
When he was gone, Marty joined Mrs. Fitzpiers. She would fain
have consulted Marty on the question of Platonic relations with
her former husband, as she preferred to regard him. But Marty
showed no great interest in their affairs, so Grace said nothing.
They came onward, and saw Melbury standing at the scene of the
felling which had been audible to them, when, telling Marty that
she wished her meeting with Mr. Fitzpiers to be kept private, she
left the girl to join her father. At any rate, she would consult
him on the expediency of occasionally seeing her husband.
Her father was cheerful, and walked by her side as he had done in
earlier days. "I was thinking of you when you came up," he said.
"I have considered that what has happened is for the best. Since
your husband is gone away, and seems not to wish to trouble you,
why, let him go, and drop out of your life. Many women are worse
off. You can live here comfortably enough, and he can emigrate,
or do what he likes for his good. I wouldn't mind sending him the
further sum of money he might naturally expect to come to him, so
that you may not be bothered with him any more. He could hardly
have gone on living here without speaking to me, or meeting me;
and that would have been very unpleasant on both sides."
These remarks checked her intention. There was a sense of
weakness in following them by saying that she had just met her
husband by appointment. "Then you would advise me not to
communicate with him?" she observed.
"I shall never advise ye again. You are your own mistress--do as
you like. But my opinion is that if you don't live with him, you
had better live without him, and not go shilly-shallying and
playing bopeep. You sent him away; and now he's gone. Very well;
trouble him no more."
Grace felt a guiltiness--she hardly knew why--and made no
The woods were uninteresting, and Grace stayed in-doors a great
deal. She became quite a student, reading more than she had done
since her marriage But her seclusion was always broken for the
periodical visit to Winterborne's grave with Marty, which was kept
up with pious strictness, for the purpose of putting snow-drops,
primroses, and other vernal flowers thereon as they came.
One afternoon at sunset she was standing just outside her father's
garden, which, like the rest of the Hintock enclosures, abutted
into the wood. A slight foot-path led along here, forming a
secret way to either of the houses by getting through its boundary
hedge. Grace was just about to adopt this mode of entry when a
figure approached along the path, and held up his hand to detain
her. It was her husband.
"I am delighted," he said, coming up out of breath; and there
seemed no reason to doubt his words. "I saw you some way off--I
was afraid you would go in before I could reach you."
"It is a week before the time," said she, reproachfully. "I said
a fortnight from the last meeting."
"My dear, you don't suppose I could wait a fortnight without
trying to get a glimpse of you, even though you had declined to
meet me! Would it make you angry to know that I have been along
this path at dusk three or four times since our last meeting?
Well, how are you?"
She did not refuse her hand, but when he showed a wish to retain
it a moment longer than mere formality required, she made it
smaller, so that it slipped away from him, with again that same
alarmed look which always followed his attempts in this direction.
He saw that she was not yet out of the elusive mood; not yet to be
treated presumingly; and he was correspondingly careful to
His assertion had seemed to impress her somewhat. "I had no idea
you came so often," she said. "How far do you come from?"
"From Exbury. I always walk from Sherton-Abbas, for if I hire,
people will know that I come; and my success with you so far has
not been great enough to justify such overtness. Now, my dear
one--as I MUST call you--I put it to you: will you see me a little
oftener as the spring advances?"
Grace lapsed into unwonted sedateness, and avoiding the question,
said, "I wish you would concentrate on your profession, and give
up those strange studies that used to distract you so much. I am
sure you would get on."
"It is the very thing I am doing. I was going to ask you to burn--
or, at least, get rid of--all my philosophical literature. It is
in the bookcases in your rooms. The fact is, I never cared much
for abstruse studies."
"I am so glad to hear you say that. And those other books--those
piles of old plays--what good are they to a medical man?"
"None whatever!" he replied, cheerfully. "Sell them at Sherton
for what they will fetch."
"And those dreadful old French romances, with their horrid
spellings of 'filz' and 'ung' and 'ilz' and 'mary' and 'ma foy?'"
"You haven't been reading them, Grace?"
"Oh no--I just looked into them, that was all."
"Make a bonfire of 'em directly you get home. I meant to do it
myself. I can't think what possessed me ever to collect them. I
have only a few professional hand-books now, and am quite a
practical man. I am in hopes of having some good news to tell you
soon, and then do you think you could--come to me again?"
"I would rather you did not press me on that just now," she
replied, with some feeling. "You have said you mean to lead a
new, useful, effectual life; but I should like to see you put it
in practice for a little while before you address that query to
me. Besides--I could not live with you."
Grace was silent a few instants. "I go with Marty to Giles's
grave. We swore we would show him that devotion. And I mean to
keep it up."
"Well, I wouldn't mind that at all. I have no right to expect
anything else, and I will not wish you to keep away. I liked the
man as well as any I ever knew. In short, I would accompany you a
part of the way to the place, and smoke a cigar on the stile while
I waited till you came back."
"Then you haven't given up smoking?"
"Well--ahem--no. I have thought of doing so, but--"
His extreme complacence had rather disconcerted Grace, and the
question about smoking had been to effect a diversion. Presently
she said, firmly, and with a moisture in her eye that he could not
see, as her mind returned to poor Giles's "frustrate ghost," "I
don't like you--to speak lightly on that subject, if you did speak
lightly. To be frank with you--quite frank--I think of him as my
betrothed lover still. I cannot help it. So that it would be
wrong for me to join you."
