The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 38
At these warm words Winterborne was not less dazed than he was moved in
heart. The novelty of the avowal rendered what it carried with it inapprehensible
by him in its entirety.
Only a few short months ago completely estranged from this family-- beholding
Grace going to and fro in the distance, clothed with the alienating radiance of
obvious superiority, the wife of the then popular and fashionable Fitzpiers,
hopelessly outside his social boundary down to so recent a time that flowers then
folded were hardly faded yet--he was now asked by that jealously guarding father
of hers to take courage--to get himself ready for the day when he should be able
to claim her.
The old times came back to him in dim procession. How he had been snubbed;
how Melbury had despised his Christmas party; how that sweet, coy Grace
herself had looked down upon him and his household arrangements, and poor
Creedle's contrivances!
Well, he could not believe it. Surely the adamantine barrier of marriage with
another could not be pierced like this! It did violence to custom. Yet a new law
might do anything. But was it at all within the bounds of probability that a woman
who, over and above her own attainments, had been accustomed to those of a
cultivated professional man, could ever be the wife of such as he?
Since the date of his rejection he had almost grown to see the reasonableness of
that treatment. He had said to himself again and again that her father was right;
that the poor ceorl, Giles Winterborne, would never have been able to make such
a dainty girl happy. Yet, now that she had stood in a position farther removed
from his own than at first, he was asked to prepare to woo her. He was full of
Nevertheless, it was not in him to show backwardness. To act so promptly as
Melbury desired him to act seemed, indeed, scarcely wise, because of the
uncertainty of events. Giles knew nothing of legal procedure, but he did know
that for him to step up to Grace as a lover before the bond which bound her was
actually dissolved was simply an extravagant dream of her father's overstrained
mind. He pitied Melbury for his almost childish enthusiasm, and saw that the
aging man must have suffered acutely to be weakened to this unreasoning
Winterborne was far too magnanimous to harbor any cynical conjecture that the
timber-merchant, in his intense affection for Grace, was courting him now
because that young lady, when disunited, would be left in an anomalous position,