The Woodlanders HTML version
Examine Grace as her father might, she would admit nothing. For the present,
therefore, he simply watched.
The suspicion that his darling child was being slighted wrought almost a
miraculous change in Melbury's nature. No man so furtive for the time as the
ingenuous countryman who finds that his ingenuousness has been abused.
Melbury's heretofore confidential candor towards his gentlemanly son-in-law was
displaced by a feline stealth that did injnry to his every action, thought, and
mood. He knew that a woman once given to a man for life took, as a rule, her lot
as it came and made the best of it, without external interference; but for the first
time he asked himself why this so generally should be so. Moreover, this case
was not, he argued, like ordinary cases. Leaving out the question of Grace being
anything but an ordinary woman, her peculiar situation, as it were in mid-air
between two planes of society, together with the loneliness of Hintock, made a
husband's neglect a far more tragical matter to her than it would be to one who
had a large circle of friends to fall back upon. Wisely or unwisely, and whatever
other fathers did, he resolved to fight his daughter's battle still.
Mrs. Charmond had returned. But Hintock House scarcely gave forth signs of life,
so quietly had she reentered it. He went to church at Great Hintock one afternoon
as usual, there being no service at the smaller village. A few minutes before his
departure, he had casually heard Fitzpiers, who was no church-goer, tell his wife
that he was going to walk in the wood. Melbury entered the building and sat
down in his pew; the parson came in, then Mrs. Charmond, then Mr. Fitzpiers.
The service proceeded, and the jealons father was quite sure that a mutual
consciousness was uninterruptedly maintained between those two; he fancied
that more than once their eyes met. At the end, Fitzpiers so timed his movement
into the aisle that it exactly coincided with Felice Charmond's from the opposite
side, and they walked out with their garments in contact, the surgeon being just
that two or three inches in her rear which made it convenient for his eyes to rest
upon her cheek. The cheek warmed up to a richer tone.
This was a worse feature in the flirtation than he had expected. If she had been
playing with him in an idle freak the game might soon have wearied her; but the
smallest germ of passion--and women of the world do not change color for
nothing--was a threatening development. The mere presence of Fitzpiers in the
building, after his statement, was wellnigh conclusive as far as he was
concerned; but Melbury resolved yet to watch.
He had to wait long. Autumn drew shiveringly to its end. One day something
seemed to be gone from the gardens; the tenderer leaves of vegetables had