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Weeks and months of mourning for Winterborne had been passed by
Grace in the soothing monotony of the memorial act to which she
and Marty had devoted themselves. Twice a week the pair went in
the dusk to Great Hintock, and, like the two mourners in
Cymbeline, sweetened his sad grave with their flowers and their
tears. Sometimes Grace thought that it was a pity neither one of
them had been his wife for a little while, and given the world a
copy of him who was so valuable in their eyes. Nothing ever had
brought home to her with such force as this death how little
acquirements and culture weigh beside sterling personal character.
While her simple sorrow for his loss took a softer edge with the
lapse of the autumn and winter seasons, her self-reproach at
having had a possible hand in causing it knew little abatement.
Little occurred at Hintock during these months of the fall and
decay of the leaf. Discussion of the almost contemporaneous death
of Mrs. Charmond abroad had waxed and waned. Fitzpiers had had a
marvellous escape from being dragged into the inquiry which
followed it, through the accident of their having parted just
before under the influence of Marty South's letter--the tiny
instrument of a cause deep in nature.
Her body was not brought home. It seemed to accord well with the
fitful fever of that impassioned woman's life that she should not
have found a native grave. She had enjoyed but a life-interest in
the estate, which, after her death, passed to a relative of her
husband's--one who knew not Felice, one whose purpose seemed to be
to blot out every vestige of her.
On a certain day in February--the cheerful day of St. Valentine,
in fact--a letter reached Mrs. Fitzpiers, which had been mentally
promised her for that particular day a long time before.
It announced that Fitzpiers was living at some midland town, where
he had obtained a temporary practice as assistant to some local
medical man, whose curative principles were all wrong, though he
dared not set them right. He had thought fit to communicate with
her on that day of tender traditions to inquire if, in the event
of his obtaining a substantial practice that he had in view
elsewhere, she could forget the past and bring herself to join
There the practical part ended; he then went on--
"My last year of experience has added ten years to my age, dear
Grace and dearest wife that ever erring man undervalued. You may
be absolutely indifferent to what I say, but let me say it: I have
never loved any woman alive or dead as I love, respect, and honor
you at this present moment. What you told me in the pride and
haughtiness of your heart I never believed [this, by the way, was
not strictly true]; but even if I had believed it, it could never
have estranged me from you. Is there any use in telling you--no,
there is not--that I dream of your ripe lips more frequently than
I say my prayers; that the old familiar rustle of your dress often
returns upon my mind till it distracts me? If you could condescend
even only to see me again you would be breathing life into a
corpse. My pure, pure Grace, modest as a turtledove, how came I
ever to possess you? For the sake of being present in your mind on
this lovers' day, I think I would almost rather have you hate me a
little than not think of me at all. You may call my fancies
whimsical; but remember, sweet, lost one, that 'nature is one in
love, and where 'tis fine it sends some instance of itself.' I
will not intrude upon you further now. Make me a little bit happy
by sending back one line to say that you will consent, at any
rate, to a short interview. I will meet you and leave you as a
mere acquaintance, if you will only afford me this slight means of
making a few explanations, and of putting my position before you.
Believe me, in spite of all you may do or feel, Your lover
always (once your husband),
It was, oddly enough, the first occasion, or nearly the first on
which Grace had ever received a love-letter from him, his
courtship having taken place under conditions which rendered
letter-writing unnecessary. Its perusal, therefore, had a certain
novelty for her. She thought that, upon the whole, he wrote love-
letters very well. But the chief rational interest of the letter
to the reflective Grace lay in the chance that such a meeting as
he proposed would afford her of setting her doubts at rest, one
way or the other, on her actual share in Winterborne's death. The
relief of consulting a skilled mind, the one professional man who
had seen Giles at that time, would be immense. As for that
statement that she had uttered in her disdainful grief, which at
the time she had regarded as her triumph, she was quite prepared
to admit to him that his belief was the true one; for in wronging
herself as she did when she made it, she had done what to her was
a far more serious thing, wronged Winterborne's memory.
