A week had passed, and Mrs. Charmond had left Hintock House. Middleton
Abbey, the place of her sojourn, was about twenty miles distant by road, eighteen
by bridle-paths and footways.
Grace observed, for the first time, that her husband was restless, that at
moments he even was disposed to avoid her. The scrupulous civility of mere
acquaintanceship crept into his manner; yet, when sitting at meals, he seemed
hardly to hear her remarks. Her little doings interested him no longer, while
towards her father his bearing was not far from supercilious. It was plain that his
mind was entirely outside her life, whereabouts outside it she could not tell; in
some region of science, possibly, or of psychological literature. But her hope that
he was again immersing himself in those lucubrations which before her marriage
had made his light a landmark in Hintock, was founded simply on the slender fact
that he often sat up late.
One evening she discovered him leaning over a gate on Rub-Down Hill, the gate
at which Winterborne had once been standing, and which opened on the brink of
a steep, slanting down directly into Blackmoor Vale, or the Vale of the White
Hart, extending beneath the eye at this point to a distance of many miles. His
attention was fixed on the landscape far away, and Grace's approach was so
noiseless that he did not hear her. When she came close she could see his lips
moving unconsciously, as to some impassioned visionary theme.
She spoke, and Fitzpiers started. "What are you looking at?" she asked.
"Oh! I was contemplating our old place of Buckbury, in my idle way," he said.
It had seemed to her that he was looking much to the right of that cradle and
tomb of his ancestral dignity; but she made no further observation, and taking his
arm walked home beside him almost in silence. She did not know that Middleton
Abbey lay in the direction of his gaze. "Are you going to have out Darling this
afternoon?" she asked, presently. Darling being the light-gray mare which
Winterborne had bought for Grace, and which Fitzpiers now constantly used, the
animal having turned out a wonderful bargain, in combining a perfect docility with
an almost human intelligence; moreover, she was not too young. Fitzpiers was
unfamiliar with horses, and he valued these qualities.
"Yes," he replied, "but not to drive. I am riding her. I practise crossing a horse as
often as I can now, for I find that I can take much shorter cuts on horseback."
He had, in fact, taken these riding exercises for about a week, only since Mrs.
Charmond's absence, his universal practice hitherto having been to drive.