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She re-entered the hut, flung off her bonnet and cloak, and
approached the sufferer. He had begun anew those terrible
mutterings, and his hands were cold. As soon as she saw him there
returned to her that agony of mind which the stimulus of her
journey had thrown off for a time.
Could he really be dying? She bathed him, kissed him, forgot all
things but the fact that lying there before her was he who had
loved her more than the mere lover would have loved; had martyred
himself for her comfort, cared more for her self-respect than she
had thought of caring. This mood continued till she heard quick,
smart footsteps without; she knew whose footsteps they were.
Grace sat on the inside of the bed against the wall, holding
Giles's hand, so that when her husband entered the patient lay
between herself and him. He stood transfixed at first, noticing
Grace only. Slowly he dropped his glance and discerned who the
prostrate man was. Strangely enough, though Grace's distaste for
her husband's company had amounted almost to dread, and culminated
in actual flight, at this moment her last and least feeling was
personal. Sensitive femininity was eclipsed by self-effacing
purpose, and that it was a husband who stood there was forgotten.
The first look that possessed her face was relief; satisfaction at
the presence of the physician obliterated thought of the man,
which only returned in the form of a sub-consciousness that did
not interfere with her words.
"Is he dying--is there any hope?" she cried.
"Grace!" said Fitzpiers, in an indescribable whisper--more than
invocating, if not quite deprecatory.
He was arrested by the spectacle, not so much in its intrinsic
character--though that was striking enough to a man who called
himself the husband of the sufferer's friend and nurse--but in its
character as the counterpart of one that had its hour many months
before, in which he had figured as the patient, and the woman had
been Felice Charmond.
"Is he in great danger--can you save him?" she cried again.
Fitzpiers aroused himself, came a little nearer, and examined
Winterborne as he stood. His inspection was concluded in a mere
glance. Before he spoke he looked at her contemplatively as to
the effect of his coming words.
"He is dying," he said, with dry precision.
"What?" said she.
"Nothing can be done, by me or any other man. It will soon be all
over. The extremities are dead already." His eyes still remained
fixed on her; the conclusion to which he had come seeming to end
his interest, professional and otherwise, in Winterborne forever.
"But it cannot be! He was well three days ago."
"Not well, I suspect. This seems like a secondary attack, which
has followed some previous illness--possibly typhoid--it may have
been months ago, or recently."
"Ah--he was not well--you are right. He was ill--he was ill when
There was nothing more to do or say. She crouched down at the
side of the bed, and Fitzpiers took a seat. Thus they remained in
silence, and long as it lasted she never turned her eyes, or
apparently her thoughts, at all to her husband. He occasionally
murmured, with automatic authority, some slight directions for
alleviating the pain of the dying man, which she mechanically
obeyed, bending over him during the intervals in silent tears.
Winterborne never recovered consciousness of what was passing; and
that he was going became soon perceptible also to her. In less
than an hour the delirium ceased; then there was an interval of
somnolent painlessness and soft breathing, at the end of which
Winterborne passed quietly away.
Then Fitzpiers broke the silence. "Have you lived here long?"
Grace was wild with sorrow--with all that had befallen her--with
the cruelties that had attacked her--with life--with Heaven. She
answered at random. "Yes. By what right do you ask?"
"Don't think I claim any right," said Fitzpiers, sadly. "It is
for you to do and say what you choose. I admit, quite as much as
you feel, that I am a vagabond--a brute--not worthy to possess the
smallest fragment of you. But here I am, and I have happened to
take sufficient interest in you to make that inquiry."
"He is everything to me!" said Grace, hardly heeding her husband,
and laying her hand reverently on the dead man's eyelids, where
she kept it a long time, pressing down their lashes with gentle
touches, as if she were stroking a little bird.
He watched her a while, and then glanced round the chamber where
his eyes fell upon a few dressing necessaries that she had
"Grace--if I may call you so," he said, "I have been already
humiliated almost to the depths. I have come back since you
refused to join me elsewhere--I have entered your father's house,
and borne all that that cost me without flinching, because I have
felt that I deserved humiliation. But is there a yet greater
humiliation in store for me? You say you have been living here--
that he is everything to you. Am I to draw from that the obvious,
the extremest inference?"
