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Chapter 1 of The Woodlanders. The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy CHAPTER I. The rambler who, for old association or other reasons, should trace the forsaken coach-road running almost in a meridional line from Bristol to the south shore of England, would find himself during the latter half of his journey in the vicinity of some extensive woodlands, interspersed with apple-orchards. Here the trees, timber or fruit-bearing, as the case may be, make the wayside hedges ragged by their drip and shade, stretching over the road with easeful horizontality, as if they found the unsubstantial air an adequate support for their limbs. At one place, where a hill is crossed, the largest of the woods shows itself bisected by the high-way, as the head of thick hair is bisected by the white line of its parting. The spot is lonely. The physiognomy of a deserted highway expresses solitude to a degree that is not reached by mere dales or downs, and bespeaks a tomb-like stillness more emphatic than that of glades and pools. The contrast of what is with what might be probably accounts for this. To step, for instance, at the place under notice, from the hedge of the plantation into the adjoining pale thoroughfare, and pause amid its emptiness for a moment, was to exchange by the act of a single stride the simple absence of human companionship for an incubus of the forlorn. At this spot, on the lowering evening of a by-gone winter's day, there stood a man who had entered upon the scene much in the aforesaid manner. Alighting into the road from a stile hard by, he, though by no means a "chosen vessel" for impressions, was temporarily influenced by some such feeling of being suddenly more alone than before he had emerged upon the highway. It could be seen by a glance at his rather finical style of dress that he did not belong to the country proper; and from his air, after a while, that though there might be a sombre beauty in the scenery, music in the breeze, and a wan procession of coaching ghosts in the sentiment of this old turnpike-road, he was mainly puzzled about the way. The dead men's work that had been expended in climbing that hill, the blistered soles that had trodden it, and the tears that had wetted it, were not his concern; for fate had given him no time for any but practical things. He looked north and south, and mechanically prodded the ground with his walking-stick. A closer glance at his face corroborated the testimony of his clothes. It was self-complacent, yet there was small apparent ground for such complacence. Nothing irradiated it; to the eye of the magician in character, if not to the ordinary observer, the expression enthroned there was absolute submission to and belief in a little assortment of forms and habitudes. At first not a soul appeared who could enlighten him as he desired, or seemed likely to appear that night. But presently a slight noise of laboring wheels and the steady dig of a horse's shoe-tips became audible; and there loomed in the notch of the hill and plantation that the road formed here at the summit a carrier's van drawn by a single horse. When it got nearer, he said, with some relief to himself, "'Tis Mrs. Dollery's—this will help me." The vehicle was half full of passengers, mostly women. He held up his stick at its approach, and the woman who was driving drew rein. "I've been trying to find a short way to Little Hintock this last half-hour, Mrs. Dollery," he said. "But though I've been to Great Hintock and Hintock House half a dozen times I am at fault about the small village. You can help me, I dare say?" She assured him that she could—that as she went to Great Hintock her van passed near it—that it was only up the lane that branched out of the lane into which she was about to turn—just ahead. "Though," continued Mrs. Dollery, "'tis such a little small place that, as a town gentleman, you'd need have a candle and lantern to find it if ye don't know where 'tis. Bedad! I wouldn't live there if they'd pay me to. Now at Great Hintock you do see the world a bit." He mounted and sat beside her, with his feet outside, where they were ever and anon brushed over by the horse's tail. This van, driven and owned by Mrs. Dollery, was rather a movable attachment of the roadway than an extraneous object, to those who knew it well. The old horse, whose hair was of the roughness and color of heather, whose leg-joints, shoulders, and hoofs were distorted by harness and drudgery from colthood—though if all had their rights, he ought, symmetrical in outline, to have been picking the herbage of some Eastern plain instead of tugging here—had trodden this road almost daily for twenty years. Even his subjection was not made congruous throughout, for the harness being too short, his tail was not drawn through the crupper, so that the breeching slipped awkwardly to one side. He knew every subtle incline of the seven or eight miles of ground between Hintock and Sherton Abbas—the market-town to which he journeyed—as accurately as any surveyor could have learned it by a Dumpy level. The vehicle had a square black tilt which nodded with the motion of the wheels, and at a point in it over the driver's head was a hook to which the reins were hitched at times, when they formed a catenary curve from the horse's shoulders. Somewhere about the axles was a loose chain, whose only known purpose was to clink as it went. Mrs. Dollery, having to hop up and down many times in the service of her passengers, wore, especially in windy weather, short leggings under her gown for modesty's sake, and instead of a bonnet a felt hat tied down with a handkerchief, to guard against an earache to which she was frequently subject. In the rear of the van was a glass window, which she cleaned with her pocket-handkerchief every market-day before starting. Looking at the van from the back, the spectator could thus see through its interior a square piece of the same sky and landscape that he saw without, but intruded on by the profiles of the seated passengers, who, as they rumbled onward, their lips moving and heads nodding in animated private converse, remained in happy unconsciousness that their mannerisms and facial peculiarities were sharply defined to the public eye. This hour of coming home from market was the happy one, if not the happiest, of the week for them. Snugly ensconced under the tilt, they could forget the sorrows of the world without, and survey life and recapitulate the incidents of the day with placid smiles. The passengers in the back part formed a group to themselves, and while the new-comer spoke to the proprietress, they indulged in a confidential chat about him as about other people, which the noise of the van rendered inaudible to himself and Mrs. Dollery, sitting forward. "'Tis Barber Percombe—he that's got the waxen woman in his window at the top of Abbey Street," said one. "What business can bring him from his shop out here at this time and not a journeyman hair-cutter, but a master-barber that's left off his pole because 'tis not genteel!" They listened to his conversation, but Mr. Percombe, though he had nodded and spoken genially, seemed indisposed to gratify the curiosity which he had aroused; and the unrestrained flow of ideas which had animated the inside of the van before his arrival was checked thenceforward. Thus they rode on till they turned into a half-invisible little lane, whence, as it reached the verge of an eminence, could be discerned in the dusk, about half a mile to the right, gardens and orchards sunk in a concave, and, as it were, snipped out of the woodland. From this self-contained place rose in stealthy silence tall stems of smoke, which the eye of imagination could trace downward to their root on quiet hearth-stones festooned overhead with hams and flitches. It was one of those sequestered spots outside the gates of the world where may usually be found more meditation than action, and more passivity than meditation; where reasoning proceeds on narrow premises, and results in inferences wildly imaginative; yet where, from time to time, no less than in other places, dramas of a grandeur and unity truly Sophoclean are enacted in the real, by virtue of the concentrated passions and closely knit interdependence of the lives therein. This place was the Little Hintock of the master-barber's search. The coming night gradually obscured the smoke of the chimneys, but the position of the sequestered little world could still be distinguished by a few faint lights, winking more or less ineffectually through the leafless boughs, and the undiscerned songsters they bore, in the form of balls of feathers, at roost among them. Out of the lane followed by the van branched a yet smaller lane, at the corner of which the barber alighted, Mrs. Dollery's van going on to the larger village, whose superiority to the despised smaller one as an exemplar of the world's movements was not particularly apparent in its means of approach. "A very clever and learned young doctor, who, they say, is in league with the devil, lives in the place you be going to—not because there's anybody for'n to cure there, but because 'tis the middle of his district." The observation was flung at the barber by one of the women at parting, as a last attempt to get at his errand that way. But he made no reply, and without further pause the pedestrian plunged towards the umbrageous nook, and paced cautiously over the dead leaves which nearly buried the road or street of the hamlet. As very few people except themselves passed this way after dark, a majority of the denizens of Little Hintock deemed window-curtains unnecessary; and on this account Mr. Percombe made it his business to stop opposite the casements of each cottage that he came to, with a demeanor which showed that he was endeavoring to conjecture, from the persons and things he observed within, the whereabouts of somebody or other who resided here. Only the smaller dwellings interested him; one or two houses, whose size, antiquity, and rambling appurtenances signified that notwithstanding their remoteness they must formerly have been, if they were not still, inhabited by people of a certain social standing, being neglected by him entirely. Smells of pomace, and the hiss of fermenting cider, which reached him from the back quarters of other tenements, revealed the recent occupation of some of the inhabitants, and joined with the scent of decay from the perishing leaves underfoot. Half a dozen dwellings were passed without result. The next, which stood opposite a tall tree, was in an exceptional state of radiance, the flickering brightness from the inside shining up the chimney and making a luminous mist of the emerging smoke. The interior, as seen through the window, caused him to draw up with a terminative air and watch. The house was rather large for a cottage, and the door, which opened immediately into the living-room, stood ajar, so that a ribbon of light fell through the opening into the dark atmosphere without. Every now and then a moth, decrepit from the late season, would flit for a moment across the out-coming rays and disappear again into the night. CHAPTER II. In the room from which this cheerful blaze proceeded, he beheld a girl seated on a willow chair, and busily occupied by the light of the fire, which was ample and of wood. With a bill-hook in one hand and a leather glove, much too large for her, on the other, she was making spars, such as are used by thatchers, with great rapidity. She wore a leather apron for this purpose, which was also much too large for her figure. On her left hand lay a bundle of the straight, smooth sticks called spar-gads—the raw material of her manufacture; on her right, a heap of chips and ends—the refuse—with which the fire was maintained; in front, a pile of the finished articles. To produce them she took up each gad, looked critically at it from end to end, cut it to length, split it into four, and sharpened each of the quarters with dexterous blows, which brought it to a triangular point precisely resembling that of a bayonet. Beside her, in case she might require more light, a brass candlestick stood on a little round table, curiously formed of an old coffin-stool, with a deal top nailed on, the white surface of the latter contrasting oddly with the black carved oak of the substructure. The social position of the household in the past was almost as definitively shown by the presence of this article as that of an esquire or nobleman by his old helmets or shields. It had been customary for every well-to-do villager, whose tenure was by copy of court-roll, or in any way more permanent than that of the mere cotter, to keep a pair of these stools for the use of his own dead; but for the last generation or two a feeling of cui bono had led to the discontinuance of the custom, and the stools were frequently made use of in the manner described. The young woman laid down the bill-hook for a moment and examined the palm of her right hand, which, unlike the other, was ungloved, and showed little hardness or roughness about it. The palm was red and blistering, as if this present occupation were not frequent enough with her to subdue it to what it worked in. As with so many right hands born to manual labor, there was nothing in its fundamental shape to bear out the physiological conventionalism that gradations of birth, gentle or mean, show themselves primarily in the form of this member. Nothing but a cast of the die of destiny had decided that the girl should handle the tool; and the fingers which clasped the heavy ash haft might have skilfully guided the pencil or swept the string, had they only been set to do it in good time. Her face had the usual fulness of expression which is developed by a life of solitude. Where the eyes of a multitude beat like waves upon a countenance they seem to wear away its individuality; but in the still water of privacy every tentacle of feeling and sentiment shoots out in visible luxuriance, to be interpreted as readily as a child's look by an intruder. In years she was no more than nineteen or twenty, but the necessity of taking thought at a too early period of life had forced the provisional curves of her childhood's face to a premature finality. Thus she had but little pretension to beauty, save in one prominent particular—her hair. Its abundance made it almost unmanageable; its color was, roughly speaking, and as seen here by firelight, brown, but careful notice, or an observation by day, would have revealed that its true shade was a rare and beautiful approximation to chestnut. On this one bright gift of Time to the particular victim of his now before us the new-comer's eyes were fixed; meanwhile the fingers of his right hand mechanically played over something sticking up from his waistcoat-pocket—the bows of a pair of scissors, whose polish made them feebly responsive to the light within. In her present beholder's mind the scene formed by the girlish spar-maker composed itself into a post-Raffaelite picture of extremest quality, wherein the girl's hair alone, as the focus of observation, was depicted with intensity and distinctness, and her face, shoulders, hands, and figure in general, being a blurred mass of unimportant detail lost in haze and obscurity. He hesitated no longer, but tapped at the door and entered. The young woman turned at the crunch of his boots on the sanded floor, and exclaiming, "Oh, Mr. Percombe, how you frightened me!" quite lost her color for a moment. He replied, "You should shut your door—then you'd hear folk open it." "I can't," she said; "the chimney smokes so. Mr. Percombe, you look as unnatural out of your shop as a canary in a thorn-hedge. Surely you have not come out here on my account—for—" "Yes—to have your answer about this." He touched her head with his cane, and she winced. "Do you agree?" he continued. "It is necessary that I should know at once, as the lady is soon going away, and it takes time to make up." "Don't press me—it worries me. I was in hopes you had thought no more of it. I can NOT part with it—so there!" "Now, look here, Marty," said the barber, sitting down on the coffin-stool table. "How much do you get for making these spars?" "Hush—father's up-stairs awake, and he don't know that I am doing his work." "Well, now tell me," said the man, more softly. "How much do you get?" "Eighteenpence a thousand," she said, reluctantly. "Who are you making them for?" "Mr. Melbury, the timber-dealer, just below here." "And how many can you make in a day?" "In a day and half the night, three bundles—that's a thousand and a half." "Two and threepence." The barber paused. "Well, look here," he continued, with the remains of a calculation in his tone, which calculation had been the reduction to figures of the probable monetary magnetism necessary to overpower the resistant force of her present purse and the woman's love of comeliness, "here's a sovereign—a gold sovereign, almost new." He held it out between his finger and thumb. "That's as much as you'd earn in a week and a half at that rough man's work, and it's yours for just letting me snip off what you've got too much of." The girl's bosom moved a very little. "Why can't the lady send to some other girl who don't value her hair—not to me?" she exclaimed. "Why, simpleton, because yours is the exact shade of her own, and 'tis a shade you can't match by dyeing. But you are not going to refuse me now I've come all the way from Sherton o' purpose?" "I say I won't sell it—to you or anybody." "Now listen," and he drew up a little closer beside her. "The lady is very rich, and won't be particular to a few shillings; so I will advance to this on my own responsibility—I'll make the one sovereign two, rather than go back empty-handed." "No, no, no!" she cried, beginning to be much agitated. "You are a-tempting me, Mr. Percombe. You go on like the Devil to Dr. Faustus in the penny book. But I don't want your money, and won't agree. Why did you come? I said when you got me into your shop and urged me so much, that I didn't mean to sell my hair!" The speaker was hot and stern. "Marty, now hearken. The lady that wants it wants it badly. And, between you and me, you'd better let her have it. 'Twill be bad for you if you don't." "Bad for me? Who is she, then?" The barber held his tongue, and the girl repeated the question. "I am not at liberty to tell you. And as she is going abroad soon it makes no difference who she is at all." "She wants it to go abroad wi'?" Percombe assented by a nod. The girl regarded him reflectively. "Barber Percombe," she said, "I know who 'tis. 'Tis she at the House—Mrs. Charmond!" "That's my secret. However, if you agree to let me have it, I'll tell you in confidence." "I'll certainly not let you have it unless you tell me the truth. It is Mrs. Charmond." The barber dropped his voice. "Well—it is. You sat in front of her in church the other day, and she noticed how exactly your hair matched her own. Ever since then she's been hankering for it, and at last decided to get it. As she won't wear it till she goes off abroad, she knows nobody will recognize the change. I'm commissioned to get it for her, and then it is to be made up. I shouldn't have vamped all these miles for any less important employer. Now, mind—'tis as much as my business with her is worth if it should be known that I've let out her name; but honor between us two, Marty, and you'll say nothing that would injure me?" "I don't wish to tell upon her," said Marty, coolly. "But my hair is my own, and I'm going to keep it." "Now, that's not fair, after what I've told you," said the nettled barber. "You see, Marty, as you are in the same parish, and in one of her cottages, and your father is ill, and wouldn't like to turn out, it would be as well to oblige her. I say that as a friend. But I won't press you to make up your mind to-night. You'll be coming to market to-morrow, I dare say, and you can call then. If you think it over you'll be inclined to bring what I want, I know." "I've nothing more to say," she answered. Her companion saw from her manner that it was useless to urge her further by speech. "As you are a trusty young woman," he said, "I'll put these sovereigns up here for ornament, that you may see how handsome they are. Bring the hair to-morrow, or return the sovereigns." He stuck them edgewise into the frame of a small mantle looking-glass. "I hope you'll bring it, for your sake and mine. I should have thought she could have suited herself elsewhere; but as it's her fancy it must be indulged if possible. If you cut it off yourself, mind how you do it so as to keep all the locks one way." He showed her how this was to be done. "But I sha'nt," she replied, with laconic indifference. "I value my looks too much to spoil 'em. She wants my hair to get another lover with; though if stories are true she's broke the heart of many a noble gentleman already." "Lord, it's wonderful how you guess things, Marty," said the barber. "I've had it from them that know that there certainly is some foreign gentleman in her eye. However, mind what I ask." "She's not going to get him through me." Percombe had retired as far as the door; he came back, planted his cane on the coffin-stool, and looked her in the face. "Marty South," he said, with deliberate emphasis, "YOU'VE GOT A LOVER YOURSELF, and that's why you won't let it go!" She reddened so intensely as to pass the mild blush that suffices to heighten beauty; she put the yellow leather glove on one hand, took up the hook with the other, and sat down doggedly to her work without turning her face to him again. He regarded her head for a moment, went to the door, and with one look back at her, departed on his way homeward. Marty pursued her occupation for a few minutes, then suddenly laying down the bill-hook, she jumped up and went to the back of the room, where she opened a door which disclosed a staircase so whitely scrubbed that the grain of the wood was wellnigh sodden away by such cleansing. At the top she gently approached a bedroom, and without entering, said, "Father, do you want anything?" A weak voice inside answered in the negative; adding, "I should be all right by to-morrow if it were not for the tree!" "The tree again—always the tree! Oh, father, don't worry so about that. You know it can do you no harm." "Who have ye had talking to ye down-stairs?" "A Sherton man called—nothing to trouble about," she said, soothingly. "Father," she went on, "can Mrs. Charmond turn us out of our house if she's minded to?" "Turn us out? No. Nobody can turn us out till my poor soul is turned out of my body. 'Tis life-hold, like Ambrose Winterborne's. But when my life drops 'twill be hers—not till then." His words on this subject so far had been rational and firm enough. But now he lapsed into his moaning strain: "And the tree will do it—that tree will soon be the death of me." "Nonsense, you know better. How can it be?" She refrained from further speech, and descended to the ground-floor again. "Thank Heaven, then," she said to herself, "what belongs to me I keep." CHAPTER III. The lights in the village went out, house after house, till there only remained two in the darkness. One of these came from a residence on the hill-side, of which there is nothing to say at present; the other shone from the window of Marty South. Precisely the same outward effect was produced here, however, by her rising when the clock struck ten and hanging up a thick cloth curtain. The door it was necessary to keep ajar in hers, as in most cottages, because of the smoke; but she obviated the effect of the ribbon of light through the chink by hanging a cloth over that also. She was one of those people who, if they have to work harder than their neighbors, prefer to keep the necessity a secret as far as possible; and but for the slight sounds of wood-splintering which came from within, no wayfarer would have perceived that here the cottager did not sleep as elsewhere. Eleven, twelve, one o'clock struck; the heap of spars grew higher, and the pile of chips and ends more bulky. Even the light on the hill had now been extinguished; but still she worked on. When the temperature of the night without had fallen so low as to make her chilly, she opened a large blue umbrella to ward off the draught from the door. The two sovereigns confronted her from the looking-glass in such a manner as to suggest a pair of jaundiced eyes on the watch for an opportunity. Whenever she sighed for weariness she lifted her gaze towards them, but withdrew it quickly, stroking her tresses with her fingers for a moment, as if to assure herself that they were still secure. When the clock struck three she arose and tied up the spars she had last made in a bundle resembling those that lay against the wall. She wrapped round her a long red woollen cravat and opened the door. The night in all its fulness met her flatly on the threshold, like the very brink of an absolute void, or the antemundane Ginnung-Gap believed in by her Teuton forefathers. For her eyes were fresh from the blaze, and here there was no street-lamp or lantern to form a kindly transition between the inner glare and the outer dark. A lingering wind brought to her ear the creaking sound of two over-crowded branches in the neighboring wood which were rubbing each other into wounds, and other vocalized sorrows of the trees, together with the screech of owls, and the fluttering tumble of some awkward wood-pigeon ill-balanced on its roosting-bough. But the pupils of her young eyes soon expanded, and she could see well enough for her purpose. Taking a bundle of spars under each arm, and guided by the serrated line of tree-tops against the sky, she went some hundred yards or more down the lane till she reached a long open shed, carpeted around with the dead leaves that lay about everywhere. Night, that strange personality, which within walls brings ominous introspectiveness and self-distrust, but under the open sky banishes such subjective anxieties as too trivial for thought, inspired Marty South with a less perturbed and brisker manner now. She laid the spars on the ground within the shed and returned for more, going to and fro till her whole manufactured stock were deposited here. This erection was the wagon-house of the chief man of business hereabout, Mr. George Melbury, the timber, bark, and copse-ware merchant for whom Marty's father did work of this sort by the piece. It formed one of the many rambling out-houses which surrounded his dwelling, an equally irregular block of building, whose immense chimneys could just be discerned even now. The four huge wagons under the shed were built on those ancient lines whose proportions have been ousted by modern patterns, their shapes bulging and curving at the base and ends like Trafalgar line-of-battle ships, with which venerable hulks, indeed, these vehicles evidenced a constructed spirit curiously in harmony. One was laden with sheep-cribs, another with hurdles, another with ash poles, and the fourth, at the foot of which she had placed her thatching-spars was half full of similar bundles. She was pausing a moment with that easeful sense of accomplishment which follows work done that has been a hard struggle in the doing, when she heard a woman's voice on the other side of the hedge say, anxiously, "George!" In a moment the name was repeated, with "Do come indoors! What are you doing there?" The cart-house adjoined the garden, and before Marty had moved she saw enter the latter from the timber-merchant's back door an elderly woman sheltering a candle with her hand, the light from which cast a moving thorn-pattern of shade on Marty's face. Its rays soon fell upon a man whose clothes were roughly thrown on, standing in advance of the speaker. He was a thin, slightly stooping figure, with a small nervous mouth and a face cleanly shaven; and he walked along the path with his eyes bent on the ground. In the pair Marty South recognized her employer Melbury and his wife. She was the second Mrs. Melbury, the first having died shortly after the birth of the timber-merchant's only child. "'Tis no use to stay in bed," he said, as soon as she came up to where he was pacing restlessly about. "I can't sleep—I keep thinking of things, and worrying about the girl, till I'm quite in a fever of anxiety." He went on to say that he could not think why "she (Marty knew he was speaking of his daughter) did not answer his letter. She must be ill—she must, certainly," he said. "No, no. 'Tis all right, George," said his wife; and she assured him that such things always did appear so gloomy in the night-time, if people allowed their minds to run on them; that when morning came it was seen that such fears were nothing but shadows. "Grace is as well as you or I," she declared. But he persisted that she did not see all—that she did not see as much as he. His daughter's not writing was only one part of his worry. On account of her he was anxious concerning money affairs, which he would never alarm his mind about otherwise. The reason he gave was that, as she had nobody to depend upon for a provision but himself, he wished her, when he was gone, to be securely out of risk of poverty. To this Mrs. Melbury replied that Grace would be sure to marry well, and that hence a hundred pounds more or less from him would not make much difference. Her husband said that that was what she, Mrs. Melbury, naturally thought; but there she was wrong, and in that lay the source of his trouble. "I have a plan in my head about her," he said; "and according to my plan she won't marry a rich man." "A plan for her not to marry well?" said his wife, surprised. "Well, in one sense it is that," replied Melbury. "It is a plan for her to marry a particular person, and as he has not so much money as she might expect, it might be called as you call it. I may not be able to carry it out; and even if I do, it may not be a good thing for her. I want her to marry Giles Winterborne." His companion repeated the name. "Well, it is all right," she said, presently. "He adores the very ground she walks on; only he's close, and won't show it much." Marty South appeared startled, and could not tear herself away. Yes, the timber-merchant asserted, he knew that well enough. Winterborne had been interested in his daughter for years; that was what had led him into the notion of their union. And he knew that she used to have no objection to him. But it was not any difficulty about that which embarrassed him. It was that, since he had educated her so well, and so long, and so far above the level of daughters thereabout, it was "wasting her" to give her to a man of no higher standing than the young man in question. "That's what I have been thinking," said Mrs. Melbury. "Well, then, Lucy, now you've hit it," answered the timber-merchant, with feeling. "There lies my trouble. I vowed to let her marry him, and to make her as valuable as I could to him by schooling her as many years and as thoroughly as possible. I mean to keep my vow. I made it because I did his father a terrible wrong; and it was a weight on my conscience ever since that time till this scheme of making amends occurred to me through seeing that Giles liked her." "Wronged his father?" asked Mrs. Melbury. "Yes, grievously wronged him," said her husband. "Well, don't think of it to-night," she urged. "Come indoors." "No, no, the air cools my head. I shall not stay long." He was silent a while; then he told her, as nearly as Marty could gather, that his first wife, his daughter Grace's mother, was first the sweetheart of Winterborne's father, who loved her tenderly, till he, the speaker, won her away from him by a trick, because he wanted to marry her himself. He sadly went on to say that the other man's happiness was ruined by it; that though he married Winterborne's mother, it was but a half-hearted business with him. Melbury added that he was afterwards very miserable at what he had done; but that as time went on, and the children grew up, and seemed to be attached to each other, he determined to do all he could to right the wrong by letting his daughter marry the lad; not only that, but to give her the best education he could afford, so as to make the gift as valuable a one as it lay in his power to bestow. "I still mean to do it," said Melbury. "Then do," said she. "But all these things trouble me," said he; "for I feel I am sacrificing her for my own sin; and I think of her, and often come down here and look at this." "Look at what?" asked his wife. He took the candle from her hand, held it to the ground, and removed a tile which lay in the garden-path. "'Tis the track of her shoe that she made when she ran down here the day before she went away all those months ago. I covered it up when she was gone; and when I come here and look at it, I ask myself again, why should she be sacrificed to a poor man?" "It is not altogether a sacrifice," said the woman. "He is in love with her, and he's honest and upright. If she encourages him, what can you wish for more?" "I wish for nothing definite. But there's a lot of things possible for her. Why, Mrs. Charmond is wanting some refined young lady, I hear, to go abroad with her—as companion or something of the kind. She'd jump at Grace." "That's all uncertain. Better stick to what's sure." "True, true," said Melbury; "and I hope it will be for the best. Yes, let me get 'em married up as soon as I can, so as to have it over and done with." He continued looking at the imprint, while he added, "Suppose she should be dying, and never make a track on this path any more?" "She'll write soon, depend upon't. Come, 'tis wrong to stay here and brood so." He admitted it, but said he could not help it. "Whether she write or no, I shall fetch her in a few days." And thus speaking, he covered the track, and preceded his wife indoors. Melbury, perhaps, was an unlucky man in having within him the sentiment which could indulge in this foolish fondness about the imprint of a daughter's footstep. Nature does not carry on her government with a view to such feelings, and when advancing years render the open hearts of those who possess them less dexterous than formerly in shutting against the blast, they must suffer "buffeting at will by rain and storm" no less than Little Celandines. But her own existence, and not Mr. Melbury's, was the centre of Marty's consciousness, and it was in relation to this that the matter struck her as she slowly withdrew. "That, then, is the secret of it all," she said. "And Giles Winterborne is not for me, and the less I think of him the better." She returned to her cottage. The sovereigns were staring at her from the looking-glass as she had left them. With a preoccupied countenance, and with tears in her eyes, she got a pair of scissors, and began mercilessly cutting off the long locks of her hair, arranging and tying them with their points all one way, as the barber had directed. Upon the pale scrubbed deal of the coffin-stool table they stretched like waving and ropy weeds over the washed gravel-bed of a clear stream. She would not turn again to the little looking-glass, out of humanity to herself, knowing what a deflowered visage would look back at her, and almost break her heart; she dreaded it as much as did her own ancestral goddess Sif the reflection in the pool after the rape of her locks by Loke the malicious. She steadily stuck to business, wrapped the hair in a parcel, and sealed it up, after which she raked out the fire and went to bed, having first set up an alarum made of a candle and piece of thread, with a stone attached. But such a reminder was unnecessary to-night. Having tossed till about five o'clock, Marty heard the sparrows walking down their long holes in the thatch above her sloping ceiling to their orifice at the eaves; whereupon she also arose, and descended to the ground-floor again. It was still dark, but she began moving about the house in those automatic initiatory acts and touches which represent among housewives the installation of another day. While thus engaged she heard the rumbling of Mr. Melbury's wagons, and knew that there, too, the day's toil had begun. An armful of gads thrown on the still hot embers caused them to blaze up cheerfully and bring her diminished head-gear into sudden prominence as a shadow. At this a step approached the door. "Are folk astir here yet?" inquired a voice she knew well. "Yes, Mr. Winterborne," said Marty, throwing on a tilt bonnet, which completely hid the recent ravages of the scissors. "Come in!" The door was flung back, and there stepped in upon the mat a man not particularly young for a lover, nor particularly mature for a person of affairs. There was reserve in his glance, and restraint upon his mouth. He carried a horn lantern which hung upon a swivel, and wheeling as it dangled marked grotesque shapes upon the shadier part of the walls. He said that he had looked in on his way down, to tell her that they did not expect her father to make up his contract if he was not well. Mr. Melbury would give him another week, and they would go their journey with a short load that day. "They are done," said Marty, "and lying in the cart-house." "Done!" he repeated. "Your father has not been too ill to work after all, then?" She made some evasive reply. "I'll show you where they be, if you are going down," she added. They went out and walked together, the pattern of the air-holes in the top of the lantern being thrown upon the mist overhead, where they appeared of giant size, as if reaching the tent-shaped sky. They had no remarks to make to each other, and they uttered none. Hardly anything could be more isolated or more self-contained than the lives of these two walking here in the lonely antelucan hour, when gray shades, material and mental, are so very gray. And yet, looked at in a certain way, their lonely courses formed no detached design at all, but were part of the pattern in the great web of human doings then weaving in both hemispheres, from the White Sea to Cape Horn. The shed was reached, and she pointed out the spars. Winterborne regarded them silently, then looked at her. "Now, Marty, I believe—" he said, and shook his head. "What?" "That you've done the work yourself." "Don't you tell anybody, will you, Mr. Winterborne?" she pleaded, by way of answer. "Because I am afraid Mr. Melbury may refuse my work if he knows it is mine." "But how could you learn to do it? 'Tis a trade." "Trade!" said she. "I'd be bound to learn it in two hours." "Oh no, you wouldn't, Mrs. Marty." Winterborne held down his lantern, and examined the cleanly split hazels as they lay. "Marty," he said, with dry admiration, "your father with his forty years of practice never made a spar better than that. They are too good for the thatching of houses—they are good enough for the furniture. But I won't tell. Let me look at your hands—your poor hands!" He had a kindly manner of a quietly severe tone; and when she seemed reluctant to show her hands, he took hold of one and examined it as if it were his own. Her fingers were blistered. "They'll get harder in time," she said. "For if father continues ill, I shall have to go on wi' it. Now I'll help put 'em up in wagon." Winterborne without speaking set down his lantern, lifted her as she was about to stoop over the bundles, placed her behind him, and began throwing up the bundles himself. "Rather than you should do it I will," he said. "But the men will be here directly. Why, Marty!—whatever has happened to your head? Lord, it has shrunk to nothing—it looks an apple upon a gate-post!" Her heart swelled, and she could not speak. At length she managed to groan, looking on the ground, "I've made myself ugly—and hateful—that's what I've done!" "No, no," he answered. "You've only cut your hair—I see now. "Then why must you needs say that about apples and gate-posts?" "Let me see." "No, no!" She ran off into the gloom of the sluggish dawn. He did not attempt to follow her. When she reached her father's door she stood on the step and looked back. Mr. Melbury's men had arrived, and were loading up the spars, and their lanterns appeared from the distance at which she stood to have wan circles round them, like eyes weary with watching. She observed them for a few seconds as they set about harnessing the horses, and then went indoors. CHAPTER IV. There was now a distinct manifestation of morning in the air, and presently the bleared white visage of a sunless winter day emerged like a dead-born child. The villagers everywhere had already bestirred themselves, rising at this time of the year at the far less dreary hour of absolute darkness. It had been above an hour earlier, before a single bird had untucked his head, that twenty lights were struck in as many bedrooms, twenty pairs of shutters opened, and twenty pairs of eyes stretched to the sky to forecast the weather for the day. Owls that had been catching mice in the out-houses, rabbits that had been eating the wintergreens in the gardens, and stoats that had been sucking the blood of the rabbits, discerning that their human neighbors were on the move, discreetly withdrew from publicity, and were seen and heard no more that day. The daylight revealed the whole of Mr. Melbury's homestead, of which the wagon-sheds had been an outlying erection. It formed three sides of an open quadrangle, and consisted of all sorts of buildings, the largest and central one being the dwelling itself. The fourth side of the quadrangle was the public road. It was a dwelling-house of respectable, roomy, almost dignified aspect; which, taken with the fact that there were the remains of other such buildings thereabout, indicated that Little Hintock had at some time or other been of greater importance than now, as its old name of Hintock St. Osmond also testified. The house was of no marked antiquity, yet of well-advanced age; older than a stale novelty, but no canonized antique; faded, not hoary; looking at you from the still distinct middle-distance of the early Georgian time, and awakening on that account the instincts of reminiscence more decidedly than the remoter and far grander memorials which have to speak from the misty reaches of mediaevalism. The faces, dress, passions, gratitudes, and revenues of the great-great-grandfathers and grandmothers who had been the first to gaze from those rectangular windows, and had stood under that key-stoned doorway, could be divined and measured by homely standards of to-day. It was a house in whose reverberations queer old personal tales were yet audible if properly listened for; and not, as with those of the castle and cloister, silent beyond the possibility of echo. The garden-front remained much as it had always been, and there was a porch and entrance that way. But the principal house-door opened on the square yard or quadrangle towards the road, formerly a regular carriage entrance, though the middle of the area was now made use of for stacking timber, fagots, bundles, and other products of the wood. It was divided from the lane by a lichen-coated wall, in which hung a pair of gates, flanked by piers out of the perpendicular, with a round white ball on the top of each. The building on the left of the enclosure was a long-backed erection, now used for spar-making, sawing, crib-framing, and copse-ware manufacture in general. Opposite were the wagon-sheds where Marty had deposited her spars. Here Winterborne had remained after the girl's abrupt departure, to see that the wagon-loads were properly made up. Winterborne was connected with the Melbury family in various ways. In addition to the sentimental relationship which arose from his father having been the first Mrs. Melbury's lover, Winterborne's aunt had married and emigrated with the brother of the timber-merchant many years before—an alliance that was sufficient to place Winterborne, though the poorer, on a footing of social intimacy with the Melburys. As in most villages so secluded as this, intermarriages were of Hapsburgian frequency among the inhabitants, and there were hardly two houses in Little Hintock unrelated by some matrimonial tie or other. For this reason a curious kind of partnership existed between Melbury and the younger man—a partnership based upon an unwritten code, by which each acted in the way he thought fair towards the other, on a give-and-take principle. Melbury, with his timber and copse-ware business, found that the weight of his labor came in winter and spring. Winterborne was in the apple and cider trade, and his requirements in cartage and other work came in the autumn of each year. Hence horses, wagons, and in some degree men, were handed over to him when the apples began to fall; he, in return, lending his assistance to Melbury in the busiest wood-cutting season, as now. Before he had left the shed a boy came from the house to ask him to remain till Mr. Melbury had seen him. Winterborne thereupon crossed over to the spar-house where two or three men were already at work, two of them being travelling spar-makers from White-hart Lane, who, when this kind of work began, made their appearance regularly, and when it was over disappeared in silence till the season came again. Firewood was the one thing abundant in Little Hintock; and a blaze of gad-cuds made the outhouse gay with its light, which vied with that of the day as yet. In the hollow shades of the roof could be seen dangling etiolated arms of ivy which had crept through the joints of the tiles and were groping in vain for some support, their leaves being dwarfed and sickly for want of sunlight; others were pushing in with such force at the eaves as to lift from their supports the shelves that were fixed there. Besides the itinerant journey-workers there were also present John Upjohn, engaged in the hollow-turnery trade, who lived hard by; old Timothy Tangs and young Timothy Tangs, top and bottom sawyers, at work in Mr. Melbury's pit outside; Farmer Bawtree, who kept the cider-house, and Robert Creedle, an old man who worked for Winterborne, and stood warming his hands; these latter being enticed in by the ruddy blaze, though they had no particular business there. None of them call for any remark except, perhaps, Creedle. To have completely described him it would have been necessary to write a military memoir, for he wore under his smock-frock a cast-off soldier's jacket that had seen hot service, its collar showing just above the flap of the frock; also a hunting memoir, to include the top-boots that he had picked up by chance; also chronicles of voyaging and shipwreck, for his pocket-knife had been given him by a weather-beaten sailor. But Creedle carried about with him on his uneventful rounds these silent testimonies of war, sport, and adventure, and thought nothing of their associations or their stories. Copse-work, as it was called, being an occupation which the secondary intelligence of the hands and arms could carry on without requiring the sovereign attention of the head, the minds of its professors wandered considerably from the objects before them; hence the tales, chronicles, and ramifications of family history which were recounted here were of a very exhaustive kind, and sometimes so interminable as to defy description. Winterborne, seeing that Melbury had not arrived, stepped back again outside the door; and the conversation interrupted by his momentary presence flowed anew, reaching his ears as an accompaniment to the regular dripping of the fog from the plantation boughs around. The topic at present handled was a highly popular and frequent one—the personal character of Mrs. Charmond, the owner of the surrounding woods and groves. "My brother-in-law told me, and I have no reason to doubt it," said Creedle, "that she'd sit down to her dinner with a frock hardly higher than her elbows. 