Fitzpiers was now uneasy. "You say your betrothed lover still,"
he rejoined. "When, then, were you betrothed to him, or engaged,
as we common people say?"
"When you were away."
"How could that be?"
Grace would have avoided this; but her natural candor led her on.
"It was when I was under the impression that my marriage with you
was about to be annulled, and that he could then marry me. So I
encouraged him to love me."
Fitzpiers winced visibly; and yet, upon the whole, she was right
in telling it. Indeed, his perception that she was right in her
absolute sincerity kept up his affectionate admiration for her
under the pain of the rebuff. Time had been when the avowal that
Grace had deliberately taken steps to replace him would have
brought him no sorrow. But she so far dominated him now that he
could not bear to hear her words, although the object of her high
regard was no more.
"It is rough upon me--that!" he said, bitterly. "Oh, Grace--I did
not know you--tried to get rid of me! I suppose it is of no use,
but I ask, cannot you hope to--find a little love in your heart
for me again?"
"If I could I would oblige you; but I fear I cannot!" she replied,
with illogical ruefulness. "And I don't see why you should mind
my having had one lover besides yourself in my life, when you have
had so many."
"But I can tell you honestly that I love you better than all of
them put together, and that's what you will not tell me!"
"I am sorry; but I fear I cannot," she said, sighing again.
"I wonder if you ever will?" He looked musingly into her
indistinct face, as if he would read the future there. "Now have
pity, and tell me: will you try?"
"To love you again?"
"Yes; if you can."
"I don't know how to reply," she answered, her embarrassment
proving her truth. "Will you promise to leave me quite free as to
seeing you or not seeing you?"
"Certainly. Have I given any ground for you to doubt my first
promise in that respect?"
She was obliged to admit that he had not.
"Then I think that you might get your heart out of that grave,"
said he, with playful sadness. "It has been there a long time."
She faintly shook her head, but said, "I'll try to think of you
more--if I can."
With this Fitzpiers was compelled to be satisfied, and he asked
her when she would meet him again.
"As we arranged--in a fortnight."
"If it must be a fortnight it must!"
"This time at least. I'll consider by the day I see you again if
I can shorten the interval."
"Well, be that as it may, I shall come at least twice a week to
look at your window."
"You must do as you like about that. Good-night."
She seemed almost inclined to give him the word; but exclaiming,
"No, no; I cannot," slipped through the garden-hedge and
Fitzpiers did not exaggerate when he told her that he should haunt
the precincts of the dwelling. But his persistence in this course
did not result in his seeing her much oftener than at the
fortnightly interval which she had herself marked out as proper.
At these times, however, she punctually appeared, and as the
spring wore on the meetings were kept up, though their character
changed but little with the increase in their number.
The small garden of the cottage occupied by the Tangs family--
father, son, and now son's wife--aligned with the larger one of
the timber-dealer at its upper end; and when young Tim, after
leaving work at Melbury's, stood at dusk in the little bower at
the corner of his enclosure to smoke a pipe, he frequently
observed the surgeon pass along the outside track before-
mentioned. Fitzpiers always walked loiteringly, pensively,
looking with a sharp eye into the gardens one after another as he
proceeded; for Fitzpiers did not wish to leave the now absorbing
spot too quickly, after travelling so far to reach it; hoping
always for a glimpse of her whom he passionately desired to take
to his arms anew.
Now Tim began to be struck with these loitering progresses along
the garden boundaries in the gloaming, and wondered what they
boded. It was, naturally, quite out of his power to divine the
singular, sentimental revival in Fitzpiers's heart; the fineness
of tissue which could take a deep, emotional--almost also an
artistic--pleasure in being the yearning inamorato of a woman he
once had deserted, would have seemed an absurdity to the young
sawyer. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzpiers were separated; therefore the
question of affection as between them was settled. But his Suke
had, since that meeting on their marriage-day, repentantly
admitted, to the urgency of his questioning, a good deal
concerning her past levities. Putting all things together, he
could hardly avoid connecting Fitzpiers's mysterious visits to
this spot with Suke's residence under his roof. But he made
himself fairly easy: the vessel in which they were about to
emigrate sailed that month; and then Suke would be out of
Fitzpiers's way forever.
The interval at last expired, and the eve of their departure
arrived. They were pausing in the room of the cottage allotted to
them by Tim's father, after a busy day of preparation, which left
them weary. In a corner stood their boxes, crammed and corded,
their large case for the hold having already been sent away. The
firelight shone upon Suke's fine face and form as she stood
looking into it, and upon the face of Tim seated in a corner, and
upon the walls of his father's house, which he was beholding that
night almost for the last time.
Tim Tangs was not happy. This scheme of emigration was dividing
him from his father--for old Tangs would on no account leave
Hintock--and had it not been for Suke's reputation and his own
dignity, Tim would at the last moment have abandoned the project.
As he sat in the back part of the room he regarded her moodily,
and the fire and the boxes. One thing he had particularly noticed
this evening--she was very restless; fitful in her actions, unable
to remain seated, and in a marked degree depressed.
"Sorry that you be going, after all, Suke?" he said.
She sighed involuntarily. "I don't know but that I be," she
answered. "'Tis natural, isn't it, when one is going away?"
"But you wasn't born here as I was."
"There's folk left behind that you'd fain have with 'ee, I
"Why do you think that?"
"I've seen things and I've heard things; and, Suke, I say 'twill
be a good move for me to get 'ee away. I don't mind his leavings
abroad, but I do mind 'em at home."
