The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 37
When her husband's letter reached Grace's hands, bearing upon it the postmark
of a distant town, it never once crossed her mind that Fitzpiers was within a mile
of her still. she felt relieved that he did not write more bitterly of the quarrel with
her father, whatever its nature might have been; but the general frigidity of his
communication quenched in her the incipient spark that events had kindled so
shortly before.
From this centre of information it was made known in Hintock that the doctor had
gone away, and as none but the Melbury household was aware that he did not
return on the night of his accident, no excitement manifested itself in the village.
Thus the early days of May passed by. None but the nocturnal birds and animals
observed that late one evening, towards the middle of the month, a closely
wrapped figure, with a crutch under one arm and a stick in his hand, crept out
from Hintock House across the lawn to the shelter of the trees, taking thence a
slow and laborious walk to the nearest point of the turnpike-road. The mysterious
personage was so disguised that his own wife would hardly have known him.
Felice Charmond was a practised hand at make-ups, as well she might be; and
she had done her utmost in padding and painting Fitzpiers with the old materials
of her art in the recesses of the lumber-room.
In the highway he was met by a covered carriage, which conveyed him to
Sherton-Abbas, whence he proceeded to the nearest port on the south coast,
and immediately crossed the Channel.
But it was known to everybody that three days after this time Mrs. Charmond
executed her long-deferred plan of setting out for a long term of travel and
residence on the Continent. She went off one morning as unostentatiously as
could be, and took no maid with her, having, she said, engaged one to meet her
at a point farther on in her route. After that, Hintock House, so frequently
deserted, was again to be let. Spring had not merged in summer when a
clinching rumor, founded on the best of evidence, reached the parish and
neighborhood. Mrs. Charmond and Fitzpiers had been seen together in Baden, in
relations which set at rest the question that had agitated the little community ever
since the winter.
Melbury had entered the Valley of Humiliation even farther than Grace. His spirit
seemed broken.
But once a week he mechanically went to market as usual, and here, as he was
passing by the conduit one day, his mental condition expressed largely by his
gait, he heard his name spoken by a voice formerly familiar. He turned and saw a