'Oh, you wicked woman!' he said to himself when he first see her, 'you go to your church, and sit, and kneel, as if your knee-jints were greased with very saint's anointment, and tell off your Hear-us-good-Lords like a business man counting money; and yet you can eat your victuals such a figure as that!' Whether she's a reformed character by this time I can't say; but I don't care who the man is, that's how she went on when my brother-in-law lived there." "Did she do it in her husband's time?" "That I don't know—hardly, I should think, considering his temper. Ah!" Here Creedle threw grieved remembrance into physical form by slowly resigning his head to obliquity and letting his eyes water. "That man! 'Not if the angels of heaven come down, Creedle,' he said, 'shall you do another day's work for me!' Yes—he'd say anything—anything; and would as soon take a winged creature's name in vain as yours or mine! Well, now I must get these spars home-along, and to-morrow, thank God, I must see about using 'em." An old woman now entered upon the scene. She was Mr. Melbury's servant, and passed a great part of her time in crossing the yard between the house-door and the spar-shed, whither she had come now for fuel. She had two facial aspects—one, of a soft and flexible kind, she used indoors when assisting about the parlor or upstairs; the other, with stiff lines and corners, when she was bustling among the men in the spar-house or out-of-doors. "Ah, Grammer Oliver," said John Upjohn, "it do do my heart good to see a old woman like you so dapper and stirring, when I bear in mind that after fifty one year counts as two did afore! But your smoke didn't rise this morning till twenty minutes past seven by my beater; and that's late, Grammer Oliver." "If you was a full-sized man, John, people might take notice of your scornful meanings. But your growing up was such a scrimped and scanty business that really a woman couldn't feel hurt if you were to spit fire and brimstone itself at her. Here," she added, holding out a spar-gad to one of the workmen, from which dangled a long black-pudding—"here's something for thy breakfast, and if you want tea you must fetch it from in-doors." "Mr. Melbury is late this morning," said the bottom-sawyer. "Yes. 'Twas a dark dawn," said Mrs. Oliver. "Even when I opened the door, so late as I was, you couldn't have told poor men from gentlemen, or John from a reasonable-sized object. And I don't think maister's slept at all well to-night. He's anxious about his daughter; and I know what that is, for I've cried bucketfuls for my own." When the old woman had gone Creedle said, "He'll fret his gizzard green if he don't soon hear from that maid of his. Well, learning is better than houses and lands. But to keep a maid at school till she is taller out of pattens than her mother was in 'em—'tis tempting Providence." "It seems no time ago that she was a little playward girl," said young Timothy Tangs. "I can mind her mother," said the hollow-turner. "Always a teuny, delicate piece; her touch upon your hand was as soft and cool as wind. She was inoculated for the small-pox and had it beautifully fine, just about the time that I was out of my apprenticeship—ay, and a long apprenticeship 'twas. I served that master of mine six years and three hundred and fourteen days." The hollow-turner pronounced the days with emphasis, as if, considering their number, they were a rather more remarkable fact than the years. "Mr. Winterborne's father walked with her at one time," said old Timothy Tangs. "But Mr. Melbury won her. She was a child of a woman, and would cry like rain if so be he huffed her. Whenever she and her husband came to a puddle in their walks together he'd take her up like a half-penny doll and put her over without dirting her a speck. And if he keeps the daughter so long at boarding-school, he'll make her as nesh as her mother was. But here he comes." Just before this moment Winterborne had seen Melbury crossing the court from his door. He was carrying an open letter in his hand, and came straight to Winterborne. His gloom of the preceding night had quite gone. "I'd no sooner made up my mind, Giles, to go and see why Grace didn't come or write than I get a letter from her—'Clifton: Wednesday. My dear father,' says she, 'I'm coming home to-morrow' (that's to-day), 'but I didn't think it worth while to write long beforehand.' The little rascal, and didn't she! Now, Giles, as you are going to Sherton market to-day with your apple-trees, why not join me and Grace there, and we'll drive home all together?" He made the proposal with cheerful energy; he was hardly the same man as the man of the small dark hours. Ever it happens that even among the moodiest the tendency to be cheered is stronger than the tendency to be cast down; and a soul's specific gravity stands permanently less than that of the sea of troubles into which it is thrown. Winterborne, though not demonstrative, replied to this suggestion with something like alacrity. There was not much doubt that Marty's grounds for cutting off her hair were substantial enough, if Ambrose's eyes had been a reason for keeping it on. As for the timber-merchant, it was plain that his invitation had been given solely in pursuance of his scheme for uniting the pair. He had made up his mind to the course as a duty, and was strenuously bent upon following it out. Accompanied by Winterborne, he now turned towards the door of the spar-house, when his footsteps were heard by the men as aforesaid. "Well, John, and Lot," he said, nodding as he entered. "A rimy morning." "'Tis, sir!" said Creedle, energetically; for, not having as yet been able to summon force sufficient to go away and begin work, he felt the necessity of throwing some into his speech. "I don't care who the man is, 'tis the rimiest morning we've had this fall." "I heard you wondering why I've kept my daughter so long at boarding-school," resumed Mr. Melbury, looking up from the letter which he was reading anew by the fire, and turning to them with the suddenness that was a trait in him. "Hey?" he asked, with affected shrewdness. "But you did, you know. Well, now, though it is my own business more than anybody else's, I'll tell ye. When I was a boy, another boy—the pa'son's son—along with a lot of others, asked me 'Who dragged Whom round the walls of What?' and I said, 'Sam Barrett, who dragged his wife in a chair round the tower corner when she went to be churched.' They laughed at me with such torrents of scorn that I went home ashamed, and couldn't sleep for shame; and I cried that night till my pillow was wet: till at last I thought to myself there and then—'They may laugh at me for my ignorance, but that was father's fault, and none o' my making, and I must bear it. But they shall never laugh at my children, if I have any: I'll starve first!' Thank God, I've been able to keep her at school without sacrifice; and her scholarship is such that she stayed on as governess for a time. Let 'em laugh now if they can: Mrs. Charmond herself is not better informed than my girl Grace." There was something between high indifference and humble emotion in his delivery, which made it difficult for them to reply. Winterborne's interest was of a kind which did not show itself in words; listening, he stood by the fire, mechanically stirring the embers with a spar-gad. "You'll be, then, ready, Giles?" Melbury continued, awaking from a reverie. "Well, what was the latest news at Shottsford yesterday, Mr. Bawtree?" "Well, Shottsford is Shottsford still—you can't victual your carcass there unless you've got money; and you can't buy a cup of genuine there, whether or no....But as the saying is, 'Go abroad and you'll hear news of home.' It seems that our new neighbor, this young Dr. What's-his-name, is a strange, deep, perusing gentleman; and there's good reason for supposing he has sold his soul to the wicked one." "'Od name it all," murmured the timber-merchant, unimpressed by the news, but reminded of other things by the subject of it; "I've got to meet a gentleman this very morning? and yet I've planned to go to Sherton Abbas for the maid." "I won't praise the doctor's wisdom till I hear what sort of bargain he's made," said the top-sawyer. "'Tis only an old woman's tale," said Bawtree. "But it seems that he wanted certain books on some mysterious science or black-art, and in order that the people hereabout should not know anything about his dark readings, he ordered 'em direct from London, and not from the Sherton book-seller. The parcel was delivered by mistake at the pa'son's, and he wasn't at home; so his wife opened it, and went into hysterics when she read 'em, thinking her husband had turned heathen, and 'twould be the ruin of the children. But when he came he said he knew no more about 'em than she; and found they were this Mr. Fitzpier's property. So he wrote 'Beware!' outside, and sent 'em on by the sexton." "He must be a curious young man," mused the hollow-turner. "He must," said Timothy Tangs. "Nonsense," said Mr. Melbury, authoritatively, "he's only a gentleman fond of science and philosophy and poetry, and, in fact, every kind of knowledge; and being lonely here, he passes his time in making such matters his hobby." "Well," said old Timothy, "'tis a strange thing about doctors that the worse they be the better they be. I mean that if you hear anything of this sort about 'em, ten to one they can cure ye as nobody else can." "True," said Bawtree, emphatically. "And for my part I shall take my custom from old Jones and go to this one directly I've anything the matter with me. That last medicine old Jones gave me had no taste in it at all." Mr. Melbury, as became a well-informed man, did not listen to these recitals, being moreover preoccupied with the business appointment which had come into his head. He walked up and down, looking on the floor—his usual custom when undecided. That stiffness about the arm, hip, and knee-joint which was apparent when he walked was the net product of the divers sprains and over-exertions that had been required of him in handling trees and timber when a young man, for he was of the sort called self-made, and had worked hard. He knew the origin of every one of these cramps: that in his left shoulder had come of carrying a pollard, unassisted, from Tutcombe Bottom home; that in one leg was caused by the crash of an elm against it when they were felling; that in the other was from lifting a bole. On many a morrow after wearying himself by these prodigious muscular efforts, he had risen from his bed fresh as usual; his lassitude had departed, apparently forever; and confident in the recuperative power of his youth, he had repeated the strains anew. But treacherous Time had been only hiding ill results when they could be guarded against, for greater accumulation when they could not. In his declining years the store had been unfolded in the form of rheumatisms, pricks, and spasms, in every one of which Melbury recognized some act which, had its consequence been contemporaneously made known, he would wisely have abstained from repeating. On a summons by Grammer Oliver to breakfast, he left the shed. Reaching the kitchen, where the family breakfasted in winter to save house-labor, he sat down by the fire, and looked a long time at the pair of dancing shadows cast by each fire-iron and dog-knob on the whitewashed chimney-corner—a yellow one from the window, and a blue one from the fire. "I don't quite know what to do to-day," he said to his wife at last. "I've recollected that I promised to meet Mrs. Charmond's steward in Round Wood at twelve o'clock, and yet I want to go for Grace." "Why not let Giles fetch her by himself? 'Twill bring 'em together all the quicker." "I could do that—but I should like to go myself. I always have gone, without fail, every time hitherto. It has been a great pleasure to drive into Sherton, and wait and see her arrive; and perhaps she'll be disappointed if I stay away." "You may be disappointed, but I don't think she will, if you send Giles," said Mrs. Melbury, dryly. "Very well—I'll send him." Melbury was often persuaded by the quietude of his wife's words when strenuous argument would have had no effect. This second Mrs. Melbury was a placid woman, who had been nurse to his child Grace before her mother's death. After that melancholy event little Grace had clung to the nurse with much affection; and ultimately Melbury, in dread lest the only woman who cared for the girl should be induced to leave her, persuaded the mild Lucy to marry him. The arrangement—for it was little more—had worked satisfactorily enough; Grace had thriven, and Melbury had not repented. He returned to the spar-house and found Giles near at hand, to whom he explained the change of plan. "As she won't arrive till five o'clock, you can get your business very well over in time to receive her," said Melbury. "The green gig will do for her; you'll spin along quicker with that, and won't be late upon the road. Her boxes can be called for by one of the wagons." Winterborne, knowing nothing of the timber-merchant's restitutory aims, quietly thought all this to be a kindly chance. Wishing even more than her father to despatch his apple-tree business in the market before Grace's arrival, he prepared to start at once. Melbury was careful that the turnout should be seemly. The gig-wheels, for instance, were not always washed during winter-time before a journey, the muddy roads rendering that labor useless; but they were washed to-day. The harness was blacked, and when the rather elderly white horse had been put in, and Winterborne was in his seat ready to start, Mr. Melbury stepped out with a blacking-brush, and with his own hands touched over the yellow hoofs of the animal. "You see, Giles," he said, as he blacked, "coming from a fashionable school, she might feel shocked at the homeliness of home; and 'tis these little things that catch a dainty woman's eye if they are neglected. We, living here alone, don't notice how the whitey-brown creeps out of the earth over us; but she, fresh from a city—why, she'll notice everything!" "That she will," said Giles. "And scorn us if we don't mind." "Not scorn us." "No, no, no—that's only words. She's too good a girl to do that. But when we consider what she knows, and what she has seen since she last saw us, 'tis as well to meet her views as nearly as possible. Why, 'tis a year since she was in this old place, owing to her going abroad in the summer, which I agreed to, thinking it best for her; and naturally we shall look small, just at first—I only say just at first." Mr. Melbury's tone evinced a certain exultation in the very sense of that inferiority he affected to deplore; for this advanced and refined being, was she not his own all the time? Not so Giles; he felt doubtful—perhaps a trifle cynical—for that strand was wound into him with the rest. He looked at his clothes with misgiving, then with indifference. It was his custom during the planting season to carry a specimen apple-tree to market with him as an advertisement of what he dealt in. This had been tied across the gig; and as it would be left behind in the town, it would cause no inconvenience to Miss Grace Melbury coming home. He drove away, the twigs nodding with each step of the horse; and Melbury went in-doors. Before the gig had passed out of sight, Mr. Melbury reappeared and shouted after— "Here, Giles," he said, breathlessly following with some wraps, "it may be very chilly to-night, and she may want something extra about her. And, Giles," he added, when the young man, having taken the articles, put the horse in motion once more, "tell her that I should have come myself, but I had particular business with Mrs. Charmond's agent, which prevented me. Don't forget." He watched Winterborne out of sight, saying, with a jerk—a shape into which emotion with him often resolved itself—"There, now, I hope the two will bring it to a point and have done with it! 'Tis a pity to let such a girl throw herself away upon him—a thousand pities!...And yet 'tis my duty for his father's sake." CHAPTER V. Winterborne sped on his way to Sherton Abbas without elation and without discomposure. Had he regarded his inner self spectacularly, as lovers are now daily more wont to do, he might have felt pride in the discernment of a somewhat rare power in him—that of keeping not only judgment but emotion suspended in difficult cases. But he noted it not. Neither did he observe what was also the fact, that though he cherished a true and warm feeling towards Grace Melbury, he was not altogether her fool just now. It must be remembered that he had not seen her for a year. Arrived at the entrance to a long flat lane, which had taken the spirit out of many a pedestrian in times when, with the majority, to travel meant to walk, he saw before him the trim figure of a young woman in pattens, journeying with that steadfast concentration which means purpose and not pleasure. He was soon near enough to see that she was Marty South. Click, click, click went the pattens; and she did not turn her head. She had, however, become aware before this that the driver of the approaching gig was Giles. She had shrunk from being overtaken by him thus; but as it was inevitable, she had braced herself up for his inspection by closing her lips so as to make her mouth quite unemotional, and by throwing an additional firmness into her tread. "Why do you wear pattens, Marty? The turnpike is clean enough, although the lanes are muddy." "They save my boots." "But twelve miles in pattens—'twill twist your feet off. Come, get up and ride with me." She hesitated, removed her pattens, knocked the gravel out of them against the wheel, and mounted in front of the nodding specimen apple-tree. She had so arranged her bonnet with a full border and trimmings that her lack of long hair did not much injure her appearance; though Giles, of course, saw that it was gone, and may have guessed her motive in parting with it, such sales, though infrequent, being not unheard of in that locality. But nature's adornment was still hard by—in fact, within two feet of him, though he did not know it. In Marty's basket was a brown paper packet, and in the packet the chestnut locks, which, by reason of the barber's request for secrecy, she had not ventured to intrust to other hands. Giles asked, with some hesitation, how her father was getting on. He was better, she said; he would be able to work in a day or two; he would be quite well but for his craze about the tree falling on him. "You know why I don't ask for him so often as I might, I suppose?" said Winterborne. "Or don't you know?" "I think I do." "Because of the houses?" She nodded. "Yes. I am afraid it may seem that my anxiety is about those houses, which I should lose by his death, more than about him. Marty, I do feel anxious about the houses, since half my income depends upon them; but I do likewise care for him; and it almost seems wrong that houses should be leased for lives, so as to lead to such mixed feelings." "After father's death they will be Mrs. Charmond's?" "They'll be hers." "They are going to keep company with my hair," she thought. Thus talking, they reached the town. By no pressure would she ride up the street with him. "That's the right of another woman," she said, with playful malice, as she put on her pattens. "I wonder what you are thinking of! Thank you for the lift in that handsome gig. Good-by." He blushed a little, shook his head at her, and drove on ahead into the streets—the churches, the abbey, and other buildings on this clear bright morning having the liny distinctness of architectural drawings, as if the original dream and vision of the conceiving master-mason, some mediaeval Vilars or other unknown to fame, were for a few minutes flashed down through the centuries to an unappreciative age. Giles saw their eloquent look on this day of transparency, but could not construe it. He turned into the inn-yard. Marty, following the same track, marched promptly to the hair-dresser's, Mr. Percombe's. Percombe was the chief of his trade in Sherton Abbas. He had the patronage of such county offshoots as had been obliged to seek the shelter of small houses in that ancient town, of the local clergy, and so on, for some of whom he had made wigs, while others among them had compensated for neglecting him in their lifetime by patronizing him when they were dead, and letting him shave their corpses. On the strength of all this he had taken down his pole, and called himself "Perruquier to the aristocracy." Nevertheless, this sort of support did not quite fill his children's mouths, and they had to be filled. So, behind his house there was a little yard, reached by a passage from the back street, and in that yard was a pole, and under the pole a shop of quite another description than the ornamental one in the front street. Here on Saturday nights from seven till ten he took an almost innumerable succession of twopences from the farm laborers who flocked thither in crowds from the country. And thus he lived. Marty, of course, went to the front shop, and handed her packet to him silently. "Thank you," said the barber, quite joyfully. "I hardly expected it after what you said last night." She turned aside, while a tear welled up and stood in each eye at this reminder. "Nothing of what I told you," he whispered, there being others in the shop. "But I can trust you, I see." She had now reached the end of this distressing business, and went listlessly along the street to attend to other errands. These occupied her till four o'clock, at which time she recrossed the market-place. It was impossible to avoid rediscovering Winterborne every time she passed that way, for standing, as he always did at this season of the year, with his specimen apple-tree in the midst, the boughs rose above the heads of the crowd, and brought a delightful suggestion of orchards among the crowded buildings there. When her eye fell upon him for the last time he was standing somewhat apart, holding the tree like an ensign, and looking on the ground instead of pushing his produce as he ought to have been doing. He was, in fact, not a very successful seller either of his trees or of his cider, his habit of speaking his mind, when he spoke at all, militating against this branch of his business. While she regarded him he suddenly lifted his eyes in a direction away from Marty, his face simultaneously kindling with recognition and surprise. She followed his gaze, and saw walking across to him a flexible young creature in whom she perceived the features of her she had known as Miss Grace Melbury, but now looking glorified and refined above her former level. Winterborne, being fixed to the spot by his apple-tree, could not advance to meet her; he held out his spare hand with his hat in it, and with some embarrassment beheld her coming on tiptoe through the mud to the middle of the square where he stood. Miss Melbury's arrival so early was, as Marty could see, unexpected by Giles, which accounted for his not being ready to receive her. Indeed, her father had named five o'clock as her probable time, for which reason that hour had been looming out all the day in his forward perspective, like an important edifice on a plain. Now here she was come, he knew not how, and his arranged welcome stultified. His face became gloomy at her necessity for stepping into the road, and more still at the little look of embarrassment which appeared on hers at having to perform the meeting with him under an apple-tree ten feet high in the middle of the market-place. Having had occasion to take off the new gloves she had bought to come home in, she held out to him a hand graduating from pink at the tips of the fingers to white at the palm; and the reception formed a scene, with the tree over their heads, which was not by any means an ordinary one in Sherton Abbas streets. Nevertheless, the greeting on her looks and lips was of a restrained type, which perhaps was not unnatural. For true it was that Giles Winterborne, well-attired and well-mannered as he was for a yeoman, looked rough beside her. It had sometimes dimly occurred to him, in his ruminating silence at Little Hintock, that external phenomena—such as the lowness or height or color of a hat, the fold of a coat, the make of a boot, or the chance attitude or occupation of a limb at the instant of view—may have a great influence upon feminine opinion of a man's worth—so frequently founded on non-essentials; but a certain causticity of mental tone towards himself and the world in general had prevented to-day, as always, any enthusiastic action on the strength of that reflection; and her momentary instinct of reserve at first sight of him was the penalty he paid for his laxness. He gave away the tree to a by-stander, as soon as he could find one who would accept the cumbersome gift, and the twain moved on towards the inn at which he had put up. Marty made as if to step forward for the pleasure of being recognized by Miss Melbury; but abruptly checking herself, she glided behind a carrier's van, saying, dryly, "No; I baint wanted there," and critically regarded Winterborne's companion. It would have been very difficult to describe Grace Melbury with precision, either now or at any time. Nay, from the highest point of view, to precisely describe a human being, the focus of a universe—how impossible! But, apart from transcendentalism, there never probably lived a person who was in herself more completely a reductio ad absurdum of attempts to appraise a woman, even externally, by items of face and figure. Speaking generally, it may be said that she was sometimes beautiful, at other times not beautiful, according to the state of her health and spirits. In simple corporeal presentment she was of a fair and clear complexion, rather pale than pink, slim in build and elastic in movement. Her look expressed a tendency to wait for others' thoughts before uttering her own; possibly also to wait for others' deeds before her own doing. In her small, delicate mouth, which had perhaps hardly settled down to its matured curves, there was a gentleness that might hinder sufficient self-assertion for her own good. She had well-formed eyebrows which, had her portrait been painted, would probably have been done in Prout's or Vandyke brown. There was nothing remarkable in her dress just now, beyond a natural fitness and a style that was recent for the streets of Sherton. But, indeed, had it been the reverse, and quite striking, it would have meant just as little. For there can be hardly anything less connected with a woman's personality than drapery which she has neither designed, manufactured, cut, sewed, or even seen, except by a glance of approval when told that such and such a shape and color must be had because it has been decided by others as imperative at that particular time. What people, therefore, saw of her in a cursory view was very little; in truth, mainly something that was not she. The woman herself was a shadowy, conjectural creature who had little to do with the outlines presented to Sherton eyes; a shape in the gloom, whose true description could only be approximated by putting together a movement now and a glance then, in that patient and long-continued attentiveness which nothing but watchful loving-kindness ever troubles to give. There was a little delay in their setting out from the town, and Marty South took advantage of it to hasten forward, with the view of escaping them on the way, lest they should feel compelled to spoil their tete-a-tete by asking her to ride. She walked fast, and one-third of the journey was done, and the evening rapidly darkening, before she perceived any sign of them behind her. Then, while ascending a hill, she dimly saw their vehicle drawing near the lowest part of the incline, their heads slightly bent towards each other; drawn together, no doubt, by their souls, as the heads of a pair of horses well in hand are drawn in by the rein. She walked still faster. But between these and herself there was a carriage, apparently a brougham, coming in the same direction, with lighted lamps. When it overtook her—which was not soon, on account of her pace—the scene was much darker, and the lights glared in her eyes sufficiently to hide the details of the equipage. It occurred to Marty that she might take hold behind this carriage and so keep along with it, to save herself the mortification of being overtaken and picked up for pity's sake by the coming pair. Accordingly, as the carriage drew abreast of her in climbing the long ascent, she walked close to the wheels, the rays of the nearest lamp penetrating her very pores. She had only just dropped behind when the carriage stopped, and to her surprise the coachman asked her, over his shoulder, if she would ride. What made the question more surprising was that it came in obedience to an order from the interior of the vehicle. Marty gladly assented, for she was weary, very weary, after working all night and keeping afoot all day. She mounted beside the coachman, wondering why this good-fortune had happened to her. He was rather a great man in aspect, and she did not like to inquire of him for some time. At last she said, "Who has been so kind as to ask me to ride?" "Mrs. Charmond," replied her statuesque companion. Marty was stirred at the name, so closely connected with her last night's experiences. "Is this her carriage?" she whispered. "Yes; she's inside." Marty reflected, and perceived that Mrs. Charmond must have recognized her plodding up the hill under the blaze of the lamp; recognized, probably, her stubbly poll (since she had kept away her face), and thought that those stubbles were the result of her own desire. Marty South was not so very far wrong. Inside the carriage a pair of bright eyes looked from a ripely handsome face, and though behind those bright eyes was a mind of unfathomed mysteries, beneath them there beat a heart capable of quick extempore warmth—a heart which could, indeed, be passionately and imprudently warm on certain occasions. At present, after recognizing the girl, she had acted on a mere impulse, possibly feeling gratified at the denuded appearance which signified the success of her agent in obtaining what she had required. "'Tis wonderful that she should ask ye," observed the magisterial coachman, presently. "I have never known her do it before, for as a rule she takes no interest in the village folk at all." Marty said no more, but occasionally turned her head to see if she could get a glimpse of the Olympian creature who as the coachman had truly observed, hardly ever descended from her clouds into the Tempe of the parishioners. But she could discern nothing of the lady. She also looked for Miss Melbury and Winterborne. The nose of their horse sometimes came quite near the back of Mrs. Charmond's carriage. But they never attempted to pass it till the latter conveyance turned towards the park gate, when they sped by. Here the carriage drew up that the gate might be opened, and in the momentary silence Marty heard a gentle oral sound, soft as a breeze. "What's that?" she whispered. "Mis'ess yawning." "Why should she yawn?" "Oh, because she's been used to such wonderfully good life, and finds it dull here. She'll soon be off again on account of it." "So rich and so powerful, and yet to yawn!" the girl murmured. "Then things don't fay with she any more than with we!" Marty now alighted; the lamp again shone upon her, and as the carriage rolled on, a soft voice said to her from the interior, "Good-night." "Good-night, ma'am," said Marty. But she had not been able to see the woman who began so greatly to interest her—the second person of her own sex who had operated strongly on her mind that day. CHAPTER VI. Meanwhile, Winterborne and Grace Melbury had also undergone their little experiences of the same homeward journey. As he drove off with her out of the town the glances of people fell upon them, the younger thinking that Mr. Winterborne was in a pleasant place, and wondering in what relation he stood towards her. Winterborne himself was unconscious of this. Occupied solely with the idea of having her in charge, he did not notice much with outward eye, neither observing how she was dressed, nor the effect of the picture they together composed in the landscape. Their conversation was in briefest phrase for some time, Grace being somewhat disconcerted, through not having understood till they were about to start that Giles was to be her sole conductor in place of her father. When they were in the open country he spoke. "Don't Brownley's farm-buildings look strange to you, now they have been moved bodily from the hollow where the old ones stood to the top of the hill?" She admitted that they did, though she should not have seen any difference in them if he had not pointed it out. "They had a good crop of bitter-sweets; they couldn't grind them all" (nodding towards an orchard where some heaps of apples had been left lying ever since the ingathering). She said "Yes," but looking at another orchard. "Why, you are looking at John-apple-trees! You know bitter-sweets—you used to well enough!" "I am afraid I have forgotten, and it is getting too dark to distinguish." Winterborne did not continue. It seemed as if the knowledge and interest which had formerly moved Grace's mind had quite died away from her. He wondered whether the special attributes of his image in the past had evaporated like these other things. However that might be, the fact at present was merely this, that where he was seeing John-apples and farm-buildings she was beholding a far remoter scene—a scene no less innocent and simple, indeed, but much contrasting—a broad lawn in the fashionable suburb of a fast city, the evergreen leaves shining in the evening sun, amid which bounding girls, gracefully clad in artistic arrangements of blue, brown, red, black, and white, were playing at games, with laughter and chat, in all the pride of life, the notes of piano and harp trembling in the air from the open windows adjoining. Moreover, they were girls—and this was a fact which Grace Melbury's delicate femininity could not lose sight of—whose parents Giles would have addressed with a deferential Sir or Madam. Beside this visioned scene the homely farmsteads did not quite hold their own from her present twenty-year point of survey. For all his woodland sequestration, Giles knew the primitive simplicity of the subject he had started, and now sounded a deeper note. "'Twas very odd what we said to each other years ago; I often think of it. I mean our saying that if we still liked each other when you were twenty and I twenty-five, we'd—" "It was child's tattle." "H'm!" said Giles, suddenly. "I mean we were young," said she, more considerately. That gruff manner of his in making inquiries reminded her that he was unaltered in much. "Yes....I beg your pardon, Miss Melbury; your father SENT me to meet you to-day." "I know it, and I am glad of it." He seemed satisfied with her tone and went on: "At that time you were sitting beside me at the back of your father's covered car, when we were coming home from gypsying, all the party being squeezed in together as tight as sheep in an auction-pen. It got darker and darker, and I said—I forget the exact words—but I put my arm round your waist and there you let it stay till your father, sitting in front suddenly stopped telling his story to Farmer Bollen, to light his pipe. The flash shone into the car, and showed us all up distinctly; my arm flew from your waist like lightning; yet not so quickly but that some of 'em had seen, and laughed at us. Yet your father, to our amazement, instead of being angry, was mild as milk, and seemed quite pleased. Have you forgot all that, or haven't you?" She owned that she remembered it very well, now that he mentioned the circumstances. "But, goodness! I must have been in short frocks," she said. "Come now, Miss Melbury, that won't do! Short frocks, indeed! You know better, as well as I." Grace thereupon declared that she would not argue with an old friend she valued so highly as she valued him, saying the words with the easy elusiveness that will be polite at all costs. It might possibly be true, she added, that she was getting on in girlhood when that event took place; but if it were so, then she was virtually no less than an old woman now, so far did the time seem removed from her present. "Do you ever look at things philosophically instead of personally?" she asked. "I can't say that I do," answered Giles, his eyes lingering far ahead upon a dark spot, which proved to be a brougham. "I think you may, sometimes, with advantage," said she. "Look at yourself as a pitcher drifting on the stream with other pitchers, and consider what contrivances are most desirable for avoiding cracks in general, and not only for saving your poor one. Shall I tell you all about Bath or Cheltenham, or places on the Continent that I visited last summer?" "With all my heart." She then described places and persons in such terms as might have been used for that purpose by any woman to any man within the four seas, so entirely absent from that description was everything specially appertaining to her own existence. When she had done she said, gayly, "Now do you tell me in return what has happened in Hintock since I have been away." "Anything to keep the conversation away from her and me," said Giles within him. It was true cultivation had so far advanced in the soil of Miss Melbury's mind as to lead her to talk by rote of anything save of that she knew well, and had the greatest interest in developing—that is to say, herself. He had not proceeded far with his somewhat bald narration when they drew near the carriage that had been preceding them for some time. Miss Melbury inquired if he knew whose carriage it was. Winterborne, although he had seen it, had not taken it into account. On examination, he said it was Mrs. Charmond's. Grace watched the vehicle and its easy roll, and seemed to feel more nearly akin to it than to the one she was in. "Pooh! We can polish off the mileage as well as they, come to that," said Winterborne, reading her mind; and rising to emulation at what it bespoke, he whipped on the horse. This it was which had brought the nose of Mr. Melbury's old gray close to the back of Mrs. Charmond's much-eclipsing vehicle. "There's Marty South Sitting up with the coachman," said he, discerning her by her dress. "Ah, poor Marty! I must ask her to come to see me this very evening. How does she happen to be riding there?" "I don't know. It is very singular." Thus these people with converging destinies went along the road together, till Winterborne, leaving the track of the carriage, turned into Little Hintock, where almost the first house was the timber-merchant's. Pencils of dancing light streamed out of the windows sufficiently to show the white laurestinus flowers, and glance over the polished leaves of laurel. The interior of the rooms could be seen distinctly, warmed up by the fire-flames, which in the parlor were reflected from the glass of the pictures and bookcase, and in the kitchen from the utensils and ware. "Let us look at the dear place for a moment before we call them," she said. In the kitchen dinner was preparing; for though Melbury dined at one o'clock at other times, to-day the meal had been kept back for Grace. A rickety old spit was in motion, its end being fixed in the fire-dog, and the whole kept going by means of a cord conveyed over pulleys along the ceiling to a large stone suspended in a corner of the room. Old Grammer Oliver came and wound it up with a rattle like that of a mill. In the parlor a large shade of Mrs. Melbury's head fell on the wall and ceiling; but before the girl had regarded this room many moments their presence was discovered, and her father and stepmother came out to welcome her. The character of the Melbury family was of that kind which evinces some shyness in showing strong emotion among each other: a trait frequent in rural households, and one which stands in curiously inverse relation to most of the peculiarities distinguishing villagers from the people of towns. Thus hiding their warmer feelings under commonplace talk all round, Grace's reception produced no extraordinary demonstrations. But that more was felt than was enacted appeared from the fact that her father, in taking her in-doors, quite forgot the presence of Giles without, as did also Grace herself. He said nothing, but took the gig round to the yard and called out from the spar-house the man who particularly attended to these matters when there was no conversation to draw him off among the copse-workers inside. Winterborne then returned to the door with the intention of entering the house. The family had gone into the parlor, and were still absorbed in themselves. The fire was, as before, the only light, and it irradiated Grace's face and hands so as to make them look wondrously smooth and fair beside those of the two elders; shining also through the loose hair about her temples as sunlight through a brake. Her father was surveying her in a dazed conjecture, so much had she developed and progressed in manner and stature since he last had set eyes on her. Observing these things, Winterborne remained dubious by the door, mechanically tracing with his fingers certain time-worn letters carved in the jambs—initials of by-gone generations of householders who had lived and died there. No, he declared to himself, he would not enter and join the family; they had forgotten him, and it was enough for to-day that he had brought her home. Still, he was a little surprised that her father's eagerness to send him for Grace should have resulted in such an anticlimax as this. He walked softly away into the lane towards his own house, looking back when he reached the turning, from which he could get a last glimpse of the timber-merchant's roof. He hazarded guesses as to what Grace was saying just at that moment, and murmured, with some self-derision, "nothing about me!" He looked also in the other direction, and saw against the sky the thatched hip and solitary chimney of Marty's cottage, and thought of her too, struggling bravely along under that humble shelter, among her spar-gads and pots and skimmers. At the timber-merchant's, in the mean time, the conversation flowed; and, as Giles Winterborne had rightly enough deemed, on subjects in which he had no share. Among the excluding matters there was, for one, the effect upon Mr. Melbury of the womanly mien and manners of his daughter, which took him so much unawares that, though it did not make him absolutely forget the existence of her conductor homeward, thrust Giles's image back into quite the obscurest cellarage of his brain. Another was his interview with Mrs. Charmond's agent that morning, at which the lady herself had been present for a few minutes. Melbury had purchased some standing timber from her a long time before, and now that the date had come for felling it he was left to pursue almost his own course. This was what the household were actually talking of during Giles's cogitation without; and Melbury's satisfaction with the clear atmosphere that had arisen between himself and the deity of the groves which enclosed his residence was the cause of a counterbalancing mistiness on the side towards Winterborne. "So thoroughly does she trust me," said Melbury, "that I might fell, top, or lop, on my own judgment, any stick o' timber whatever in her wood, and fix the price o't, and settle the matter. But, name it all! I wouldn't do such a thing. However, it may be useful to have this good understanding with her....I wish she took more interest in the place, and stayed here all the year round." "I am afraid 'tis not her regard for you, but her dislike of Hintock, that makes her so easy about the trees," said Mrs. Melbury. When dinner was over, Grace took a candle and began to ramble pleasurably through the rooms of her old home, from which she had latterly become wellnigh an alien. Each nook and each object revived a memory, and simultaneously modified it. The chambers seemed lower than they had appeared on any previous occasion of her return, the surfaces of both walls and ceilings standing in such relations to the eye that it could not avoid taking microscopic note of their irregularities and old fashion. Her own bedroom wore at once a look more familiar than when she had left it, and yet a face estranged. The world of little things therein gazed at her in helpless stationariness, as though they had tried and been unable to make any progress without her presence. Over the place where her candle had been accustomed to stand, when she had used to read in bed till the midnight hour, there was still the brown spot of smoke. She did not know that her father had taken especial care to keep it from being cleaned off. Having concluded her perambulation of this now uselessly commodious edifice, Grace began to feel that she had come a long journey since the morning; and when her father had been up himself, as well as his wife, to see that her room was comfortable and the fire burning, she prepared to retire for the night. No sooner, however, was she in bed than her momentary sleepiness took itself off, and she wished she had stayed up longer. She amused herself by listening to the old familiar noises that she could hear to be still going on down-stairs, and by looking towards the window as she lay. The blind had been drawn up, as she used to have it when a girl, and she could just discern the dim tree-tops against the sky on the neighboring hill. Beneath this meeting-line of light and shade nothing was visible save one solitary point of light, which blinked as the tree-twigs waved to and fro before its beams. From its position it seemed to radiate from the window of a house on the hill-side. The house had been empty when she was last at home, and she wondered who inhabited the place now. Her conjectures, however, were not intently carried on, and she was watching the light quite idly, when it gradually changed color, and at length shone blue as sapphire. Thus it remained several minutes, and then it passed through violet to red. Her curiosity was so widely awakened by the phenomenon that she sat up in bed, and stared steadily at the shine. An appearance of this sort, sufficient to excite attention anywhere, was no less than a marvel in Hintock, as Grace had known the hamlet. Almost every diurnal and nocturnal effect in that woodland place had hitherto been the direct result of the regular terrestrial roll which produced the season's changes; but here was something dissociated from these normal sequences, and foreign to local habit and knowledge. It was about this moment that Grace heard the household below preparing to retire, the most emphatic noise in the proceeding being that of her father bolting the doors. Then the stairs creaked, and her father and mother passed her chamber. The last to come was Grammer Oliver. Grace slid out of bed, ran across the room, and lifting the latch, said, "I am not asleep, Grammer. Come in and talk to me." Before the old woman had entered, Grace was again under the bedclothes. Grammer set down her candlestick, and seated herself on the edge of Miss Melbury's coverlet. "I want you to tell me what light that is I see on the hill-side," said Grace. Mrs. Oliver looked across. "Oh, that," she said, "is from the doctor's. He's often doing things of that sort. Perhaps you don't know that we've a doctor living here now—Mr. Fitzpiers by name?" Grace admitted that she had not heard of him. "Well, then, miss, he's come here to get up a practice. I know him very well, through going there to help 'em scrub sometimes, which your father said I might do, if I wanted to, in my spare time. Being a bachelor-man, he've only a lad in the house. Oh yes, I know him very well. Sometimes he'll talk to me as if I were his own mother." "Indeed." "Yes. 