Suke's face was not changed from its aspect of listless
indifference by the words. She answered nothing; and shortly
after he went out for his customary pipe of tobacco at the top of
The restlessness of Suke had indeed owed its presence to the
gentleman of Tim's suspicions, but in a different--and it must be
added in justice to her--more innocent sense than he supposed,
judging from former doings. She had accidentally discovered that
Fitzpiers was in the habit of coming secretly once or twice a week
to Hintock, and knew that this evening was a favorite one of the
seven for his journey. As she was going next day to leave the
country, Suke thought there could be no great harm in giving way
to a little sentimentality by obtaining a glimpse of him quite
unknown to himself or to anybody, and thus taking a silent last
farewell. Aware that Fitzpiers's time for passing was at hand she
thus betrayed her feeling. No sooner, therefore, had Tim left the
room than she let herself noiselessly out of the house, and
hastened to the corner of the garden, whence she could witness the
surgeon's transit across the scene--if he had not already gone by.
Her light cotton dress was visible to Tim lounging in the arbor of
the opposite corner, though he was hidden from her. He saw her
stealthily climb into the hedge, and so ensconce herself there
that nobody could have the least doubt her purpose was to watch
unseen for a passer-by.
He went across to the spot and stood behind her. Suke started,
having in her blundering way forgotten that he might be near. She
at once descended from the hedge.
"So he's coming to-night," said Tim, laconically. "And we be
always anxious to see our dears."
"He IS coming to-night," she replied, with defiance. "And we BE
anxious for our dears."
"Then will you step in-doors, where your dear will soon jine 'ee?
We've to mouster by half-past three to-morrow, and if we don't get
to bed by eight at latest our faces will be as long as clock-cases
She hesitated for a minute, but ultimately obeyed, going slowly
down the garden to the house, where he heard the door-latch click
Tim was incensed beyond measure. His marriage had so far been a
total failure, a source of bitter regret; and the only course for
improving his case, that of leaving the country, was a sorry, and
possibly might not be a very effectual one. Do what he would, his
domestic sky was likely to be overcast to the end of the day.
Thus he brooded, and his resentment gathered force. He craved a
means of striking one blow back at the cause of his cheerless
plight, while he was still on the scene of his discomfiture. For
some minutes no method suggested itself, and then he had an idea.
Coming to a sudden resolution, he hastened along the garden, and
entered the one attached to the next cottage, which had formerly
been the dwelling of a game-keeper. Tim descended the path to the
back of the house, where only an old woman lived at present, and
reaching the wall he stopped. Owing to the slope of the ground
the roof-eaves of the linhay were here within touch, and he thrust
his arm up under them, feeling about in the space on the top of
"Ah, I thought my memory didn't deceive me!" he lipped silently.
With some exertion he drew down a cobwebbed object curiously
framed in iron, which clanked as he moved it. It was about three
feet in length and half as wide. Tim contemplated it as well as
he could in the dying light of day, and raked off the cobwebs with
"That will spoil his pretty shins for'n, I reckon!" he said.
It was a man-trap.
Were the inventors of automatic machines to be ranged according to
the excellence of their devices for producing sound artistic
torture, the creator of the man-trap would occupy a very
respectable if not a very high place.
It should rather, however, be said, the inventor of the particular
form of man-trap of which this found in the keeper's out-house was
a specimen. For there were other shapes and other sizes,
instruments which, if placed in a row beside one of the type
disinterred by Tim, would have worn the subordinate aspect of the
bears, wild boars, or wolves in a travelling menagerie, as
compared with the leading lion or tiger. In short, though many
varieties had been in use during those centuries which we are
accustomed to look back upon as the true and only period of merry
England--in the rural districts more especially--and onward down
to the third decade of the nineteenth century, this model had
borne the palm, and had been most usually followed when the
orchards and estates required new ones.
There had been the toothless variety used by the softer-hearted
landlords--quite contemptible in their clemency. The jaws of
these resembled the jaws of an old woman to whom time has left
nothing but gums. There were also the intermediate or half-
toothed sorts, probably devised by the middle-natured squires, or
those under the influence of their wives: two inches of mercy, two
inches of cruelty, two inches of mere nip, two inches of probe,
and so on, through the whole extent of the jaws. There were also,
as a class apart, the bruisers, which did not lacerate the flesh,
but only crushed the bone
The sight of one of these gins when set produced a vivid
impression that it was endowed with life. It exhibited the
combined aspects of a shark, a crocodile, and a scorpion. Each
tooth was in the form of a tapering spine, two and a quarter
inches long, which, when the jaws were closed, stood in
alternation from this side and from that. When they were open,
the two halves formed a complete circle between two and three feet
in diameter, the plate or treading-place in the midst being about
a foot square, while from beneath extended in opposite directions
the soul of the apparatus, the pair of springs, each one being of
a stiffness to render necessary a lever or the whole weight of the
body when forcing it down.
There were men at this time still living at Hintock who remembered
when the gin and others like it were in use. Tim Tangs's great-
uncle had endured a night of six hours in this very trap, which
lamed him for life. Once a keeper of Hintock woods set it on the
track of a poacher, and afterwards, coming back that way,
forgetful of what he had done, walked into it himself. The wound
brought on lockjaw, of which he died. This event occurred during
the thirties, and by the year 1840 the use of such implements was
well-nigh discontinued in the neighborhood. But being made
entirely of iron, they by no means disappeared, and in almost
every village one could be found in some nook or corner as readily
as this was found by Tim. It had, indeed, been a fearful
amusement of Tim and other Hintock lads--especially those who had
a dim sense of becoming renowned poachers when they reached their
prime--to drag out this trap from its hiding, set it, and throw it
with billets of wood, which were penetrated by the teeth to the
depth of near an inch.