Without consulting her father, or any one in the house or out of
it, Grace replied to the letter. She agreed to meet Fitzpiers on
two conditions, of which the first was that the place of meeting
should be the top of Rubdown Hill, the second that he would not
object to Marty South accompanying her.
Whatever part, much or little, there may have been in Fitzpiers's
so-called valentine to his wife, he felt a delight as of the
bursting of spring when her brief reply came. It was one of the
few pleasures that he had experienced of late years at all
resembling those of his early youth. He promptly replied that he
accepted the conditions, and named the day and hour at which he
would be on the spot she mentioned.
A few minutes before three on the appointed day found him climbing
the well-known hill, which had been the axis of so many critical
movements in their lives during his residence at Hintock.
The sight of each homely and well-remembered object swelled the
regret that seldom left him now. Whatever paths might lie open to
his future, the soothing shades of Hintock were forbidden him
forever as a permanent dwelling-place.
He longed for the society of Grace. But to lay offerings on her
slighted altar was his first aim, and until her propitiation was
complete he would constrain her in no way to return to him. The
least reparation that he could make, in a case where he would
gladly have made much, would be to let her feel herself absolutely
free to choose between living with him and without him.
Moreover, a subtlist in emotions, he cultivated as under glasses
strange and mournful pleasures that he would not willingly let die
just at present. To show any forwardness in suggesting a modus
vivendi to Grace would be to put an end to these exotics. To be
the vassal of her sweet will for a time, he demanded no more, and
found solace in the contemplation of the soft miseries she caused
Approaching the hill-top with a mind strung to these notions,
Fitzpiers discerned a gay procession of people coming over the
crest, and was not long in perceiving it to be a wedding-party.
Though the wind was keen the women were in light attire, and the
flowered waistcoats of the men had a pleasing vividness of
pattern. Each of the gentler ones clung to the arm of her partner
so tightly as to have with him one step, rise, swing, gait, almost
one centre of gravity. In the buxom bride Fitzpiers recognized no
other than Suke Damson, who in her light gown looked a giantess;
the small husband beside her he saw to be Tim Tangs.
Fitzpiers could not escape, for they had seen him; though of all
the beauties of the world whom he did not wish to meet Suke was
the chief. But he put the best face on the matter that he could
and came on, the approaching company evidently discussing him and
his separation from Mrs. Fitzpiers. As the couples closed upon
him he expressed his congratulations.
"We be just walking round the parishes to show ourselves a bit,"
said Tim. "First we het across to Delborough, then athwart to
here, and from here we go to Rubdown and Millshot, and then round
by the cross-roads home. Home says I, but it won't be that long!
We be off next month."
"Indeed. Where to?"
Tim informed him that they were going to New Zealand. Not but
that he would have been contented with Hintock, but his wife was
ambitious and wanted to leave, so he had given way.
"Then good-by," said Fitzpiers; "I may not see you again." He
shook hands with Tim and turned to the bride. "Good-by, Suke," he
said, taking her hand also. "I wish you and your husband
prosperity in the country you have chosen." With this he left
them, and hastened on to his appointment.
The wedding-party re-formed and resumed march likewise. But in
restoring his arm to Suke, Tim noticed that her full and blooming
countenance had undergone a change. "Holloa! me dear--what's the
matter?" said Tim.
"Nothing to speak o'," said she. But to give the lie to her
assertion she was seized with lachrymose twitches, that soon
produced a dribbling face.
"How--what the devil's this about!" exclaimed the bridegroom.
"She's a little wee bit overcome, poor dear!" said the first
bridesmaid, unfolding her handkerchief and wiping Suke's eyes.
"I never did like parting from people!" said Suke, as soon as she
"Why him in particular?"
"Well--he's such a clever doctor, that 'tis a thousand pities we
sha'n't see him any more! There'll be no such clever doctor as he
in New Zealand, if I should require one; and the thought o't got
the better of my feelings!"