'Grammer,' he said one day, when I asked him why he came here where there's hardly anybody living, 'I'll tell you why I came here. I took a map, and I marked on it where Dr. Jones's practice ends to the north of this district, and where Mr. Taylor's ends on the south, and little Jimmy Green's on the east, and somebody else's to the west. Then I took a pair of compasses, and found the exact middle of the country that was left between these bounds, and that middle was Little Hintock; so here I am....' But, Lord, there: poor young man!" "Why?" "He said, 'Grammer Oliver, I've been here three months, and although there are a good many people in the Hintocks and the villages round, and a scattered practice is often a very good one, I don't seem to get many patients. And there's no society at all; and I'm pretty near melancholy mad,' he said, with a great yawn. 'I should be quite if it were not for my books, and my lab—laboratory, and what not. Grammer, I was made for higher things.' And then he'd yawn and yawn again." "Was he really made for higher things, do you think? I mean, is he clever?" "Well, no. How can he be clever? He may be able to jine up a broken man or woman after a fashion, and put his finger upon an ache if you tell him nearly where 'tis; but these young men—they should live to my time of life, and then they'd see how clever they were at five-and-twenty! And yet he's a projick, a real projick, and says the oddest of rozums. 'Ah, Grammer,' he said, at another time, 'let me tell you that Everything is Nothing. There's only Me and not Me in the whole world.' And he told me that no man's hands could help what they did, any more than the hands of a clock....Yes, he's a man of strange meditations, and his eyes seem to see as far as the north star." "He will soon go away, no doubt." "I don't think so." Grace did not say "Why?" and Grammer hesitated. At last she went on: "Don't tell your father or mother, miss, if I let you know a secret." Grace gave the required promise. "Well, he talks of buying me; so he won't go away just yet." "Buying you!—how?" "Not my soul—my body, when I'm dead. One day when I was there cleaning, he said, 'Grammer, you've a large brain—a very large organ of brain,' he said. 'A woman's is usually four ounces less than a man's; but yours is man's size.' Well, then—hee, hee!—after he'd flattered me a bit like that, he said he'd give me ten pounds to have me as a natomy after my death. Well, knowing I'd no chick nor chiel left, and nobody with any interest in me, I thought, faith, if I can be of any use to my fellow-creatures after I'm gone they are welcome to my services; so I said I'd think it over, and would most likely agree and take the ten pounds. Now this is a secret, miss, between us two. The money would be very useful to me; and I see no harm in it." "Of course there's no harm. But oh, Grammer, how can you think to do it? I wish you hadn't told me." "I wish I hadn't—if you don't like to know it, miss. But you needn't mind. Lord—hee, hee!—I shall keep him waiting many a year yet, bless ye!" "I hope you will, I am sure." The girl thereupon fell into such deep reflection that conversation languished, and Grammer Oliver, taking her candle, wished Miss Melbury good-night. The latter's eyes rested on the distant glimmer, around which she allowed her reasoning fancy to play in vague eddies that shaped the doings of the philosopher behind that light on the lines of intelligence just received. It was strange to her to come back from the world to Little Hintock and find in one of its nooks, like a tropical plant in a hedgerow, a nucleus of advanced ideas and practices which had nothing in common with the life around. Chemical experiments, anatomical projects, and metaphysical conceptions had found a strange home here. Thus she remained thinking, the imagined pursuits of the man behind the light intermingling with conjectural sketches of his personality, till her eyes fell together with their own heaviness, and she slept. CHAPTER VII. Kaleidoscopic dreams of a weird alchemist-surgeon, Grammer Oliver's skeleton, and the face of Giles Winterborne, brought Grace Melbury to the morning of the next day. It was fine. A north wind was blowing—that not unacceptable compromise between the atmospheric cutlery of the eastern blast and the spongy gales of the west quarter. She looked from her window in the direction of the light of the previous evening, and could just discern through the trees the shape of the surgeon's house. Somehow, in the broad, practical daylight, that unknown and lonely gentleman seemed to be shorn of much of the interest which had invested his personality and pursuits in the hours of darkness, and as Grace's dressing proceeded he faded from her mind. Meanwhile, Winterborne, though half assured of her father's favor, was rendered a little restless by Miss Melbury's behavior. Despite his dry self-control, he could not help looking continually from his own door towards the timber-merchant's, in the probability of somebody's emergence therefrom. His attention was at length justified by the appearance of two figures, that of Mr. Melbury himself, and Grace beside him. They stepped out in a direction towards the densest quarter of the wood, and Winterborne walked contemplatively behind them, till all three were soon under the trees. Although the time of bare boughs had now set in, there were sheltered hollows amid the Hintock plantations and copses in which a more tardy leave-taking than on windy summits was the rule with the foliage. This caused here and there an apparent mixture of the seasons; so that in some of the dells that they passed by holly-berries in full red were found growing beside oak and hazel whose leaves were as yet not far removed from green, and brambles whose verdure was rich and deep as in the month of August. To Grace these well-known peculiarities were as an old painting restored. Now could be beheld that change from the handsome to the curious which the features of a wood undergo at the ingress of the winter months. Angles were taking the place of curves, and reticulations of surfaces—a change constituting a sudden lapse from the ornate to the primitive on Nature's canvas, and comparable to a retrogressive step from the art of an advanced school of painting to that of the Pacific Islander. Winterborne followed, and kept his eye upon the two figures as they threaded their way through these sylvan phenomena. Mr. Melbury's long legs, and gaiters drawn in to the bone at the ankles, his slight stoop, his habit of getting lost in thought and arousing himself with an exclamation of "Hah!" accompanied with an upward jerk of the head, composed a personage recognizable by his neighbors as far as he could be seen. It seemed as if the squirrels and birds knew him. One of the former would occasionally run from the path to hide behind the arm of some tree, which the little animal carefully edged round pari passu with Melbury and his daughters movement onward, assuming a mock manner, as though he were saying, "Ho, ho; you are only a timber-merchant, and carry no gun!" They went noiselessly over mats of starry moss, rustled through interspersed tracts of leaves, skirted trunks with spreading roots, whose mossed rinds made them like hands wearing green gloves; elbowed old elms and ashes with great forks, in which stood pools of water that overflowed on rainy days, and ran down their stems in green cascades. On older trees still than these, huge lobes of fungi grew like lungs. Here, as everywhere, the Unfulfilled Intention, which makes life what it is, was as obvious as it could be among the depraved crowds of a city slum. The leaf was deformed, the curve was crippled, the taper was interrupted; the lichen eat the vigor of the stalk, and the ivy slowly strangled to death the promising sapling. They dived amid beeches under which nothing grew, the younger boughs still retaining their hectic leaves, that rustled in the breeze with a sound almost metallic, like the sheet-iron foliage of the fabled Jarnvid wood. Some flecks of white in Grace's drapery had enabled Giles to keep her and her father in view till this time; but now he lost sight of them, and was obliged to follow by ear—no difficult matter, for on the line of their course every wood-pigeon rose from its perch with a continued clash, dashing its wings against the branches with wellnigh force enough to break every quill. By taking the track of this noise he soon came to a stile. Was it worth while to go farther? He examined the doughy soil at the foot of the stile, and saw among the large sole-and-heel tracks an impression of a slighter kind from a boot that was obviously not local, for Winterborne knew all the cobblers' patterns in that district, because they were very few to know. The mud-picture was enough to make him swing himself over and proceed. The character of the woodland now changed. The bases of the smaller trees were nibbled bare by rabbits, and at divers points heaps of fresh-made chips, and the newly-cut stool of a tree, stared white through the undergrowth. There had been a large fall of timber this year, which explained the meaning of some sounds that soon reached him. A voice was shouting intermittently in a sort of human bark, which reminded Giles that there was a sale of trees and fagots that very day. Melbury would naturally be present. Thereupon Winterborne remembered that he himself wanted a few fagots, and entered upon the scene. A large group of buyers stood round the auctioneer, or followed him when, between his pauses, he wandered on from one lot of plantation produce to another, like some philosopher of the Peripatetic school delivering his lectures in the shady groves of the Lyceum. His companions were timber-dealers, yeomen, farmers, villagers, and others; mostly woodland men, who on that account could afford to be curious in their walking-sticks, which consequently exhibited various monstrosities of vegetation, the chief being cork-screw shapes in black and white thorn, brought to that pattern by the slow torture of an encircling woodbine during their growth, as the Chinese have been said to mould human beings into grotesque toys by continued compression in infancy. Two women, wearing men's jackets on their gowns, conducted in the rear of the halting procession a pony-cart containing a tapped barrel of beer, from which they drew and replenished horns that were handed round, with bread-and-cheese from a basket. The auctioneer adjusted himself to circumstances by using his walking-stick as a hammer, and knocked down the lot on any convenient object that took his fancy, such as the crown of a little boy's head, or the shoulders of a by-stander who had no business there except to taste the brew; a proceeding which would have been deemed humorous but for the air of stern rigidity which that auctioneer's face preserved, tending to show that the eccentricity was a result of that absence of mind which is engendered by the press of affairs, and no freak of fancy at all. Mr. Melbury stood slightly apart from the rest of the Peripatetics, and Grace beside him, clinging closely to his arm, her modern attire looking almost odd where everything else was old-fashioned, and throwing over the familiar garniture of the trees a homeliness that seemed to demand improvement by the addition of a few contemporary novelties also. Grace seemed to regard the selling with the interest which attaches to memories revived after an interval of obliviousness. Winterborne went and stood close to them; the timber-merchant spoke, and continued his buying; Grace merely smiled. To justify his presence there Winterborne began bidding for timber and fagots that he did not want, pursuing the occupation in an abstracted mood, in which the auctioneer's voice seemed to become one of the natural sounds of the woodland. A few flakes of snow descended, at the sight of which a robin, alarmed at these signs of imminent winter, and seeing that no offence was meant by the human invasion, came and perched on the tip of the fagots that were being sold, and looked into the auctioneer's face, while waiting for some chance crumb from the bread-basket. Standing a little behind Grace, Winterborne observed how one flake would sail downward and settle on a curl of her hair, and how another would choose her shoulder, and another the edge of her bonnet, which took up so much of his attention that his biddings proceeded incoherently; and when the auctioneer said, every now and then, with a nod towards him, "Yours, Mr. Winterborne," he had no idea whether he had bought fagots, poles, or logwood. He regretted, with some causticity of humor, that her father should show such inequalities of temperament as to keep Grace tightly on his arm to-day, when he had quite lately seemed anxious to recognize their betrothal as a fact. And thus musing, and joining in no conversation with other buyers except when directly addressed, he followed the assemblage hither and thither till the end of the auction, when Giles for the first time realized what his purchases had been. Hundreds of fagots, and divers lots of timber, had been set down to him, when all he had required had been a few bundles of spray for his odd man Robert Creedle's use in baking and lighting fires. Business being over, he turned to speak to the timber merchant. But Melbury's manner was short and distant; and Grace, too, looked vexed and reproachful. Winterborne then discovered that he had been unwittingly bidding against her father, and picking up his favorite lots in spite of him. With a very few words they left the spot and pursued their way homeward. Giles was extremely sorry at what he had done, and remained standing under the trees, all the other men having strayed silently away. He saw Melbury and his daughter pass down a glade without looking back. While they moved slowly through it a lady appeared on horseback in the middle distance, the line of her progress converging upon that of Melbury's. They met, Melbury took off his hat, and she reined in her horse. A conversation was evidently in progress between Grace and her father and this equestrian, in whom he was almost sure that he recognized Mrs. Charmond, less by her outline than by the livery of the groom who had halted some yards off. The interlocutors did not part till after a prolonged pause, during which much seemed to be said. When Melbury and Grace resumed their walk it was with something of a lighter tread than before. Winterborne then pursued his own course homeward. He was unwilling to let coldness grow up between himself and the Melburys for any trivial reason, and in the evening he went to their house. On drawing near the gate his attention was attracted by the sight of one of the bedrooms blinking into a state of illumination. In it stood Grace lighting several candles, her right hand elevating the taper, her left hand on her bosom, her face thoughtfully fixed on each wick as it kindled, as if she saw in every flame's growth the rise of a life to maturity. He wondered what such unusual brilliancy could mean to-night. On getting in-doors he found her father and step-mother in a state of suppressed excitement, which at first he could not comprehend. "I am sorry about my biddings to-day," said Giles. "I don't know what I was doing. I have come to say that any of the lots you may require are yours." "Oh, never mind—never mind," replied the timber-merchant, with a slight wave of his hand, "I have so much else to think of that I nearly had forgot it. Just now, too, there are matters of a different kind from trade to attend to, so don't let it concern ye." As the timber-merchant spoke, as it were, down to him from a higher moral plane than his own, Giles turned to Mrs. Melbury. "Grace is going to the House to-morrow," she said, quietly. "She is looking out her things now. I dare say she is wanting me this minute to assist her." Thereupon Mrs. Melbury left the room. Nothing is more remarkable than the independent personality of the tongue now and then. Mr. Melbury knew that his words had been a sort of boast. He decried boasting, particularly to Giles; yet whenever the subject was Grace, his judgment resigned the ministry of speech in spite of him. Winterborne felt surprise, pleasure, and also a little apprehension at the news. He repeated Mrs. Melbury's words. "Yes," said paternal pride, not sorry to have dragged out of him what he could not in any circumstances have kept in. "Coming home from the woods this afternoon we met Mrs. Charmond out for a ride. She spoke to me on a little matter of business, and then got acquainted with Grace. 'Twas wonderful how she took to Grace in a few minutes; that freemasonry of education made 'em close at once. Naturally enough she was amazed that such an article—ha, ha!—could come out of my house. At last it led on to Mis'ess Grace being asked to the House. So she's busy hunting up her frills and furbelows to go in." As Giles remained in thought without responding, Melbury continued: "But I'll call her down-stairs." "No, no; don't do that, since she's busy," said Winterborne. Melbury, feeling from the young man's manner that his own talk had been too much at Giles and too little to him, repented at once. His face changed, and he said, in lower tones, with an effort, "She's yours, Giles, as far as I am concerned." "Thanks—my best thanks....But I think, since it is all right between us about the biddings, that I'll not interrupt her now. I'll step homeward, and call another time." On leaving the house he looked up at the bedroom again. Grace, surrounded by a sufficient number of candles to answer all purposes of self-criticism, was standing before a cheval-glass that her father had lately bought expressly for her use; she was bonneted, cloaked, and gloved, and glanced over her shoulder into the mirror, estimating her aspect. Her face was lit with the natural elation of a young girl hoping to inaugurate on the morrow an intimate acquaintance with a new, interesting, and powerful friend. CHAPTER VIII. The inspiriting appointment which had led Grace Melbury to indulge in a six-candle illumination for the arrangement of her attire, carried her over the ground the next morning with a springy tread. Her sense of being properly appreciated on her own native soil seemed to brighten the atmosphere and herbage around her, as the glowworm's lamp irradiates the grass. Thus she moved along, a vessel of emotion going to empty itself on she knew not what. Twenty minutes' walking through copses, over a stile, and along an upland lawn brought her to the verge of a deep glen, at the bottom of which Hintock House appeared immediately beneath her eye. To describe it as standing in a hollow would not express the situation of the manor-house; it stood in a hole, notwithstanding that the hole was full of beauty. From the spot which Grace had reached a stone could easily have been thrown over or into, the birds'-nested chimneys of the mansion. Its walls were surmounted by a battlemented parapet; but the gray lead roofs were quite visible behind it, with their gutters, laps, rolls, and skylights, together with incised letterings and shoe-patterns cut by idlers thereon. The front of the house exhibited an ordinary manorial presentation of Elizabethan windows, mullioned and hooded, worked in rich snuff-colored freestone from local quarries. The ashlar of the walls, where not overgrown with ivy and other creepers, was coated with lichen of every shade, intensifying its luxuriance with its nearness to the ground, till, below the plinth, it merged in moss. Above the house to the back was a dense plantation, the roots of whose trees were above the level of the chimneys. The corresponding high ground on which Grace stood was richly grassed, with only an old tree here and there. A few sheep lay about, which, as they ruminated, looked quietly into the bedroom windows. The situation of the house, prejudicial to humanity, was a stimulus to vegetation, on which account an endless shearing of the heavy-armed ivy was necessary, and a continual lopping of trees and shrubs. It was an edifice built in times when human constitutions were damp-proof, when shelter from the boisterous was all that men thought of in choosing a dwelling-place, the insidious being beneath their notice; and its hollow site was an ocular reminder, by its unfitness for modern lives, of the fragility to which these have declined. The highest architectural cunning could have done nothing to make Hintock House dry and salubrious; and ruthless ignorance could have done little to make it unpicturesque. It was vegetable nature's own home; a spot to inspire the painter and poet of still life—if they did not suffer too much from the relaxing atmosphere—and to draw groans from the gregariously disposed. Grace descended the green escarpment by a zigzag path into the drive, which swept round beneath the slope. The exterior of the house had been familiar to her from her childhood, but she had never been inside, and the approach to knowing an old thing in a new way was a lively experience. It was with a little flutter that she was shown in; but she recollected that Mrs. Charmond would probably be alone. Up to a few days before this time that lady had been accompanied in her comings, stayings, and goings by a relative believed to be her aunt; latterly, however, these two ladies had separated, owing, it was supposed, to a quarrel, and Mrs. Charmond had been left desolate. Being presumably a woman who did not care for solitude, this deprivation might possibly account for her sudden interest in Grace. Mrs. Charmond was at the end of a gallery opening from the hall when Miss Melbury was announced, and saw her through the glass doors between them. She came forward with a smile on her face, and told the young girl it was good of her to come. "Ah! you have noticed those," she said, seeing that Grace's eyes were attracted by some curious objects against the walls. "They are man-traps. My husband was a connoisseur in man-traps and spring-guns and such articles, collecting them from all his neighbors. He knew the histories of all these—which gin had broken a man's leg, which gun had killed a man. That one, I remember his saying, had been set by a game-keeper in the track of a notorious poacher; but the keeper, forgetting what he had done, went that way himself, received the charge in the lower part of his body, and died of the wound. I don't like them here, but I've never yet given directions for them to be taken away." She added, playfully, "Man-traps are of rather ominous significance where a person of our sex lives, are they not?" Grace was bound to smile; but that side of womanliness was one which her inexperience had no great zest in contemplating. "They are interesting, no doubt, as relics of a barbarous time happily past," she said, looking thoughtfully at the varied designs of these instruments of torture—some with semi-circular jaws, some with rectangular; most of them with long, sharp teeth, but a few with none, so that their jaws looked like the blank gums of old age. "Well, we must not take them too seriously," said Mrs. Charmond, with an indolent turn of her head, and they moved on inward. When she had shown her visitor different articles in cabinets that she deemed likely to interest her, some tapestries, wood-carvings, ivories, miniatures, and so on—always with a mien of listlessness which might either have been constitutional, or partly owing to the situation of the place—they sat down to an early cup of tea. "Will you pour it out, please? Do," she said, leaning back in her chair, and placing her hand above her forehead, while her almond eyes—those long eyes so common to the angelic legions of early Italian art—became longer, and her voice more languishing. She showed that oblique-mannered softness which is perhaps most frequent in women of darker complexion and more lymphatic temperament than Mrs. Charmond's was; who lingeringly smile their meanings to men rather than speak them, who inveigle rather than prompt, and take advantage of currents rather than steer. "I am the most inactive woman when I am here," she said. "I think sometimes I was born to live and do nothing, nothing, nothing but float about, as we fancy we do sometimes in dreams. But that cannot be really my destiny, and I must struggle against such fancies." "I am so sorry you do not enjoy exertion—it is quite sad! I wish I could tend you and make you very happy." There was something so sympathetic, so appreciative, in the sound of Grace's voice, that it impelled people to play havoc with their customary reservations in talking to her. "It is tender and kind of you to feel that," said Mrs. Charmond. "Perhaps I have given you the notion that my languor is more than it really is. But this place oppresses me, and I have a plan of going abroad a good deal. I used to go with a relative, but that arrangement has dropped through." Regarding Grace with a final glance of criticism, she seemed to make up her mind to consider the young girl satisfactory, and continued: "Now I am often impelled to record my impressions of times and places. I have often thought of writing a 'New Sentimental Journey.' But I cannot find energy enough to do it alone. When I am at different places in the south of Europe I feel a crowd of ideas and fancies thronging upon me continually, but to unfold writing-materials, take up a cold steel pen, and put these impressions down systematically on cold, smooth paper—that I cannot do. So I have thought that if I always could have somebody at my elbow with whom I am in sympathy, I might dictate any ideas that come into my head. And directly I had made your acquaintance the other day it struck me that you would suit me so well. Would you like to undertake it? You might read to me, too, if desirable. Will you think it over, and ask your parents if they are willing?" "Oh yes," said Grace. "I am almost sure they would be very glad." "You are so accomplished, I hear; I should be quite honored by such intellectual company." Grace, modestly blushing, deprecated any such idea. "Do you keep up your lucubrations at Little Hintock?" "Oh no. Lucubrations are not unknown at Little Hintock; but they are not carried on by me." "What—another student in that retreat?" "There is a surgeon lately come, and I have heard that he reads a great deal—I see his light sometimes through the trees late at night." "Oh yes—a doctor—I believe I was told of him. It is a strange place for him to settle in." "It is a convenient centre for a practice, they say. But he does not confine his studies to medicine, it seems. He investigates theology and metaphysics and all sorts of subjects." "What is his name?" "Fitzpiers. He represents a very old family, I believe, the Fitzpierses of Buckbury-Fitzpiers—not a great many miles from here." "I am not sufficiently local to know the history of the family. I was never in the county till my husband brought me here." Mrs. Charmond did not care to pursue this line of investigation. Whatever mysterious merit might attach to family antiquity, it was one which, though she herself could claim it, her adaptable, wandering weltburgerliche nature had grown tired of caring about—a peculiarity that made her a contrast to her neighbors. "It is of rather more importance to know what the man is himself than what his family is," she said, "if he is going to practise upon us as a surgeon. Have you seen him?" Grace had not. "I think he is not a very old man," she added. "Has he a wife?" "I am not aware that he has." "Well, I hope he will be useful here. I must get to know him when I come back. It will be very convenient to have a medical man—if he is clever—in one's own parish. I get dreadfully nervous sometimes, living in such an outlandish place; and Sherton is so far to send to. No doubt you feel Hintock to be a great change after watering-place life." "I do. But it is home. It has its advantages and its disadvantages." Grace was thinking less of the solitude than of the attendant circumstances. They chatted on for some time, Grace being set quite at her ease by her entertainer. Mrs. Charmond was far too well-practised a woman not to know that to show a marked patronage to a sensitive young girl who would probably be very quick to discern it, was to demolish her dignity rather than to establish it in that young girl's eyes. So, being violently possessed with her idea of making use of this gentle acquaintance, ready and waiting at her own door, she took great pains to win her confidence at starting. Just before Grace's departure the two chanced to pause before a mirror which reflected their faces in immediate juxtaposition, so as to bring into prominence their resemblances and their contrasts. Both looked attractive as glassed back by the faithful reflector; but Grace's countenance had the effect of making Mrs. Charmond appear more than her full age. There are complexions which set off each other to great advantage, and there are those which antagonize, the one killing or damaging its neighbor unmercifully. This was unhappily the case here. Mrs. Charmond fell into a meditation, and replied abstractedly to a cursory remark of her companion's. However, she parted from her young friend in the kindliest tones, promising to send and let her know as soon as her mind was made up on the arrangement she had suggested. When Grace had ascended nearly to the top of the adjoining slope she looked back, and saw that Mrs. Charmond still stood at the door, meditatively regarding her. Often during the previous night, after his call on the Melburys, Winterborne's thoughts ran upon Grace's announced visit to Hintock House. Why could he not have proposed to walk with her part of the way? Something told him that she might not, on such an occasion, care for his company. He was still more of that opinion when, standing in his garden next day, he saw her go past on the journey with such a pretty pride in the event. He wondered if her father's ambition, which had purchased for her the means of intellectual light and culture far beyond those of any other native of the village, would conduce to the flight of her future interests above and away from the local life which was once to her the movement of the world. Nevertheless, he had her father's permission to win her if he could; and to this end it became desirable to bring matters soon to a crisis, if he ever hoped to do so. If she should think herself too good for him, he could let her go and make the best of his loss; but until he had really tested her he could not say that she despised his suit. The question was how to quicken events towards an issue. He thought and thought, and at last decided that as good a way as any would be to give a Christmas party, and ask Grace and her parents to come as chief guests. These ruminations were occupying him when there became audible a slight knocking at his front door. He descended the path and looked out, and beheld Marty South, dressed for out-door work. "Why didn't you come, Mr. Winterborne?" she said. "I've been waiting there hours and hours, and at last I thought I must try to find you." "Bless my soul, I'd quite forgot," said Giles. What he had forgotten was that there was a thousand young fir-trees to be planted in a neighboring spot which had been cleared by the wood-cutters, and that he had arranged to plant them with his own hands. He had a marvellous power of making trees grow. Although he would seem to shovel in the earth quite carelessly, there was a sort of sympathy between himself and the fir, oak, or beech that he was operating on, so that the roots took hold of the soil in a few days. When, on the other hand, any of the journeymen planted, although they seemed to go through an identically similar process, one quarter of the trees would die away during the ensuing August. Hence Winterborne found delight in the work even when, as at present, he contracted to do it on portions of the woodland in which he had no personal interest. Marty, who turned her hand to anything, was usually the one who performed the part of keeping the trees in a perpendicular position while he threw in the mould. He accompanied her towards the spot, being stimulated yet further to proceed with the work by the knowledge that the ground was close to the way-side along which Grace must pass on her return from Hintock House. "You've a cold in the head, Marty," he said, as they walked. "That comes of cutting off your hair." "I suppose it do. Yes; I've three headaches going on in my head at the same time." "Three headaches!" "Yes, a rheumatic headache in my poll, a sick headache over my eyes, and a misery headache in the middle of my brain. However, I came out, for I thought you might be waiting and grumbling like anything if I was not there." The holes were already dug, and they set to work. Winterborne's fingers were endowed with a gentle conjuror's touch in spreading the roots of each little tree, resulting in a sort of caress, under which the delicate fibres all laid themselves out in their proper directions for growth. He put most of these roots towards the south-west; for, he said, in forty years' time, when some great gale is blowing from that quarter, the trees will require the strongest holdfast on that side to stand against it and not fall. "How they sigh directly we put 'em upright, though while they are lying down they don't sigh at all," said Marty. "Do they?" said Giles. "I've never noticed it." She erected one of the young pines into its hole, and held up her finger; the soft musical breathing instantly set in, which was not to cease night or day till the grown tree should be felled—probably long after the two planters should be felled themselves. "It seems to me," the girl continued, "as if they sigh because they are very sorry to begin life in earnest—just as we be." "Just as we be?" He looked critically at her. "You ought not to feel like that, Marty." Her only reply was turning to take up the next tree; and they planted on through a great part of the day, almost without another word. Winterborne's mind ran on his contemplated evening-party, his abstraction being such that he hardly was conscious of Marty's presence beside him. From the nature of their employment, in which he handled the spade and she merely held the tree, it followed that he got good exercise and she got none. But she was an heroic girl, and though her out-stretched hand was chill as a stone, and her cheeks blue, and her cold worse than ever, she would not complain while he was disposed to continue work. But when he paused she said, "Mr. Winterborne, can I run down the lane and back to warm my feet?" "Why, yes, of course," he said, awakening anew to her existence. "Though I was just thinking what a mild day it is for the season. Now I warrant that cold of yours is twice as bad as it was. You had no business to chop that hair off, Marty; it serves you almost right. Look here, cut off home at once." "A run down the lane will be quite enough." "No, it won't. You ought not to have come out to-day at all." "But I should like to finish the—" "Marty, I tell you to go home," said he, peremptorily. "I can manage to keep the rest of them upright with a stick or something." She went away without saying any more. When she had gone down the orchard a little distance she looked back. Giles suddenly went after her. "Marty, it was for your good that I was rough, you know. But warm yourself in your own way, I don't care." When she had run off he fancied he discerned a woman's dress through the holly-bushes which divided the coppice from the road. It was Grace at last, on her way back from the interview with Mrs. Charmond. He threw down the tree he was planting, and was about to break through the belt of holly when he suddenly became aware of the presence of another man, who was looking over the hedge on the opposite side of the way upon the figure of the unconscious Grace. He appeared as a handsome and gentlemanly personage of six or eight and twenty, and was quizzing her through an eye-glass. Seeing that Winterborne was noticing him, he let his glass drop with a click upon the rail which protected the hedge, and walked away in the opposite direction. Giles knew in a moment that this must be Mr. Fitzpiers. When he was gone, Winterborne pushed through the hollies, and emerged close beside the interesting object of their contemplation. CHAPTER IX. "I heard the bushes move long before I saw you," she began. "I said first, 'it is some terrible beast;' next, 'it is a poacher;' next, 'it is a friend!'" He regarded her with a slight smile, weighing, not her speech, but the question whether he should tell her that she had been watched. He decided in the negative. "You have been to the house?" he said. "But I need not ask." The fact was that there shone upon Miss Melbury's face a species of exaltation, which saw no environing details nor his own occupation; nothing more than his bare presence. "Why need you not ask?" "Your face is like the face of Moses when he came down from the Mount." She reddened a little and said, "How can you be so profane, Giles Winterborne?" "How can you think so much of that class of people? Well, I beg pardon; I didn't mean to speak so freely. How do you like her house and her?" "Exceedingly. I had not been inside the walls since I was a child, when it used to be let to strangers, before Mrs. Charmond's late husband bought the property. She is SO nice!" And Grace fell into such an abstracted gaze at the imaginary image of Mrs. Charmond and her niceness that it almost conjured up a vision of that lady in mid-air before them. "She has only been here a month or two, it seems, and cannot stay much longer, because she finds it so lonely and damp in winter. She is going abroad. Only think, she would like me to go with her." Giles's features stiffened a little at the news. "Indeed; what for? But I won't keep you standing here. Hoi, Robert!" he cried to a swaying collection of clothes in the distance, which was the figure of Creedle his man. "Go on filling in there till I come back." "I'm a-coming, sir; I'm a-coming." "Well, the reason is this," continued she, as they went on together—"Mrs. Charmond has a delightful side to her character—a desire to record her impressions of travel, like Alexandre Dumas, and Mery, and Sterne, and others. But she cannot find energy enough to do it herself." And Grace proceeded to explain Mrs. Charmond's proposal at large. "My notion is that Mery's style will suit her best, because he writes in that soft, emotional, luxurious way she has," Grace said, musingly. "Indeed!" said Winterborne, with mock awe. "Suppose you talk over my head a little longer, Miss Grace Melbury?" "Oh, I didn't mean it!" she said, repentantly, looking into his eyes. "And as for myself, I hate French books. And I love dear old Hintock, AND THE PEOPLE IN IT, fifty times better than all the Continent. But the scheme; I think it an enchanting notion, don't you, Giles?" "It is well enough in one sense, but it will take you away," said he, mollified. "Only for a short time. We should return in May." "Well, Miss Melbury, it is a question for your father." Winterborne walked with her nearly to her house. He had awaited her coming, mainly with the view of mentioning to her his proposal to have a Christmas party; but homely Christmas gatherings in the venerable and jovial Hintock style seemed so primitive and uncouth beside the lofty matters of her converse and thought that he refrained. As soon as she was gone he turned back towards the scene of his planting, and could not help saying to himself as he walked, that this engagement of his was a very unpromising business. Her outing to-day had not improved it. A woman who could go to Hintock House and be friendly with its mistress, enter into the views of its mistress, talk like her, and dress not much unlike her, why, she would hardly be contented with him, a yeoman, now immersed in tree-planting, even though he planted them well. "And yet she's a true-hearted girl," he said, thinking of her words about Hintock. "I must bring matters to a point, and there's an end of it." When he reached the plantation he found that Marty had come back, and dismissing Creedle, he went on planting silently with the girl as before. "Suppose, Marty," he said, after a while, looking at her extended arm, upon which old scratches from briers showed themselves purple in the cold wind—"suppose you know a person, and want to bring that person to a good understanding with you, do you think a Christmas party of some sort is a warming-up thing, and likely to be useful in hastening on the matter?" "Is there to be dancing?" "There might be, certainly." "Will He dance with She?" "Well, yes." "Then it might bring things to a head, one way or the other; I won't be the one to say which." "It shall be done," said Winterborne, not to her, though he spoke the words quite loudly. And as the day was nearly ended, he added, "Here, Marty, I'll send up a man to plant the rest to-morrow. I've other things to think of just now." She did not inquire what other things, for she had seen him walking with Grace Melbury. She looked towards the western sky, which was now aglow like some vast foundery wherein new worlds were being cast. Across it the bare bough of a tree stretched horizontally, revealing every twig against the red, and showing in dark profile every beck and movement of three pheasants that were settling themselves down on it in a row to roost. "It will be fine to-morrow," said Marty, observing them with the vermilion light of the sun in the pupils of her eyes, "for they are a-croupied down nearly at the end of the bough. If it were going to be stormy they'd squeeze close to the trunk. The weather is almost all they have to think of, isn't it, Mr. Winterborne? and so they must be lighter-hearted than we." "I dare say they are," said Winterborne. Before taking a single step in the preparations, Winterborne, with no great hopes, went across that evening to the timber-merchant's to ascertain if Grace and her parents would honor him with their presence. Having first to set his nightly gins in the garden, to catch the rabbits that ate his winter-greens, his call was delayed till just after the rising of the moon, whose rays reached the Hintock houses but fitfully as yet, on account of the trees. Melbury was crossing his yard on his way to call on some one at the larger village, but he readily turned and walked up and down the path with the young man. Giles, in his self-deprecatory sense of living on a much smaller scale than the Melburys did, would not for the world imply that his invitation was to a gathering of any importance. So he put it in the mild form of "Can you come in for an hour, when you have done business, the day after to-morrow; and Mrs. and Miss Melbury, if they have nothing more pressing to do?" Melbury would give no answer at once. "No, I can't tell you to-day," he said. "I must talk it over with the women. As far as I am concerned, my dear Giles, you know I'll come with pleasure. But how do I know what Grace's notions may be? You see, she has been away among cultivated folks a good while; and now this acquaintance with Mrs. Charmond—Well, I'll ask her. I can say no more." When Winterborne was gone the timber-merchant went on his way. He knew very well that Grace, whatever her own feelings, would either go or not go, according as he suggested; and his instinct was, for the moment, to suggest the negative. His errand took him past the church, and the way to his destination was either across the church-yard or along-side it, the distances being the same. For some reason or other he chose the former way. The moon was faintly lighting up the gravestones, and the path, and the front of the building. Suddenly Mr. Melbury paused, turned ill upon the grass, and approached a particular headstone, where he read, "In memory of John Winterborne," with the subjoined date and age. It was the grave of Giles's father. The timber-merchant laid his hand upon the stone, and was humanized. "Jack, my wronged friend!" he said. "I'll be faithful to my plan of making amends to 'ee." When he reached home that evening, he said to Grace and Mrs. Melbury, who were working at a little table by the fire, "Giles wants us to go down and spend an hour with him the day after to-morrow; and I'm thinking, that as 'tis Giles who asks us, we'll go." They assented without demur, and accordingly the timber-merchant sent Giles the next morning an answer in the affirmative. Winterborne, in his modesty, or indifference, had mentioned no particular hour in his invitation; and accordingly Mr. Melbury and his family, expecting no other guests, chose their own time, which chanced to be rather early in the afternoon, by reason of the somewhat quicker despatch than usual of the timber-merchant's business that day. To show their sense of the unimportance of the occasion, they walked quite slowly to the house, as if they were merely out for a ramble, and going to nothing special at all; or at most intending to pay a casual call and take a cup of tea. At this hour stir and bustle pervaded the interior of Winterborne's domicile from cellar to apple-loft. He had planned an elaborate high tea for six o'clock or thereabouts, and a good roaring supper to come on about eleven. Being a bachelor