As soon as he had examined the trap, and found that the hinges and
springs were still perfect, he shouldered it without more ado, and
returned with his burden to his own garden, passing on through the
hedge to the path immediately outside the boundary. Here, by the
help of a stout stake, he set the trap, and laid it carefully
behind a bush while he went forward to reconnoitre. As has been
stated, nobody passed this way for days together sometimes; but
there was just a possibility that some other pedestrian than the
one in request might arrive, and it behooved Tim to be careful as
to the identity of his victim.
Going about a hundred yards along the rising ground to the right,
he reached a ridge whereon a large and thick holly grew. Beyond
this for some distance the wood was more open, and the course
which Fitzpiers must pursue to reach the point, if he came to-
night, was visible a long way forward.
For some time there was no sign of him or of anybody. Then there
shaped itself a spot out of the dim mid-distance, between the
masses of brushwood on either hand. And it enlarged, and Tim
could hear the brushing of feet over the tufts of sour-grass. The
airy gait revealed Fitzpiers even before his exact outline could
Tim Tangs turned about, and ran down the opposite side of the
hill, till he was again at the head of his own garden. It was the
work of a few moments to drag out the man-trap, very gently--that
the plate might not be disturbed sufficiently to throw it--to a
space between a pair of young oaks which, rooted in contiguity,
grew apart upward, forming a V-shaped opening between; and, being
backed up by bushes, left this as the only course for a foot-
passenger. In it he laid the trap with the same gentleness of
handling, locked the chain round one of the trees, and finally
slid back the guard which was placed to keep the gin from
accidentally catching the arms of him who set it, or, to use the
local and better word, "toiled" it.
Having completed these arrangements, Tim sprang through the
adjoining hedge of his father's garden, ran down the path, and
softly entered the house.
Obedient to his order, Suke had gone to bed; and as soon as he had
bolted the door, Tim unlaced and kicked off his boots at the foot
of the stairs, and retired likewise, without lighting a candle.
His object seemed to be to undress as soon as possible. Before,
however, he had completed the operation, a long cry resounded
without--penetrating, but indescribable.
"What's that?" said Suke, starting up in bed.
"Sounds as if somebody had caught a hare in his gin."
"Oh no," said she. "It was not a hare, 'twas louder. Hark!"
"Do 'ee get to sleep," said Tim. "How be you going to wake at
half-past three else?"
She lay down and was silent. Tim stealthily opened the window and
listened. Above the low harmonies produced by the instrumentation
of the various species of trees around the premises he could hear
the twitching of a chain from the spot whereon he had set the man-
trap. But further human sound there was none.
Tim was puzzled. In the haste of his project he had not
calculated upon a cry; but if one, why not more? He soon ceased to
essay an answer, for Hintock was dead to him already. In half a
dozen hours he would be out of its precincts for life, on his way
to the antipodes. He closed the window and lay down.
The hour which had brought these movements of Tim to birth had
been operating actively elsewhere. Awaiting in her father's house
the minute of her appointment with her husband, Grace Fitzpiers
deliberated on many things. Should she inform her father before
going out that the estrangement of herself and Edgar was not so
complete as he had imagined, and deemed desirable for her
happiness? If she did so she must in some measure become the
apologist of her husband, and she was not prepared to go so far.
As for him, he kept her in a mood of considerate gravity. He
certainly had changed. He had at his worst times always been
gentle in his manner towards her. Could it be that she might make
of him a true and worthy husband yet? She had married him; there
was no getting over that; and ought she any longer to keep him at
a distance? His suave deference to her lightest whim on the
question of his comings and goings, when as her lawful husband he
might show a little independence, was a trait in his character as
unexpected as it was engaging. If she had been his empress, and
he her thrall, he could not have exhibited a more sensitive care
to avoid intruding upon her against her will.
Impelled by a remembrance she took down a prayer-book and turned
to the marriage-service. Reading it slowly through, she became
quite appalled at her recent off-handedness, when she rediscovered
what awfully solemn promises she had made him at those chancel
steps not so very long ago.
She became lost in long ponderings on how far a person's
conscience might be bound by vows made without at the time a full
recognition of their force. That particular sentence, beginning
"Whom God hath joined together," was a staggerer for a gentlewoman
of strong devotional sentiment. She wondered whether God really
did join them together. Before she had done deliberating the time
of her engagement drew near, and she went out of the house almost
at the moment that Tim Tangs retired to his own.
The position of things at that critical juncture was briefly as
Two hundred yards to the right of the upper end of Tangs's garden
Fitzpiers was still advancing, having now nearly reached the
summit of the wood-clothed ridge, the path being the actual one
which further on passed between the two young oaks. Thus far it
was according to Tim's conjecture. But about two hundred yards to
the left, or rather less, was arising a condition which he had not
divined, the emergence of Grace as aforesaid from the upper corner
of her father's garden, with the view of meeting Tim's intended
victim. Midway between husband and wife was the diabolical trap,
silent, open, ready.
