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
"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