of rather retiring habits, the whole of the preparations devolved upon himself and his trusty man and familiar, Robert Creedle, who did everything that required doing, from making Giles's bed to catching moles in his field. He was a survival from the days when Giles's father held the homestead, and Giles was a playing boy. These two, with a certain dilatoriousness which appertained to both, were now in the heat of preparation in the bake-house, expecting nobody before six o'clock. Winterborne was standing before the brick oven in his shirt-sleeves, tossing in thorn sprays, and stirring about the blazing mass with a long-handled, three-pronged Beelzebub kind of fork, the heat shining out upon his streaming face and making his eyes like furnaces, the thorns crackling and sputtering; while Creedle, having ranged the pastry dishes in a row on the table till the oven should be ready, was pressing out the crust of a final apple-pie with a rolling-pin. A great pot boiled on the fire, and through the open door of the back kitchen a boy was seen seated on the fender, emptying the snuffers and scouring the candlesticks, a row of the latter standing upside down on the hob to melt out the grease. Looking up from the rolling-pin, Creedle saw passing the window first the timber-merchant, in his second-best suit, Mrs. Melbury in her best silk, and Grace in the fashionable attire which, in part brought home with her from the Continent, she had worn on her visit to Mrs. Charmond's. The eyes of the three had been attracted to the proceedings within by the fierce illumination which the oven threw out upon the operators and their utensils. "Lord, Lord! if they baint come a'ready!" said Creedle. "No—hey?" said Giles, looking round aghast; while the boy in the background waved a reeking candlestick in his delight. As there was no help for it, Winterborne went to meet them in the door-way. "My dear Giles, I see we have made a mistake in the time," said the timber-merchant's wife, her face lengthening with concern. "Oh, it is not much difference. I hope you'll come in." "But this means a regular randyvoo!" said Mr. Melbury, accusingly, glancing round and pointing towards the bake-house with his stick. "Well, yes," said Giles. "And—not Great Hintock band, and dancing, surely?" "I told three of 'em they might drop in if they'd nothing else to do," Giles mildly admitted. "Now, why the name didn't ye tell us 'twas going to be a serious kind of thing before? How should I know what folk mean if they don't say? Now, shall we come in, or shall we go home and come back along in a couple of hours?" "I hope you'll stay, if you'll be so good as not to mind, now you are here. I shall have it all right and tidy in a very little time. I ought not to have been so backward." Giles spoke quite anxiously for one of his undemonstrative temperament; for he feared that if the Melburys once were back in their own house they would not be disposed to turn out again. "'Tis we ought not to have been so forward; that's what 'tis," said Mr. Melbury, testily. "Don't keep us here in the sitting-room; lead on to the bakehouse, man. Now we are here we'll help ye get ready for the rest. Here, mis'ess, take off your things, and help him out in his baking, or he won't get done to-night. I'll finish heating the oven, and set you free to go and skiver up them ducks." His eye had passed with pitiless directness of criticism into yet remote recesses of Winterborne's awkwardly built premises, where the aforesaid birds were hanging. "And I'll help finish the tarts," said Grace, cheerfully. "I don't know about that," said her father. "'Tisn't quite so much in your line as it is in your mother-law's and mine." "Of course I couldn't let you, Grace!" said Giles, with some distress. "I'll do it, of course," said Mrs. Melbury, taking off her silk train, hanging it up to a nail, carefully rolling back her sleeves, pinning them to her shoulders, and stripping Giles of his apron for her own use. So Grace pottered idly about, while her father and his wife helped on the preparations. A kindly pity of his household management, which Winterborne saw in her eyes whenever he caught them, depressed him much more than her contempt would have done. Creedle met Giles at the pump after a while, when each of the others was absorbed in the difficulties of a cuisine based on utensils, cupboards, and provisions that were strange to them. He groaned to the young man in a whisper, "This is a bruckle het, maister, I'm much afeared! Who'd ha' thought they'd ha' come so soon?" The bitter placidity of Winterborne's look adumbrated the misgivings he did not care to express. "Have you got the celery ready?" he asked, quickly. "Now that's a thing I never could mind; no, not if you'd paid me in silver and gold. And I don't care who the man is, I says that a stick of celery that isn't scrubbed with the scrubbing-brush is not clean." "Very well, very well! I'll attend to it. You go and get 'em comfortable in-doors." He hastened to the garden, and soon returned, tossing the stalks to Creedle, who was still in a tragic mood. "If ye'd ha' married, d'ye see, maister," he said, "this caddle couldn't have happened to us." Everything being at last under way, the oven set, and all done that could insure the supper turning up ready at some time or other, Giles and his friends entered the parlor, where the Melburys again dropped into position as guests, though the room was not nearly so warm and cheerful as the blazing bakehouse. Others now arrived, among them Farmer Bawtree and the hollow-turner, and tea went off very well. Grace's disposition to make the best of everything, and to wink at deficiencies in Winterborne's menage, was so uniform and persistent that he suspected her of seeing even more deficiencies than he was aware of. That suppressed sympathy which had showed in her face ever since her arrival told him as much too plainly. "This muddling style of house-keeping is what you've not lately been used to, I suppose?" he said, when they were a little apart. "No; but I like it; it reminds me so pleasantly that everything here in dear old Hintock is just as it used to be. The oil is—not quite nice; but everything else is." "The oil?" "On the chairs, I mean; because it gets on one's dress. Still, mine is not a new one." Giles found that Creedle, in his zeal to make things look bright, had smeared the chairs with some greasy kind of furniture-polish, and refrained from rubbing it dry in order not to diminish the mirror-like effect that the mixture produced as laid on. Giles apologized and called Creedle; but he felt that the Fates were against him. CHAPTER X. Supper-time came, and with it the hot-baked from the oven, laid on a snowy cloth fresh from the press, and reticulated with folds, as in Flemish "Last Suppers." Creedle and the boy fetched and carried with amazing alacrity, the latter, to mollify his superior and make things pleasant, expressing his admiration of Creedle's cleverness when they were alone. "I s'pose the time when you learned all these knowing things, Mr. Creedle, was when you was in the militia?" "Well, yes. I seed the world at that time somewhat, certainly, and many ways of strange dashing life. Not but that Giles has worked hard in helping me to bring things to such perfection to-day. 'Giles,' says I, though he's maister. Not that I should call'n maister by rights, for his father growed up side by side with me, as if one mother had twinned us and been our nourishing." "I s'pose your memory can reach a long way back into history, Mr. Creedle?" "Oh yes. Ancient days, when there was battles and famines and hang-fairs and other pomps, seem to me as yesterday. Ah, many's the patriarch I've seed come and go in this parish! There, he's calling for more plates. Lord, why can't 'em turn their plates bottom upward for pudding, as they used to do in former days?" Meanwhile, in the adjoining room Giles was presiding in a half-unconscious state. He could not get over the initial failures in his scheme for advancing his suit, and hence he did not know that he was eating mouthfuls of bread and nothing else, and continually snuffing the two candles next him till he had reduced them to mere glimmers drowned in their own grease. Creedle now appeared with a specially prepared dish, which he served by elevating the little three-legged pot that contained it, and tilting the contents into a dish, exclaiming, simultaneously, "Draw back, gentlemen and ladies, please!" A splash followed. Grace gave a quick, involuntary nod and blink, and put her handkerchief to her face. "Good heavens! what did you do that for, Creedle?" said Giles, sternly, and jumping up. "'Tis how I do it when they baint here, maister," mildly expostulated Creedle, in an aside audible to all the company. "Well, yes—but—" replied Giles. He went over to Grace, and hoped none of it had gone into her eye. "Oh no," she said. "Only a sprinkle on my face. It was nothing." "Kiss it and make it well," gallantly observed Mr. Bawtree. Miss Melbury blushed. The timber-merchant said, quickly, "Oh, it is nothing! She must bear these little mishaps." But there could be discerned in his face something which said "I ought to have foreseen this." Giles himself, since the untoward beginning of the feast, had not quite liked to see Grace present. He wished he had not asked such people as Bawtree and the hollow-turner. He had done it, in dearth of other friends, that the room might not appear empty. In his mind's eye, before the event, they had been the mere background or padding of the scene, but somehow in reality they were the most prominent personages there. After supper they played cards, Bawtree and the hollow-turner monopolizing the new packs for an interminable game, in which a lump of chalk was incessantly used—a game those two always played wherever they were, taking a solitary candle and going to a private table in a corner with the mien of persons bent on weighty matters. The rest of the company on this account were obliged to put up with old packs for their round game, that had been lying by in a drawer ever since the time that Giles's grandmother was alive. Each card had a great stain in the middle of its back, produced by the touch of generations of damp and excited thumbs now fleshless in the grave; and the kings and queens wore a decayed expression of feature, as if they were rather an impecunious dethroned race of monarchs hiding in obscure slums than real regal characters. Every now and then the comparatively few remarks of the players at the round game were harshly intruded on by the measured jingle of Farmer Bawtree and the hollow-turner from the back of the room: "And I' will hold' a wa'-ger with you' That all' these marks' are thirt'-y two!" accompanied by rapping strokes with the chalk on the table; then an exclamation, an argument, a dealing of the cards; then the commencement of the rhymes anew. The timber-merchant showed his feelings by talking with a satisfied sense of weight in his words, and by praising the party in a patronizing tone, when Winterborne expressed his fear that he and his were not enjoying themselves. "Oh yes, yes; pretty much. What handsome glasses those are! I didn't know you had such glasses in the house. Now, Lucy" (to his wife), "you ought to get some like them for ourselves." And when they had abandoned cards, and Winterborne was talking to Melbury by the fire, it was the timber-merchant who stood with his back to the mantle in a proprietary attitude, from which post of vantage he critically regarded Giles's person, rather as a superficies than as a solid with ideas and feelings inside it, saying, "What a splendid coat that one is you have on, Giles! I can't get such coats. You dress better than I." After supper there was a dance, the bandsmen from Great Hintock having arrived some time before. Grace had been away from home so long that she had forgotten the old figures, and hence did not join in the movement. Then Giles felt that all was over. As for her, she was thinking, as she watched the gyrations, of a very different measure that she had been accustomed to tread with a bevy of sylph-like creatures in muslin, in the music-room of a large house, most of whom were now moving in scenes widely removed from this, both as regarded place and character. A woman she did not know came and offered to tell her fortune with the abandoned cards. Grace assented to the proposal, and the woman told her tale unskilfully, for want of practice, as she declared. Mr. Melbury was standing by, and exclaimed, contemptuously, "Tell her fortune, indeed! Her fortune has been told by men of science—what do you call 'em? Phrenologists. You can't teach her anything new. She's been too far among the wise ones to be astonished at anything she can hear among us folks in Hintock." At last the time came for breaking up, Melbury and his family being the earliest to leave, the two card-players still pursuing their game doggedly in the corner, where they had completely covered Giles's mahogany table with chalk scratches. The three walked home, the distance being short and the night clear. "Well, Giles is a very good fellow," said Mr. Melbury, as they struck down the lane under boughs which formed a black filigree in which the stars seemed set. "Certainly he is," said Grace, quickly, and in such a tone as to show that he stood no lower, if no higher, in her regard than he had stood before. When they were opposite an opening through which, by day, the doctor's house could be seen, they observed a light in one of his rooms, although it was now about two o'clock. "The doctor is not abed yet," said Mrs. Melbury. "Hard study, no doubt," said her husband. "One would think that, as he seems to have nothing to do about here by day, he could at least afford to go to bed early at night. 'Tis astonishing how little we see of him." Melbury's mind seemed to turn with much relief to the contemplation of Mr. Fitzpiers after the scenes of the evening. "It is natural enough," he replied. "What can a man of that sort find to interest him in Hintock? I don't expect he'll stay here long." His mind reverted to Giles's party, and when they were nearly home he spoke again, his daughter being a few steps in advance: "It is hardly the line of life for a girl like Grace, after what she's been accustomed to. I didn't foresee that in sending her to boarding-school and letting her travel, and what not, to make her a good bargain for Giles, I should be really spoiling her for him. Ah, 'tis a thousand pities! But he ought to have her—he ought!" At this moment the two exclusive, chalk-mark men, having at last really finished their play, could be heard coming along in the rear, vociferously singing a song to march-time, and keeping vigorous step to the same in far-reaching strides— "She may go, oh! She may go, oh! She may go to the d—— for me!" The timber-merchant turned indignantly to Mrs. Melbury. "That's the sort of society we've been asked to meet," he said. "For us old folk it didn't matter; but for Grace—Giles should have known better!" Meanwhile, in the empty house from which the guests had just cleared out, the subject of their discourse was walking from room to room surveying the general displacement of furniture with no ecstatic feeling; rather the reverse, indeed. At last he entered the bakehouse, and found there Robert Creedle sitting over the embers, also lost in contemplation. Winterborne sat down beside him. "Well, Robert, you must be tired. You'd better get on to bed." "Ay, ay, Giles—what do I call ye? Maister, I would say. But 'tis well to think the day IS done, when 'tis done." Winterborne had abstractedly taken the poker, and with a wrinkled forehead was ploughing abroad the wood-embers on the broad hearth, till it was like a vast scorching Sahara, with red-hot bowlders lying about everywhere. "Do you think it went off well, Creedle?" he asked. "The victuals did; that I know. And the drink did; that I steadfastly believe, from the holler sound of the barrels. Good, honest drink 'twere, the headiest mead I ever brewed; and the best wine that berries could rise to; and the briskest Horner-and-Cleeves cider ever wrung down, leaving out the spice and sperrits I put into it, while that egg-flip would ha' passed through muslin, so little curdled 'twere. 'Twas good enough to make any king's heart merry—ay, to make his whole carcass smile. Still, I don't deny I'm afeared some things didn't go well with He and his." Creedle nodded in a direction which signified where the Melburys lived. "I'm afraid, too, that it was a failure there!" "If so, 'twere doomed to be so. Not but what that snail might as well have come upon anybody else's plate as hers." "What snail?" "Well, maister, there was a little one upon the edge of her plate when I brought it out; and so it must have been in her few leaves of wintergreen." "How the deuce did a snail get there?" "That I don't know no more than the dead; but there my gentleman was." "But, Robert, of all places, that was where he shouldn't have been!" "Well, 'twas his native home, come to that; and where else could we expect him to be? I don't care who the man is, snails and caterpillars always will lurk in close to the stump of cabbages in that tantalizing way." "He wasn't alive, I suppose?" said Giles, with a shudder on Grace's account. "Oh no. He was well boiled. I warrant him well boiled. God forbid that a LIVE snail should be seed on any plate of victuals that's served by Robert Creedle....But Lord, there; I don't mind 'em myself—them small ones, for they were born on cabbage, and they've lived on cabbage, so they must be made of cabbage. But she, the close-mouthed little lady, she didn't say a word about it; though 'twould have made good small conversation as to the nater of such creatures; especially as wit ran short among us sometimes." "Oh yes—'tis all over!" murmured Giles to himself, shaking his head over the glooming plain of embers, and lining his forehead more than ever. "Do you know, Robert," he said, "that she's been accustomed to servants and everything superfine these many years? How, then, could she stand our ways?" "Well, all I can say is, then, that she ought to hob-and-nob elsewhere. They shouldn't have schooled her so monstrous high, or else bachelor men shouldn't give randys, or if they do give 'em, only to their own race." "Perhaps that's true," said Winterborne, rising and yawning a sigh. CHAPTER XI. "'Tis a pity—a thousand pities!" her father kept saying next morning at breakfast, Grace being still in her bedroom. But how could he, with any self-respect, obstruct Winterborne's suit at this stage, and nullify a scheme he had labored to promote—was, indeed, mechanically promoting at this moment? A crisis was approaching, mainly as a result of his contrivances, and it would have to be met. But here was the fact, which could not be disguised: since seeing what an immense change her last twelve months of absence had produced in his daughter, after the heavy sum per annum that he had been spending for several years upon her education, he was reluctant to let her marry Giles Winterborne, indefinitely occupied as woodsman, cider-merchant, apple-farmer, and what not, even were she willing to marry him herself. "She will be his wife if you don't upset her notion that she's bound to accept him as an understood thing," said Mrs. Melbury. "Bless ye, she'll soon shake down here in Hintock, and be content with Giles's way of living, which he'll improve with what money she'll have from you. 'Tis the strangeness after her genteel life that makes her feel uncomfortable at first. Why, when I saw Hintock the first time I thought I never could like it. But things gradually get familiar, and stone floors seem not so very cold and hard, and the hooting of the owls not so very dreadful, and loneliness not so very lonely, after a while." "Yes, I believe ye. That's just it. I KNOW Grace will gradually sink down to our level again, and catch our manners and way of speaking, and feel a drowsy content in being Giles's wife. But I can't bear the thought of dragging down to that old level as promising a piece of maidenhood as ever lived—fit to ornament a palace wi'—that I've taken so much trouble to lift up. Fancy her white hands getting redder every day, and her tongue losing its pretty up-country curl in talking, and her bounding walk becoming the regular Hintock shail and wamble!" "She may shail, but she'll never wamble," replied his wife, decisively. When Grace came down-stairs he complained of her lying in bed so late; not so much moved by a particular objection to that form of indulgence as discomposed by these other reflections. The corners of her pretty mouth dropped a little down. "You used to complain with justice when I was a girl," she said. "But I am a woman now, and can judge for myself....But it is not that; it is something else!" Instead of sitting down she went outside the door. He was sorry. The petulance that relatives show towards each other is in truth directed against that intangible Causality which has shaped the situation no less for the offenders than the offended, but is too elusive to be discerned and cornered by poor humanity in irritated mood. Melbury followed her. She had rambled on to the paddock, where the white frost lay, and where starlings in flocks of twenties and thirties were walking about, watched by a comfortable family of sparrows perched in a line along the string-course of the chimney, preening themselves in the rays of the sun. "Come in to breakfast, my girl," he said. "And as to Giles, use your own mind. Whatever pleases you will please me." "I am promised to him, father; and I cannot help thinking that in honor I ought to marry him, whenever I do marry." He had a strong suspicion that somewhere in the bottom of her heart there pulsed an old simple indigenous feeling favorable to Giles, though it had become overlaid with implanted tastes. But he would not distinctly express his views on the promise. "Very well," he said. "But I hope I sha'n't lose you yet. Come in to breakfast. What did you think of the inside of Hintock House the other day?" "I liked it much." "Different from friend Winterborne's?" She said nothing; but he who knew her was aware that she meant by her silence to reproach him with drawing cruel comparisons. "Mrs. Charmond has asked you to come again—when, did you say?" "She thought Tuesday, but would send the day before to let me know if it suited her." And with this subject upon their lips they entered to breakfast. Tuesday came, but no message from Mrs. Charmond. Nor was there any on Wednesday. In brief, a fortnight slipped by without a sign, and it looked suspiciously as if Mrs. Charmond were not going further in the direction of "taking up" Grace at present. Her father reasoned thereon. Immediately after his daughter's two indubitable successes with Mrs. Charmond—the interview in the wood and a visit to the House—she had attended Winterborne's party. No doubt the out-and-out joviality of that gathering had made it a topic in the neighborhood, and that every one present as guests had been widely spoken of—Grace, with her exceptional qualities, above all. What, then, so natural as that Mrs. Charmond should have heard the village news, and become quite disappointed in her expectations of Grace at finding she kept such company? Full of this post hoc argument, Mr. Melbury overlooked the infinite throng of other possible reasons and unreasons for a woman changing her mind. For instance, while knowing that his Grace was attractive, he quite forgot that Mrs. Charmond had also great pretensions to beauty. In his simple estimate, an attractive woman attracted all around. So it was settled in his mind that her sudden mingling with the villagers at the unlucky Winterborne's was the cause of her most grievous loss, as he deemed it, in the direction of Hintock House. "'Tis a thousand pities!" he would repeat to himself. "I am ruining her for conscience' sake!" It was one morning later on, while these things were agitating his mind, that, curiously enough, something darkened the window just as they finished breakfast. Looking up, they saw Giles in person mounted on horseback, and straining his neck forward, as he had been doing for some time, to catch their attention through the window. Grace had been the first to see him, and involuntarily exclaimed, "There he is—and a new horse!" On their faces as they regarded Giles were written their suspended thoughts and compound feelings concerning him, could he have read them through those old panes. But he saw nothing: his features just now were, for a wonder, lit up with a red smile at some other idea. So they rose from breakfast and went to the door, Grace with an anxious, wistful manner, her father in a reverie, Mrs. Melbury placid and inquiring. "We have come out to look at your horse," she said. It could be seen that he was pleased at their attention, and explained that he had ridden a mile or two to try the animal's paces. "I bought her," he added, with warmth so severely repressed as to seem indifference, "because she has been used to carry a lady." Still Mr. Melbury did not brighten. Mrs. Melbury said, "And is she quiet?" Winterborne assured her that there was no doubt of it. "I took care of that. She's five-and-twenty, and very clever for her age." "Well, get off and come in," said Melbury, brusquely; and Giles dismounted accordingly. This event was the concrete result of Winterborne's thoughts during the past week or two. The want of success with his evening party he had accepted in as philosophic a mood as he was capable of; but there had been enthusiasm enough left in him one day at Sherton Abbas market to purchase this old mare, which had belonged to a neighboring parson with several daughters, and was offered him to carry either a gentleman or a lady, and to do odd jobs of carting and agriculture at a pinch. This obliging quadruped seemed to furnish Giles with a means of reinstating himself in Melbury's good opinion as a man of considerateness by throwing out future possibilities to Grace. The latter looked at him with intensified interest this morning, in the mood which is altogether peculiar to woman's nature, and which, when reduced into plain words, seems as impossible as the penetrability of matter—that of entertaining a tender pity for the object of her own unnecessary coldness. The imperturbable poise which marked Winterborne in general was enlivened now by a freshness and animation that set a brightness in his eye and on his cheek. Mrs. Melbury asked him to have some breakfast, and he pleasurably replied that he would join them, with his usual lack of tactical observation, not perceiving that they had all finished the meal, that the hour was inconveniently late, and that the note piped by the kettle denoted it to be nearly empty; so that fresh water had to be brought in, trouble taken to make it boil, and a general renovation of the table carried out. Neither did he know, so full was he of his tender ulterior object in buying that horse, how many cups of tea he was gulping down one after another, nor how the morning was slipping, nor how he was keeping the family from dispersing about their duties. Then he told throughout the humorous story of the horse's purchase, looking particularly grim at some fixed object in the room, a way he always looked when he narrated anything that amused him. While he was still thinking of the scene he had described, Grace rose and said, "I have to go and help my mother now, Mr. Winterborne." "H'm!" he ejaculated, turning his eyes suddenly upon her. She repeated her words with a slight blush of awkwardness; whereupon Giles, becoming suddenly conscious, too conscious, jumped up, saying, "To be sure, to be sure!" wished them quickly good-morning, and bolted out of the house. Nevertheless he had, upon the whole, strengthened his position, with her at least. Time, too, was on his side, for (as her father saw with some regret) already the homeliness of Hintock life was fast becoming effaced from her observation as a singularity; just as the first strangeness of a face from which we have for years been separated insensibly passes off with renewed intercourse, and tones itself down into simple identity with the lineaments of the past. Thus Mr. Melbury went out of the house still unreconciled to the sacrifice of the gem he had been at such pains in mounting. He fain could hope, in the secret nether chamber of his mind, that something would happen, before the balance of her feeling had quite turned in Winterborne's favor, to relieve his conscience and preserve her on her elevated plane. He could not forget that Mrs. Charmond had apparently abandoned all interest in his daughter as suddenly as she had conceived it, and was as firmly convinced as ever that the comradeship which Grace had shown with Giles and his crew by attending his party had been the cause. Matters lingered on thus. And then, as a hoop by gentle knocks on this side and on that is made to travel in specific directions, the little touches of circumstance in the life of this young girl shaped the curves of her career. CHAPTER XII. It was a day of rather bright weather for the season. Miss Melbury went out for a morning walk, and her ever-regardful father, having an hour's leisure, offered to walk with her. The breeze was fresh and quite steady, filtering itself through the denuded mass of twigs without swaying them, but making the point of each ivy-leaf on the trunks scratch its underlying neighbor restlessly. Grace's lips sucked in this native air of hers like milk. They soon reached a place where the wood ran down into a corner, and went outside it towards comparatively open ground. Having looked round about, they were intending to re-enter the copse when a fox quietly emerged with a dragging brush, trotted past them tamely as a domestic cat, and disappeared amid some dead fern. They walked on, her father merely observing, after watching the animal, "They are hunting somewhere near." Farther up they saw in the mid-distance the hounds running hither and thither, as if there were little or no scent that day. Soon divers members of the hunt appeared on the scene, and it was evident from their movements that the chase had been stultified by general puzzle-headedness as to the whereabouts of the intended victim. In a minute a farmer rode up to the two pedestrians, panting with acteonic excitement, and Grace being a few steps in advance, he addressed her, asking if she had seen the fox. "Yes," said she. "We saw him some time ago—just out there." "Did you cry Halloo?" "We said nothing." "Then why the d—— didn't you, or get the old buffer to do it for you?" said the man, as he cantered away. She looked rather disconcerted at this reply, and observing her father's face, saw that it was quite red. "He ought not to have spoken to ye like that!" said the old man, in the tone of one whose heart was bruised, though it was not by the epithet applied to himself. "And he wouldn't if he had been a gentleman. 'Twas not the language to use to a woman of any niceness. You, so well read and cultivated—how could he expect ye to know what tom-boy field-folk are in the habit of doing? If so be you had just come from trimming swedes or mangolds—joking with the rough work-folk and all that—I could have stood it. But hasn't it cost me near a hundred a year to lift you out of all that, so as to show an example to the neighborhood of what a woman can be? Grace, shall I tell you the secret of it? 'Twas because I was in your company. If a black-coated squire or pa'son had been walking with you instead of me he wouldn't have spoken so." "No, no, father; there's nothing in you rough or ill-mannered!" "I tell you it is that! I've noticed, and I've noticed it many times, that a woman takes her color from the man she's walking with. The woman who looks an unquestionable lady when she's with a polished-up fellow, looks a mere tawdry imitation article when she's hobbing and nobbing with a homely blade. You sha'n't be treated like that for long, or at least your children sha'n't. You shall have somebody to walk with you who looks more of a dandy than I—please God you shall!" "But, my dear father," she said, much distressed, "I don't mind at all. I don't wish for more honor than I already have!" "A perplexing and ticklish possession is a daughter," according to Menander or some old Greek poet, and to nobody was one ever more so than to Melbury, by reason of her very dearness to him. As for Grace, she began to feel troubled; she did not perhaps wish there and then to unambitiously devote her life to Giles Winterborne, but she was conscious of more and more uneasiness at the possibility of being the social hope of the family. "You would like to have more honor, if it pleases me?" asked her father, in continuation of the subject. Despite her feeling she assented to this. His reasoning had not been without its weight upon her. "Grace," he said, just before they had reached the house, "if it costs me my life you shall marry well! To-day has shown me that whatever a young woman's niceness, she stands for nothing alone. You shall marry well." He breathed heavily, and his breathing was caught up by the breeze, which seemed to sigh a soft remonstrance. She looked calmly at him. "And how about Mr. Winterborne?" she asked. "I mention it, father, not as a matter of sentiment, but as a question of keeping faith." The timber-merchant's eyes fell for a moment. "I don't know—I don't know," he said. "'Tis a trying strait. Well, well; there's no hurry. We'll wait and see how he gets on." That evening he called her into his room, a snug little apartment behind the large parlor. It had at one time been part of the bakehouse, with the ordinary oval brick oven in the wall; but Mr. Melbury, in turning it into an office, had built into the cavity an iron safe, which he used for holding his private papers. The door of the safe was now open, and his keys were hanging from it. "Sit down, Grace, and keep me company," he said. "You may amuse yourself by looking over these." He threw out a heap of papers before her. "What are they?" she asked. "Securities of various sorts." He unfolded them one by one. "Papers worth so much money each. Now here's a lot of turnpike bonds for one thing. Would you think that each of these pieces of paper is worth two hundred pounds?" "No, indeed, if you didn't say so." "'Tis so, then. Now here are papers of another sort. They are for different sums in the three-per-cents. Now these are Port Breedy Harbor bonds. We have a great stake in that harbor, you know, because I send off timber there. Open the rest at your pleasure. They'll interest ye." "Yes, I will, some day," said she, rising. "Nonsense, open them now. You ought to learn a little of such matters. A young lady of education should not be ignorant of money affairs altogether. Suppose you should be left a widow some day, with your husband's title-deeds and investments thrown upon your hands—" "Don't say that, father—title-deeds; it sounds so vain!" "It does not. Come to that, I have title-deeds myself. There, that piece of parchment represents houses in Sherton Abbas." "Yes, but—" She hesitated, looked at the fire, and went on in a low voice: "If what has been arranged about me should come to anything, my sphere will be quite a middling one." "Your sphere ought not to be middling," he exclaimed, not in passion, but in earnest conviction. "You said you never felt more at home, more in your element, anywhere than you did that afternoon with Mrs. Charmond, when she showed you her house and all her knick-knacks, and made you stay to tea so nicely in her drawing-room—surely you did!" "Yes, I did say so," admitted Grace. "Was it true?" "Yes, I felt so at the time. The feeling is less strong now, perhaps." "Ah! Now, though you don't see it, your feeling at the time was the right one, because your mind and body were just in full and fresh cultivation, so that going there with her was like meeting like. Since then you've been biding with us, and have fallen back a little, and so you don't feel your place so strongly. Now, do as I tell ye, and look over these papers and see what you'll be worth some day. For they'll all be yours, you know; who have I got to leave 'em to but you? Perhaps when your education is backed up by what these papers represent, and that backed up by another such a set and their owner, men such as that fellow was this morning may think you a little more than a buffer's girl." So she did as commanded, and opened each of the folded representatives of hard cash that her father put before her. To sow in her heart cravings for social position was obviously his strong desire, though in direct antagonism to a better feeling which had hitherto prevailed with him, and had, indeed, only succumbed that morning during the ramble. She wished that she was not his worldly hope; the responsibility of such a position was too great. She had made it for herself mainly by her appearance and attractive behavior to him since her return. "If I had only come home in a shabby dress, and tried to speak roughly, this might not have happened," she thought. She deplored less the fact than the sad possibilities that might lie hidden therein. Her father then insisted upon her looking over his checkbook and reading the counterfoils. This, also, she obediently did, and at last came to two or three which had been drawn to defray some of the late expenses of her clothes, board, and education. "I, too, cost a good deal, like the horses and wagons and corn," she said, looking up sorrily. "I didn't want you to look at those; I merely meant to give you an idea of my investment transactions. But if you do cost as much as they, never mind. You'll yield a better return." "Don't think of me like that!" she begged. "A mere chattel." "A what? Oh, a dictionary word. Well, as that's in your line I don't forbid it, even if it tells against me," he said, good-humoredly. And he looked her proudly up and down. A few minutes later Grammer Oliver came to tell them that supper was ready, and in giving the information she added, incidentally, "So we shall soon lose the mistress of Hintock House for some time, I hear, Maister Melbury. Yes, she's going off to foreign parts to-morrow, for the rest of the winter months; and be-chok'd if I don't wish I could do the same, for my wynd-pipe is furred like a flue." When the old woman had left the room, Melbury turned to his daughter and said, "So, Grace, you've lost your new friend, and your chance of keeping her company and writing her travels is quite gone from ye!" Grace said nothing. "Now," he went on, emphatically, "'tis Winterborne's affair has done this. Oh yes, 'tis. So let me say one word. Promise me that you will not meet him again without my knowledge." "I never do meet him, father, either without your knowledge or with it." "So much the better. I don't like the look of this at all. And I say it not out of harshness to him, poor fellow, but out of tenderness to you. For how could a woman, brought up delicately as you have been, bear the roughness of a life with him?" She sighed; it was a sigh of sympathy with Giles, complicated by a sense of the intractability of circumstances. At that same hour, and almost at that same minute, there was a conversation about Winterborne in progress in the village street, opposite Mr. Melbury's gates, where Timothy Tangs the elder and Robert Creedle had accidentally met. The sawyer was asking Creedle if he had heard what was all over the parish, the skin of his face being drawn two ways on the matter—towards brightness in respect of it as news, and towards concern in respect of it as circumstance. "Why, that poor little lonesome thing, Marty South, is likely to lose her father. He was almost well, but is much worse again. A man all skin and grief he ever were, and if he leave Little Hintock for a better land, won't it make some difference to your Maister Winterborne, neighbor Creedle?" "Can I be a prophet in Israel?" said Creedle. "Won't it! I was only shaping of such a thing yesterday in my poor, long-seeing way, and all the work of the house upon my one shoulders! You know what it means? It is upon John South's life that all Mr. Winterborne's houses hang. If so be South die, and so make his decease, thereupon the law is that the houses fall without the least chance of absolution into HER hands at the House. I told him so; but the words of the faithful be only as wind!" CHAPTER XIII. The news was true. The life—the one fragile life—that had been used as a measuring-tape of time by law, was in danger of being frayed away. It was the last of a group of lives which had served this purpose, at the end of whose breathings the small homestead occupied by South himself, the larger one of Giles Winterborne, and half a dozen others that had been in the possession of various Hintock village families for the previous hundred years, and were now Winterborne's, would fall in and become part of the encompassing estate. Yet a short two months earlier Marty's father, aged fifty-five years, though something of a fidgety, anxious being, would have been looked on as a man whose existence was so far removed from hazardous as any in the parish, and as bidding fair to be prolonged for another quarter of a century. Winterborne walked up and down his garden next day thinking of the contingency. The sense that the paths he was pacing, the cabbage-plots, the apple-trees, his dwelling, cider-cellar, wring-house, stables, and weathercock, were all slipping away over his head and beneath his feet, as if they were painted on a magic-lantern slide, was curious. In spite of John South's late indisposition he had not anticipated danger. To inquire concerning his health had been to show less sympathy than to remain silent, considering the material interest he possessed in the woodman's life, and he had, accordingly, made a point of avoiding Marty's house. While he was here in the garden somebody came to fetch him. It was Marty herself, and she showed her distress by her unconsciousness of a cropped poll. "Father is still so much troubled in his mind about that tree," she said. "You know the tree I mean, Mr. Winterborne? the tall one in front of the house, that he thinks will blow down and kill us. Can you come and see if you can persuade him out of his notion? I can do nothing." He accompanied her to the cottage, and she conducted him upstairs. John South was pillowed up in a chair between the bed and the window exactly opposite the latter, towards which his face was turned. "Ah, neighbor Winterborne," he said. "I wouldn't have minded if my life had only been my own to lose; I don't vallie it in much of itself, and can let it go if 'tis required of me. But to think what 'tis worth to you, a young man rising in life, that do trouble me! It seems a trick of dishonesty towards ye to go off at fifty-five! I could bear up, I know I could, if it were not for the tree—yes, the tree, 'tis that's killing me. There he stands, threatening my life every minute that the wind do blow. He'll come down upon us and squat us dead; and what will ye do when the life on your property is taken away?" "Never you mind me—that's of no consequence," said Giles. "Think of yourself alone." He looked out of the window in the direction of the woodman's gaze. The tree was a tall elm, familiar to him from childhood, which stood at a distance of two-thirds its own height from the front of South's dwelling. Whenever the wind blew, as it did now, the tree rocked, naturally enough; and the sight of its motion and sound of its sighs had gradually bred the terrifying illusion in the woodman's mind that it would descend and kill him. Thus he would sit all day, in spite of persuasion, watching its every sway, and listening to the melancholy Gregorian melodies which the air wrung out of it. This fear it apparently was, rather than any organic disease which was eating away the health of John South. As the tree waved, South waved his head, making it his flugel-man with abject obedience. "Ah, when it was quite a small tree," he said, "and I was a little boy, I thought one day of chopping it off with my hook to make a clothes-line prop with. But I put off doing it, and then I again thought that I would; but I forgot it, and didn't. And at last it got too big, and now 'tis my enemy, and will be the death o' me. Little did I think, when I let that sapling stay, that a time would come when it would torment me, and dash me into my grave." "No, no," said Winterborne and Marty, soothingly. But they thought it possible that it might hasten him into his grave, though in another way than by falling. "I tell you what," added Winterborne, "I'll climb up this afternoon and shroud off the lower boughs, and then it won't be so heavy, and the wind won't affect it so." "She won't allow it—a strange woman come from nobody knows where—she won't have it done." "You mean Mrs. Charmond? Oh, she doesn't know there's such a tree on her estate. Besides, shrouding is not felling, and I'll risk that much." He went out, and when afternoon came he returned, took a billhook from the woodman's shed, and with a ladder climbed into the lower part of the tree, where he began lopping off—"shrouding," as they called it at Hintock—the lowest boughs. Each of these quivered under his attack, bent, cracked, and fell into the hedge. Having cut away the lowest tier, he stepped off the ladder, climbed a few steps higher, and attacked those at the next level. Thus he ascended with the progress of his work far above the top of the ladder, cutting away his perches as he went, and leaving nothing but a bare stem below him. The work was troublesome, for the tree was large. The afternoon wore on, turning dark and misty about four o'clock. From time to time Giles cast his eyes across towards the bedroom window of South, where, by the flickering fire in the chamber, he could see the old man watching him, sitting motionless with a hand upon each arm of the chair. Beside him sat Marty, also straining her eyes towards the skyey field of his operations. A curious question suddenly occurred to Winterborne, and he stopped his chopping. He was operating on another person's property to prolong the years of a lease by whose termination that person would considerably benefit. In that aspect of the case he doubted if he ought to go on. On the other hand he was working to save a man's life, and this seemed to empower him to adopt arbitrary measures. The wind had died down to a calm, and while he was weighing the circumstances he saw coming along the road through the increasing mist a figure which, indistinct as it was, he knew well. It was Grace Melbury, on her way out from the house, probably for a short evening walk before dark. He arranged himself for a greeting from her, since she could hardly avoid passing immediately beneath the tree. But Grace, though she looked up and saw him, was just at that time too full of the words of her father to give him any encouragement. The years-long