At nine o'clock the next morning Melbury dressed himself up in shining
broadcloth, creased with folding and smelling of camphor, and started for Hintock
House. He was the more impelled to go at once by the absence of his son-in-law
in London for a few days, to attend, really or ostensibly, some professional
meetings. He said nothing of his destination either to his wife or to Grace, fearing
that they might entreat him to abandon so risky a project, and went out
unobserved. He had chosen his time with a view, as he supposed, of
conveniently catching Mrs. Charmond when she had just finished her breakfast,
before any other business people should be about, if any came. Plodding
thoughtfully onward, he crossed a glade lying between Little Hintock Woods and
the plantation which abutted on the park; and the spot being open, he was
discerned there by Winterborne from the copse on the next hill, where he and his
men were working. Knowing his mission, the younger man hastened down from
the copse and managed to intercept the timber- merchant.
"I have been thinking of this, sir," he said, "and I am of opinion that it would be
best to put off your visit for the present."
But Melbury would not even stop to hear him. His mind was made up, the appeal
was to be made; and Winterborne stood and watched him sadly till he entered
the second plantation and disappeared.
Melbury rang at the tradesmen's door of the manor-house, and was at once
informed that the lady was not yet visible, as indeed he might have guessed had
he been anybody but the man he was. Melbury said he would wait, whereupon
the young man informed him in a neighborly way that, between themselves, she
was in bed and asleep.
"Never mind," said Melbury, retreating into the court, "I'll stand about here."
Charged so fully with his mission, he shrank from contact with anybody.
But he walked about the paved court till he was tired, and still nobody came to
him. At last he entered the house and sat down in a small waiting-room, from
which he got glimpses of the kitchen corridor, and of the white-capped maids
flitting jauntily hither and thither. They had heard of his arrival, but had not seen
him enter, and, imagining him still in the court, discussed freely the possible
reason of his calling. They marvelled at his temerity; for though most of the
tongues which had been let loose attributed the chief blame-worthiness to
Fitzpiers, these of her household preferred to regard their mistress as the deeper
Melbury sat with his hands resting on the familiar knobbed thorn walking-stick,
whose growing he had seen before he enjoyed its use. The scene to him was not