Triumph at any price is sweet to men and women--especially the
latter. It was her first and last opportunity of repaying him for
the cruel contumely which she had borne at his hands so docilely.
"Yes," she answered; and there was that in her subtly compounded
nature which made her feel a thrill of pride as she did so.
Yet the moment after she had so mightily belied her character she
half repented. Her husband had turned as white as the wall behind
him. It seemed as if all that remained to him of life and spirit
had been abstracted at a stroke. Yet he did not move, and in his
efforts at self-control closed his mouth together as a vice. His
determination was fairly successful, though she saw how very much
greater than she had expected her triumph had been. Presently he
looked across at Winterborne.
"Would it startle you to hear," he said, as if he hardly had
breath to utter the words, "that she who was to me what he was to
you is dead also?"
"Dead--SHE dead?" exclaimed Grace.
"Yes. Felice Charmond is where this young man is."
"Never!" said Grace, vehemently.
He went on without heeding the insinuation: "And I came back to
try to make it up with you--but--"
Fitzpiers rose, and moved across the room to go away, looking
downward with the droop of a man whose hope was turned to apathy,
if not despair. In going round the door his eye fell upon her
once more. She was still bending over the body of Winterborne,
her face close to the young man's.
"Have you been kissing him during his illness?" asked her husband.
"Since his fevered state set in?"
"On his lips?"
"Then you will do well to take a few drops of this in water as
soon as possible." He drew a small phial from his pocket and
returned to offer it to her.
Grace shook her head.
"If you don't do as I tell you you may soon be like him."
"I don't care. I wish to die."
"I'll put it here," said Fitzpiers, placing the bottle on a ledge
beside him. "The sin of not having warned you will not be upon my
head at any rate, among my other sins. I am now going, and I will
send somebody to you. Your father does not know that you are
here, so I suppose I shall be bound to tell him?"
Fitzpiers left the cot, and the stroke of his feet was soon
immersed in the silence that prevaded the spot. Grace remained
kneeling and weeping, she hardly knew how long, and then she sat
up, covered poor Giles's features, and went towards the door where
her husband had stood. No sign of any other comer greeted her
ear, the only perceptible sounds being the tiny cracklings of the
dead leaves, which, like a feather-bed, had not yet done rising to
their normal level where indented by the pressure of her husband's
receding footsteps. It reminded her that she had been struck with
the change in his aspect; the extremely intellectual look that had
always been in his face was wrought to a finer phase by thinness,
and a care-worn dignity had been superadded. She returned to
Winterborne's side, and during her meditations another tread drew
near the door, entered the outer room, and halted at the entrance
of the chamber where Grace was.
"What--Marty!" said Grace.
"Yes. I have heard," said Marty, whose demeanor had lost all its
girlishness under the stroke that seemed almost literally to have
"He died for me!" murmured Grace, heavily.
Marty did not fully comprehend; and she answered, "He belongs to
neither of us now, and your beauty is no more powerful with him
than my plainness. I have come to help you, ma'am. He never
cared for me, and he cared much for you; but he cares for us both
"Oh don't, don't, Marty!"
Marty said no more, but knelt over Winterborne from the other
"Did you meet my hus--Mr. Fitzpiers?"
"Then what brought you here?"
"I come this way sometimes. I have got to go to the farther side
of the wood this time of the year, and am obliged to get there
before four o'clock in the morning, to begin heating the oven for
the early baking. I have passed by here often at this time."
Grace looked at her quickly. "Then did you know I was here?"
"Did you tell anybody?"
"No. I knew you lived in the hut, that he had gied it up to ye,
and lodged out himself."
"Did you know where he lodged?"
"No. That I couldn't find out. Was it at Delborough?"
"No. It was not there, Marty. Would it had been! It would have
saved--saved--" To check her tears she turned, and seeing a book
on the window-bench, took it up. "Look, Marty, this is a Psalter.
He was not an outwardly religious man, but he was pure and perfect
in his heart. Shall we read a psalm over him?"
"Oh yes--we will--with all my heart!"
Grace opened the thin brown book, which poor Giles had kept at
hand mainly for the convenience of whetting his pen-knife upon its
leather covers. She began to read in that rich, devotional voice
peculiar to women only on such occasions. When it was over, Marty
said, "I should like to pray for his soul."
"So should I," said her companion. "But we must not."
"Why? Nobody would know."