regard that she had had for him was not kindled by her return into a flame of sufficient brilliancy to make her rebellious. Thinking that she might not see him, he cried, "Miss Melbury, here I am." She looked up again. She was near enough to see the expression of his face, and the nails in his soles, silver-bright with constant walking. But she did not reply; and dropping her glance again, went on. Winterborne's face grew strange; he mused, and proceeded automatically with his work. Grace meanwhile had not gone far. She had reached a gate, whereon she had leaned sadly, and whispered to herself, "What shall I do?" A sudden fog came on, and she curtailed her walk, passing under the tree again on her return. Again he addressed her. "Grace," he said, when she was close to the trunk, "speak to me." She shook her head without stopping, and went on to a little distance, where she stood observing him from behind the hedge. Her coldness had been kindly meant. If it was to be done, she had said to herself, it should be begun at once. While she stood out of observation Giles seemed to recognize her meaning; with a sudden start he worked on, climbing higher, and cutting himself off more and more from all intercourse with the sublunary world. At last he had worked himself so high up the elm, and the mist had so thickened, that he could only just be discerned as a dark-gray spot on the light-gray sky: he would have been altogether out of notice but for the stroke of his billhook and the flight of a bough downward, and its crash upon the hedge at intervals. It was not to be done thus, after all: plainness and candor were best. She went back a third time; he did not see her now, and she lingeringly gazed up at his unconscious figure, loath to put an end to any kind of hope that might live on in him still. "Giles— Mr. Winterborne," she said. He was so high amid the fog that he did not hear. "Mr. Winterborne!" she cried again, and this time he stopped, looked down, and replied. "My silence just now was not accident," she said, in an unequal voice. "My father says it is best not to think too much of that—engagement, or understanding between us, that you know of. I, too, think that upon the whole he is right. But we are friends, you know, Giles, and almost relations." "Very well," he answered, as if without surprise, in a voice which barely reached down the tree. "I have nothing to say in objection—I cannot say anything till I've thought a while." She added, with emotion in her tone, "For myself, I would have married you—some day—I think. But I give way, for I see it would be unwise." He made no reply, but sat back upon a bough, placed his elbow in a fork, and rested his head upon his hand. Thus he remained till the fog and the night had completely enclosed him from her view. Grace heaved a divided sigh, with a tense pause between, and moved onward, her heart feeling uncomfortably big and heavy, and her eyes wet. Had Giles, instead of remaining still, immediately come down from the tree to her, would she have continued in that filial acquiescent frame of mind which she had announced to him as final? If it be true, as women themselves have declared, that one of their sex is never so much inclined to throw in her lot with a man for good and all as five minutes after she has told him such a thing cannot be, the probabilities are that something might have been done by the appearance of Winterborne on the ground beside Grace. But he continued motionless and silent in that gloomy Niflheim or fog-land which involved him, and she proceeded on her way. The spot seemed now to be quite deserted. The light from South's window made rays on the fog, but did not reach the tree. A quarter of an hour passed, and all was blackness overhead. Giles had not yet come down. Then the tree seemed to shiver, then to heave a sigh; a movement was audible, and Winterborne dropped almost noiselessly to the ground. He had thought the matter out, and having returned the ladder and billhook to their places, pursued his way homeward. He would not allow this incident to affect his outer conduct any more than the danger to his leaseholds had done, and went to bed as usual. Two simultaneous troubles do not always make a double trouble; and thus it came to pass that Giles's practical anxiety about his houses, which would have been enough to keep him awake half the night at any other time, was displaced and not reinforced by his sentimental trouble about Grace Melbury. This severance was in truth more like a burial of her than a rupture with her; but he did not realize so much at present; even when he arose in the morning he felt quite moody and stern: as yet the second note in the gamut of such emotions, a tender regret for his loss, had not made itself heard. A load of oak timber was to be sent away that morning to a builder whose works were in a town many miles off. The proud trunks were taken up from the silent spot which had known them through the buddings and sheddings of their growth for the foregoing hundred years; chained down like slaves to a heavy timber carriage with enormous red wheels, and four of the most powerful of Melbury's horses were harnessed in front to draw them. The horses wore their bells that day. There were sixteen to the team, carried on a frame above each animal's shoulders, and tuned to scale, so as to form two octaves, running from the highest note on the right or off-side of the leader to the lowest on the left or near-side of the shaft-horse. Melbury was among the last to retain horse-bells in that neighborhood; for, living at Little Hintock, where the lanes yet remained as narrow as before the days of turnpike roads, these sound-signals were still as useful to him and his neighbors as they had ever been in former times. Much backing was saved in the course of a year by the warning notes they cast ahead; moreover, the tones of all the teams in the district being known to the carters of each, they could tell a long way off on a dark night whether they were about to encounter friends or strangers. The fog of the previous evening still lingered so heavily over the woods that the morning could not penetrate the trees till long after its time. The load being a ponderous one, the lane crooked, and the air so thick, Winterborne set out, as he often did, to accompany the team as far as the corner, where it would turn into a wider road. So they rumbled on, shaking the foundations of the roadside cottages by the weight of their progress, the sixteen bells chiming harmoniously over all, till they had risen out of the valley and were descending towards the more open route, the sparks rising from their creaking skid and nearly setting fire to the dead leaves alongside. Then occurred one of the very incidents against which the bells were an endeavor to guard. Suddenly there beamed into their eyes, quite close to them, the two lamps of a carriage, shorn of rays by the fog. Its approach had been quite unheard, by reason of their own noise. The carriage was a covered one, while behind it could be discerned another vehicle laden with luggage. Winterborne went to the head of the team, and heard the coachman telling the carter that he must turn back. The carter declared that this was impossible. "You can turn if you unhitch your string-horses," said the coachman. "It is much easier for you to turn than for us," said Winterborne. "We've five tons of timber on these wheels if we've an ounce." "But I've another carriage with luggage at my back." Winterborne admitted the strength of the argument. "But even with that," he said, "you can back better than we. And you ought to, for you could hear our bells half a mile off." "And you could see our lights." "We couldn't, because of the fog." "Well, our time's precious," said the coachman, haughtily. "You are only going to some trumpery little village or other in the neighborhood, while we are going straight to Italy." "Driving all the way, I suppose," said Winterborne, sarcastically. The argument continued in these terms till a voice from the interior of the carriage inquired what was the matter. It was a lady's. She was briefly informed of the timber people's obstinacy; and then Giles could hear her telling the footman to direct the timber people to turn their horses' heads. The message was brought, and Winterborne sent the bearer back to say that he begged the lady's pardon, but that he could not do as she requested; that though he would not assert it to be impossible, it was impossible by comparison with the slight difficulty to her party to back their light carriages. As fate would have it, the incident with Grace Melbury on the previous day made Giles less gentle than he might otherwise have shown himself, his confidence in the sex being rudely shaken. In fine, nothing could move him, and the carriages were compelled to back till they reached one of the sidings or turnouts constructed in the bank for the purpose. Then the team came on ponderously, and the clanging of its sixteen bells as it passed the discomfited carriages, tilted up against the bank, lent a particularly triumphant tone to the team's progress—a tone which, in point of fact, did not at all attach to its conductor's feelings. Giles walked behind the timber, and just as he had got past the yet stationary carriages he heard a soft voice say, "Who is that rude man? Not Melbury?" The sex of the speaker was so prominent in the voice that Winterborne felt a pang of regret. "No, ma'am. A younger man, in a smaller way of business in Little Hintock. Winterborne is his name." Thus they parted company. "Why, Mr. Winterborne," said the wagoner, when they were out of hearing, "that was She—Mrs. Charmond! Who'd ha' thought it? What in the world can a woman that does nothing be cock-watching out here at this time o' day for? Oh, going to Italy—yes to be sure, I heard she was going abroad, she can't endure the winter here." Winterborne was vexed at the incident; the more so that he knew Mr. Melbury, in his adoration of Hintock House, would be the first to blame him if it became known. But saying no more, he accompanied the load to the end of the lane, and then turned back with an intention to call at South's to learn the result of the experiment of the preceding evening. It chanced that a few minutes before this time Grace Melbury, who now rose soon enough to breakfast with her father, in spite of the unwontedness of the hour, had been commissioned by him to make the same inquiry at South's. Marty had been standing at the door when Miss Melbury arrived. Almost before the latter had spoken, Mrs. Charmond's carriages, released from the obstruction up the lane, came bowling along, and the two girls turned to regard the spectacle. Mrs. Charmond did not see them, but there was sufficient light for them to discern her outline between the carriage windows. A noticeable feature in her tournure was a magnificent mass of braided locks. "How well she looks this morning!" said Grace, forgetting Mrs. Charmond's slight in her generous admiration. "Her hair so becomes her worn that way. I have never seen any more beautiful!" "Nor have I, miss," said Marty, dryly, unconsciously stroking her crown. Grace watched the carriages with lingering regret till they were out of sight. She then learned of Marty that South was no better. Before she had come away Winterborne approached the house, but seeing that one of the two girls standing on the door-step was Grace, he suddenly turned back again and sought the shelter of his own home till she should have gone away. CHAPTER XIV. The encounter with the carriages having sprung upon Winterborne's mind the image of Mrs. Charmond, his thoughts by a natural channel went from her to the fact that several cottages and other houses in the two Hintocks, now his own, would fall into her possession in the event of South's death. He marvelled what people could have been thinking about in the past to invent such precarious tenures as these; still more, what could have induced his ancestors at Hintock, and other village people, to exchange their old copyholds for life-leases. But having naturally succeeded to these properties through his father, he had done his best to keep them in order, though he was much struck with his father's negligence in not insuring South's life. After breakfast, still musing on the circumstances, he went upstairs, turned over his bed, and drew out a flat canvas bag which lay between the mattress and the sacking. In this he kept his leases, which had remained there unopened ever since his father's death. It was the usual hiding-place among rural lifeholders for such documents. Winterborne sat down on the bed and looked them over. They were ordinary leases for three lives, which a member of the South family, some fifty years before this time, had accepted of the lord of the manor in lieu of certain copyholds and other rights, in consideration of having the dilapidated houses rebuilt by said lord. They had come into his father's possession chiefly through his mother, who was a South. Pinned to the parchment of one of the indentures was a letter, which Winterborne had never seen before. It bore a remote date, the handwriting being that of some solicitor or agent, and the signature the landholder's. It was to the effect that at any time before the last of the stated lives should drop, Mr. Giles Winterborne, senior, or his representative, should have the privilege of adding his own and his son's life to the life remaining on payment of a merely nominal sum; the concession being in consequence of the elder Winterborne's consent to demolish one of the houses and relinquish its site, which stood at an awkward corner of the lane and impeded the way. The house had been pulled down years before. Why Giles's father had not taken advantage of his privilege to insert his own and his son's lives it was impossible to say. The likelihood was that death alone had hindered him in the execution of his project, as it surely was, the elder Winterborne having been a man who took much pleasure in dealing with house property in his small way. Since one of the Souths still survived, there was not much doubt that Giles could do what his father had left undone, as far as his own life was concerned. This possibility cheered him much, for by those houses hung many things. Melbury's doubt of the young man's fitness to be the husband of Grace had been based not a little on the precariousness of his holdings in Little and Great Hintock. He resolved to attend to the business at once, the fine for renewal being a sum that he could easily muster. His scheme, however, could not be carried out in a day; and meanwhile he would run up to South's, as he had intended to do, to learn the result of the experiment with the tree. Marty met him at the door. "Well, Marty," he said; and was surprised to read in her face that the case was not so hopeful as he had imagined. "I am sorry for your labor," she said. "It is all lost. He says the tree seems taller than ever." Winterborne looked round at it. Taller the tree certainly did seem, the gauntness of its now naked stem being more marked than before. "It quite terrified him when he first saw what you had done to it this morning," she added. "He declares it will come down upon us and cleave us, like 'the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.'" "Well; can I do anything else?" asked he. "The doctor says the tree ought to be cut down." "Oh—you've had the doctor?" "I didn't send for him. Mrs. Charmond, before she left, heard that father was ill, and told him to attend him at her expense." "That was very good of her. And he says it ought to be cut down. We mustn't cut it down without her knowledge, I suppose." He went up-stairs. There the old man sat, staring at the now gaunt tree as if his gaze were frozen on to its trunk. Unluckily the tree waved afresh by this time, a wind having sprung up and blown the fog away, and his eyes turned with its wavings. They heard footsteps—a man's, but of a lighter type than usual. "There is Doctor Fitzpiers again," she said, and descended. Presently his tread was heard on the naked stairs. Mr. Fitzpiers entered the sick-chamber just as a doctor is more or less wont to do on such occasions, and pre-eminently when the room is that of a humble cottager, looking round towards the patient with that preoccupied gaze which so plainly reveals that he has wellnigh forgotten all about the case and the whole circumstances since he dismissed them from his mind at his last exit from the same apartment. He nodded to Winterborne, with whom he was already a little acquainted, recalled the case to his thoughts, and went leisurely on to where South sat. Fitzpiers was, on the whole, a finely formed, handsome man. His eyes were dark and impressive, and beamed with the light either of energy or of susceptivity—it was difficult to say which; it might have been a little of both. That quick, glittering, practical eye, sharp for the surface of things and for nothing beneath it, he had not. But whether his apparent depth of vision was real, or only an artistic accident of his corporeal moulding, nothing but his deeds could reveal. His face was rather soft than stern, charming than grand, pale than flushed; his nose—if a sketch of his features be de rigueur for a person of his pretensions—was artistically beautiful enough to have been worth doing in marble by any sculptor not over-busy, and was hence devoid of those knotty irregularities which often mean power; while the double-cyma or classical curve of his mouth was not without a looseness in its close. Nevertheless, either from his readily appreciative mien, or his reflective manner, or the instinct towards profound things which was said to possess him, his presence bespoke the philosopher rather than the dandy or macaroni—an effect which was helped by the absence of trinkets or other trivialities from his attire, though this was more finished and up to date than is usually the case among rural practitioners. Strict people of the highly respectable class, knowing a little about him by report, might have said that he seemed likely to err rather in the possession of too many ideas than too few; to be a dreamy 'ist of some sort, or too deeply steeped in some false kind of 'ism. However this may be, it will be seen that he was undoubtedly a somewhat rare kind of gentleman and doctor to have descended, as from the clouds, upon Little Hintock. "This is an extraordinary case," he said at last to Winterborne, after examining South by conversation, look, and touch, and learning that the craze about the elm was stronger than ever. "Come down-stairs, and I'll tell you what I think." They accordingly descended, and the doctor continued, "The tree must be cut down, or I won't answer for his life." "'Tis Mrs. Charmond's tree, and I suppose we must get permission?" said Giles. "If so, as she is gone away, I must speak to her agent." "Oh—never mind whose tree it is—what's a tree beside a life! Cut it down. I have not the honor of knowing Mrs. Charmond as yet, but I am disposed to risk that much with her." "'Tis timber," rejoined Giles, more scrupulous than he would have been had not his own interests stood so closely involved. "They'll never fell a stick about here without it being marked first, either by her or the agent." "Then we'll inaugurate a new era forthwith. How long has he complained of the tree?" asked the doctor of Marty. "Weeks and weeks, sir. The shape of it seems to haunt him like an evil spirit. He says that it is exactly his own age, that it has got human sense, and sprouted up when he was born on purpose to rule him, and keep him as its slave. Others have been like it afore in Hintock." They could hear South's voice up-stairs "Oh, he's rocking this way; he must come! And then my poor life, that's worth houses upon houses, will be squashed out o' me. Oh! oh!" "That's how he goes on," she added. "And he'll never look anywhere else but out of the window, and scarcely have the curtains drawn." "Down with it, then, and hang Mrs. Charmond," said Mr. Fitzpiers. "The best plan will be to wait till the evening, when it is dark, or early in the morning before he is awake, so that he doesn't see it fall, for that would terrify him worse than ever. Keep the blind down till I come, and then I'll assure him, and show him that his trouble is over." The doctor then departed, and they waited till the evening. When it was dusk, and the curtains drawn, Winterborne directed a couple of woodmen to bring a crosscut-saw, and the tall, threatening tree was soon nearly off at its base. He would not fell it completely then, on account of the possible crash, but next morning, before South was awake, they went and lowered it cautiously, in a direction away from the cottage. It was a business difficult to do quite silently; but it was done at last, and the elm of the same birth-year as the woodman's lay stretched upon the ground. The weakest idler that passed could now set foot on marks formerly made in the upper forks by the shoes of adventurous climbers only; once inaccessible nests could be examined microscopically; and on swaying extremities where birds alone had perched, the by-standers sat down. As soon as it was broad daylight the doctor came, and Winterborne entered the house with him. Marty said that her father was wrapped up and ready, as usual, to be put into his chair. They ascended the stairs, and soon seated him. He began at once to complain of the tree, and the danger to his life and Winterborne's house-property in consequence. The doctor signalled to Giles, who went and drew back the printed cotton curtains. "'Tis gone, see," said Mr. Fitzpiers. As soon as the old man saw the vacant patch of sky in place of the branched column so familiar to his gaze, he sprang up, speechless, his eyes rose from their hollows till the whites showed all round; he fell back, and a bluish whiteness overspread him. Greatly alarmed, they put him on the bed. As soon as he came a little out of his fit, he gasped, "Oh, it is gone!—where?—where?" His whole system seemed paralyzed by amazement. They were thunder-struck at the result of the experiment, and did all they could. Nothing seemed to avail. Giles and Fitzpiers went and came, but uselessly. He lingered through the day, and died that evening as the sun went down. "D—d if my remedy hasn't killed him!" murmured the doctor. CHAPTER XV. When Melbury heard what had happened he seemed much moved, and walked thoughtfully about the premises. On South's own account he was genuinely sorry; and on Winterborne's he was the more grieved in that this catastrophe had so closely followed the somewhat harsh dismissal of Giles as the betrothed of his daughter. He was quite angry with circumstances for so heedlessly inflicting on Giles a second trouble when the needful one inflicted by himself was all that the proper order of events demanded. "I told Giles's father when he came into those houses not to spend too much money on lifehold property held neither for his own life nor his son's," he exclaimed. "But he wouldn't listen to me. And now Giles has to suffer for it." "Poor Giles!" murmured Grace. "Now, Grace, between us two, it is very, very remarkable. It is almost as if I had foreseen this; and I am thankful for your escape, though I am sincerely sorry for Giles. Had we not dismissed him already, we could hardly have found it in our hearts to dismiss him now. So I say, be thankful. I'll do all I can for him as a friend; but as a pretender to the position of my son-in law, that can never be thought of more." And yet at that very moment the impracticability to which poor Winterborne's suit had been reduced was touching Grace's heart to a warmer sentiment on his behalf than she had felt for years concerning him. He, meanwhile, was sitting down alone in the old familiar house which had ceased to be his, taking a calm if somewhat dismal survey of affairs. The pendulum of the clock bumped every now and then against one side of the case in which it swung, as the muffled drum to his worldly march. Looking out of the window he could perceive that a paralysis had come over Creedle's occupation of manuring the garden, owing, obviously, to a conviction that they might not be living there long enough to profit by next season's crop. He looked at the leases again and the letter attached. There was no doubt that he had lost his houses by an accident which might easily have been circumvented if he had known the true conditions of his holding. The time for performance had now lapsed in strict law; but might not the intention be considered by the landholder when she became aware of the circumstances, and his moral right to retain the holdings for the term of his life be conceded? His heart sank within him when he perceived that despite all the legal reciprocities and safeguards prepared and written, the upshot of the matter amounted to this, that it depended upon the mere caprice—good or ill—of the woman he had met the day before in such an unfortunate way, whether he was to possess his houses for life or no. While he was sitting and thinking a step came to the door, and Melbury appeared, looking very sorry for his position. Winterborne welcomed him by a word and a look, and went on with his examination of the parchments. His visitor sat down. "Giles," he said, "this is very awkward, and I am sorry for it. What are you going to do?" Giles informed him of the real state of affairs, and how barely he had missed availing himself of his chance of renewal. "What a misfortune! Why was this neglected? Well, the best thing you can do is to write and tell her all about it, and throw yourself upon her generosity." "I would rather not," murmured Giles. "But you must," said Melbury. In short, he argued so cogently that Giles allowed himself to be persuaded, and the letter to Mrs. Charmond was written and sent to Hintock House, whence, as he knew, it would at once be forwarded to her. Melbury feeling that he had done so good an action in coming as almost to extenuate his previous arbitrary conduct to nothing, went home; and Giles was left alone to the suspense of waiting for a reply from the divinity who shaped the ends of the Hintock population. By this time all the villagers knew of the circumstances, and being wellnigh like one family, a keen interest was the result all round. Everybody thought of Giles; nobody thought of Marty. Had any of them looked in upon her during those moonlight nights which preceded the burial of her father, they would have seen the girl absolutely alone in the house with the dead man. Her own chamber being nearest the stairs, the coffin had been placed there for convenience; and at a certain hour of the night, when the moon arrived opposite the window, its beams streamed across the still profile of South, sublimed by the august presence of death, and onward a few feet farther upon the face of his daughter, lying in her little bed in the stillness of a repose almost as dignified as that of her companion—the repose of a guileless soul that had nothing more left on earth to lose, except a life which she did not overvalue. South was buried, and a week passed, and Winterborne watched for a reply from Mrs. Charmond. Melbury was very sanguine as to its tenor; but Winterborne had not told him of the encounter with her carriage, when, if ever he had heard an affronted tone on a woman's lips, he had heard it on hers. The postman's time for passing was just after Melbury's men had assembled in the spar-house; and Winterborne, who when not busy on his own account would lend assistance there, used to go out into the lane every morning and meet the post-man at the end of one of the green rides through the hazel copse, in the straight stretch of which his laden figure could be seen a long way off. Grace also was very anxious; more anxious than her father; more, perhaps, than Winterborne himself. This anxiety led her into the spar-house on some pretext or other almost every morning while they were awaiting the reply. Fitzpiers too, though he did not personally appear, was much interested, and not altogether easy in his mind; for he had been informed by an authority of what he had himself conjectured, that if the tree had been allowed to stand, the old man would have gone on complaining, but might have lived for twenty years. Eleven times had Winterborne gone to that corner of the ride, and looked up its long straight slope through the wet grays of winter dawn. But though the postman's bowed figure loomed in view pretty regularly, he brought nothing for Giles. On the twelfth day the man of missives, while yet in the extreme distance, held up his hand, and Winterborne saw a letter in it. He took it into the spar-house before he broke the seal, and those who were there gathered round him while he read, Grace looking in at the door. The letter was not from Mrs. Charmond herself, but her agent at Sherton. Winterborne glanced it over and looked up. "It's all over," he said. "Ah!" said they altogether. "Her lawyer is instructed to say that Mrs. Charmond sees no reason for disturbing the natural course of things, particularly as she contemplates pulling the houses down," he said, quietly. "Only think of that!" said several. Winterborne had turned away, and said vehemently to himself, "Then let her pull 'em down, and be d—d to her!" Creedle looked at him with a face of seven sorrows, saying, "Ah, 'twas that sperrit that lost 'em for ye, maister!" Winterborne subdued his feelings, and from that hour, whatever they were, kept them entirely to himself. There could be no doubt that, up to this last moment, he had nourished a feeble hope of regaining Grace in the event of this negotiation turning out a success. Not being aware of the fact that her father could have settled upon her a fortune sufficient to enable both to live in comfort, he deemed it now an absurdity to dream any longer of such a vanity as making her his wife, and sank into silence forthwith. Yet whatever the value of taciturnity to a man among strangers, it is apt to express more than talkativeness when he dwells among friends. The countryman who is obliged to judge the time of day from changes in external nature sees a thousand successive tints and traits in the landscape which are never discerned by him who hears the regular chime of a clock, because they are never in request. In like manner do we use our eyes on our taciturn comrade. The infinitesimal movement of muscle, curve, hair, and wrinkle, which when accompanied by a voice goes unregarded, is watched and translated in the lack of it, till virtually the whole surrounding circle of familiars is charged with the reserved one's moods and meanings. This was the condition of affairs between Winterborne and his neighbors after his stroke of ill-luck. He held his tongue; and they observed him, and knew that he was discomposed. Mr. Melbury, in his compunction, thought more of the matter than any one else, except his daughter. Had Winterborne been going on in the old fashion, Grace's father could have alluded to his disapproval of the alliance every day with the greatest frankness; but to speak any further on the subject he could not find it in his heart to do now. He hoped that Giles would of his own accord make some final announcement that he entirely withdrew his pretensions to Grace, and so get the thing past and done with. For though Giles had in a measure acquiesced in the wish of her family, he could make matters unpleasant if he chose to work upon Grace; and hence, when Melbury saw the young man approaching along the road one day, he kept friendliness and frigidity exactly balanced in his eye till he could see whether Giles's manner was presumptive or not. His manner was that of a man who abandoned all claims. "I am glad to meet ye, Mr. Melbury," he said, in a low voice, whose quality he endeavored to make as practical as possible. "I am afraid I shall not be able to keep that mare I bought, and as I don't care to sell her, I should like—if you don't object—to give her to Miss Melbury. The horse is very quiet, and would be quite safe for her." Mr. Melbury was rather affected at this. "You sha'n't hurt your pocket like that on our account, Giles. Grace shall have the horse, but I'll pay you what you gave for her, and any expense you may have been put to for her keep." He would not hear of any other terms, and thus it was arranged. They were now opposite Melbury's house, and the timber-merchant pressed Winterborne to enter, Grace being out of the way. "Pull round the settle, Giles," said the timber-merchant, as soon as they were within. "I should like to have a serious talk with you." Thereupon he put the case to Winterborne frankly, and in quite a friendly way. He declared that he did not like to be hard on a man when he was in difficulty; but he really did not see how Winterborne could marry his daughter now, without even a house to take her to. Giles quite acquiesced in the awkwardness of his situation. But from a momentary feeling that he would like to know Grace's mind from her own lips, he did not speak out positively there and then. He accordingly departed somewhat abruptly, and went home to consider whether he would seek to bring about a meeting with her. In the evening, while he sat quietly pondering, he fancied that he heard a scraping on the wall outside his house. The boughs of a monthly rose which grew there made such a noise sometimes, but as no wind was stirring he knew that it could not be the rose-tree. He took up the candle and went out. Nobody was near. As he turned, the light flickered on the whitewashed rough case of the front, and he saw words written thereon in charcoal, which he read as follows: "O Giles, you've lost your dwelling-place, And therefore, Giles, you'll lose your Grace." Giles went in-doors. He had his suspicions as to the scrawler of those lines, but he could not be sure. What suddenly filled his heart far more than curiosity about their authorship was a terrible belief that they were turning out to be true, try to see Grace as he might. They decided the question for him. He sat down and wrote a formal note to Melbury, in which he briefly stated that he was placed in such a position as to make him share to the full Melbury's view of his own and his daughter's promise, made some years before; to wish that it should be considered as cancelled, and they themselves quite released from any obligation on account of it. Having fastened up this their plenary absolution, he determined to get it out of his hands and have done with it; to which end he went off to Melbury's at once. It was now so late that the family had all retired; he crept up to the house, thrust the note under the door, and stole away as silently as he had come. Melbury himself was the first to rise the next morning, and when he had read the letter his relief was great. "Very honorable of Giles, very honorable," he kept saying to himself. "I shall not forget him. Now to keep her up to her own true level." It happened that Grace went out for an early ramble that morning, passing through the door and gate while her father was in the spar-house. To go in her customary direction she could not avoid passing Winterborne's house. The morning sun was shining flat upon its white surface, and the words, which still remained, were immediately visible to her. She read them. Her face flushed to crimson. She could see Giles and Creedle talking together at the back; the charred spar-gad with which the lines had been written lay on the ground beneath the wall. Feeling pretty sure that Winterborne would observe her action, she quickly went up to the wall, rubbed out "lose" and inserted "keep" in its stead. Then she made the best of her way home without looking behind her. Giles could draw an inference now if he chose. There could not be the least doubt that gentle Grace was warming to more sympathy with, and interest in, Giles Winterborne than ever she had done while he was her promised lover; that since his misfortune those social shortcomings of his, which contrasted so awkwardly with her later experiences of life, had become obscured by the generous revival of an old romantic attachment to him. Though mentally trained and tilled into foreignness of view, as compared with her youthful time, Grace was not an ambitious girl, and might, if left to herself, have declined Winterborne without much discontent or unhappiness. Her feelings just now were so far from latent that the writing on the wall had thus quickened her to an unusual rashness. Having returned from her walk she sat at breakfast silently. When her step-mother had left the room she said to her father, "I have made up my mind that I should like my engagement to Giles to continue, for the present at any rate, till I can see further what I ought to do." Melbury looked much surprised. "Nonsense," he said, sharply. "You don't know what you are talking about. Look here." He handed across to her the letter received from Giles. She read it, and said no more. Could he have seen her write on the wall? She did not know. Fate, it seemed, would have it this way, and there was nothing to do but to acquiesce. It was a few hours after this that Winterborne, who, curiously enough, had NOT perceived Grace writing, was clearing away the tree from the front of South's late dwelling. He saw Marty standing in her door-way, a slim figure in meagre black, almost without womanly contours as yet. He went up to her and said, "Marty, why did you write that on my wall last night? It WAS you, you know." "Because it was the truth. I didn't mean to let it stay, Mr. Winterborne; but when I was going to rub it out you came, and I was obliged to run off." "Having prophesied one thing, why did you alter it to another? Your predictions can't be worth much." "I have not altered it." "But you have." "No." "It is altered. Go and see." She went, and read that, in spite of losing his dwelling-place, he would KEEP his Grace. Marty came back surprised. "Well, I never," she said. "Who can have made such nonsense of it?" "Who, indeed?" said he. "I have rubbed it all out, as the point of it is quite gone." "You'd no business to rub it out. I didn't tell you to. I meant to let it stay a little longer." "Some idle boy did it, no doubt," she murmured. As this seemed very probable, and the actual perpetrator was unsuspected, Winterborne said no more, and dismissed the matter from his mind. From this day of his life onward for a considerable time, Winterborne, though not absolutely out of his house as yet, retired into the background of human life and action thereabout—a feat not particularly difficult of performance anywhere when the doer has the assistance of a lost prestige. Grace, thinking that Winterborne saw her write, made no further sign, and the frail bark of fidelity that she had thus timidly launched was stranded and lost. CHAPTER XVI. Dr. Fitzpiers lived on the slope of the hill, in a house of much less pretension, both as to architecture and as to magnitude, than the timber-merchant's. The latter had, without doubt, been once the manorial residence appertaining to the snug and modest domain of Little Hintock, of which the boundaries were now lost by its absorption with others of its kind into the adjoining estate of Mrs. Charmond. Though the Melburys themselves were unaware of the fact, there was every reason to believe—at least so the parson said—that the owners of that little manor had been Melbury's own ancestors, the family name occurring in numerous documents relating to transfers of land about the time of the civil wars. Mr. Fitzpiers's dwelling, on the contrary, was small, cottage-like, and comparatively modern. It had been occupied, and was in part occupied still, by a retired farmer and his wife, who, on the surgeon's arrival in quest of a home, had accommodated him by receding from their front rooms into the kitchen quarter, whence they administered to his wants, and emerged at regular intervals to receive from him a not unwelcome addition to their income. The cottage and its garden were so regular in their arrangement that they might have been laid out by a Dutch designer of the time of William and Mary. In a low, dense hedge, cut to wedge-shape, was a door over which the hedge formed an arch, and from the inside of the door a straight path, bordered with clipped box, ran up the slope of the garden to the porch, which was exactly in the middle of the house front, with two windows on each side. Right and left of the path were first a bed of gooseberry bushes; next of currant; next of raspberry; next of strawberry; next of old-fashioned flowers; at the corners opposite the porch being spheres of box resembling a pair of school globes. Over the roof of the house could be seen the orchard, on yet higher ground, and behind the orchard the forest-trees, reaching up to the crest of the hill. Opposite the garden door and visible from the parlor window was a swing-gate leading into a field, across which there ran a footpath. The swing-gate had just been repainted, and on one fine afternoon, before the paint was dry, and while gnats were still dying thereon, the surgeon was standing in his sitting-room abstractedly looking out at the different pedestrians who passed and repassed along that route. Being of a philosophical stamp, he perceived that the character of each of these travellers exhibited itself in a somewhat amusing manner by his or her method of handling the gate. As regarded the men, there was not much variety: they gave the gate a kick and passed through. The women were more contrasting. To them the sticky wood-work was a barricade, a disgust, a menace, a treachery, as the case might be. The first that he noticed was a bouncing woman with her skirts tucked up and her hair uncombed. She grasped the gate without looking, giving it a supplementary push with her shoulder, when the white imprint drew from her an exclamation in language not too refined. She went to the green bank, sat down and rubbed herself in the grass, cursing the while. "Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the doctor. The next was a girl, with her hair cropped short, in whom the surgeon recognized the daughter of his late patient, the woodman South. Moreover, a black bonnet that she wore by way of mourning unpleasantly reminded him that he had ordered the felling of a tree which had caused her parent's death and Winterborne's losses. She walked and thought, and not recklessly; but her preoccupation led her to grasp unsuspectingly the bar of the gate, and touch it with her arm. Fitzpiers felt sorry that she should have soiled that new black frock, poor as it was, for it was probably her only one. She looked at her hand and arm, seemed but little surprised, wiped off the disfigurement with an almost unmoved face, and as if without abandoning her original thoughts. Thus she went on her way. Then there came over the green quite a different sort of personage. She walked as delicately as if she had been bred in town, and as firmly as if she had been bred in the country; she seemed one who dimly knew her appearance to be attractive, but who retained some of the charm of being ignorant of that fact by forgetting it in a general pensiveness. She approached the gate. To let such a creature touch it even with a tip of her glove was to Fitzpiers almost like letting her proceed to tragical self-destruction. He jumped up and looked for his hat, but was unable to find the right one; glancing again out of the window he saw that he was too late. Having come up, she stopped, looked at the gate, picked up a little stick, and using it as a bayonet, pushed open the obstacle without touching it at all. He steadily watched her till she had passed out of sight, recognizing her as the very young lady whom he had seen once before and been unable to identify. Whose could that emotional face be? All the others he had seen in Hintock as yet oppressed him with their crude rusticity; the contrast offered by this suggested that she hailed from elsewhere. Precisely these thoughts had occurred to him at the first time of seeing her; but he now went a little further with them, and considered that as there had been no carriage seen or heard lately in that spot she could not have come a very long distance. She must be somebody staying at Hintock House? Possibly Mrs. Charmond, of whom he had heard so much—at any rate an inmate, and this probability was sufficient to set a mild radiance in the surgeon's somewhat dull sky. Fitzpiers sat down to the book he had been perusing. It happened to be that of a German metaphysician, for the doctor was not a practical man, except by fits, and much preferred the ideal world to the real, and the discovery of principles to their application. The young lady remained in his thoughts. He might have followed her; but he was not constitutionally active, and preferred a conjectural pursuit. However, when he went out for a ramble just before dusk he insensibly took the direction of Hintock House, which was the way that Grace had been walking, it having happened that her mind had run on Mrs. Charmond that day, and she had walked to the brow of a hill whence the house could be seen, returning by another route. Fitzpiers in his turn reached the edge of the glen, overlooking the manor-house. The shutters were shut, and only one chimney smoked. The mere aspect of the place was enough to inform him that Mrs. Charmond had gone away and that nobody else was staying there. Fitzpiers felt a vague disappointment that the young lady was not Mrs. Charmond, of whom he had heard so much; and without pausing longer to gaze at a carcass from which the spirit had flown, he bent his steps homeward. Later in the evening Fitzpiers was summoned to visit a cottage patient about two miles distant. Like the majority of young practitioners in his position he was far from having assumed the dignity of being driven his rounds by a servant in a brougham that flashed the sunlight like a mirror; his way of getting about was by means of a gig which he drove himself, hitching the rein of the horse to the gate post, shutter hook, or garden paling of the domicile under visitation, or giving pennies to little boys to hold the animal during his stay—pennies which were well earned when the cases to be attended were of a certain cheerful kind that wore out the patience of the little boys. On this account of travelling alone, the night journeys which Fitzpiers had frequently to take were dismal enough, a serious apparent perversity in nature ruling that whenever there was to be a birth in a particularly inaccessible and lonely place, that event should occur in the night. The surgeon, having been of late years a town man, hated the solitary midnight woodland. He was not altogether skilful with the reins, and it often occurred to his mind that if in some remote depths of the trees an accident were to happen, the fact of his being alone might be the death of him. Hence he made a practice of picking up any countryman or lad whom he chanced to pass by, and under the