Fitzpiers's walk that night had been cheerful, for he was
convinced that the slow and gentle method he had adopted was
promising success. The very restraint that he was obliged to
exercise upon himself, so as not to kill the delicate bud of
returning confidence, fed his flame. He walked so much more
rapidly than Grace that, if they continued advancing as they had
begun, he would reach the trap a good half-minute before she could
reach the same spot.
But here a new circumstance came in; to escape the unpleasantness
of being watched or listened to by lurkers--naturally curious by
reason of their strained relations--they had arranged that their
meeting for to-night should be at the holm-tree on the ridge above
named. So soon, accordingly, as Fitzpiers reached the tree he
stood still to await her.
He had not paused under the prickly foliage more than two minutes
when he thought he heard a scream from the other side of the
ridge. Fitzpiers wondered what it could mean; but such wind as
there was just now blew in an adverse direction, and his mood was
light. He set down the origin of the sound to one of the
superstitious freaks or frolicsome scrimmages between sweethearts
that still survived in Hintock from old-English times; and waited
on where he stood till ten minutes had passed. Feeling then a
little uneasy, his mind reverted to the scream; and he went
forward over the summit and down the embowered incline, till he
reached the pair of sister oaks with the narrow opening between
Fitzpiers stumbled and all but fell. Stretching down his hand to
ascertain the obstruction, it came in contact with a confused mass
of silken drapery and iron-work that conveyed absolutely no
explanatory idea to his mind at all. It was but the work of a
moment to strike a match; and then he saw a sight which congealed
The man-trap was thrown; and between its jaws was part of a
woman's clothing--a patterned silk skirt--gripped with such
violence that the iron teeth had passed through it, skewering its
tissue in a score of places. He immediately recognized the skirt
as that of one of his wife's gowns--the gown that she had worn
when she met him on the very last occasion.
Fitzpiers had often studied the effect of these instruments when
examining the collection at Hintock House, and the conception
instantly flashed through him that Grace had been caught, taken
out mangled by some chance passer, and carried home, some of her
clothes being left behind in the difficulty of getting her free.
The shock of this conviction, striking into the very current of
high hope, was so great that he cried out like one in corporal
agony, and in his misery bowed himself down to the ground.
Of all the degrees and qualities of punishment that Fitzpiers had
undergone since his sins against Grace first began, not any even
approximated in intensity to this.
"Oh, my own--my darling! Oh, cruel Heaven--it is too much, this!"
he cried, writhing and rocking himself over the sorry accessaries
of her he deplored.
The voice of his distress was sufficiently loud to be audible to
any one who might have been there to hear it; and one there was.
Right and left of the narrow pass between the oaks were dense
bushes; and now from behind these a female figure glided, whose
appearance even in the gloom was, though graceful in outline,
She was in white up to the waist, and figured above. She was, in
short, Grace, his wife, lacking the portion of her dress which the
"Don't be grieved about me--don't, dear Edgar!" she exclaimed,
rushing up and bending over him. "I am not hurt a bit! I was
coming on to find you after I had released myself, but I heard
footsteps; and I hid away, because I was without some of my
clothing, and I did not know who the person might be."
Fitzpiers had sprung to his feet, and his next act was no less
unpremeditated by him than it was irresistible by her, and would
have been so by any woman not of Amazonian strength. He clasped
his arms completely round, pressed her to his breast, and kissed
"You are not dead!--you are not hurt! Thank God--thank God!" he
said, almost sobbing in his delight and relief from the horror of
his apprehension. "Grace, my wife, my love, how is this--what has
"I was coming on to you," she said as distinctly as she could in
the half-smothered state of her face against his. "I was trying
to be as punctual as possible, and as I had started a minute late
I ran along the path very swiftly--fortunately for myself. Just
when I had passed between these trees I felt something clutch at
my dress from behind with a noise, and the next moment I was
pulled backward by it, and fell to the ground. I screamed with
terror, thinking it was a man lying down there to murder me, but
the next moment I discovered it was iron, and that my clothes were
caught in a trap. I pulled this way and that, but the thing would
not let go, drag it as I would, and I did not know what to do. I
did not want to alarm my father or anybody, as I wished nobody to
know of these meetings with you; so I could think of no other plan
than slipping off my skirt, meaning to run on and tell you what a
strange accident had happened to me. But when I had just freed
myself by leaving the dress behind, I heard steps, and not being
sure it was you, I did not like to be seen in such a pickle, so I
"It was only your speed that saved you! One or both of your legs
would have been broken if you had come at ordinary walking pace."
"Or yours, if you had got here first," said she, beginning to
realize the whole ghastliness of the possibility. "Oh, Edgar,
there has been an Eye watching over us to-night, and we should be
He continued to press his face to hers. "You are mine--mine again
She gently owned that she supposed she was. "I heard what you
said when you thought I was injured," she went on, shyly, "and I
know that a man who could suffer as you were suffering must have a
tender regard for me. But how does this awful thing come here?"
"I suppose it has something to do with poachers." Fitzpiers was
still so shaken by the sense of her danger that he was obliged to
sit awhile, and it was not until Grace said, "If I could only get
my skirt out nobody would know anything about it," that he
By their united efforts, each standing on one of the springs of
the trap, they pressed them down sufficiently to insert across the
jaws a billet which they dragged from a faggot near at hand; and
it was then possible to extract the silk mouthful from the
monster's bite, creased and pierced with many holes, but not torn.
Fitzpiers assisted her to put it on again; and when her customary
contours were thus restored they walked on together, Grace taking
his arm, till he effected an improvement by clasping it round her
The ice having been broken in this unexpected manner, she made no
further attempt at reserve. "I would ask you to come into the
house," she said, "but my meetings with you have been kept secret
from my father, and I should like to prepare him."