Grace could not resist the argument, influenced as she was by the
sense of making amends for having neglected him in the body; and
their tender voices united and filled the narrow room with
supplicatory murmurs that a Calvinist might have envied. They had
hardly ended when now and more numerous foot-falls were audible,
also persons in conversation, one of whom Grace recognized as her
She rose, and went to the outer apartment, in which there was only
such light as beamed from the inner one. Melbury and Mrs. Melbury
were standing there.
"I don't reproach you, Grace," said her father, with an estranged
manner, and in a voice not at all like his old voice. "What has
come upon you and us is beyond reproach, beyond weeping, and
beyond wailing. Perhaps I drove you to it. But I am hurt; I am
scourged; I am astonished. In the face of this there is nothing
to be said."
Without replying, Grace turned and glided back to the inner
chamber. "Marty," she said, quickly, "I cannot look my father in
the face until he knows the true circumstances of my life here.
Go and tell him--what you have told me--what you saw--that he gave
up his house to me."
She sat down, her face buried in her hands, and Marty went, and
after a short absence returned. Then Grace rose, and going out
asked her father if he had met her husband.
"Yes," said Melbury.
"And you know all that has happened?"
"I do. Forgive me, Grace, for suspecting ye of worse than
rashness--I ought to know ye better. Are you coming with me to
what was once your home?"
"No. I stay here with HIM. Take no account of me any more."
The unwonted, perplexing, agitating relations in which she had
stood to Winterborne quite lately--brought about by Melbury's own
contrivance--could not fail to soften the natural anger of a
parent at her more recent doings. "My daughter, things are bad,"
he rejoined. "But why do you persevere to make 'em worse? What
good can you do to Giles by staying here with him? Mind, I ask no
questions. I don't inquire why you decided to come here, or
anything as to what your course would have been if he had not
died, though I know there's no deliberate harm in ye. As for me,
I have lost all claim upon you, and I make no complaint. But I do
say that by coming back with me now you will show no less kindness
to him, and escape any sound of shame.
"But I don't wish to escape it."
"If you don't on your own account, cannot you wish to on mine and
hers? Nobody except our household knows that you have left home.
Then why should you, by a piece of perverseness, bring down my
gray hairs with sorrow to the grave?"
"If it were not for my husband--" she began, moved by his words.
"But how can I meet him there? How can any woman who is not a mere
man's creature join him after what has taken place?"
"He would go away again rather than keep you out of my house."
"How do you know that, father?"
"We met him on our way here, and he told us so," said Mrs.
Melbury. "He had said something like it before. He seems very
much upset altogether."
"He declared to her when he came to our house that he would wait
for time and devotion to bring about his forgiveness," said her
husband. "That was it, wasn't it, Lucy?"
"Yes. That he would not intrude upon you, Grace, till you gave
him absolute permission," Mrs. Melbury added.
This antecedent considerateness in Fitzpiers was as welcome to
Grace as it was unexpected; and though she did not desire his
presence, she was sorry that by her retaliatory fiction she had
given him a different reason for avoiding her. She made no
further objections to accompanying her parents, taking them into
the inner room to give Winterborne a last look, and gathering up
the two or three things that belonged to her. While she was doing
this the two women came who had been called by Melbury, and at
their heels poor Creedle.
"Forgive me, but I can't rule my mourning nohow as a man should,
Mr. Melbury," he said. "I ha'n't seen him since Thursday
se'night, and have wondered for days and days where he's been
keeping. There was I expecting him to come and tell me to wash
out the cider-barrels against the making, and here was he-- Well,
I've knowed him from table-high; I knowed his father--used to bide
about upon two sticks in the sun afore he died!--and now I've seen
the end of the family, which we can ill afford to lose, wi' such a
scanty lot of good folk in Hintock as we've got. And now Robert
Creedle will be nailed up in parish boards 'a b'lieve; and noboby
will glutch down a sigh for he!"
They started for home, Marty and Creedle remaining behind. For a
time Grace and her father walked side by side without speaking.
It was just in the blue of the dawn, and the chilling tone of the
sky was reflected in her cold, wet face. The whole wood seemed to
be a house of death, pervaded by loss to its uttermost length and
breadth. Winterborne was gone, and the copses seemed to show the
want of him; those young trees, so many of which he had planted,
and of which he had spoken so truly when he said that he should
fall before they fell, were at that very moment sending out their
roots in the direction that he had given them with his subtle
"One thing made it tolerable to us that your husband should come
back to the house," said Melbury at last--"the death of Mrs.