disguise of treating him to a nice drive, obtained his companionship on the journey, and his convenient assistance in opening gates. The doctor had started on his way out of the village on the night in question when the light of his lamps fell upon the musing form of Winterborne, walking leisurely along, as if he had no object in life. Winterborne was a better class of companion than the doctor usually could get, and he at once pulled up and asked him if he would like a drive through the wood that fine night. Giles seemed rather surprised at the doctor's friendliness, but said that he had no objection, and accordingly mounted beside Mr. Fitzpiers. They drove along under the black boughs which formed a network upon the stars, all the trees of a species alike in one respect, and no two of them alike in another. Looking up as they passed under a horizontal bough they sometimes saw objects like large tadpoles lodged diametrically across it, which Giles explained to be pheasants there at roost; and they sometimes heard the report of a gun, which reminded him that others knew what those tadpole shapes represented as well as he. Presently the doctor said what he had been going to say for some time: "Is there a young lady staying in this neighborhood—a very attractive girl—with a little white boa round her neck, and white fur round her gloves?" Winterborne of course knew in a moment that Grace, whom he had caught the doctor peering at, was represented by these accessaries. With a wary grimness, partly in his character, partly induced by the circumstances, he evaded an answer by saying, "I saw a young lady talking to Mrs. Charmond the other day; perhaps it was she." Fitzpiers concluded from this that Winterborne had not seen him looking over the hedge. "It might have been," he said. "She is quite a gentlewoman—the one I mean. She cannot be a permanent resident in Hintock or I should have seen her before. Nor does she look like one." "She is not staying at Hintock House?" "No; it is closed." "Then perhaps she is staying at one of the cottages, or farmhouses?" "Oh no—you mistake. She was a different sort of girl altogether." As Giles was nobody, Fitzpiers treated him accordingly, and apostrophized the night in continuation: "'She moved upon this earth a shape of brightness, A power, that from its objects scarcely drew One impulse of her being—in her lightness Most like some radiant cloud of morning dew, Which wanders through the waste air's pathless blue, To nourish some far desert: she did seem Beside me, gathering beauty as she grew, Like the bright shade of some immortal dream Which walks, when tempests sleep, the wave of life's dark stream.'" The consummate charm of the lines seemed to Winterborne, though he divined that they were a quotation, to be somehow the result of his lost love's charms upon Fitzpiers. "You seem to be mightily in love with her, sir," he said, with a sensation of heart-sickness, and more than ever resolved not to mention Grace by name. "Oh no—I am not that, Winterborne; people living insulated, as I do by the solitude of this place, get charged with emotive fluid like a Leyden-jar with electric, for want of some conductor at hand to disperse it. Human love is a subjective thing—the essence itself of man, as that great thinker Spinoza the philosopher says—ipsa hominis essentia—it is joy accompanied by an idea which we project against any suitable object in the line of our vision, just as the rainbow iris is projected against an oak, ash, or elm tree indifferently. So that if any other young lady had appeared instead of the one who did appear, I should have felt just the same interest in her, and have quoted precisely the same lines from Shelley about her, as about this one I saw. Such miserable creatures of circumstance are we all!" "Well, it is what we call being in love down in these parts, whether or no," said Winterborne. "You are right enough if you admit that I am in love with something in my own head, and no thing in itself outside it at all." "Is it part of a country doctor's duties to learn that view of things, may I ask, sir?" said Winterborne, adopting the Socratic {Greek word: irony} with such well-assumed simplicity that Fitzpiers answered, readily, "Oh no. The real truth is, Winterborne, that medical practice in places like this is a very rule-of-thumb matter; a bottle of bitter stuff for this and that old woman—the bitterer the better—compounded from a few simple stereotyped prescriptions; occasional attendance at births, where mere presence is almost sufficient, so healthy and strong are the people; and a lance for an abscess now and then. Investigation and experiment cannot be carried on without more appliances than one has here—though I have attempted it a little." Giles did not enter into this view of the case; what he had been struck with was the curious parallelism between Mr. Fitzpiers's manner and Grace's, as shown by the fact of both of them straying into a subject of discourse so engrossing to themselves that it made them forget it was foreign to him. Nothing further passed between himself and the doctor in relation to Grace till they were on their way back. They had stopped at a way-side inn for a glass of brandy and cider hot, and when they were again in motion, Fitzpiers, possibly a little warmed by the liquor, resumed the subject by saying, "I should like very much to know who that young lady was." "What difference can it make, if she's only the tree your rainbow falls on?" "Ha! ha! True." "You have no wife, sir?" "I have no wife, and no idea of one. I hope to do better things than marry and settle in Hintock. Not but that it is well for a medical man to be married, and sometimes, begad, 'twould be pleasant enough in this place, with the wind roaring round the house, and the rain and the boughs beating against it. I hear that you lost your life-holds by the death of South?" "I did. I lost in more ways than one." They had reached the top of Hintock Lane or Street, if it could be called such where three-quarters of the road-side consisted of copse and orchard. One of the first houses to be passed was Melbury's. A light was shining from a bedroom window facing lengthwise of the lane. Winterborne glanced at it, and saw what was coming. He had withheld an answer to the doctor's inquiry to hinder his knowledge of Grace; but, as he thought to himself, "who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment?" he could not hinder what was doomed to arrive, and might just as well have been outspoken. As they came up to the house, Grace's figure was distinctly visible, drawing the two white curtains together which were used here instead of blinds. "Why, there she is!" said Fitzpiers. "How does she come there?" "In the most natural way in the world. It is her home. Mr. Melbury is her father." "Oh, indeed—indeed—indeed! How comes he to have a daughter of that stamp?" Winterborne laughed coldly. "Won't money do anything," he said, "if you've promising material to work upon? Why shouldn't a Hintock girl, taken early from home, and put under proper instruction, become as finished as any other young lady, if she's got brains and good looks to begin with?" "No reason at all why she shouldn't," murmured the surgeon, with reflective disappointment. "Only I didn't anticipate quite that kind of origin for her." "And you think an inch or two less of her now." There was a little tremor in Winterborne's voice as he spoke. "Well," said the doctor, with recovered warmth, "I am not so sure that I think less of her. At first it was a sort of blow; but, dammy! I'll stick up for her. She's charming, every inch of her!" "So she is," said Winterborne, "but not to me." From this ambiguous expression of the reticent woodlander's, Dr. Fitzpiers inferred that Giles disliked Miss Melbury because of some haughtiness in her bearing towards him, and had, on that account, withheld her name. The supposition did not tend to diminish his admiration for her. CHAPTER XVII. Grace's exhibition of herself, in the act of pulling-to the window-curtains, had been the result of an unfortunate incident in the house that day—nothing less than the illness of Grammer Oliver, a woman who had never till now lain down for such a reason in her life. Like others to whom unbroken years of health has made the idea of keeping their bed almost as repugnant as death itself, she had continued on foot till she literally fell on the floor; and though she had, as yet, been scarcely a day off duty, she had sickened into quite a different personage from the independent Grammer of the yard and spar-house. Ill as she was, on one point she was firm. On no account would she see a doctor; in other words, Fitzpiers. The room in which Grace had been discerned was not her own, but the old woman's. On the girl's way to bed she had received a message from Grammer, to the effect that she would much like to speak to her that night. Grace entered, and set the candle on a low chair beside the bed, so that the profile of Grammer as she lay cast itself in a keen shadow upon the whitened wall, her large head being still further magnified by an enormous turban, which was, really, her petticoat wound in a wreath round her temples. Grace put the room a little in order, and approaching the sick woman, said, "I am come, Grammer, as you wish. Do let us send for the doctor before it gets later." "I will not have him," said Grammer Oliver, decisively. "Then somebody to sit up with you." "Can't abear it! No; I wanted to see you, Miss Grace, because 'ch have something on my mind. Dear Miss Grace, I TOOK THAT MONEY OF THE DOCTOR, AFTER ALL!" "What money?" "The ten pounds." Grace did not quite understand. "The ten pounds he offered me for my head, because I've a large brain. I signed a paper when I took the money, not feeling concerned about it at all. I have not liked to tell ye that it was really settled with him, because you showed such horror at the notion. Well, having thought it over more at length, I wish I hadn't done it; and it weighs upon my mind. John South's death of fear about the tree makes me think that I shall die of this....'Ch have been going to ask him again to let me off, but I hadn't the face." "Why?" "I've spent some of the money—more'n two pounds o't. It do wherrit me terribly; and I shall die o' the thought of that paper I signed with my holy cross, as South died of his trouble." "If you ask him to burn the paper he will, I'm sure, and think no more of it." "'Ch have done it once already, miss. But he laughed cruel like. 'Yours is such a fine brain, Grammer, 'er said, 'that science couldn't afford to lose you. Besides, you've taken my money.'...Don't let your father know of this, please, on no account whatever!" "No, no. I will let you have the money to return to him." Grammer rolled her head negatively upon the pillow. "Even if I should be well enough to take it to him, he won't like it. Though why he should so particular want to look into the works of a poor old woman's head-piece like mine when there's so many other folks about, I don't know. I know how he'll answer me: 'A lonely person like you, Grammer,' er woll say. 'What difference is it to you what becomes of ye when the breath's out of your body?' Oh, it do trouble me! If you only knew how he do chevy me round the chimmer in my dreams, you'd pity me. How I could do it I can't think! But 'ch was always so rackless!...If I only had anybody to plead for me!" "Mrs. Melbury would, I am sure." "Ay; but he wouldn't hearken to she! It wants a younger face than hers to work upon such as he." Grace started with comprehension. "You don't think he would do it for me?" she said. "Oh, wouldn't he!" "I couldn't go to him, Grammer, on any account. I don't know him at all." "Ah, if I were a young lady," said the artful Grammer, "and could save a poor old woman's skellington from a heathen doctor instead of a Christian grave, I would do it, and be glad to. But nobody will do anything for a poor old familiar friend but push her out of the way." "You are very ungrateful, Grammer, to say that. But you are ill, I know, and that's why you speak so. Now believe me, you are not going to die yet. Remember you told me yourself that you meant to keep him waiting many a year." "Ay, one can joke when one is well, even in old age; but in sickness one's gayety falters to grief; and that which seemed small looks large; and the grim far-off seems near." Grace's eyes had tears in them. "I don't like to go to him on such an errand, Grammer," she said, brokenly. "But I will, to ease your mind." It was with extreme reluctance that Grace cloaked herself next morning for the undertaking. She was all the more indisposed to the journey by reason of Grammer's allusion to the effect of a pretty face upon Dr. Fitzpiers; and hence she most illogically did that which, had the doctor never seen her, would have operated to stultify the sole motive of her journey; that is to say, she put on a woollen veil, which hid all her face except an occasional spark of her eyes. Her own wish that nothing should be known of this strange and grewsome proceeding, no less than Grammer Oliver's own desire, led Grace to take every precaution against being discovered. She went out by the garden door as the safest way, all the household having occupations at the other side. The morning looked forbidding enough when she stealthily opened it. The battle between frost and thaw was continuing in mid-air: the trees dripped on the garden-plots, where no vegetables would grow for the dripping, though they were planted year after year with that curious mechanical regularity of country people in the face of hopelessness; the moss which covered the once broad gravel terrace was swamped; and Grace stood irresolute. Then she thought of poor Grammer, and her dreams of the doctor running after her, scalpel in hand, and the possibility of a case so curiously similar to South's ending in the same way; thereupon she stepped out into the drizzle. The nature of her errand, and Grammer Oliver's account of the compact she had made, lent a fascinating horror to Grace's conception of Fitzpiers. She knew that he was a young man; but her single object in seeking an interview with him put all considerations of his age and social aspect from her mind. Standing as she stood, in Grammer Oliver's shoes, he was simply a remorseless Jove of the sciences, who would not have mercy, and would have sacrifice; a man whom, save for this, she would have preferred to avoid knowing. But since, in such a small village, it was improbable that any long time could pass without their meeting, there was not much to deplore in her having to meet him now. But, as need hardly be said, Miss Melbury's view of the doctor as a merciless, unwavering, irresistible scientist was not quite in accordance with fact. The real Dr. Fitzpiers was a man of too many hobbies to show likelihood of rising to any great eminence in the profession he had chosen, or even to acquire any wide practice in the rural district he had marked out as his field of survey for the present. In the course of a year his mind was accustomed to pass in a grand solar sweep through all the zodiacal signs of the intellectual heaven. Sometimes it was in the Ram, sometimes in the Bull; one month he would be immersed in alchemy, another in poesy; one month in the Twins of astrology and astronomy; then in the Crab of German literature and metaphysics. In justice to him it must be stated that he took such studies as were immediately related to his own profession in turn with the rest, and it had been in a month of anatomical ardor without the possibility of a subject that he had proposed to Grammer Oliver the terms she had mentioned to her mistress. As may be inferred from the tone of his conversation with Winterborne, he had lately plunged into abstract philosophy with much zest; perhaps his keenly appreciative, modern, unpractical mind found this a realm more to his taste than any other. Though his aims were desultory, Fitzpiers's mental constitution was not without its admirable side; a keen inquirer he honestly was, even if the midnight rays of his lamp, visible so far through the trees of Hintock, lighted rank literatures of emotion and passion as often as, or oftener than, the books and matériel of science. But whether he meditated the Muses or the philosophers, the loneliness of Hintock life was beginning to tell upon his impressionable nature. Winter in a solitary house in the country, without society, is tolerable, nay, even enjoyable and delightful, given certain conditions, but these are not the conditions which attach to the life of a professional man who drops down into such a place by mere accident. They were present to the lives of Winterborne, Melbury, and Grace; but not to the doctor's. They are old association—an almost exhaustive biographical or historical acquaintance with every object, animate and inanimate, within the observer's horizon. He must know all about those invisible ones of the days gone by, whose feet have traversed the fields which look so gray from his windows; recall whose creaking plough has turned those sods from time to time; whose hands planted the trees that form a crest to the opposite hill; whose horses and hounds have torn through that underwood; what birds affect that particular brake; what domestic dramas of love, jealousy, revenge, or disappointment have been enacted in the cottages, the mansion, the street, or on the green. The spot may have beauty, grandeur, salubrity, convenience; but if it lack memories it will ultimately pall upon him who settles there without opportunity of intercourse with his kind. In such circumstances, maybe, an old man dreams of an ideal friend, till he throws himself into the arms of any impostor who chooses to wear that title on his face. A young man may dream of an ideal friend likewise, but some humor of the blood will probably lead him to think rather of an ideal mistress, and at length the rustle of a woman's dress, the sound of her voice, or the transit of her form across the field of his vision, will enkindle his soul with a flame that blinds his eyes. The discovery of the attractive Grace's name and family would have been enough in other circumstances to lead the doctor, if not to put her personality out of his head, to change the character of his interest in her. Instead of treasuring her image as a rarity, he would at most have played with it as a toy. He was that kind of a man. But situated here he could not go so far as amative cruelty. He dismissed all reverential thought about her, but he could not help taking her seriously. He went on to imagine the impossible. So far, indeed, did he go in this futile direction that, as others are wont to do, he constructed dialogues and scenes in which Grace had turned out to be the mistress of Hintock Manor-house, the mysterious Mrs. Charmond, particularly ready and willing to be wooed by himself and nobody else. "Well, she isn't that," he said, finally. "But she's a very sweet, nice, exceptional girl." The next morning he breakfasted alone, as usual. It was snowing with a fine-flaked desultoriness just sufficient to make the woodland gray, without ever achieving whiteness. There was not a single letter for Fitzpiers, only a medical circular and a weekly newspaper. To sit before a large fire on such mornings, and read, and gradually acquire energy till the evening came, and then, with lamp alight, and feeling full of vigor, to pursue some engrossing subject or other till the small hours, had hitherto been his practice. But to-day he could not settle into his chair. That self-contained position he had lately occupied, in which the only attention demanded was the concentration of the inner eye, all outer regard being quite gratuitous, seemed to have been taken by insidious stratagem, and for the first time he had an interest outside the house. He walked from one window to another, and became aware that the most irksome of solitudes is not the solitude of remoteness, but that which is just outside desirable company. The breakfast hour went by heavily enough, and the next followed, in the same half-snowy, half-rainy style, the weather now being the inevitable relapse which sooner or later succeeds a time too radiant for the season, such as they had enjoyed in the late midwinter at Hintock. To people at home there these changeful tricks had their interests; the strange mistakes that some of the more sanguine trees had made in budding before their month, to be incontinently glued up by frozen thawings now; the similar sanguine errors of impulsive birds in framing nests that were now swamped by snow-water, and other such incidents, prevented any sense of wearisomeness in the minds of the natives. But these were features of a world not familiar to Fitzpiers, and the inner visions to which he had almost exclusively attended having suddenly failed in their power to absorb him, he felt unutterably dreary. He wondered how long Miss Melbury was going to stay in Hintock. The season was unpropitious for accidental encounters with her out-of-doors, and except by accident he saw not how they were to become acquainted. One thing was clear—any acquaintance with her could only, with a due regard to his future, be casual, at most of the nature of a flirtation; for he had high aims, and they would some day lead him into other spheres than this. Thus desultorily thinking he flung himself down upon the couch, which, as in many draughty old country houses, was constructed with a hood, being in fact a legitimate development from the settle. He tried to read as he reclined, but having sat up till three o'clock that morning, the book slipped from his hand and he fell asleep. CHAPTER XVIII. It was at this time that Grace approached the house. Her knock, always soft in virtue of her nature, was softer to-day by reason of her strange errand. However, it was heard by the farmer's wife who kept the house, and Grace was admitted. Opening the door of the doctor's room the housewife glanced in, and imagining Fitzpiers absent, asked Miss Melbury to enter and wait a few minutes while she should go and find him, believing him to be somewhere on the premises. Grace acquiesced, went in, and sat down close to the door. As soon as the door was shut upon her she looked round the room, and started at perceiving a handsome man snugly ensconced in the couch, like the recumbent figure within some canopied mural tomb of the fifteenth century, except that his hands were by no means clasped in prayer. She had no doubt that this was the doctor. Awaken him herself she could not, and her immediate impulse was to go and pull the broad ribbon with a brass rosette which hung at one side of the fireplace. But expecting the landlady to re-enter in a moment she abandoned this intention, and stood gazing in great embarrassment at the reclining philosopher. The windows of Fitzpiers's soul being at present shuttered, he probably appeared less impressive than in his hours of animation; but the light abstracted from his material presence by sleep was more than counterbalanced by the mysterious influence of that state, in a stranger, upon the consciousness of a beholder so sensitive. So far as she could criticise at all, she became aware that she had encountered a specimen of creation altogether unusual in that locality. The occasions on which Grace had observed men of this stamp were when she had been far removed away from Hintock, and even then such examples as had met her eye were at a distance, and mainly of coarser fibre than the one who now confronted her. She nervously wondered why the woman had not discovered her mistake and returned, and went again towards the bell-pull. Approaching the chimney her back was to Fitzpiers, but she could see him in the glass. An indescribable thrill passed through her as she perceived that the eyes of the reflected image were open, gazing wonderingly at her, and under the curious unexpectedness of the sight she became as if spellbound, almost powerless to turn her head and regard the original. However, by an effort she did turn, when there he lay asleep the same as before. Her startled perplexity as to what he could be meaning was sufficient to lead her to precipitately abandon her errand. She crossed quickly to the door, opened and closed it noiselessly, and went out of the house unobserved. By the time that she had gone down the path and through the garden door into the lane she had recovered her equanimity. Here, screened by the hedge, she stood and considered a while. Drip, drip, drip, fell the rain upon her umbrella and around; she had come out on such a morning because of the seriousness of the matter in hand; yet now she had allowed her mission to be stultified by a momentary tremulousness concerning an incident which perhaps had meant nothing after all. In the mean time her departure from the room, stealthy as it had been, had roused Fitzpiers, and he sat up. In the reflection from the mirror which Grace had beheld there was no mystery; he had opened his eyes for a few moments, but had immediately relapsed into unconsciousness, if, indeed, he had ever been positively awake. That somebody had just left the room he was certain, and that the lovely form which seemed to have visited him in a dream was no less than the real presentation of the person departed he could hardly doubt. Looking out of the window a few minutes later, down the box-edged gravel-path which led to the bottom, he saw the garden door gently open, and through it enter the young girl of his thoughts, Grace having just at this juncture determined to return and attempt the interview a second time. That he saw her coming instead of going made him ask himself if his first impression of her were not a dream indeed. She came hesitatingly along, carrying her umbrella so low over her head that he could hardly see her face. When she reached the point where the raspberry bushes ended and the strawberry bed began, she made a little pause. Fitzpiers feared that she might not be coming to him even now, and hastily quitting the room, he ran down the path to meet her. The nature of her errand he could not divine, but he was prepared to give her any amount of encouragement. "I beg pardon, Miss Melbury," he said. "I saw you from the window, and fancied you might imagine that I was not at home—if it is I you were coming for." "I was coming to speak one word to you, nothing more," she replied. "And I can say it here." "No, no. Please do come in. Well, then, if you will not come into the house, come as far as the porch." Thus pressed she went on to the porch, and they stood together inside it, Fitzpiers closing her umbrella for her. "I have merely a request or petition to make," she said. "My father's servant is ill—a woman you know—and her illness is serious." "I am sorry to hear it. You wish me to come and see her at once?" "No; I particularly wish you not to come." "Oh, indeed." "Yes; and she wishes the same. It would make her seriously worse if you were to come. It would almost kill her....My errand is of a peculiar and awkward nature. It is concerning a subject which weighs on her mind—that unfortunate arrangement she made with you, that you might have her body—after death." "Oh! Grammer Oliver, the old woman with the fine head. Seriously ill, is she!" "And SO disturbed by her rash compact! I have brought the money back—will you please return to her the agreement she signed?" Grace held out to him a couple of five-pound notes which she had kept ready tucked in her glove. Without replying or considering the notes, Fitzpiers allowed his thoughts to follow his eyes, and dwell upon Grace's personality, and the sudden close relation in which he stood to her. The porch was narrow; the rain increased. It ran off the porch and dripped on the creepers, and from the creepers upon the edge of Grace's cloak and skirts. "The rain is wetting your dress; please do come in," he said. "It really makes my heart ache to let you stay here." Immediately inside the front door was the door of his sitting-room; he flung it open, and stood in a coaxing attitude. Try how she would, Grace could not resist the supplicatory mandate written in the face and manner of this man, and distressful resignation sat on her as she glided past him into the room—brushing his coat with her elbow by reason of the narrowness. He followed her, shut the door—which she somehow had hoped he would leave open—and placing a chair for her, sat down. The concern which Grace felt at the development of these commonplace incidents was, of course, mainly owing to the strange effect upon her nerves of that view of him in the mirror gazing at her with open eyes when she had thought him sleeping, which made her fancy that his slumber might have been a feint based on inexplicable reasons. She again proffered the notes; he awoke from looking at her as at a piece of live statuary, and listened deferentially as she said, "Will you then reconsider, and cancel the bond which poor Grammer Oliver so foolishly gave?" "I'll cancel it without reconsideration. Though you will allow me to have my own opinion about her foolishness. Grammer is a very wise woman, and she was as wise in that as in other things. You think there was something very fiendish in the compact, do you not, Miss Melbury? But remember that the most eminent of our surgeons in past times have entered into such agreements." "Not fiendish—strange." "Yes, that may be, since strangeness is not in the nature of a thing, but in its relation to something extrinsic—in this case an unessential observer." He went to his desk, and searching a while found a paper, which be unfolded and brought to her. A thick cross appeared in ink at the bottom—evidently from the hand of Grammer. Grace put the paper in her pocket with a look of much relief. As Fitzpiers did not take up the money (half of which had come from Grace's own purse), she pushed it a little nearer to him. "No, no. I shall not take it from the old woman," he said. "It is more strange than the fact of a surgeon arranging to obtain a subject for dissection that our acquaintance should be formed out of it." "I am afraid you think me uncivil in showing my dislike to the notion. But I did not mean to be." "Oh no, no." He looked at her, as he had done before, with puzzled interest. "I cannot think, I cannot think," he murmured. "Something bewilders me greatly." He still reflected and hesitated. "Last night I sat up very late," he at last went on, "and on that account I fell into a little nap on that couch about half an hour ago. And during my few minutes of unconsciousness I dreamed—what do you think?—that you stood in the room." Should she tell? She merely blushed. "You may imagine," Fitzpiers continued, now persuaded that it had, indeed, been a dream, "that I should not have dreamed of you without considerable thinking about you first." He could not be acting; of that she felt assured. "I fancied in my vision that you stood there," he said, pointing to where she had paused. "I did not see you directly, but reflected in the glass. I thought, what a lovely creature! The design is for once carried out. Nature has at last recovered her lost union with the Idea! My thoughts ran in that direction because I had been reading the work of a transcendental philosopher last night; and I dare say it was the dose of Idealism that I received from it that made me scarcely able to distinguish between reality and fancy. I almost wept when I awoke, and found that you had appeared to me in Time, but not in Space, alas!" At moments there was something theatrical in the delivery of Fitzpiers's effusion; yet it would have been inexact to say that it was intrinsically theatrical. It often happens that in situations of unrestraint, where there is no thought of the eye of criticism, real feeling glides into a mode of manifestation not easily distinguishable from rodomontade. A veneer of affectation overlies a bulk of truth, with the evil consequence, if perceived, that the substance is estimated by the superficies, and the whole rejected. Grace, however, was no specialist in men's manners, and she admired the sentiment without thinking of the form. And she was embarrassed: "lovely creature" made explanation awkward to her gentle modesty. "But can it be," said he, suddenly, "that you really were here?" "I have to confess that I have been in the room once before," faltered she. "The woman showed me in, and went away to fetch you; but as she did not return, I left." "And you saw me asleep," he murmured, with the faintest show of humiliation. "Yes—IF you were asleep, and did not deceive me." "Why do you say if?" "I saw your eyes open in the glass, but as they were closed when I looked round upon you, I thought you were perhaps deceiving me. "Never," said Fitzpiers, fervently—"never could I deceive you." Foreknowledge to the distance of a year or so in either of them might have spoiled the effect of that pretty speech. Never deceive her! But they knew nothing, and the phrase had its day. Grace began now to be anxious to terminate the interview, but the compelling power of Fitzpiers's atmosphere still held her there. She was like an inexperienced actress who, having at last taken up her position on the boards, and spoken her speeches, does not know how to move off. The thought of Grammer occurred to her. "I'll go at once and tell poor Grammer of your generosity," she said. "It will relieve her at once." "Grammer's a nervous disease, too—how singular!" he answered, accompanying her to the door. "One moment; look at this—it is something which may interest you." He had thrown open the door on the other side of the passage, and she saw a microscope on the table of the confronting room. "Look into it, please; you'll be interested," he repeated. She applied her eye, and saw the usual circle of light patterned all over with a cellular tissue of some indescribable sort. "What do you think that is?" said Fitzpiers. She did not know. "That's a fragment of old John South's brain, which I am investigating." She started back, not with aversion, but with wonder as to how it should have got there. Fitzpiers laughed. "Here am I," he said, "endeavoring to carry on simultaneously the study of physiology and transcendental philosophy, the material world and the ideal, so as to discover if possible a point of contrast between them; and your finer sense is quite offended!" "Oh no, Mr. Fitzpiers," said Grace, earnestly. "It is not so at all. I know from seeing your light at night how deeply you meditate and work. Instead of condemning you for your studies, I admire you very much!" Her face, upturned from the microscope, was so sweet, sincere, and self-forgetful in its aspect that the susceptible Fitzpiers more than wished to annihilate the lineal yard which separated it from his own. Whether anything of the kind showed in his eyes or not, Grace remained no longer at the microscope, but quickly went her way into the rain. CHAPTER XIX. Instead of resuming his investigation of South's brain, which perhaps was not so interesting under the microscope as might have been expected from the importance of that organ in life, Fitzpiers reclined and ruminated on the interview. Grace's curious susceptibility to his presence, though it was as if the currents of her life were disturbed rather than attracted by him, added a special interest to her general charm. Fitzpiers was in a distinct degree scientific, being ready and zealous to interrogate all physical manifestations, but primarily he was an idealist. He believed that behind the imperfect lay the perfect; that rare things were to be discovered amid a bulk of commonplace; that results in a new and untried case might be different from those in other cases where the conditions had been precisely similar. Regarding his own personality as one of unbounded possibilities, because it was his own—notwithstanding that the factors of his life had worked out a sorry product for thousands—he saw nothing but what was regular in his discovery at Hintock of an altogether exceptional being of the other sex, who for nobody else would have had any existence. One habit of Fitzpiers's—commoner in dreamers of more advanced age than in men of his years—was that of talking to himself. He paced round his room with a selective tread upon the more prominent blooms of the carpet, and murmured, "This phenomenal girl will be the light of my life while I am at Hintock; and the special beauty of the situation is that our attitude and relations to each other will be purely spiritual. Socially we can never be intimate. Anything like matrimonial intentions towards her, charming as she is, would be absurd. They would spoil the ethereal character of my regard. And, indeed, I have other aims on the practical side of my life." Fitzpiers bestowed a regulation thought on the advantageous marriage he was bound to make with a woman of family as good as his own, and of purse much longer. But as an object of contemplation for the present, as objective spirit rather than corporeal presence, Grace Melbury would serve to keep his soul alive, and to relieve the monotony of his days. His first notion—acquired from the mere sight of her without converse—that of an idle and vulgar flirtation with a timber-merchant's pretty daughter, grated painfully upon him now that he had found what Grace intrinsically was. Personal intercourse with such as she could take no lower form than intellectual communion, and mutual explorations of the world of thought. Since he could not call at her father's, having no practical views, cursory encounters in the lane, in the wood, coming and going to and from church, or in passing her dwelling, were what the acquaintance would have to feed on. Such anticipated glimpses of her now and then realized themselves in the event. Rencounters of not more than a minute's duration, frequently repeated, will build up mutual interest, even an intimacy, in a lonely place. Theirs grew as imperceptibly as the tree-twigs budded. There never was a particular moment at which it could be said they became friends; yet a delicate understanding now existed between two who in the winter had been strangers. Spring weather came on rather suddenly, the unsealing of buds that had long been swollen accomplishing itself in the space of one warm night. The rush of sap in the veins of the trees could almost be heard. The flowers of late April took up a position unseen, and looked as if they had been blooming a long while, though there had been no trace of them the day before yesterday; birds began not to mind getting wet. In-door people said they had heard the nightingale, to which out-door people replied contemptuously that they had heard him a fortnight before. The young doctor's practice being scarcely so large as a London surgeon's, he frequently walked in the wood. Indeed such practice as he had he did not follow up with the assiduity that would have been necessary for developing it to exceptional proportions. One day, book in hand, he walked in a part of the wood where the trees were mainly oaks. It was a calm afternoon, and there was everywhere around that sign of great undertakings on the part of vegetable nature which is apt to fill reflective human beings who are not undertaking much themselves with a sudden uneasiness at the contrast. He heard in the distance a curious sound, something like the quack of a duck, which, though it was common enough here about this time, was not common to him. Looking through the trees Fitzpiers soon perceived the origin of the noise. The barking season had just commenced, and what he had heard was the tear of the ripping tool as it ploughed its way along the sticky parting between the trunk and the rind. Melbury did a large business in bark, and as he was Grace's father, and possibly might be found on the spot, Fitzpiers was attracted to the scene even more than he might have been by its intrinsic interest. When he got nearer he recognized among the workmen the two Timothys, and Robert Creedle, who probably had been "lent" by Winterborne; Marty South also assisted. Each tree doomed to this flaying process was first attacked by Creedle. With a small billhook he carefully freed the collar of the tree from twigs and patches of moss which incrusted it to a height of a foot or two above the ground, an operation comparable to the "little toilet" of the executioner's victim. After this it was barked in its erect position to a point as high as a man could reach. If a fine product of vegetable nature could ever be said to look ridiculous it was the case now, when the oak stood naked-legged, and as if ashamed, till the axe-man came and cut a ring round it, and the two Timothys finished the work with the crosscut-saw. As soon as it had fallen the barkers attacked it like locusts, and in a short time not a particle of rind was left on the trunk and larger limbs. Marty South was an adept at peeling the upper parts, and there she stood encaged amid the mass of twigs and buds like a great bird, running her tool into the smallest branches, beyond the farthest points to which the skill and patience of the men enabled them to proceed—branches which, in their lifetime, had swayed high above the bulk of the wood, and caught the latest and earliest rays of the sun and moon while the lower part of the forest was still in darkness. "You seem to have a better instrument than they, Marty," said Fitzpiers. "No, sir," she said, holding up the tool—a horse's leg-bone fitted into a handle and filed to an edge—"'tis only that they've less patience with the twigs, because their time is worth more than mine." A little shed had been constructed on the spot, of thatched hurdles and boughs, and in front of it was a fire, over which a kettle sung. Fitzpiers sat down inside the shelter, and went on with his reading, except when he looked up to observe the scene and the actors. The thought that he might settle here and become welded in with this sylvan life by marrying Grace Melbury crossed his mind for a moment. Why should he go farther into the world than where he was? The secret of quiet happiness lay in limiting the ideas and aspirations; these men's thoughts were conterminous with the margin of the Hintock woodlands, and why should not his be likewise limited—a small practice among the people around him being the bound of his desires? Presently Marty South discontinued her operations upon the quivering boughs, came out from the reclining oak, and prepared tea. When it was ready the men were called; and Fitzpiers being in a mood to join, sat down with them. The latent reason of his lingering here so long revealed itself when the faint creaking of the joints of a vehicle became audible, and one of the men said, "Here's he." Turning their heads they saw Melbury's gig approaching, the wheels muffled by the yielding moss. The timber-merchant was on foot leading the horse, looking back at every few steps to caution his daughter, who kept her seat, where and how to duck her head so as to avoid the overhanging branches. They stopped at the spot where the bark-ripping had been temporarily suspended; Melbury cursorily examined the heaps of bark, and drawing near to where the workmen were sitting down, accepted their shouted invitation to have a dish of tea, for which purpose he hitched the horse to a bough. Grace declined to take any of their beverage, and remained in her place in the vehicle, looking dreamily at the sunlight that came in thin threads through the hollies with which the oaks were interspersed. When Melbury stepped up close to the shelter, he for the first time perceived that the doctor was present, and warmly appreciated Fitzpiers's invitation to sit down on the log beside him. "Bless my heart, who would have thought of finding you here," he said, obviously much pleased at the circumstance. "I wonder now if my daughter knows you are so nigh at hand. I don't expect she do." He looked out towards the gig wherein Grace sat, her face still turned in the opposite direction. "She doesn't see us. Well, never mind: let her be." Grace was indeed quite unconscious of Fitzpiers's propinquity. She was thinking of something which had little connection with the scene before her—thinking of her friend, lost as soon as found, Mrs. Charmond; of her capricious conduct, and of the contrasting scenes she was possibly enjoying at that very moment in other climes, to which Grace herself had hoped to be introduced by her friend's means. She wondered if this patronizing lady would return to Hintock during the summer, and whether the acquaintance which had been nipped on the last occasion of her residence there would develop on the next. Melbury told ancient timber-stories as he sat, relating them directly to Fitzpiers, and obliquely to the men, who had heard them often before. Marty, who poured out tea, was just saying, "I think I'll take out a cup to Miss Grace," when they heard a clashing of the gig-harness, and turning round Melbury saw that the horse had become restless, and was jerking about the vehicle in a way which alarmed its occupant, though she refrained from screaming. Melbury jumped up immediately, but not more quickly than Fitzpiers; and while her father ran to the horse's head and speedily began to control him, Fitzpiers was alongside the gig assisting Grace to descend. Her surprise at his appearance was so great that, far from making a calm and independent descent, she was very nearly lifted down in his arms. He relinquished her when she touched ground, and hoped she was not frightened. "Oh no, not much," she managed to say. "There was no danger—unless he had run under the trees where the boughs are low enough to hit my head." "Which was by no means an impossibility, and justifies any amount of alarm." He referred to what he thought he saw written in her face, and she could not tell him that this had little to do with the horse, but much with himself. His contiguity had, in fact, the same effect upon her as on those former occasions when he had come closer to her than usual—that of producing in her an unaccountable tendency to tearfulness. Melbury soon put the horse to rights, and seeing that Grace was safe, turned again to the work-people. His daughter's nervous distress had passed off in a few moments, and she said quite gayly to Fitzpiers as she walked with him towards the group, "There's destiny in it, you see. I was doomed to join in your picnic, although I did not intend to do so." Marty prepared her a comfortable place, and she sat down in the circle, and listened to Fitzpiers while he drew from her father and the bark-rippers sundry narratives of their fathers', their grandfathers', and their own adventures in these woods; of the mysterious sights they had seen—only to be accounted for by supernatural agency; of white witches and black witches; and the standard story of the spirits of the two brothers who had fought and fallen, and had haunted Hintock House till they were exorcised by the priest, and compelled to retreat to a swamp in this very wood, whence