"Never mind, dearest. I could not very well have accepted the
invitation. I shall never live here again--as much for your sake
as for mine. I have news to tell you on this very point, but my
alarm had put it out of my head. I have bought a practice, or
rather a partnership, in the Midlands, and I must go there in a
week to take up permanent residence. My poor old great-aunt died
about eight months ago, and left me enough to do this. I have
taken a little furnished house for a time, till we can get one of
He described the place, and the surroundings, and the view from
the windows, and Grace became much interested. "But why are you
not there now?" she said.
"Because I cannot tear myself away from here till I have your
promise. Now, darling, you will accompany me there--will you not?
To-night has settled that."
Grace's tremblings had gone off, and she did not say nay. They
went on together.
The adventure, and the emotions consequent upon the reunion which
that event had forced on, combined to render Grace oblivious of
the direction of their desultory ramble, till she noticed they
were in an encircled glade in the densest part of the wood,
whereon the moon, that had imperceptibly added its rays to the
scene, shone almost vertically. It was an exceptionally soft,
balmy evening for the time of year, which was just that transient
period in the May month when beech-trees have suddenly unfolded
large limp young leaves of the softness of butterflies' wings.
Boughs bearing such leaves hung low around, and completely
enclosed them, so that it was as if they were in a great green
vase, which had moss for its bottom and leaf sides.
The clouds having been packed in the west that evening so as to
retain the departing glare a long while, the hour had seemed much
earlier than it was. But suddenly the question of time occurred
"I must go back," she said; and without further delay they set
their faces towards Hintock. As they walked he examined his watch
by the aid of the now strong moonlight.
"By the gods, I think I have lost my train!" said Fitzpiers.
"Dear me--whereabouts are we?" said she.
"Two miles in the direction of Sherton."
"Then do you hasten on, Edgar. I am not in the least afraid. I
recognize now the part of the wood we are in and I can find my way
back quite easily. I'll tell my father that we have made it up.
I wish I had not kept our meetings so private, for it may vex him
a little to know I have been seeing you. He is getting old and
irritable, that was why I did not. Good-by."
"But, as I must stay at the Earl of Wessex to-night, for I cannot
possibly catch the train, I think it would be safer for you to let
me take care of you."
"But what will my father think has become of me? He does not know
in the least where I am--he thinks I only went into the garden for
a few minutes."
"He will surely guess--somebody has seen me for certain. I'll go
all the way back with you to-morrow."
"But that newly done-up place--the Earl of Wessex!"
"If you are so very particular about the publicity I will stay at
the Three Tuns."
"Oh no--it is not that I am particular--but I haven't a brush or
comb or anything!"
All the evening Melbury had been coming to his door, saying, "I
wonder where in the world that girl is! Never in all my born days
did I know her bide out like this! She surely said she was going
into the garden to get some parsley."
Melbury searched the garden, the parsley-bed, and the orchard, but
could find no trace of her, and then he made inquiries at the
cottages of such of his workmen as had not gone to bed, avoiding
Tangs's because he knew the young people were to rise early to
leave. In these inquiries one of the men's wives somewhat
incautiously let out the fact that she had heard a scream in the
wood, though from which direction she could not say.
This set Melbury's fears on end. He told the men to light
lanterns, and headed by himself they started, Creedle following at
the last moment with quite a burden of grapnels and ropes, which
he could not be persuaded to leave behind, and the company being
joined by the hollow-turner and the man who kept the cider-house
as they went along.
They explored the precincts of the village, and in a short time
lighted upon the man-trap. Its discovery simply added an item of
fact without helping their conjectures; but Melbury's indefinite
alarm was greatly increased when, holding a candle to the ground,
he saw in the teeth of the instrument some frayings from Grace's
clothing. No intelligence of any kind was gained till they met a
woodman of Delborough, who said that he had seen a lady answering
to the description her father gave of Grace, walking through the
wood on a gentleman's arm in the direction of Sherton.
"Was he clutching her tight?" said Melbury.
"Well--rather," said the man.
"Did she walk lame?"
"Well, 'tis true her head hung over towards him a bit."
Creedle groaned tragically.
Melbury, not suspecting the presence of Fitzpiers, coupled this
account with the man-trap and the scream; he could not understand
what it all meant; but the sinister event of the trap made him
follow on. Accordingly, they bore away towards the town, shouting
as they went, and in due course emerged upon the highway.
Nearing Sherton-Abbas, the previous information was confirmed by
other strollers, though the gentleman's supporting arm had
disappeared from these later accounts. At last they were so near
Sherton that Melbury informed his faithful followers that he did
not wish to drag them farther at so late an hour, since he could
go on alone and inquire if the woman who had been seen were really
Grace. But they would not leave him alone in his anxiety, and
trudged onward till the lamplight from the town began to
illuminate their fronts. At the entrance to the High Street they
got fresh scent of the pursued, but coupled with the new condition
that the lady in the costume described had been going up the
"Faith!--I believe she's mesmerized, or walking in her sleep,"
However, the identity of this woman with Grace was by no means
certain; but they plodded along the street. Percombe, the hair-
dresser, who had despoiled Marty of her tresses, was standing at
his door, and they duly put inquiries to him.
"Ah--how's Little Hintock folk by now?" he said, before replying.
