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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
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shoulders; it was withdrawn and disappeared, the door closing
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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,
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
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
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
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.
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