they were returning to their old quarters at the rate of a cock's stride every New-year's Day, old style; hence the local saying, "On New-year's tide, a cock's stride." It was a pleasant time. The smoke from the little fire of peeled sticks rose between the sitters and the sunlight, and behind its blue veil stretched the naked arms of the prostrate trees. The smell of the uncovered sap mingled with the smell of the burning wood, and the sticky inner surface of the scattered bark glistened as it revealed its pale madder hues to the eye. Melbury was so highly satisfied at having Fitzpiers as a sort of guest that he would have sat on for any length of time, but Grace, on whom Fitzpiers's eyes only too frequently alighted, seemed to think it incumbent upon her to make a show of going; and her father thereupon accompanied her to the vehicle. As the doctor had helped her out of it he appeared to think that he had excellent reasons for helping her in, and performed the attention lingeringly enough. "What were you almost in tears about just now?" he asked, softly. "I don't know," she said: and the words were strictly true. Melbury mounted on the other side, and they drove on out of the grove, their wheels silently crushing delicate-patterned mosses, hyacinths, primroses, lords-and-ladies, and other strange and ordinary plants, and cracking up little sticks that lay across the track. Their way homeward ran along the crest of a lofty hill, whence on the right they beheld a wide valley, differing both in feature and atmosphere from that of the Hintock precincts. It was the cider country, which met the woodland district on the axis of this hill. Over the vale the air was blue as sapphire—such a blue as outside that apple-valley was never seen. Under the blue the orchards were in a blaze of bloom, some of the richly flowered trees running almost up to where they drove along. Over a gate which opened down the incline a man leaned on his arms, regarding this fair promise so intently that he did not observe their passing. "That was Giles," said Melbury, when they had gone by. "Was it? Poor Giles," said she. "All that blooth means heavy autumn work for him and his hands. If no blight happens before the setting the apple yield will be such as we have not had for years." Meanwhile, in the wood they had come from, the men had sat on so long that they were indisposed to begin work again that evening; they were paid by the ton, and their time for labor was as they chose. They placed the last gatherings of bark in rows for the curers, which led them farther and farther away from the shed; and thus they gradually withdrew as the sun went down. Fitzpiers lingered yet. He had opened his book again, though he could hardly see a word in it, and sat before the dying fire, scarcely knowing of the men's departure. He dreamed and mused till his consciousness seemed to occupy the whole space of the woodland around, so little was there of jarring sight or sound to hinder perfect unity with the sentiment of the place. The idea returned upon him of sacrificing all practical aims to live in calm contentment here, and instead of going on elaborating new conceptions with infinite pains, to accept quiet domesticity according to oldest and homeliest notions. These reflections detained him till the wood was embrowned with the coming night, and the shy little bird of this dusky time had begun to pour out all the intensity of his eloquence from a bush not very far off. Fitzpiers's eyes commanded as much of the ground in front as was open. Entering upon this he saw a figure, whose direction of movement was towards the spot where he sat. The surgeon was quite shrouded from observation by the recessed shadow of the hut, and there was no reason why he should move till the stranger had passed by. The shape resolved itself into a woman's; she was looking on the ground, and walking slowly as if searching for something that had been lost, her course being precisely that of Mr. Melbury's gig. Fitzpiers by a sort of divination jumped to the idea that the figure was Grace's; her nearer approach made the guess a certainty. Yes, she was looking for something; and she came round by the prostrate trees that would have been invisible but for the white nakedness which enabled her to avoid them easily. Thus she approached the heap of ashes, and acting upon what was suggested by a still shining ember or two, she took a stick and stirred the heap, which thereupon burst into a flame. On looking around by the light thus obtained she for the first time saw the illumined face of Fitzpiers, precisely in the spot where she had left him. Grace gave a start and a scream: the place had been associated with him in her thoughts, but she had not expected to find him there still. Fitzpiers lost not a moment in rising and going to her side. "I frightened you dreadfully, I know," he said. "I ought to have spoken; but I did not at first expect it to be you. I have been sitting here ever since." He was actually supporting her with his arm, as though under the impression that she was quite overcome, and in danger of falling. As soon as she could collect her ideas she gently withdrew from his grasp, and explained what she had returned for: in getting up or down from the gig, or when sitting by the hut fire, she had dropped her purse. "Now we will find it," said Fitzpiers. He threw an armful of last year's leaves on to the fire, which made the flame leap higher, and the encompassing shades to weave themselves into a denser contrast, turning eve into night in a moment. By this radiance they groped about on their hands and knees, till Fitzpiers rested on his elbow, and looked at Grace. "We must always meet in odd circumstances," he said; "and this is one of the oddest. I wonder if it means anything?" "Oh no, I am sure it doesn't," said Grace in haste, quickly assuming an erect posture. "Pray don't say it any more." "I hope there was not much money in the purse," said Fitzpiers, rising to his feet more slowly, and brushing the leaves from his trousers. "Scarcely any. I cared most about the purse itself, because it was given me. Indeed, money is of little more use at Hintock than on Crusoe's island; there's hardly any way of spending it." They had given up the search when Fitzpiers discerned something by his foot. "Here it is," he said, "so that your father, mother, friend, or ADMIRER will not have his or her feelings hurt by a sense of your negligence after all." "Oh, he knows nothing of what I do now." "The admirer?" said Fitzpiers, slyly. "I don't know if you would call him that," said Grace, with simplicity. "The admirer is a superficial, conditional creature, and this person is quite different." "He has all the cardinal virtues." "Perhaps—though I don't know them precisely." "You unconsciously practise them, Miss Melbury, which is better. According to Schleiermacher they are Self-control, Perseverance, Wisdom, and Love; and his is the best list that I know." "I am afraid poor—" She was going to say that she feared Winterborne—the giver of the purse years before—had not much perseverance, though he had all the other three; but she determined to go no further in this direction, and was silent. These half-revelations made a perceptible difference in Fitzpiers. His sense of personal superiority wasted away, and Grace assumed in his eyes the true aspect of a mistress in her lover's regard. "Miss Melbury," he said, suddenly, "I divine that this virtuous man you mention has been refused by you?" She could do no otherwise than admit it. "I do not inquire without good reason. God forbid that I should kneel in another's place at any shrine unfairly. But, my dear Miss Melbury, now that he is gone, may I draw near?" "I—I can't say anything about that!" she cried, quickly. "Because when a man has been refused you feel pity for him, and like him more than you did before." This increasing complication added still more value to Grace in the surgeon's eyes: it rendered her adorable. "But cannot you say?" he pleaded, distractedly. "I'd rather not—I think I must go home at once." "Oh yes," said Fitzpiers. But as he did not move she felt it awkward to walk straight away from him; and so they stood silently together. A diversion was created by the accident of two birds, that had either been roosting above their heads or nesting there, tumbling one over the other into the hot ashes at their feet, apparently engrossed in a desperate quarrel that prevented the use of their wings. They speedily parted, however, and flew up, and were seen no more. "That's the end of what is called love!" said some one. The speaker was neither Grace nor Fitzpiers, but Marty South, who approached with her face turned up to the sky in her endeavor to trace the birds. Suddenly perceiving Grace, she exclaimed, "Oh, Miss Melbury! I have been following they pigeons, and didn't see you. And here's Mr. Winterborne!" she continued, shyly, as she looked towards Fitzpiers, who stood in the background. "Marty," Grace interrupted. "I want you to walk home with me—will you? Come along." And without lingering longer she took hold of Marty's arm and led her away. They went between the spectral arms of the peeled trees as they lay, and onward among the growing trees, by a path where there were no oaks, and no barking, and no Fitzpiers—nothing but copse-wood, between which the primroses could be discerned in pale bunches. "I didn't know Mr. Winterborne was there," said Marty, breaking the silence when they had nearly reached Grace's door. "Nor was he," said Grace. "But, Miss Melbury, I saw him." "No," said Grace. "It was somebody else. Giles Winterborne is nothing to me." CHAPTER XX. The leaves over Hintock grew denser in their substance, and the woodland seemed to change from an open filigree to a solid opaque body of infinitely larger shape and importance. The boughs cast green shades, which hurt the complexion of the girls who walked there; and a fringe of them which overhung Mr. Melbury's garden dripped on his seed-plots when it rained, pitting their surface all over as with pock-marks, till Melbury declared that gardens in such a place were no good at all. The two trees that had creaked all the winter left off creaking, the whir of the night-jar, however, forming a very satisfactory continuation of uncanny music from that quarter. Except at mid-day the sun was not seen complete by the Hintock people, but rather in the form of numerous little stars staring through the leaves. Such an appearance it had on Midsummer Eve of this year, and as the hour grew later, and nine o'clock drew on, the irradiation of the daytime became broken up by weird shadows and ghostly nooks of indistinctness. Imagination could trace upon the trunks and boughs strange faces and figures shaped by the dying lights; the surfaces of the holly-leaves would here and there shine like peeping eyes, while such fragments of the sky as were visible between the trunks assumed the aspect of sheeted forms and cloven tongues. This was before the moonrise. Later on, when that planet was getting command of the upper heaven, and consequently shining with an unbroken face into such open glades as there were in the neighborhood of the hamlet, it became apparent that the margin of the wood which approached the timber-merchant's premises was not to be left to the customary stillness of that reposeful time. Fitzpiers having heard a voice or voices, was looking over his garden gate—where he now looked more frequently than into his books—fancying that Grace might be abroad with some friends. He was now irretrievably committed in heart to Grace Melbury, though he was by no means sure that she was so far committed to him. That the Idea had for once completely fulfilled itself in the objective substance—which he had hitherto deemed an impossibility—he was enchanted enough to fancy must be the case at last. It was not Grace who had passed, however, but several of the ordinary village girls in a group—some steadily walking, some in a mood of wild gayety. He quietly asked his landlady, who was also in the garden, what these girls were intending, and she informed him that it being Old Midsummer Eve, they were about to attempt some spell or enchantment which would afford them a glimpse of their future partners for life. She declared it to be an ungodly performance, and one which she for her part would never countenance; saying which, she entered her house and retired to bed. The young man lit a cigar and followed the bevy of maidens slowly up the road. They had turned into the wood at an opening between Melbury's and Marty South's; but Fitzpiers could easily track them by their voices, low as they endeavored to keep their tones. In the mean time other inhabitants of Little Hintock had become aware of the nocturnal experiment about to be tried, and were also sauntering stealthily after the frisky maidens. Miss Melbury had been informed by Marty South during the day of the proposed peep into futurity, and, being only a girl like the rest, she was sufficiently interested to wish to see the issue. The moon was so bright and the night so calm that she had no difficulty in persuading Mrs. Melbury to accompany her; and thus, joined by Marty, these went onward in the same direction. Passing Winterborne's house, they heard a noise of hammering. Marty explained it. This was the last night on which his paternal roof would shelter him, the days of grace since it fell into hand having expired; and Giles was taking down his cupboards and bedsteads with a view to an early exit next morning. His encounter with Mrs. Charmond had cost him dearly. When they had proceeded a little farther Marty was joined by Grammer Oliver (who was as young as the youngest in such matters), and Grace and Mrs. Melbury went on by themselves till they had arrived at the spot chosen by the village daughters, whose primary intention of keeping their expedition a secret had been quite defeated. Grace and her step-mother paused by a holly-tree; and at a little distance stood Fitzpiers under the shade of a young oak, intently observing Grace, who was in the full rays of the moon. He watched her without speaking, and unperceived by any but Marty and Grammer, who had drawn up on the dark side of the same holly which sheltered Mrs. and Miss Melbury on its bright side. The two former conversed in low tones. "If they two come up in Wood next Midsummer Night they'll come as one," said Grammer, signifying Fitzpiers and Grace. "Instead of my skellington he'll carry home her living carcass before long. But though she's a lady in herself, and worthy of any such as he, it do seem to me that he ought to marry somebody more of the sort of Mrs. Charmond, and that Miss Grace should make the best of Winterborne." Marty returned no comment; and at that minute the girls, some of whom were from Great Hintock, were seen advancing to work the incantation, it being now about midnight. "Directly we see anything we'll run home as fast as we can," said one, whose courage had begun to fail her. To this the rest assented, not knowing that a dozen neighbors lurked in the bushes around. "I wish we had not thought of trying this," said another, "but had contented ourselves with the hole-digging to-morrow at twelve, and hearing our husbands' trades. It is too much like having dealings with the Evil One to try to raise their forms." However, they had gone too far to recede, and slowly began to march forward in a skirmishing line through the trees towards the deeper recesses of the wood. As far as the listeners could gather, the particular form of black-art to be practised on this occasion was one connected with the sowing of hemp-seed, a handful of which was carried by each girl. At the moment of their advance they looked back, and discerned the figure of Miss Melbury, who, alone of all the observers, stood in the full face of the moonlight, deeply engrossed in the proceedings. By contrast with her life of late years they made her feel as if she had receded a couple of centuries in the world's history. She was rendered doubly conspicuous by her light dress, and after a few whispered words, one of the girls—a bouncing maiden, plighted to young Timothy Tangs—asked her if she would join in. Grace, with some excitement, said that she would, and moved on a little in the rear of the rest. Soon the listeners could hear nothing of their proceedings beyond the faintest occasional rustle of leaves. Grammer whispered again to Marty: "Why didn't ye go and try your luck with the rest of the maids?" "I don't believe in it," said Marty, shortly. "Why, half the parish is here—the silly hussies should have kept it quiet. I see Mr. Winterborne through the leaves, just come up with Robert Creedle. Marty, we ought to act the part o' Providence sometimes. Do go and tell him that if he stands just behind the bush at the bottom of the slope, Miss Grace must pass down it when she comes back, and she will most likely rush into his arms; for as soon as the clock strikes, they'll bundle back home—along like hares. I've seen such larries before." "Do you think I'd better?" said Marty, reluctantly. "Oh yes, he'll bless ye for it." "I don't want that kind of blessing." But after a moment's thought she went and delivered the information; and Grammer had the satisfaction of seeing Giles walk slowly to the bend in the leafy defile along which Grace would have to return. Meanwhile Mrs. Melbury, deserted by Grace, had perceived Fitzpiers and Winterborne, and also the move of the latter. An improvement on Grammer's idea entered the mind of Mrs. Melbury, for she had lately discerned what her husband had not—that Grace was rapidly fascinating the surgeon. She therefore drew near to Fitzpiers. "You should be where Mr. Winterborne is standing," she said to him, significantly. "She will run down through that opening much faster than she went up it, if she is like the rest of the girls." Fitzpiers did not require to be told twice. He went across to Winterborne and stood beside him. Each knew the probable purpose of the other in standing there, and neither spoke, Fitzpiers scorning to look upon Winterborne as a rival, and Winterborne adhering to the off-hand manner of indifference which had grown upon him since his dismissal. Neither Grammer nor Marty South had seen the surgeon's manoeuvre, and, still to help Winterborne, as she supposed, the old woman suggested to the wood-girl that she should walk forward at the heels of Grace, and "tole" her down the required way if she showed a tendency to run in another direction. Poor Marty, always doomed to sacrifice desire to obligation, walked forward accordingly, and waited as a beacon, still and silent, for the retreat of Grace and her giddy companions, now quite out of hearing. The first sound to break the silence was the distant note of Great Hintock clock striking the significant hour. About a minute later that quarter of the wood to which the girls had wandered resounded with the flapping of disturbed birds; then two or three hares and rabbits bounded down the glade from the same direction, and after these the rustling and crackling of leaves and dead twigs denoted the hurried approach of the adventurers, whose fluttering gowns soon became visible. Miss Melbury, having gone forward quite in the rear of the rest, was one of the first to return, and the excitement being contagious, she ran laughing towards Marty, who still stood as a hand-post to guide her; then, passing on, she flew round the fatal bush where the undergrowth narrowed to a gorge. Marty arrived at her heels just in time to see the result. Fitzpiers had quickly stepped forward in front of Winterborne, who, disdaining to shift his position, had turned on his heel, and then the surgeon did what he would not have thought of doing but for Mrs. Melbury's encouragement and the sentiment of an eve which effaced conventionality. Stretching out his arms as the white figure burst upon him, he captured her in a moment, as if she had been a bird. "Oh!" cried Grace, in her fright. "You are in my arms, dearest," said Fitzpiers, "and I am going to claim you, and keep you there all our two lives!" She rested on him like one utterly mastered, and it was several seconds before she recovered from this helplessness. Subdued screams and struggles, audible from neighboring brakes, revealed that there had been other lurkers thereabout for a similar purpose. Grace, unlike most of these companions of hers, instead of gasping and writhing, said in a trembling voice, "Mr. Fitzpiers, will you let me go?" "Certainly," he said, laughing; "as soon as you have recovered." She waited another few moments, then quietly and firmly pushed him aside, and glided on her path, the moon whitening her hot blush away. But it had been enough—new relations between them had begun. The case of the other girls was different, as has been said. They wrestled and tittered, only escaping after a desperate struggle. Fitzpiers could hear these enactments still going on after Grace had left him, and he remained on the spot where he had caught her, Winterborne having gone away. On a sudden another girl came bounding down the same descent that had been followed by Grace—a fine-framed young woman with naked arms. Seeing Fitzpiers standing there, she said, with playful effrontery, "May'st kiss me if 'canst catch me, Tim!" Fitzpiers recognized her as Suke Damson, a hoydenish damsel of the hamlet, who was plainly mistaking him for her lover. He was impulsively disposed to profit by her error, and as soon as she began racing away he started in pursuit. On she went under the boughs, now in light, now in shade, looking over her shoulder at him every few moments and kissing her hand; but so cunningly dodging about among the trees and moon-shades that she never allowed him to get dangerously near her. Thus they ran and doubled, Fitzpiers warming with the chase, till the sound of their companions had quite died away. He began to lose hope of ever overtaking her, when all at once, by way of encouragement, she turned to a fence in which there was a stile and leaped over it. Outside the scene was a changed one—a meadow, where the half-made hay lay about in heaps, in the uninterrupted shine of the now high moon. Fitzpiers saw in a moment that, having taken to open ground, she had placed herself at his mercy, and he promptly vaulted over after her. She flitted a little way down the mead, when all at once her light form disappeared as if it had sunk into the earth. She had buried herself in one of the hay-cocks. Fitzpiers, now thoroughly excited, was not going to let her escape him thus. He approached, and set about turning over the heaps one by one. As soon as he paused, tantalized and puzzled, he was directed anew by an imitative kiss which came from her hiding-place, and by snatches of a local ballad in the smallest voice she could assume: "O come in from the foggy, foggy dew." In a minute or two he uncovered her. "Oh, 'tis not Tim!" said she, burying her face. Fitzpiers, however, disregarded her resistance by reason of its mildness, stooped and imprinted the purposed kiss, then sunk down on the next hay-cock, panting with his race. "Whom do you mean by Tim?" he asked, presently. "My young man, Tim Tangs," said she. "Now, honor bright, did you really think it was he?" "I did at first." "But you didn't at last?" "I didn't at last." "Do you much mind that it was not?" "No," she answered, slyly. Fitzpiers did not pursue his questioning. In the moonlight Suke looked very beautiful, the scratches and blemishes incidental to her out-door occupation being invisible under these pale rays. While they remain silent the coarse whir of the eternal night-jar burst sarcastically from the top of a tree at the nearest corner of the wood. Besides this not a sound of any kind reached their ears, the time of nightingales being now past, and Hintock lying at a distance of two miles at least. In the opposite direction the hay-field stretched away into remoteness till it was lost to the eye in a soft mist. CHAPTER XXI. When the general stampede occurred Winterborne had also been looking on, and encountering one of the girls, had asked her what caused them all to fly. She said with solemn breathlessness that they had seen something very different from what they had hoped to see, and that she for one would never attempt such unholy ceremonies again. "We saw Satan pursuing us with his hour-glass. It was terrible!" This account being a little incoherent, Giles went forward towards the spot from which the girls had retreated. After listening there a few minutes he heard slow footsteps rustling over the leaves, and looking through a tangled screen of honeysuckle which hung from a bough, he saw in the open space beyond a short stout man in evening-dress, carrying on one arm a light overcoat and also his hat, so awkwardly arranged as possibly to have suggested the "hour-glass" to his timid observers—if this were the person whom the girls had seen. With the other hand he silently gesticulated and the moonlight falling upon his bare brow showed him to have dark hair and a high forehead of the shape seen oftener in old prints and paintings than in real life. His curious and altogether alien aspect, his strange gestures, like those of one who is rehearsing a scene to himself, and the unusual place and hour, were sufficient to account for any trepidation among the Hintock daughters at encountering him. He paused, and looked round, as if he had forgotten where he was; not observing Giles, who was of the color of his environment. The latter advanced into the light. The gentleman held up his hand and came towards Giles, the two meeting half-way. "I have lost my way," said the stranger. "Perhaps you can put me in the path again." He wiped his forehead with the air of one suffering under an agitation more than that of simple fatigue. "The turnpike-road is over there," said Giles "I don't want the turnpike-road," said the gentleman, impatiently. "I came from that. I want Hintock House. Is there not a path to it across here?" "Well, yes, a sort of path. But it is hard to find from this point. I'll show you the way, sir, with great pleasure." "Thanks, my good friend. The truth is that I decided to walk across the country after dinner from the hotel at Sherton, where I am staying for a day or two. But I did not know it was so far." "It is about a mile to the house from here." They walked on together. As there was no path, Giles occasionally stepped in front and bent aside the underboughs of the trees to give his companion a passage, saying every now and then when the twigs, on being released, flew back like whips, "Mind your eyes, sir." To which the stranger replied, "Yes, yes," in a preoccupied tone. So they went on, the leaf-shadows running in their usual quick succession over the forms of the pedestrians, till the stranger said, "Is it far?" "Not much farther," said Winterborne. "The plantation runs up into a corner here, close behind the house." He added with hesitation, "You know, I suppose, sir, that Mrs. Charmond is not at home?" "You mistake," said the other, quickly. "Mrs. Charmond has been away for some time, but she's at home now." Giles did not contradict him, though he felt sure that the gentleman was wrong. "You are a native of this place?" the stranger said. "Yes." "Well, you are happy in having a home. It is what I don't possess." "You come from far, seemingly?" "I come now from the south of Europe." "Oh, indeed, sir. You are an Italian, or Spanish, or French gentleman, perhaps?" "I am not either." Giles did not fill the pause which ensued, and the gentleman, who seemed of an emotional nature, unable to resist friendship, at length answered the question. "I am an Italianized American, a South Carolinian by birth," he said. "I left my native country on the failure of the Southern cause, and have never returned to it since." He spoke no more about himself, and they came to the verge of the wood. Here, striding over the fence out upon the upland sward, they could at once see the chimneys of the house in the gorge immediately beneath their position, silent, still, and pale. "Can you tell me the time?" the gentleman asked. "My watch has stopped." "It is between twelve and one," said Giles. His companion expressed his astonishment. "I thought it between nine and ten at latest! Dear me—dear me!" He now begged Giles to return, and offered him a gold coin, which looked like a sovereign, for the assistance rendered. Giles declined to accept anything, to the surprise of the stranger, who, on putting the money back into his pocket, said, awkwardly, "I offered it because I want you to utter no word about this meeting with me. Will you promise?" Winterborne promised readily. He thereupon stood still while the other ascended the slope. At the bottom he looked back dubiously. Giles would no longer remain when he was so evidently desired to leave, and returned through the boughs to Hintock. He suspected that this man, who seemed so distressed and melancholy, might be that lover and persistent wooer of Mrs. Charmond whom he had heard so frequently spoken of, and whom it was said she had treated cavalierly. But he received no confirmation of his suspicion beyond a report which reached him a few days later that a gentleman had called up the servants who were taking care of Hintock House at an hour past midnight; and on learning that Mrs. Charmond, though returned from abroad, was as yet in London, he had sworn bitterly, and gone away without leaving a card or any trace of himself. The girls who related the story added that he sighed three times before he swore, but this part of the narrative was not corroborated. Anyhow, such a gentleman had driven away from the hotel at Sherton next day in a carriage hired at that inn. CHAPTER XXII. The sunny, leafy week which followed the tender doings of Midsummer Eve brought a visitor to Fitzpiers's door; a voice that he knew sounded in the passage. Mr. Melbury had called. At first he had a particular objection to enter the parlor, because his boots were dusty, but as the surgeon insisted he waived the point and came in. Looking neither to the right nor to the left, hardly at Fitzpiers himself, he put his hat under his chair, and with a preoccupied gaze at the floor, he said, "I've called to ask you, doctor, quite privately, a question that troubles me. I've a daughter, Grace, an only daughter, as you may have heard. Well, she's been out in the dew—on Midsummer Eve in particular she went out in thin slippers to watch some vagary of the Hintock maids—and she's got a cough, a distinct hemming and hacking, that makes me uneasy. Now, I have decided to send her away to some seaside place for a change—" "Send her away!" Fitzpiers's countenance had fallen. "Yes. And the question is, where would you advise me to send her?" The timber-merchant had happened to call at a moment when Fitzpiers was at the spring-tide of a sentiment that Grace was a necessity of his existence. The sudden pressure of her form upon his breast as she came headlong round the bush had never ceased to linger with him, ever since he adopted the manoeuvre for which the hour and the moonlight and the occasion had been the only excuse. Now she was to be sent away. Ambition? it could be postponed. Family? culture and reciprocity of tastes had taken the place of family nowadays. He allowed himself to be carried forward on the wave of his desire. "How strange, how very strange it is," he said, "that you should have come to me about her just now. I have been thinking every day of coming to you on the very same errand." "Ah!—you have noticed, too, that her health——" "I have noticed nothing the matter with her health, because there is nothing. But, Mr. Melbury, I have seen your daughter several times by accident. I have admired her infinitely, and I was coming to ask you if I may become better acquainted with her—pay my addresses to her?" Melbury was looking down as he listened, and did not see the air of half-misgiving at his own rashness that spread over Fitzpiers's face as he made this declaration. "You have—got to know her?" said Melbury, a spell of dead silence having preceded his utterance, during which his emotion rose with almost visible effect. "Yes," said Fitzpiers. "And you wish to become better acquainted with her? You mean with a view to marriage—of course that is what you mean?" "Yes," said the young man. "I mean, get acquainted with her, with a view to being her accepted lover; and if we suited each other, what would naturally follow." The timber-merchant was much surprised, and fairly agitated; his hand trembled as he laid by his walking-stick. "This takes me unawares," said he, his voice wellnigh breaking down. "I don't mean that there is anything unexpected in a gentleman being attracted by her; but it did not occur to me that it would be you. I always said," continued he, with a lump in his throat, "that my Grace would make a mark at her own level some day. That was why I educated her. I said to myself, 'I'll do it, cost what it may;' though her mother-law was pretty frightened at my paying out so much money year after year. I knew it would tell in the end. 'Where you've not good material to work on, such doings would be waste and vanity,' I said. 'But where you have that material it is sure to be worth while.'" "I am glad you don't object," said Fitzpiers, almost wishing that Grace had not been quite so cheap for him. "If she is willing I don't object, certainly. Indeed," added the honest man, "it would be deceit if I were to pretend to feel anything else than highly honored personally; and it is a great credit to her to have drawn to her a man of such good professional station and venerable old family. That huntsman-fellow little thought how wrong he was about her! Take her and welcome, sir." "I'll endeavor to ascertain her mind." "Yes, yes. But she will be agreeable, I should think. She ought to be." "I hope she may. Well, now you'll expect to see me frequently." "Oh yes. But, name it all—about her cough, and her going away. I had quite forgot that that was what I came about." "I assure you," said the surgeon, "that her cough can only be the result of a slight cold, and it is not necessary to banish her to any seaside place at all." Melbury looked unconvinced, doubting whether he ought to take Fitzpiers's professional opinion in circumstances which naturally led him to wish to keep her there. The doctor saw this, and honestly dreading to lose sight of her, he said, eagerly, "Between ourselves, if I am successful with her I will take her away myself for a month or two, as soon as we are married, which I hope will be before the chilly weather comes on. This will be so very much better than letting her go now." The proposal pleased Melbury much. There could be hardly any danger in postponing any desirable change of air as long as the warm weather lasted, and for such a reason. Suddenly recollecting himself, he said, "Your time must be precious, doctor. I'll get home-along. I am much obliged to ye. As you will see her often, you'll discover for yourself if anything serious is the matter." "I can assure you it is nothing," said Fitzpiers, who had seen Grace much oftener already than her father knew of. When he was gone Fitzpiers paused, silent, registering his sensations, like a man who has made a plunge for a pearl into a medium of which he knows not the density or temperature. But he had done it, and Grace was the sweetest girl alive. As for the departed visitor, his own last words lingered in Melbury's ears as he walked homeward; he felt that what he had said in the emotion of the moment was very stupid, ungenteel, and unsuited to a dialogue with an educated gentleman, the smallness of whose practice was more than compensated by the former greatness of his family. He had uttered thoughts before they were weighed, and almost before they were shaped. They had expressed in a certain sense his feeling at Fitzpiers's news, but yet they were not right. Looking on the ground, and planting his stick at each tread as if it were a flag-staff, he reached his own precincts, where, as he passed through the court, he automatically stopped to look at the men working in the shed and around. One of them asked him a question about wagon-spokes. "Hey?" said Melbury, looking hard at him. The man repeated the words. Melbury stood; then turning suddenly away without answering, he went up the court and entered the house. As time was no object with the journeymen, except as a thing to get past, they leisurely surveyed the door through which he had disappeared. "What maggot has the gaffer got in his head now?" said Tangs the elder. "Sommit to do with that chiel of his! When you've got a maid of yer own, John Upjohn, that costs ye what she costs him, that will take the squeak out of your Sunday shoes, John! But you'll never be tall enough to accomplish such as she; and 'tis a lucky thing for ye, John, as things be. Well, he ought to have a dozen—that would bring him to reason. I see 'em walking together last Sunday, and when they came to a puddle he lifted her over like a halfpenny doll. He ought to have a dozen; he'd let 'em walk through puddles for themselves then." Meanwhile Melbury had entered the house with the look of a man who sees a vision before him. His wife was in the room. Without taking off his hat he sat down at random. "Luce—we've done it!" he said. "Yes—the thing is as I expected. The spell, that I foresaw might be worked, has worked. She's done it, and done it well. Where is she—Grace, I mean?" "Up in her room—what has happened!" Mr. Melbury explained the circumstances as coherently as he could. "I told you so," he said. "A maid like her couldn't stay hid long, even in a place like this. But where is Grace? Let's have her down. Here—Gra-a-ace!" She appeared after a reasonable interval, for she was sufficiently spoiled by this father of hers not to put herself in a hurry, however impatient his tones. "What is it, father?" said she, with a smile. "Why, you scamp, what's this you've been doing? Not home here more than six months, yet, instead of confining yourself to your father's rank, making havoc in the educated classes." Though accustomed to show herself instantly appreciative of her father's meanings, Grace was fairly unable to look anyhow but at a loss now. "No, no—of course you don't know what I mean, or you pretend you don't; though, for my part, I believe women can see these things through a double hedge. But I suppose I must tell ye. Why, you've flung your grapnel over the doctor, and he's coming courting forthwith." "Only think of that, my dear! Don't you feel it a triumph?" said Mrs. Melbury. "Coming courting! I've done nothing to make him," Grace exclaimed. "'Twasn't necessary that you should, 'Tis voluntary that rules in these things....Well, he has behaved very honorably, and asked my consent. You'll know what to do when he gets here, I dare say. I needn't tell you to make it all smooth for him." "You mean, to lead him on to marry me?" "I do. Haven't I educated you for it?" Grace looked out of the window and at the fireplace with no animation in her face. "Why is it settled off-hand in this way?" said she, coquettishly. "You'll wait till you hear what I think of him, I suppose?" "Oh yes, of course. But you see what a good thing it will be." She weighed the statement without speaking. "You will be restored to the society you've been taken away from," continued her father; "for I don't suppose he'll stay here long." She admitted the advantage; but it was plain that though Fitzpiers exercised a certain fascination over her when he was present, or even more, an almost psychic influence, and though his impulsive act in the wood had stirred her feelings indescribably, she had never regarded him in the light of a destined husband. "I don't know what to answer," she said. "I have learned that he is very clever." "He's all right, and he's coming here to see you." A premonition that she could not resist him if he came strangely moved her. "Of course, father, you remember that it is only lately that Giles—" "You know that you can't think of him. He has given up all claim to you." She could not explain the subtleties of her feeling as he could state his opinion, even though she had skill in speech, and her father had none. That Fitzpiers acted upon her like a dram, exciting her, throwing her into a novel atmosphere which biassed her doings until the influence was over, when she felt something of the nature of regret for the mood she had experienced—still more if she reflected on the silent, almost sarcastic, criticism apparent in Winterborne's air towards her—could not be told to this worthy couple in words. It so happened that on this very day Fitzpiers was called away from Hintock by an engagement to attend some medical meetings, and his visits, therefore, did not begin at once. A note, however, arrived from him addressed to Grace, deploring his enforced absence. As a material object this note was pretty and superfine, a note of a sort that she had been unaccustomed to see since her return to Hintock, except when a school friend wrote to her—a rare instance, for the girls were respecters of persons, and many cooled down towards the timber-dealer's daughter when she was out of sight. Thus the receipt of it pleased her, and she afterwards walked about with a reflective air. In the evening her father, who knew that the note had come, said, "Why be ye not sitting down to answer your letter? That's what young folks did in my time." She replied that it did not require an answer. "Oh, you know best," he said. Nevertheless, he went about his business doubting if she were right in not replying; possibly she might be so mismanaging matters as to risk the loss of an alliance which would bring her much happiness. Melbury's respect for Fitzpiers was based less on his professional position, which was not much, than on the standing of his family in the county in by-gone days. That implicit faith in members of long-established families, as such, irrespective of their personal condition or character, which is still found among old-fashioned people in the rural districts reached its full intensity in Melbury. His daughter's suitor was descended from a family he had heard of in his grandfather's time as being once great, a family which had conferred its name upon a neighboring village; how, then, could anything be amiss in this betrothal? "I must keep her up to this," he said to his wife. "She sees it is for her happiness; but still she's young, and may want a little prompting from an older tongue." CHAPTER XXIII. With this in view he took her out for a walk, a custom of his when he wished to say anything specially impressive. Their way was over the top of that lofty ridge dividing their woodland from the cider district, whence they had in the spring beheld the miles of apple-trees in bloom. All was now deep green. The spot recalled to Grace's mind the last occasion of her presence there, and she said, "The promise of an enormous apple-crop is fulfilling itself, is it not? I suppose Giles is getting his mills and presses ready." This was just what her father had not come there to talk about. Without replying he raised his arm, and moved his finger till he fixed it at a point. "There," he said, "you see that plantation reaching over the hill like a great slug, and just behind the hill a particularly green sheltered bottom? That's where Mr. Fitzpiers's family were lords of the manor for I don't know how many hundred years, and there stands the village of Buckbury Fitzpiers. A wonderful property 'twas—wonderful!" "But they are not lords of the manor there now." "Why, no. But good and great things die as well as little and foolish. The only ones representing the family now, I believe, are our doctor and a maiden lady living I don't know where. You can't help being happy, Grace, in allying yourself with such a romantical family. You'll feel as if you've stepped into history." "We've been at Hintock as long as they've been at Buckbury; is it not so? You say our name occurs in old deeds continually." "Oh yes—as yeomen, copyholders, and such like. But think how much better this will be for 'ee. You'll be living a high intellectual life, such as has now become natural to you; and though the doctor's practice is small here, he'll no doubt go to a dashing town when he's got his hand in, and keep a stylish carriage, and you'll be brought to know a good many ladies of excellent society. If you should ever meet me then, Grace, you can drive past me, looking the other way. I shouldn't expect you to speak to me, or wish such a thing, unless it happened to be in some lonely, private place where 'twouldn't lower ye at all. Don't think such men as neighbor Giles your equal. He and I shall be good friends enough, but he's not for the like of you. He's lived our rough and homely life here, and his wife's life must be rough and homely likewise." So much pressure could not but produce some displacement. As Grace was left very much to herself, she took advantage of one fine day before Fitzpiers's return to drive into the aforesaid vale where stood the village of Buckbury Fitzpiers. Leaving her father's man at the inn with the horse and gig, she rambled onward to the ruins of a castle, which stood in a field hard by. She had no doubt that it represented the ancient stronghold of the Fitzpiers family. The remains were few, and consisted mostly of remnants of the lower vaulting, supported on low stout columns surmounted by the crochet capital of the period. The two or three arches of these vaults that were still in position were utilized by the adjoining farmer as shelter for his calves, the floor being spread with straw, amid which the young creatures rustled, cooling their thirsty tongues by licking the quaint Norman carving, which glistened with the moisture. It was a degradation of even such a rude form of art as this to be treatad so grossly, she thought, and for the first time the family of Fitzpiers assumed in her imagination the hues of a melancholy romanticism. It was soon time to drive home, and she traversed the distance with a preoccupied mind. The idea of so modern a man in science and aesthetics as the young surgeon springing out of relics so ancient was a kind of novelty she had never before experienced. The combination lent him a social and intellectual interest which she dreaded, so much weight did it add to the strange influence he exercised upon her whenever he came near her. In an excitement which was not love, not ambition, rather a fearful consciousness of hazard in the air, she awaited his return. Meanwhile her father was awaiting him also. In his house there was an old work on medicine, published towards the end of the last century, and to put himself in harmony with events Melbury spread this work on his knees when he had done his day's business, and read about Galen, Hippocrates, and Herophilus—of the dogmatic, the empiric, the hermetical, and other sects of practitioners that have arisen in history; and thence proceeded to the classification of maladies and the rules for their treatment, as laid down in this valuable book with absolute precision. Melbury regretted that the treatise was so old, fearing that he might in consequence be unable to hold as complete a conversation as he could wish with Mr. Fitzpiers, primed, no doubt, with more recent discoveries. The day of Fitzpiers's return arrived, and he sent to say that he would call immediately. In the little time that was afforded for putting the house in order the sweeping of Melbury's parlor was as the sweeping of the parlor at the Interpreter's which wellnigh choked the Pilgrim. At the end of it Mrs. Melbury sat down, folded her hands and lips, and waited. Her husband restlessly walked in and out from the timber-yard, stared at the interior of the room, jerked out "ay, ay," and retreated again. Between four and five Fitzpiers arrived, hitching his horse to the hook outside the door. As soon as he had walked in and perceived that Grace was not in the room, he seemed to have a misgiving. Nothing less than her actual presence could long keep him to the level of this impassioned enterprise, and that lacking he appeared as one who wished to retrace his steps. He mechanically talked at what he considered a woodland matron's level of thought till a rustling was heard on the stairs, and Grace came in. Fitzpiers was for once as agitated as she. Over and above the genuine emotion which she raised in his heart there hung the sense that he was casting a die by impulse which he might not have thrown by judgment. Mr. Melbury was not in the room. Having to attend to matters in the yard, he had delayed putting on his afternoon coat and waistcoat till the doctor's appearance, when, not wishing to be backward in receiving him, he entered the parlor hastily buttoning up those garments. Grace's fastidiousness was a little distressed that Fitzpiers should see by this action the strain his visit was putting upon her father; and to make matters worse for her just then, old Grammer seemed to have a passion for incessantly pumping in the back kitchen, leaving the doors open so that the banging and splashing were distinct above the parlor conversation. Whenever the chat over the tea sank into pleasant desultoriness Mr. Melbury broke in with speeches of labored precision on very remote topics, as if he feared to let Fitzpiers's mind dwell critically on the subject nearest the hearts of all. In truth a constrained manner was natural enough in Melbury just now, for the greatest interest of his life was reaching its crisis. Could the real have been beheld instead of the corporeal merely, the corner of the room in which he sat would have been filled with a form typical of anxious suspense, large-eyed, tight-lipped, awaiting the issue. That paternal hopes and fears so intense should be bound up in the person of one child so peculiarly circumstanced, and not have dispersed themselves over the larger field of a whole family, involved dangerous risks to future happiness. Fitzpiers did not stay more than an hour, but that time had apparently advanced his sentiments towards Grace, once and for all, from a vaguely liquescent to an organic shape. She would not have accompanied him to the door in response to his whispered "Come!" if her mother had not said in a matter-of-fact way, "Of course, Grace; go to the door with Mr. Fitzpiers." Accordingly Grace went, both her parents remaining in the room. When the young pair were in the great brick-floored hall the lover took the girl's hand in his, drew it under his arm, and thus led her on to the door, where he stealthily kissed her. She broke from him trembling, blushed and turned aside, hardly knowing how things had advanced to this. Fitzpiers drove off, kissing his hand to her, and waving it to Melbury who was visible through the window. Her father returned the surgeon's action with a great flourish of his own hand and a satisfied smile. The intoxication that Fitzpiers had, as usual, produced in Grace's brain during the visit passed off somewhat with his withdrawal. She felt like a woman who did not know what she had been doing for the previous hour, but supposed with trepidation that the afternoon's proceedings, though vague, had amounted to an engagement between herself and the handsome, coercive, irresistible Fitzpiers. This visit was a type of many which followed it during the long summer days of that year. Grace was borne along upon a stream of reasonings, arguments, and persuasions, supplemented, it must be added, by inclinations of her own at times. No woman is without aspirations, which may be innocent enough within certain limits; and Grace had been so trained socially, and educated intellectually, as to see clearly enough a pleasure in the position of wife to such a man as Fitzpiers. His material standing of itself, either present or future, had little in it to give her ambition, but the possibilities of a refined and cultivated inner life, of subtle psychological intercourse, had their charm. It was this rather than any vulgar idea of marrying well which caused her to float with the current, and to yield to the immense influence which Fitzpiers exercised over her whenever she shared his society. Any observer would shrewdly have prophesied that whether or not she loved him as yet in the ordinary sense, she was pretty sure to do so in time. One evening just before dusk they had taken a rather long walk together, and for a short cut homeward passed through the shrubberies of Hintock House—still deserted, and still blankly confronting with its sightless shuttered windows the surrounding foliage and slopes. Grace was tired, and they approached the wall, and sat together on one of the stone sills—still warm with the sun that had been pouring its rays upon them all the afternoon. "This place would just do for us, would it not, dearest," said her betrothed, as they sat, turning and looking idly at the old facade. "Oh yes," said Grace, plainly showing that no such fancy had ever crossed her mind. "She is away from home still," Grace added in a minute, rather sadly, for she could not forget that she had somehow lost the valuable friendship of the lady of this bower. "Who is?