"Never have I been over there since one winter night some three
year ago--and then I lost myself finding it. How can ye live in
such a one-eyed place? Great Hintock is bad enough--hut Little
Hintock--the bats and owls would drive me melancholy-mad! It took
two days to raise my sperrits to their true pitch again after that
night I went there. Mr. Melbury, sir, as a man's that put by
money, why not retire and live here, and see something of the
The responses at last given by him to their queries guided them to
the building that offered the best accommodation in Sherton--
having been enlarged contemporaneously with the construction of
the railway--namely, the Earl of Wessex Hotel.
Leaving the others without, Melbury made prompt inquiry here. His
alarm was lessened, though his perplexity was increased, when he
received a brief reply that such a lady was in the house.
"Do you know if it is my daughter?" asked Melbury.
The waiter did not.
"Do you know the lady's name?"
Of this, too, the household was ignorant, the hotel having been
taken by brand-new people from a distance. They knew the
gentleman very well by sight, and had not thought it necessary to
ask him to enter his name.
"Oh, the gentleman appears again now," said Melbury to himself.
"Well, I want to see the lady," he declared.
A message was taken up, and after some delay the shape of Grace
appeared descending round the bend of the stair-case, looking as
if she lived there, but in other respects rather guilty and
"Why--what the name--" began her father. "I thought you went out
to get parsley!"
"Oh, yes--I did--but it is all right," said Grace, in a flurried
whisper. "I am not alone here. I am here with Edgar. It is
entirely owing to an accident, father."
"Edgar! An accident! How does he come here? I thought he was two
hundred mile off."
"Yes, so he is--I mean he has got a beautiful practice two hundred
miles off; he has bought it with his own money, some that came to
him. But he travelled here, and I was nearly caught in a man-
trap, and that's how it is I am here. We were just thinking of
sending a messenger to let you know."
Melbury did not seem to be particularly enlightened by this
"You were caught in a man-trap?"
"Yes; my dress was. That's how it arose. Edgar is up-stairs in
his own sitting-room," she went on. "He would not mind seeing
you, I am sure."
"Oh, faith, I don't want to see him! I have seen him too often
a'ready. I'll see him another time, perhaps, if 'tis to oblige
"He came to see me; he wanted to consult me about this large
partnership I speak of, as it is very promising."
"Oh, I am glad to hear it," said Melbury, dryly.
A pause ensued, during which the inquiring faces and whity-brown
clothes of Melbury's companions appeared in the door-way.
"Then bain't you coming home with us?" he asked.
"I--I think not," said Grace, blushing.
"H'm--very well--you are your own mistress," he returned, in tones
which seemed to assert otherwise. "Good-night;" and Melbury
retreated towards the door.
"Don't be angry, father," she said, following him a few steps. "I
have done it for the best."
"I am not angry, though it is true I have been a little misled in
this. However, good-night. I must get home along."
He left the hotel, not without relief, for to be under the eyes of
strangers while he conversed with his lost child had embarrassed
him much. His search-party, too, had looked awkward there, having
rushed to the task of investigation--some in their shirt sleeves,
others in their leather aprons, and all much stained--just as they
had come from their work of barking, and not in their Sherton
marketing attire; while Creedle, with his ropes and grapnels and
air of impending tragedy, had added melancholy to gawkiness.
"Now, neighbors," said Melbury, on joining them, "as it is getting
late, we'll leg it home again as fast as we can. I ought to tell
you that there has been some mistake--some arrangement entered
into between Mr. and Mrs. Fitzpiers which I didn't quite
understand--an important practice in the Midland counties has come
to him, which made it necessary for her to join him to-night--so
she says. That's all it was--and I'm sorry I dragged you out."
"Well," said the hollow-turner, "here be we six mile from home,
and night-time, and not a hoss or four-footed creeping thing to
our name. I say, we'll have a mossel and a drop o' summat to
strengthen our nerves afore we vamp all the way back again? My
throat's as dry as a kex. What d'ye say so's?"
They all concurred in the need for this course, and proceeded to
the antique and lampless back street, in which the red curtain of
the Three Tuns was the only radiant object. As soon as they had
stumbled down into the room Melbury ordered them to be served,
when they made themselves comfortable by the long table, and
stretched out their legs upon the herring-boned sand of the floor.
Melbury himself, restless as usual, walked to the door while he
waited for them, and looked up and down the street.
"I'd gie her a good shaking if she were my maid; pretending to go
out in the garden, and leading folk a twelve-mile traipse that
have got to get up at five o'clock to morrow," said a bark-ripper;
who, not working regularly for Melbury, could afford to indulge in
"I don't speak so warm as that," said the hollow-turner, "but if
'tis right for couples to make a country talk about their
separating, and excite the neighbors, and then make fools of 'em
like this, why, I haven't stood upon one leg for five-and-twenty
All his listeners knew that when he alluded to his foot-lathe in
these enigmatic terms, the speaker meant to be impressive; and
Creedle chimed in with, "Ah, young women do wax wanton in these
days! Why couldn't she ha' bode with her father, and been
faithful?" Poor Creedle was thinking of his old employer.
"But this deceiving of folks is nothing unusual in matrimony,"
said Farmer Bawtree. "I knowed a man and wife--faith, I don't
mind owning, as there's no strangers here, that the pair were my
own relations--they'd be at it that hot one hour that you'd hear
the poker and the tongs and the bellows and the warming-pan flee
across the house with the movements of their vengeance; and the
next hour you'd hear 'em singing 'The Spotted Cow' together as
peaceable as two holy twins; yes--and very good voices they had,
and would strike in like professional ballet-singers to one
another's support in the high notes."