They walked on, but Tim's face had grown rigid and pale, for he
recalled slight circumstances, disregarded at the time of their
occurrence. The former boisterous laughter of the wedding-party
at the groomsman's jokes was heard ringing through the woods no
By this time Fitzpiers had advanced on his way to the top of the
hill, where he saw two figures emerging from the bank on the right
hand. These were the expected ones, Grace and Marty South, who
had evidently come there by a short and secret path through the
wood. Grace was muffled up in her winter dress, and he thought
that she had never looked so seductive as at this moment, in the
noontide bright but heatless sun, and the keen wind, and the
purplish-gray masses of brushwood around.
Fitzpiers continued to regard the nearing picture, till at length
their glances met for a moment, when she demurely sent off hers at
a tangent and gave him the benefit of her three-quarter face,
while with courteous completeness of conduct he lifted his hat in
a large arc. Marty dropped behind; and when Fitzpiers held out
his hand, Grace touched it with her fingers.
"I have agreed to be here mostly because I wanted to ask you
something important," said Mrs. Fitzpiers, her intonation
modulating in a direction that she had not quite wished it to
"I am most attentive," said her husband. "Shall we take to the
wood for privacy?"
Grace demurred, and Fitzpiers gave in, and they kept the public
At any rate she would take his arm? This also was gravely
negatived, the refusal being audible to Marty.
"Why not?" he inquired.
"Oh, Mr. Fitzpiers--how can you ask?"
"Right, right," said he, his effusiveness shrivelled up.
As they walked on she returned to her inquiry. "It is about a
matter that may perhaps be unpleasant to you. But I think I need
not consider that too carefully."
"Not at all," said Fitzpiers, heroically.
She then took him back to the time of poor Winterborne's death,
and related the precise circumstances amid which his fatal illness
had come upon him, particularizing the dampness of the shelter to
which he had betaken himself, his concealment from her of the
hardships that he was undergoing, all that he had put up with, all
that he had done for her in his scrupulous considerateness. The
retrospect brought her to tears as she asked him if he thought
that the sin of having driven him to his death was upon her.
Fitzpiers could hardly help showing his satisfaction at what her
narrative indirectly revealed, the actual harmlessness of an
escapade with her lover, which had at first, by her own showing,
looked so grave, and he did not care to inquire whether that
harmlessness had been the result of aim or of accident. With
regard to her question, he declared that in his judgment no human
being could answer it. He thought that upon the whole the balance
of probabilities turned in her favor. Winterborne's apparent
strength, during the last months of his life, must have been
delusive. It had often occurred that after a first attack of that
insidious disease a person's apparent recovery was a physiological
The relief which came to Grace lay almost as much in sharing her
knowledge of the particulars with an intelligent mind as in the
assurances Fitzpiers gave her. "Well, then, to put this case
before you, and obtain your professional opinion, was chiefly why
I consented to come here to-day," said she, when he had reached
the aforesaid conclusion.
"For no other reason at all?" he asked, ruefully.
"It was nearly the whole."
They stood and looked over a gate at twenty or thirty starlings
feeding in the grass, and he started the talk again by saying, in
a low voice, "And yet I love you more than ever I loved you in my
Grace did not move her eyes from the birds, and folded her
delicate lips as if to keep them in subjection.
"It is a different kind of love altogether," said he. "Less
passionate; more profound. It has nothing to do with the material
conditions of the object at all; much to do with her character and
goodness, as revealed by closer observation. 'Love talks with
better knowledge, and knowledge with dearer love.'"
"That's out of 'Measure for Measure,'" said she, slyly.
"Oh yes--I meant it as a citation," blandly replied Fitzpiers.
"Well, then, why not give me a very little bit of your heart
The crash of a felled tree in the remote depths of the wood
recalled the past at that moment, and all the homely faithfulness
of Winterborne. "Don't ask it! My heart is in the grave with
Giles," she replied, stanchly.
"Mine is with you--in no less deep a grave, I fear, according to
"I am very sorry; but it cannot be helped."
"How can you be sorry for me, when you wilfully keep open the
"Oh no--that's not so," returned Grace, quickly, and moved to go
away from him.
"But, dearest Grace," said he, "you have condescended to come; and
I thought from it that perhaps when I had passed through a long
state of probation you would be generous. But if there can be no
hope of our getting completely reconciled, treat me gently--wretch
though I am."
