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14. The Beech Grove
On the morning following the proposal Stephen strolled out into a beech grove, some
little distance from the house, which from childhood had been a favourite haunt of hers. It
was not in the immediate road to anywhere, and so there was no occasion for any of the
household or the garden to go through it or near it. She did not put on a hat, but took only
a sunshade, which she used in passing over the lawn. The grove was on the side of the
house away from her own room and the breakfast-room. When she had reached its shade
she felt that at last she was alone.
The grove was a privileged place. Long ago a great number of young beeches had been
planted so thickly that as they grew they shot up straight and branchless in their struggle
for the light. Not till they had reached a considerable altitude had they been thinned; and
then the thinning had been so effected that, as the high branches began to shoot out in the
freer space, they met in time and interlaced so closely that they made in many places a
perfect screen of leafy shade. Here and there were rifts or openings through which the
light passed; under such places the grass was fine and green, or the wild hyacinths in due
season tinged the earth with blue. Through the grove some wide alleys had been left:
great broad walks where the soft grass grew short and fine, and to whose edges came a
drooping of branches and an upspringing of undergrowth of laurel and rhododendron. At
the far ends of these walks were little pavilions of marble built in the classic style which
ruled for garden use two hundred years ago. At the near ends some of them were close to
the broad stretch of water from whose edges ran back the great sloping banks of emerald
sward dotted here and there with great forest trees. The grove was protected by a ha-ha,
so that it was never invaded from without, and the servants of the house, both the
domestics and the gardeners and grooms, had been always forbidden to enter it. Thus by
long usage it had become a place of quiet and solitude for the members of the family.
To this soothing spot had come Stephen in her pain. The long spell of self-restraint during
that morning had almost driven her to frenzy, and she sought solitude as an anodyne to
her tortured soul. The long anguish of a third sleepless night, following on a day of
humiliation and terror, had destroyed for a time the natural resilience of a healthy nature.
She had been for so long in the prison of her own purpose with Fear as warder; the fetters
of conventional life had so galled her that here in the accustomed solitude of this place, in
which from childhood she had been used to move and think freely, she felt as does a
captive who has escaped from an irksome durance. As Stephen had all along been free of
movement and speech, no such opportunities of freedom called to her. The pent-up
passion in her, however, found its own relief. Her voice was silent, and she moved with
slow steps, halting often between the green tree-trunks in the cool shade; but her thoughts
ran free, and passion found a vent. No stranger seeing the tall, queenly girl moving
slowly through the trees could have imagined the fierce passion which blazed within her,
unless he had been close enough to see her eyes. The habit of physical restraint to which
all her life she had been accustomed, and which was intensified by the experience of the
past thirty-six hours, still ruled her, even here. Gradually the habit of security began to
prevail, and the shackles to melt away. Here had she come in all her childish troubles.