When Melbury heard what had happened he seemed much moved, and walked
thoughtfully about the premises. On South's own account he was genuinely
sorry; and on Winterborne's he was the more grieved in that this catastrophe had
so closely followed the somewhat harsh dismissal of Giles as the betrothed of his
He was quite angry with circumstances for so heedlessly inflicting on Giles a
second trouble when the needful one inflicted by himself was all that the proper
order of events demanded. "I told Giles's father when he came into those houses
not to spend too much money on lifehold property held neither for his own life nor
his son's," he exclaimed. "But he wouldn't listen to me. And now Giles has to
suffer for it."
"Poor Giles!" murmured Grace.
"Now, Grace, between us two, it is very, very remarkable. It is almost as if I had
foreseen this; and I am thankful for your escape, though I am sincerely sorry for
Giles. Had we not dismissed him already, we could hardly have found it in our
hearts to dismiss him now. So I say, be thankful. I'll do all I can for him as a
friend; but as a pretender to the position of my son-in law, that can never be
thought of more."
And yet at that very moment the impracticability to which poor Winterborne's suit
had been reduced was touching Grace's heart to a warmer sentiment on his
behalf than she had felt for years concerning him.
He, meanwhile, was sitting down alone in the old familiar house which had
ceased to be his, taking a calm if somewhat dismal survey of affairs. The
pendulum of the clock bumped every now and then against one side of the case
in which it swung, as the muffled drum to his worldly march. Looking out of the
window he could perceive that a paralysis had come over Creedle's occupation
of manuring the garden, owing, obviously, to a conviction that they might not be
living there long enough to profit by next season's crop.
He looked at the leases again and the letter attached. There was no doubt that
he had lost his houses by an accident which might easily have been
circumvented if he had known the true conditions of his holding. The time for
performance had now lapsed in strict law; but might not the intention be
considered by the landholder when she became aware of the circumstances, and
his moral right to retain the holdings for the term of his life be conceded?