"And I knowed a woman, and the husband o' her went away for four-
and-twenty year," said the bark-ripper. "And one night he came
home when she was sitting by the fire, and thereupon he sat down
himself on the other side of the chimney-corner. 'Well,' says
she, 'have ye got any news?' 'Don't know as I have,' says he;
'have you?' 'No,' says she, 'except that my daughter by my second
husband was married last month, which was a year after I was made
a widow by him.' 'Oh! Anything else?' he says. 'No,' says she.
And there they sat, one on each side of that chimney-corner, and
were found by their neighbors sound asleep in their chairs, not
having known what to talk about at all."
"Well, I don't care who the man is," said Creedle, "they required
a good deal to talk about, and that's true. It won't be the same
"No. He is such a projick, you see. And she is a wonderful
"What women do know nowadays!" observed the hollow-turner. "You
can't deceive 'em as you could in my time."
"What they knowed then was not small," said John Upjohn. "Always
a good deal more than the men! Why, when I went courting my wife
that is now, the skilfulness that she would show in keeping me on
her pretty side as she walked was beyond all belief. Perhaps
you've noticed that she's got a pretty side to her face as well as
a plain one?"
"I can't say I've noticed it particular much," said the hollow-
"Well," continued Upjohn, not disconcerted, "she has. All women
under the sun be prettier one side than t'other. And, as I was
saying, the pains she would take to make me walk on the pretty
side were unending! I warrant that whether we were going with the
sun or against the sun, uphill or downhill, in wind or in lewth,
that wart of hers was always towards the hedge, and that dimple
towards me. There was I, too simple to see her wheelings and
turnings; and she so artful, though two years younger, that she
could lead me with a cotton thread, like a blind ram; for that was
in the third climate of our courtship. No; I don't think the
women have got cleverer, for they was never otherwise."
"How many climates may there be in courtship, Mr. Upjohn?"
inquired a youth--the same who had assisted at Winterborne's
"Five--from the coolest to the hottest--leastwise there was five
"Can ye give us the chronicle of 'em, Mr. Upjohn?"
"Yes--I could. I could certainly. But 'tis quite unnecessary.
They'll come to ye by nater, young man, too soon for your good."
"At present Mrs. Fitzpiers can lead the doctor as your mis'ess
could lead you," the hollow-turner remarked. "She's got him quite
tame. But how long 'twill last I can't say. I happened to be
setting a wire on the top of my garden one night when he met her
on the other side of the hedge; and the way she queened it, and
fenced, and kept that poor feller at a distance, was enough to
freeze yer blood. I should never have supposed it of such a
Melbury now returned to the room, and the men having declared
themselves refreshed, they all started on the homeward journey,
which was by no means cheerless under the rays of the high moon.
Having to walk the whole distance they came by a foot-path rather
shorter than the highway, though difficult except to those who
knew the country well. This brought them by way of Great Hintock;
and passing the church-yard they observed, as they talked, a
motionless figure standing by the gate.
"I think it was Marty South," said the hollow-turner,
"I think 'twas; 'a was always a lonely maid," said Upjohn. And
they passed on homeward, and thought of the matter no more.
It was Marty, as they had supposed. That evening had been the
particular one of the week upon which Grace and herself had been
accustomed to privately deposit flowers on Giles's grave, and this
was the first occasion since his death, eight months earlier, on
which Grace had failed to keep her appointment. Marty had waited
in the road just outside Little Hintock, where her fellow-pilgrim
had been wont to join her, till she was weary; and at last,
thinking that Grace had missed her and gone on alone, she followed
the way to Great Hintock, but saw no Grace in front of her. It
got later, and Marty continued her walk till she reached the
church-yard gate; but still no Grace. Yet her sense of
comradeship would not allow her to go on to the grave alone, and
still thinking the delay had been unavoidable, she stood there
with her little basket of flowers in her clasped hands, and her
feet chilled by the damp ground, till more than two hours had
She then heard the footsteps of Melbury's men, who presently
passed on their return from the search. In the silence of the
night Marty could not help hearing fragments of their
conversation, from which she acquired a general idea of what had
occurred, and where Mrs. Fitzpiers then was.
Immediately they had dropped down the hill she entered the church-
yard, going to a secluded corner behind the bushes, where rose the
unadorned stone that marked the last bed of Giles Winterborne. As
this solitary and silent girl stood there in the moonlight, a
straight slim figure, clothed in a plaitless gown, the contours of
womanhood so undeveloped as to be scarcely perceptible, the marks
of poverty and toil effaced by the misty hour, she touched
sublimity at points, and looked almost like a being who had
rejected with indifference the attribute of sex for the loftier
quality of abstract humanism. She stooped down and cleared away
the withered flowers that Grace and herself had laid there the
previous week, and put her fresh ones in their place.
"Now, my own, own love," she whispered, "you are mine, and on'y
mine; for she has forgot 'ee at last, although for her you died.
But I--whenever I get up I'll think of 'ee, and whenever I lie
down I'll think of 'ee. Whenever I plant the young larches I'll
think that none can plant as you planted; and whenever I split a
gad, and whenever I turn the cider-wring, I'll say none could do
it like you. If ever I forget your name, let me forget home and
Heaven!--But no, no, my love, I never can forget 'ee; for you was
a GOOD man, and did good things!"