—oh, you mean Mrs. Charmond. Do you know, dear, that at one time I thought you lived here." "Indeed!" said Grace. "How was that?" He explained, as far as he could do so without mentioning his disappointment at finding it was otherwise; and then went on: "Well, never mind that. Now I want to ask you something. There is one detail of our wedding which I am sure you will leave to me. My inclination is not to be married at the horrid little church here, with all the yokels staring round at us, and a droning parson reading." "Where, then, can it be? At a church in town?" "No. Not at a church at all. At a registry office. It is a quieter, snugger, and more convenient place in every way." "Oh," said she, with real distress. "How can I be married except at church, and with all my dear friends round me?" "Yeoman Winterborne among them." "Yes—why not? You know there was nothing serious between him and me." "You see, dear, a noisy bell-ringing marriage at church has this objection in our case: it would be a thing of report a long way round. Now I would gently, as gently as possible, indicate to you how inadvisable such publicity would be if we leave Hintock, and I purchase the practice that I contemplate purchasing at Budmouth—hardly more than twenty miles off. Forgive my saying that it will be far better if nobody there knows where you come from, nor anything about your parents. Your beauty and knowledge and manners will carry you anywhere if you are not hampered by such retrospective criticism." "But could it not be a quiet ceremony, even at church?" she pleaded. "I don't see the necessity of going there!" he said, a trifle impatiently. "Marriage is a civil contract, and the shorter and simpler it is made the better. People don't go to church when they take a house, or even when they make a will." "Oh, Edgar—I don't like to hear you speak like that." "Well, well—I didn't mean to. But I have mentioned as much to your father, who has made no objection; and why should you?" She gave way, deeming the point one on which she ought to allow sentiment to give way to policy—if there were indeed policy in his plan. But she was indefinably depressed as they walked homeward. CHAPTER XXIV. He left her at the door of her father's house. As he receded, and was clasped out of sight by the filmy shades, he impressed Grace as a man who hardly appertained to her existence at all. Cleverer, greater than herself, one outside her mental orbit, as she considered him, he seemed to be her ruler rather than her equal, protector, and dear familiar friend. The disappointment she had experienced at his wish, the shock given to her girlish sensibilities by his irreverent views of marriage, together with the sure and near approach of the day fixed for committing her future to his keeping, made her so restless that she could scarcely sleep at all that night. She rose when the sparrows began to walk out of the roof-holes, sat on the floor of her room in the dim light, and by-and-by peeped out behind the window-curtains. It was even now day out-of-doors, though the tones of morning were feeble and wan, and it was long before the sun would be perceptible in this overshadowed vale. Not a sound came from any of the out-houses as yet. The tree-trunks, the road, the out-buildings, the garden, every object wore that aspect of mesmeric fixity which the suspensive quietude of daybreak lends to such scenes. Outside her window helpless immobility seemed to be combined with intense consciousness; a meditative inertness possessed all things, oppressively contrasting with her own active emotions. Beyond the road were some cottage roofs and orchards; over these roofs and over the apple-trees behind, high up the slope, and backed by the plantation on the crest, was the house yet occupied by her future husband, the rough-cast front showing whitely through its creepers. The window-shutters were closed, the bedroom curtains closely drawn, and not the thinnest coil of smoke rose from the rugged chimneys. Something broke the stillness. The front door of the house she was gazing at opened softly, and there came out into the porch a female figure, wrapped in a large shawl, beneath which was visible the white skirt of a long loose garment. A gray arm, stretching from within the porch, adjusted the shawl over the woman's shoulders; it was withdrawn and disappeared, the door closing behind her. The woman went quickly down the box-edged path between the raspberries and currants, and as she walked her well-developed form and gait betrayed her individuality. It was Suke Damson, the affianced one of simple young Tim Tangs. At the bottom of the garden she entered the shelter of the tall hedge, and only the top of her head could be seen hastening in the direction of her own dwelling. Grace had recognized, or thought she recognized, in the gray arm stretching from the porch, the sleeve of a dressing-gown which Mr. Fitzpiers had been wearing on her own memorable visit to him. Her face fired red. She had just before thought of dressing herself and taking a lonely walk under the trees, so coolly green this early morning; but she now sat down on her bed and fell into reverie. It seemed as if hardly any time had passed when she heard the household moving briskly about, and breakfast preparing down-stairs; though, on rousing herself to robe and descend, she found that the sun was throwing his rays completely over the tree-tops, a progress of natural phenomena denoting that at least three hours had elapsed since she last looked out of the window. When attired she searched about the house for her father; she found him at last in the garden, stooping to examine the potatoes for signs of disease. Hearing her rustle, he stood up and stretched his back and arms, saying, "Morning t'ye, Gracie. I congratulate ye. It is only a month to-day to the time!" She did not answer, but, without lifting her dress, waded between the dewy rows of tall potato-green into the middle of the plot where he was. "I have been thinking very much about my position this morning—ever since it was light," she began, excitedly, and trembling so that she could hardly stand. "And I feel it is a false one. I wish not to marry Mr. Fitzpiers. I wish not to marry anybody; but I'll marry Giles Winterborne if you say I must as an alternative." Her father's face settled into rigidity, he turned pale, and came deliberately out of the plot before he answered her. She had never seen him look so incensed before. "Now, hearken to me," he said. "There's a time for a woman to alter her mind; and there's a time when she can no longer alter it, if she has any right eye to her parents' honor and the seemliness of things. That time has come. I won't say to ye, you SHALL marry him. But I will say that if you refuse, I shall forever be ashamed and a-weary of ye as a daughter, and shall look upon you as the hope of my life no more. What do you know about life and what it can bring forth, and how you ought to act to lead up to best ends? Oh, you are an ungrateful maid, Grace; you've seen that fellow Giles, and he has got over ye; that's where the secret lies, I'll warrant me!" "No, father, no! It is not Giles—it is something I cannot tell you of—" "Well, make fools of us all; make us laughing-stocks; break it off; have your own way." "But who knows of the engagement as yet? how can breaking it disgrace you?" Melbury then by degrees admitted that he had mentioned the engagement to this acquaintance and to that, till she perceived that in his restlessness and pride he had published it everywhere. She went dismally away to a bower of laurel at the top of the garden. Her father followed her. "It is that Giles Winterborne!" he said, with an upbraiding gaze at her. "No, it is not; though for that matter you encouraged him once," she said, troubled to the verge of despair. "It is not Giles, it is Mr. Fitzpiers." "You've had a tiff—a lovers' tiff—that's all, I suppose!" "It is some woman—" "Ay, ay; you are jealous. The old story. Don't tell me. Now do you bide here. I'll send Fitzpiers to you. I saw him smoking in front of his house but a minute by-gone." He went off hastily out of the garden-gate and down the lane. But she would not stay where she was; and edging through a slit in the garden-fence, walked away into the wood. Just about here the trees were large and wide apart, and there was no undergrowth, so that she could be seen to some distance; a sylph-like, greenish-white creature, as toned by the sunlight and leafage. She heard a foot-fall crushing dead leaves behind her, and found herself reconnoitered by Fitzpiers himself, approaching gay and fresh as the morning around them. His remote gaze at her had been one of mild interest rather than of rapture. But she looked so lovely in the green world about her, her pink cheeks, her simple light dress, and the delicate flexibility of her movement acquired such rarity from their wild-wood setting, that his eyes kindled as he drew near. "My darling, what is it? Your father says you are in the pouts, and jealous, and I don't know what. Ha! ha! ha! as if there were any rival to you, except vegetable nature, in this home of recluses! We know better." "Jealous; oh no, it is not so," said she, gravely. "That's a mistake of his and yours, sir. I spoke to him so closely about the question of marriage with you that he did not apprehend my state of mind." "But there's something wrong—eh?" he asked, eying her narrowly, and bending to kiss her. She shrank away, and his purposed kiss miscarried. "What is it?" he said, more seriously for this little defeat. She made no answer beyond, "Mr. Fitzpiers, I have had no breakfast, I must go in." "Come," he insisted, fixing his eyes upon her. "Tell me at once, I say." It was the greater strength against the smaller; but she was mastered less by his manner than by her own sense of the unfairness of silence. "I looked out of the window," she said, with hesitation. "I'll tell you by-and-by. I must go in-doors. I have had no breakfast." By a sort of divination his conjecture went straight to the fact. "Nor I," said he, lightly. "Indeed, I rose late to-day. I have had a broken night, or rather morning. A girl of the village—I don't know her name—came and rang at my bell as soon as it was light—between four and five, I should think it was—perfectly maddened with an aching tooth. As no-body heard her ring, she threw some gravel at my window, till at last I heard her and slipped on my dressing-gown and went down. The poor thing begged me with tears in her eyes to take out her tormentor, if I dragged her head off. Down she sat and out it came—a lovely molar, not a speck upon it; and off she went with it in her handkerchief, much contented, though it would have done good work for her for fifty years to come." It was all so plausible—so completely explained. Knowing nothing of the incident in the wood on old Midsummer-eve, Grace felt that her suspicions were unworthy and absurd, and with the readiness of an honest heart she jumped at the opportunity of honoring his word. At the moment of her mental liberation the bushes about the garden had moved, and her father emerged into the shady glade. "Well, I hope it is made up?" he said, cheerily. "Oh yes," said Fitzpiers, with his eyes fixed on Grace, whose eyes were shyly bent downward. "Now," said her father, "tell me, the pair of ye, that you still mean to take one another for good and all; and on the strength o't you shall have another couple of hundred paid down. I swear it by the name." Fitzpiers took her hand. "We declare it, do we not, my dear Grace?" said he. Relieved of her doubt, somewhat overawed, and ever anxious to please, she was disposed to settle the matter; yet, womanlike, she would not relinquish her opportunity of asking a concession of some sort. "If our wedding can be at church, I say yes," she answered, in a measured voice. "If not, I say no." Fitzpiers was generous in his turn. "It shall be so," he rejoined, gracefully. "To holy church we'll go, and much good may it do us." They returned through the bushes indoors, Grace walking, full of thought between the other two, somewhat comforted, both by Fitzpiers's ingenious explanation and by the sense that she was not to be deprived of a religious ceremony. "So let it be," she said to herself. "Pray God it is for the best." From this hour there was no serious attempt at recalcitration on her part. Fitzpiers kept himself continually near her, dominating any rebellious impulse, and shaping her will into passive concurrence with all his desires. Apart from his lover-like anxiety to possess her, the few golden hundreds of the timber-dealer, ready to hand, formed a warm background to Grace's lovely face, and went some way to remove his uneasiness at the prospect of endangering his professional and social chances by an alliance with the family of a simple countryman. The interim closed up its perspective surely and silently. Whenever Grace had any doubts of her position, the sense of contracting time was like a shortening chamber: at other moments she was comparatively blithe. Day after day waxed and waned; the one or two woodmen who sawed, shaped, spokeshaved on her father's premises at this inactive season of the year, regularly came and unlocked the doors in the morning, locked them in the evening, supped, leaned over their garden-gates for a whiff of evening air, and to catch any last and farthest throb of news from the outer world, which entered and expired at Little Hintock like the exhausted swell of a wave in some innermost cavern of some innermost creek of an embayed sea; yet no news interfered with the nuptial purpose at their neighbor's house. The sappy green twig-tips of the season's growth would not, she thought, be appreciably woodier on the day she became a wife, so near was the time; the tints of the foliage would hardly have changed. Everything was so much as usual that no itinerant stranger would have supposed a woman's fate to be hanging in the balance at that summer's decline. But there were preparations, imaginable readily enough by those who had special knowledge. In the remote and fashionable town of Sandbourne something was growing up under the hands of several persons who had never seen Grace Melbury, never would see her, or care anything about her at all, though their creation had such interesting relation to her life that it would enclose her very heart at a moment when that heart would beat, if not with more emotional ardor, at least with more emotional turbulence than at any previous time. Why did Mrs. Dollery's van, instead of passing along at the end of the smaller village to Great Hintock direct, turn one Saturday night into Little Hintock Lane, and never pull up till it reached Mr. Melbury's gates? The gilding shine of evening fell upon a large, flat box not less than a yard square, and safely tied with cord, as it was handed out from under the tilt with a great deal of care. But it was not heavy for its size; Mrs. Dollery herself carried it into the house. Tim Tangs, the hollow-turner, Bawtree, Suke Damson, and others, looked knowing, and made remarks to each other as they watched its entrance. Melbury stood at the door of the timber-shed in the attitude of a man to whom such an arrival was a trifling domestic detail with which he did not condescend to be concerned. Yet he well divined the contents of that box, and was in truth all the while in a pleasant exaltation at the proof that thus far, at any rate, no disappointment had supervened. While Mrs. Dollery remained—which was rather long, from her sense of the importance of her errand—he went into the out-house; but as soon as she had had her say, been paid, and had rumbled away, he entered the dwelling, to find there what he knew he should find—his wife and daughter in a flutter of excitement over the wedding-gown, just arrived from the leading dress-maker of Sandbourne watering-place aforesaid. During these weeks Giles Winterborne was nowhere to be seen or heard of. At the close of his tenure in Hintock he had sold some of his furniture, packed up the rest—a few pieces endeared by associations, or necessary to his occupation—in the house of a friendly neighbor, and gone away. People said that a certain laxity had crept into his life; that he had never gone near a church latterly, and had been sometimes seen on Sundays with unblacked boots, lying on his elbow under a tree, with a cynical gaze at surrounding objects. He was likely to return to Hintock when the cider-making season came round, his apparatus being stored there, and travel with his mill and press from village to village. The narrow interval that stood before the day diminished yet. There was in Grace's mind sometimes a certain anticipative satisfaction, the satisfaction of feeling that she would be the heroine of an hour; moreover, she was proud, as a cultivated woman, to be the wife of a cultivated man. It was an opportunity denied very frequently to young women in her position, nowadays not a few; those in whom parental discovery of the value of education has implanted tastes which parental circles fail to gratify. But what an attenuation was this cold pride of the dream of her youth, in which she had pictured herself walking in state towards the altar, flushed by the purple light and bloom of her own passion, without a single misgiving as to the sealing of the bond, and fervently receiving as her due "The homage of a thousand hearts; the fond, deep love of one." Everything had been clear then, in imagination; now something was undefined. She had little carking anxieties; a curious fatefulness seemed to rule her, and she experienced a mournful want of some one to confide in. The day loomed so big and nigh that her prophetic ear could, in fancy, catch the noise of it, hear the murmur of the villagers as she came out of church, imagine the jangle of the three thin-toned Hintock bells. The dialogues seemed to grow louder, and the ding-ding-dong of those three crazed bells more persistent. She awoke: the morning had come. Five hours later she was the wife of Fitzpiers. CHAPTER XXV. The chief hotel at Sherton-Abbas was an old stone-fronted inn with a yawning arch, under which vehicles were driven by stooping coachmen to back premises of wonderful commodiousness. The windows to the street were mullioned into narrow lights, and only commanded a view of the opposite houses; hence, perhaps, it arose that the best and most luxurious private sitting-room that the inn could afford over-looked the nether parts of the establishment, where beyond the yard were to be seen gardens and orchards, now bossed, nay incrusted, with scarlet and gold fruit, stretching to infinite distance under a luminous lavender mist. The time was early autumn, "When the fair apples, red as evening sky, Do bend the tree unto the fruitful ground, When juicy pears, and berries of black dye, Do dance in air, and call the eyes around." The landscape confronting the window might, indeed, have been part of the identical stretch of country which the youthful Chatterton had in his mind. In this room sat she who had been the maiden Grace Melbury till the finger of fate touched her and turned her to a wife. It was two months after the wedding, and she was alone. Fitzpiers had walked out to see the abbey by the light of sunset, but she had been too fatigued to accompany him. They had reached the last stage of a long eight-weeks' tour, and were going on to Hintock that night. In the yard, between Grace and the orchards, there progressed a scene natural to the locality at this time of the year. An apple-mill and press had been erected on the spot, to which some men were bringing fruit from divers points in mawn-baskets, while others were grinding them, and others wringing down the pomace, whose sweet juice gushed forth into tubs and pails. The superintendent of these proceedings, to whom the others spoke as master, was a young yeoman of prepossessing manner and aspect, whose form she recognized in a moment. He had hung his coat to a nail of the out-house wall, and wore his shirt-sleeves rolled up beyond his elbows, to keep them unstained while he rammed the pomace into the bags of horse-hair. Fragments of apple-rind had alighted upon the brim of his hat—probably from the bursting of a bag—while brown pips of the same fruit were sticking among the down upon his fine, round arms. She realized in a moment how he had come there. Down in the heart of the apple country nearly every farmer kept up a cider-making apparatus and wring-house for his own use, building up the pomace in great straw "cheeses," as they were called; but here, on the margin of Pomona's plain, was a debatable land neither orchard nor sylvan exclusively, where the apple produce was hardly sufficient to warrant each proprietor in keeping a mill of his own. This was the field of the travelling cider-maker. His press and mill were fixed to wheels instead of being set up in a cider-house; and with a couple of horses, buckets, tubs, strainers, and an assistant or two, he wandered from place to place, deriving very satisfactory returns for his trouble in such a prolific season as the present. The back parts of the town were just now abounding with apple-gatherings. They stood in the yards in carts, baskets, and loose heaps; and the blue, stagnant air of autumn which hung over everything was heavy with a sweet cidery smell. Cakes of pomace lay against the walls in the yellow sun, where they were drying to be used as fuel. Yet it was not the great make of the year as yet; before the standard crop came in there accumulated, in abundant times like this, a large superfluity of early apples, and windfalls from the trees of later harvest, which would not keep long. Thus, in the baskets, and quivering in the hopper of the mill, she saw specimens of mixed dates, including the mellow countenances of streaked-jacks, codlins, costards, stubbards, ratheripes, and other well-known friends of her ravenous youth. Grace watched the head-man with interest. The slightest sigh escaped her. Perhaps she thought of the day—not so far distant—when that friend of her childhood had met her by her father's arrangement in this same town, warm with hope, though diffident, and trusting in a promise rather implied than given. Or she might have thought of days earlier yet—days of childhood—when her mouth was somewhat more ready to receive a kiss from his than was his to bestow one. However, all that was over. She had felt superior to him then, and she felt superior to him now. She wondered why he never looked towards her open window. She did not know that in the slight commotion caused by their arrival at the inn that afternoon Winterborne had caught sight of her through the archway, had turned red, and was continuing his work with more concentrated attention on the very account of his discovery. Robert Creedle, too, who travelled with Giles, had been incidentally informed by the hostler that Dr. Fitzpiers and his young wife were in the hotel, after which news Creedle kept shaking his head and saying to himself, "Ah!" very audibly, between his thrusts at the screw of the cider-press. "Why the deuce do you sigh like that, Robert?" asked Winterborne, at last. "Ah, maister—'tis my thoughts—'tis my thoughts!...Yes, ye've lost a hundred load o' timber well seasoned; ye've lost five hundred pound in good money; ye've lost the stone-windered house that's big enough to hold a dozen families; ye've lost your share of half a dozen good wagons and their horses—all lost!—through your letting slip she that was once yer own!" "Good God, Creedle, you'll drive me mad!" said Giles, sternly. "Don't speak of that any more!" Thus the subject had ended in the yard. Meanwhile, the passive cause of all this loss still regarded the scene. She was beautifully dressed; she was seated in the most comfortable room that the inn afforded; her long journey had been full of variety, and almost luxuriously performed—for Fitzpiers did not study economy where pleasure was in question. Hence it perhaps arose that Giles and all his belongings seemed sorry and common to her for the moment—moving in a plane so far removed from her own of late that she could scarcely believe she had ever found congruity therein. "No—I could never have married him!" she said, gently shaking her head. "Dear father was right. It would have been too coarse a life for me." And she looked at the rings of sapphire and opal upon her white and slender fingers that had been gifts from Fitzpiers. Seeing that Giles still kept his back turned, and with a little of the above-described pride of life—easily to be understood, and possibly excused, in a young, inexperienced woman who thought she had married well—she said at last, with a smile on her lips, "Mr. Winterborne!" He appeared to take no heed, and she said a second time, "Mr. Winterborne!" Even now he seemed not to hear, though a person close enough to him to see the expression of his face might have doubted it; and she said a third time, with a timid loudness, "Mr. Winterborne! What, have you forgotten my voice?" She remained with her lips parted in a welcoming smile. He turned without surprise, and came deliberately towards the window. "Why do you call me?" he said, with a sternness that took her completely unawares, his face being now pale. "Is it not enough that you see me here moiling and muddling for my daily bread while you are sitting there in your success, that you can't refrain from opening old wounds by calling out my name?" She flushed, and was struck dumb for some moments; but she forgave his unreasoning anger, knowing so well in what it had its root. "I am sorry I offended you by speaking," she replied, meekly. "Believe me, I did not intend to do that. I could hardly sit here so near you without a word of recognition." Winterborne's heart had swollen big, and his eyes grown moist by this time, so much had the gentle answer of that familiar voice moved him. He assured her hurriedly, and without looking at her, that he was not angry. He then managed to ask her, in a clumsy, constrained way, if she had had a pleasant journey, and seen many interesting sights. She spoke of a few places that she had visited, and so the time passed till he withdrew to take his place at one of the levers which pulled round the screw. Forgotten her voice! Indeed, he had not forgotten her voice, as his bitterness showed. But though in the heat of the moment he had reproached her keenly, his second mood was a far more tender one—that which could regard her renunciation of such as he as her glory and her privilege, his own fidelity notwithstanding. He could have declared with a contemporary poet— "If I forget, The salt creek may forget the ocean; If I forget The heart whence flows my heart's bright motion, May I sink meanlier than the worst Abandoned, outcast, crushed, accurst, If I forget. "Though you forget, No word of mine shall mar your pleasure; Though you forget, You filled my barren life with treasure, You may withdraw the gift you gave; You still are queen, I still am slave, Though you forget." She had tears in her eyes at the thought that she could not remind him of what he ought to have remembered; that not herself but the pressure of events had dissipated the dreams of their early youth. Grace was thus unexpectedly worsted in her encounter with her old friend. She had opened the window with a faint sense of triumph, but he had turned it into sadness; she did not quite comprehend the reason why. In truth it was because she was not cruel enough in her cruelty. If you have to use the knife, use it, say the great surgeons; and for her own peace Grace should have contemned Winterborne thoroughly or not at all. As it was, on closing the window an indescribable, some might have said dangerous, pity quavered in her bosom for him. Presently her husband entered the room, and told her what a wonderful sunset there was to be seen. "I have not noticed it. But I have seen somebody out there that we know," she replied, looking into the court. Fitzpiers followed the direction of her eyes, and said he did not recognize anybody. "Why, Mr. Winterborne—there he is, cider-making. He combines that with his other business, you know." "Oh—that fellow," said Fitzpiers, his curiosity becoming extinct. She, reproachfully: "What, call Mr. Winterborne a fellow, Edgar? It is true I was just saying to myself that I never could have married him; but I have much regard for him, and always shall." "Well, do by all means, my dear one. I dare say I am inhuman, and supercilious, and contemptibly proud of my poor old ramshackle family; but I do honestly confess to you that I feel as if I belonged to a different species from the people who are working in that yard." "And from me too, then. For my blood is no better than theirs." He looked at her with a droll sort of awakening. It was, indeed, a startling anomaly that this woman of the tribe without should be standing there beside him as his wife, if his sentiments were as he had said. In their travels together she had ranged so unerringly at his level in ideas, tastes, and habits that he had almost forgotten how his heart had played havoc with his principles in taking her to him. "Ah YOU—you are refined and educated into something quite different," he said, self-assuringly. "I don't quite like to think that," she murmured with soft regret. "And I think you underestimate Giles Winterborne. Remember, I was brought up with him till I was sent away to school, so I cannot be radically different. At any rate, I don't feel so. That is, no doubt, my fault, and a great blemish in me. But I hope you will put up with it, Edgar." Fitzpiers said that he would endeavor to do so; and as it was now getting on for dusk, they prepared to perform the last stage of their journey, so as to arrive at Hintock before it grew very late. In less than half an hour they started, the cider-makers in the yard having ceased their labors and gone away, so that the only sounds audible there now were the trickling of the juice from the tightly screwed press, and the buzz of a single wasp, which had drunk itself so tipsy that it was unconscious of nightfall. Grace was very cheerful at the thought of being soon in her sylvan home, but Fitzpiers sat beside her almost silent. An indescribable oppressiveness had overtaken him with the near approach of the journey's end and the realities of life that lay there. "You don't say a word, Edgar," she observed. "Aren't you glad to get back? I am." "You have friends here. I have none." "But my friends are yours." "Oh yes—in that sense." The conversation languished, and they drew near the end of Hintock Lane. It had been decided that they should, at least for a time, take up their abode in her father's roomy house, one wing of which was quite at their service, being almost disused by the Melburys. Workmen had been painting, papering, and whitewashing this set of rooms in the wedded pair's absence; and so scrupulous had been the timber-dealer that there should occur no hitch or disappointment on their arrival, that not the smallest detail remained undone. To make it all complete a ground-floor room had been fitted up as a surgery, with an independent outer door, to which Fitzpiers's brass plate was screwed—for mere ornament, such a sign being quite superfluous where everybody knew the latitude and longitude of his neighbors for miles round. Melbury and his wife welcomed the twain with affection, and all the house with deference. They went up to explore their rooms, that opened from a passage on the left hand of the staircase, the entrance to which could be shut off on the landing by a door that Melbury had hung for the purpose. A friendly fire was burning in the grate, although it was not cold. Fitzpiers said it was too soon for any sort of meal, they only having dined shortly before leaving Sherton-Abbas. He would walk across to his old lodging, to learn how his locum tenens had got on in his absence. In leaving Melbury's door he looked back at the house. There was economy in living under that roof, and economy was desirable, but in some way he was dissatisfied with the arrangement; it immersed him so deeply in son-in-lawship to Melbury. He went on to his former residence. His deputy was out, and Fitzpiers fell into conversation with his former landlady. "Well, Mrs. Cox, what's the best news?" he asked of her, with cheery weariness. She was a little soured at losing by his marriage so profitable a tenant as the surgeon had proved to be during his residence under her roof; and the more so in there being hardly the remotest chance of her getting such another settler in the Hintock solitudes. "'Tis what I don't wish to repeat, sir; least of all to you," she mumbled. "Never mind me, Mrs. Cox; go ahead." "It is what people say about your hasty marrying, Dr. Fitzpiers. Whereas they won't believe you know such clever doctrines in physic as they once supposed of ye, seeing as you could marry into Mr. Melbury's family, which is only Hintock-born, such as me." "They are kindly welcome to their opinion," said Fitzpiers, not allowing himself to recognize that he winced. "Anything else?" "Yes; SHE'S come home at last." "Who's she?" "Mrs. Charmond." "Oh, indeed!" said Fitzpiers, with but slight interest. "I've never seen her." "She has seen you, sir, whether or no." "Never." "Yes; she saw you in some hotel or street for a minute or two while you were away travelling, and accidentally heard your name; and when she made some remark about you, Miss Ellis—that's her maid—told her you was on your wedding-tower with Mr. Melbury's daughter; and she said, 'He ought to have done better than that. I fear he has spoiled his chances,' she says." Fitzpiers did not talk much longer to this cheering housewife, and walked home with no very brisk step. He entered the door quietly, and went straight up-stairs to the drawing-room extemporized for their use by Melbury in his and his bride's absence, expecting to find her there as he had left her. The fire was burning still, but there were no lights. He looked into the next apartment, fitted up as a little dining-room, but no supper was laid. He went to the top of the stairs, and heard a chorus of voices in the timber-merchant's parlor below, Grace's being occasionally intermingled. Descending, and looking into the room from the door-way, he found quite a large gathering of neighbors and other acquaintances, praising and congratulating Mrs. Fitzpiers on her return, among them being the dairyman, Farmer Bawtree, and the master-blacksmith from Great Hintock; also the cooper, the hollow-turner, the exciseman, and some others, with their wives, who lived hard by. Grace, girl that she was, had quite forgotten her new dignity and her husband's; she was in the midst of them, blushing, and receiving their compliments with all the pleasure of old-comradeship. Fitzpiers experienced a profound distaste for the situation. Melbury was nowhere in the room, but Melbury's wife, perceiving the doctor, came to him. "We thought, Grace and I," she said, "that as they have called, hearing you were come, we could do no less than ask them to supper; and then Grace proposed that we should all sup together, as it is the first night of your return." By this time Grace had come round to him. "Is it not good of them to welcome me so warmly?" she exclaimed, with tears of friendship in her eyes. "After so much good feeling I could not think of our shutting ourselves up away from them in our own dining-room." "Certainly not—certainly not," said Fitzpiers; and he entered the room with the heroic smile of a martyr. As soon as they sat down to table Melbury came in, and seemed to see at once that Fitzpiers would much rather have received no such demonstrative reception. He thereupon privately chid his wife for her forwardness in the matter. Mrs. Melbury declared that it was as much Grace's doing as hers, after which there was no more to be said by that young woman's tender father. By this time Fitzpiers was making the best of his position among the wide-elbowed and genial company who sat eating and drinking and laughing and joking around him; and getting warmed himself by the good cheer, was obliged to admit that, after all, the supper was not the least enjoyable he had ever known. At times, however, the words about his having spoiled his opportunities, repeated to him as those of Mrs. Charmond, haunted him like a handwriting on the wall. Then his manner would become suddenly abstracted. At one moment he would mentally put an indignant query why Mrs. Charmond or any other woman should make it her business to have opinions about his opportunities; at another he thought that he could hardly be angry with her for taking an interest in the doctor of her own parish. Then he would drink a glass of grog and so get rid of the misgiving. These hitches and quaffings were soon perceived by Grace as well as by her father; and hence both of them were much relieved when the first of the guests to discover that the hour was growing late rose and declared that he must think of moving homeward. At the words Melbury rose as alertly as if lifted by a spring, and in ten minutes they were gone. "Now, Grace," said her husband as soon as he found himself alone with her in their private apartments, "we've had a very pleasant evening, and everybody has been very kind. But we must come to an understanding about our way of living here. If we continue in these rooms there must be no mixing in with your people below. I can't stand it, and that's the truth." She had been sadly surprised at the suddenness of his distaste for those old-fashioned woodland forms of life which in his courtship he had professed to regard with so much interest. But she assented in a moment. "We must be simply your father's tenants," he continued, "and our goings and comings must be as independent as if we lived elsewhere." "Certainly, Edgar—I quite see that it must be so." "But you joined in with all those people in my absence, without knowing whether I should approve or disapprove. When I came I couldn't help myself at all." She, sighing: "Yes—I see I ought to have waited; though they came unexpectedly, and I thought I had acted for the best." Thus the discussion ended, and the next day Fitzpiers went on his old rounds as usual. But it was easy for so super-subtle an eye as his to discern, or to think he discerned, that he was no longer regarded as an extrinsic, unfathomed gentleman of limitless potentiality, scientific and social; but as Mr. Melbury's compeer, and therefore in a degree only one of themselves. The Hintock woodlandlers held with all the strength of inherited conviction to the aristocratic principle, and as soon as they had discovered that Fitzpiers was one of the old Buckbury Fitzpierses they had accorded to him for nothing a touching of hat-brims, promptness of service, and deference of approach, which Melbury had to do without, though he paid for it over and over. But now, having proved a traitor to his own cause by this marriage, Fitzpiers was believed in no more as a superior hedged by his own divinity; while as doctor he began to be rated no higher than old Jones, whom they had so long despised. His few patients seemed in his two months' absence to have dwindled considerably in number, and no sooner had he returned than there came to him from the Board of Guardians a complaint that a pauper had been neglected by his substitute. In a fit of pride Fitzpiers resigned his appointment as one of the surgeons to the union, which had been the nucleus of his practice here. At the end of a fortnight he came in-doors one evening to Grace more briskly than usual. "They have written to me again about that practice in Budmouth that I once negotiated for," he said to her. "The premium asked is eight hundred pounds, and I think that between your father and myself it ought to be raised. Then we can get away from this place forever." The question had been mooted between them before, and she was not unprepared to consider it. They had not proceeded far with the discussion when a knock came to the door, and in a minute Grammer ran up to say that a message had arrived from Hintock House requesting Dr. Fitzpiers to attend there at once. Mrs. Charmond had met with a slight accident through the overturning of her carriage. "This is something, anyhow," said Fitzpiers, rising with an interest which he could not have defined. "I have had a presentiment that this mysterious woman and I were to be better acquainted." The latter words were murmured to himself alone. "Good-night," said Grace, as soon as he was ready. "I shall be asleep, probably, when you return." "Good-night," he replied, inattentively, and went down-stairs. It was the first time since their marriage that he had left her without a kiss.

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