"I did not say you were a wretch, nor have I ever said so."
"But you have such a contemptuous way of looking at me that I fear
you think so."
Grace's heart struggled between the wish not to be harsh and the
fear that she might mislead him. "I cannot look contemptuous
unless I feel contempt," she said, evasively. "And all I feel is
"I have been very bad, I know," he returned. "But unless you can
really love me again, Grace, I would rather go away from you
forever. I don't want you to receive me again for duty's sake, or
anything of that sort. If I had not cared more for your affection
and forgiveness than my own personal comfort, I should never have
come back here. I could have obtained a practice at a distance,
and have lived my own life without coldness or reproach. But I
have chosen to return to the one spot on earth where my name is
tarnished--to enter the house of a man from whom I have had worse
treatment than from any other man alive--all for you!"
This was undeniably true, and it had its weight with Grace, who
began to look as if she thought she had been shockingly severe.
"Before you go," he continued, "I want to know your pleasure about
me--what you wish me to do, or not to do."
"You are independent of me, and it seems a mockery to ask that.
Far be it from me to advise. But I will think it over. I rather
need advice myself than stand in a position to give it."
"YOU don't need advice, wisest, dearest woman that ever lived. If
"Would you give it to me?"
"Would you act upon what I gave?"
"That's not a fair inquiry," said she, smiling despite her
gravity. "I don't mind hearing it--what you do really think the
most correct and proper course for me."
"It is so easy for me to say, and yet I dare not, for it would be
provoking you to remonstrances."
Knowing, of course, what the advice would be, she did not press
him further, and was about to beckon Marty forward and leave him,
when he interrupted her with, "Oh, one moment, dear Grace--you
will meet me again?"
She eventually agreed to see him that day fortnight. Fitzpiers
expostulated at the interval, but the half-alarmed earnestness
with which she entreated him not to come sooner made him say
hastily that he submitted to her will--that he would regard her as
a friend only, anxious for his reform and well-being, till such
time as she might allow him to exceed that privilege.
All this was to assure her; it was only too clear that he had not
won her confidence yet. It amazed Fitzpiers, and overthrew all
his deductions from previous experience, to find that this girl,
though she had been married to him, could yet be so coy.
Notwithstanding a certain fascination that it carried with it, his
reflections were sombre as he went homeward; he saw how deep had
been his offence to produce so great a wariness in a gentle and
once unsuspicious soul.
He was himself too fastidious to care to coerce her. To be an
object of misgiving or dislike to a woman who shared his home was
what he could not endure the thought of. Life as it stood was
When he was gone, Marty joined Mrs. Fitzpiers. She would fain
have consulted Marty on the question of Platonic relations with
her former husband, as she preferred to regard him. But Marty
showed no great interest in their affairs, so Grace said nothing.
They came onward, and saw Melbury standing at the scene of the
felling which had been audible to them, when, telling Marty that
she wished her meeting with Mr. Fitzpiers to be kept private, she
left the girl to join her father. At any rate, she would consult
him on the expediency of occasionally seeing her husband.
Her father was cheerful, and walked by her side as he had done in
earlier days. "I was thinking of you when you came up," he said.
"I have considered that what has happened is for the best. Since
your husband is gone away, and seems not to wish to trouble you,
why, let him go, and drop out of your life. Many women are worse
off. You can live here comfortably enough, and he can emigrate,
or do what he likes for his good. I wouldn't mind sending him the
further sum of money he might naturally expect to come to him, so
that you may not be bothered with him any more. He could hardly
have gone on living here without speaking to me, or meeting me;
and that would have been very unpleasant on both sides."
These remarks checked her intention. There was a sense of
weakness in following them by saying that she had just met her
husband by appointment. "Then you would advise me not to
communicate with him?" she observed.
"I shall never advise ye again. You are your own mistress--do as
you like. But my opinion is that if you don't live with him, you
had better live without him, and not go shilly-shallying and
playing bopeep. You sent him away; and now he's gone. Very well;
trouble him no more."
Grace felt a guiltiness--she hardly knew why--and made no
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