"Ah, yes," said Grace, arousing slightly to the recollection, "he
told me so."
"Did he tell you how she died? It was no such death as Giles's.
She was shot--by a disappointed lover. It occurred in Germany.
The unfortunate man shot himself afterwards. He was that South
Carolina gentleman of very passionate nature who used to haunt
this place to force her to an interview, and followed her about
everywhere. So ends the brilliant Felice Charmond--once a good
friend to me--but no friend to you."
"I can forgive her," said Grace, absently. "Did Edgar tell you of
"No; but he put a London newspaper, giving an account of it, on
the hall table, folded in such a way that we should see it. It
will be in the Sherton paper this week, no doubt. To make the
event more solemn still to him, he had just before had sharp words
with her, and left her. He told Lucy this, as nothing about him
appears in the newspaper. And the cause of the quarrel was, of
all people, she we've left behind us."
"Do you mean Marty?" Grace spoke the words but perfunctorily.
For, pertinent and pointed as Melbury's story was, she had no
heart for it now.
"Yes. Marty South." Melbury persisted in his narrative, to
divert her from her present grief, if possible. "Before he went
away she wrote him a letter, which he kept in his, pocket a long
while before reading. He chanced to pull it out in Mrs.
Charmond's, presence, and read it out loud. It contained
something which teased her very much, and that led to the rupture.
She was following him to make it up when she met with her terrible
Melbury did not know enough to give the gist of the incident,
which was that Marty South's letter had been concerning a certain
personal adornment common to herself and Mrs. Charmond. Her
bullet reached its billet at last. The scene between Fitzpiers
and Felice had been sharp, as only a scene can be which arises out
of the mortification of one woman by another in the presence of a
lover. True, Marty had not effected it by word of mouth; the
charge about the locks of hair was made simply by Fitzpiers
reading her letter to him aloud to Felice in the playfully
ironical tones of one who had become a little weary of his
situation, and was finding his friend, in the phrase of George
Herbert, a "flat delight." He had stroked those false tresses
with his hand many a time without knowing them to be transplanted,
and it was impossible when the discovery was so abruptly made to
avoid being finely satirical, despite her generous disposition.
That was how it had begun, and tragedy had been its end. On his
abrupt departure she had followed him to the station but the train
was gone; and in travelling to Baden in search of him she had met
his rival, whose reproaches led to an altercation, and the death
of both. Of that precipitate scene of passion and crime Fitzpiers
had known nothing till he saw an account of it in the papers,
where, fortunately for himself, no mention was made of his prior
acquaintance with the unhappy lady; nor was there any allusion to
him in the subsequent inquiry, the double death being attributed
to some gambling losses, though, in point of fact, neither one of
them had visited the tables.
Melbury and his daughter drew near their house, having seen but
one living thing on their way, a squirrel, which did not run up
its tree, but, dropping the sweet chestnut which it carried, cried
chut-chut-chut, and stamped with its hind legs on the ground.
When the roofs and chimneys of the homestead began to emerge from
the screen of boughs, Grace started, and checked herself in her
"You clearly understand," she said to her step-mother some of her
old misgiving returning, "that I am coming back only on condition
of his leaving as he promised? Will you let him know this, that
there may be no mistake?"
Mrs. Melbury, who had some long private talks with Fitzpiers,
assured Grace that she need have no doubts on that point, and that
he would probably be gone by the evening. Grace then entered with
them into Melbury's wing of the house, and sat down listlessly in
the parlor, while her step-mother went to Fitzpiers.
The prompt obedience to her wishes which the surgeon showed did
honor to him, if anything could. Before Mrs. Melbury had returned
to the room Grace, who was sitting on the parlor window-bench, saw
her husband go from the door under the increasing light of
morning, with a bag in his hand. While passing through the gate
he turned his head. The firelight of the room she sat in threw
her figure into dark relief against the window as she looked
through the panes, and he must have seen her distinctly. In a
moment he went on, the gate fell to, and he disappeared. At the
hut she had declared that another had displaced him; and now she
had banished him.
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