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Chapter 2

23 May 2023

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In the room from which this cheerful blaze proceeded, he beheld a girl seated on a willow chair, and busily occupied by the light of the fire, which was ample and of wood. With a bill-hook in one hand and a leather glove, much too large for her, on the other, she was making spars, such as are used by thatchers, with great rapidity. She wore a leather apron for this purpose, which was also much too large for her figure. On her left hand lay a bundle of the straight, smooth sticks called spar-gads–the raw material of her manufacture; on her right, a heap of chips and ends–the refuse–with which the fire was maintained; in front, a pile of the finished articles. To produce them she took up each gad, looked critically at it from end to end, cut it to length, split it into four, and sharpened each of the quarters with dexterous blows, which brought it to a triangular point precisely resembling that of a bayonet.

Beside her, in case she might require more light, a brass candlestick stood on a little round table, curiously formed of an old coffin-stool, with a deal top nailed on, the white surface of the latter contrasting oddly with the black carved oak of the substructure. The social position of the household in the past was almost as definitively shown by the presence of this article as that of an esquire or nobleman by his old helmets or shields. It had been customary for every well-to-do villager, whose tenure was by copy of court-roll, or in any way more permanent than that of the mere cotter, to keep a pair of these stools for the use of his own dead; but for the last generation or two a feeling of cui bono had led to the discontinuance of the custom, and the stools were frequently made use of in the manner described.

The young woman laid down the bill-hook for a moment and examined the palm of her right hand, which, unlike the other, was ungloved, and showed little hardness or roughness about it. The palm was red and blistering, as if this present occupation were not frequent enough with her to subdue it to what it worked in. As with so many right hands born to manual labor, there was nothing in its fundamental shape to bear out the physiological conventionalism that gradations of birth, gentle or mean, show themselves primarily in the form of this member. Nothing but a cast of the die of destiny had decided that the girl should handle the tool; and the fingers which clasped the heavy ash haft might have skilfully guided the pencil or swept the string, had they only been set to do it in good time.

Her face had the usual fulness of expression which is developed by a life of solitude. Where the eyes of a multitude beat like waves upon a countenance they seem to wear away its individuality; but in the still water of privacy every tentacle of feeling and sentiment shoots out in visible luxuriance, to be interpreted as readily as a child’s look by an intruder. In years she was no more than nineteen or twenty, but the necessity of taking thought at a too early period of life had forced the provisional curves of her childhood’s face to a premature finality. Thus she had but little pretension to beauty, save in one prominent particular–her hair. Its abundance made it almost unmanageable; its color was, roughly speaking, and as seen here by firelight, brown, but careful notice, or an observation by day, would have revealed that its true shade was a rare and beautiful approximation to chestnut.

On this one bright gift of Time to the particular victim of his now before us the new-comer’s eyes were fixed; meanwhile the fingers of his right hand mechanically played over something sticking up from his waistcoat-pocket–the bows of a pair of scissors, whose polish made them feebly responsive to the light within. In her present beholder’s mind the scene formed by the girlish spar-maker composed itself into a post-Raffaelite picture of extremest quality, wherein the girl’s hair alone, as the focus of observation, was depicted with intensity and distinctness, and her face, shoulders, hands, and figure in general, being a blurred mass of unimportant detail lost in haze and obscurity.

He hesitated no longer, but tapped at the door and entered. The young woman turned at the crunch of his boots on the sanded floor, and exclaiming, “Oh, Mr. Percombe, how you frightened me!” quite lost her color for a moment.

He replied, “You should shut your door–then you’d hear folk open it.”

“I can’t,” she said; “the chimney smokes so. Mr. Percombe, you look as unnatural out of your shop as a canary in a thorn-hedge. Surely you have not come out here on my account–for–“

“Yes–to have your answer about this.” He touched her head with his cane, and she winced. “Do you agree?” he continued. “It is necessary that I should know at once, as the lady is soon going away, and it takes time to make up.”

“Don’t press me–it worries me. I was in hopes you had thought no more of it. I can NOT part with it–so there!”

“Now, look here, Marty,” said the barber, sitting down on the coffin-stool table. “How much do you get for making these spars?”

“Hush–father’s up-stairs awake, and he don’t know that I am doing his work.”

“Well, now tell me,” said the man, more softly. “How much do you get?”

“Eighteenpence a thousand,” she said, reluctantly.

“Who are you making them for?”

“Mr. Melbury, the timber-dealer, just below here.”

“And how many can you make in a day?”

“In a day and half the night, three bundles–that’s a thousand and a half.”

“Two and threepence.” The barber paused. “Well, look here,” he continued, with the remains of a calculation in his tone, which calculation had been the reduction to figures of the probable monetary magnetism necessary to overpower the resistant force of her present purse and the woman’s love of comeliness, “here’s a sovereign–a gold sovereign, almost new.” He held it out between his finger and thumb. “That’s as much as you’d earn in a week and a half at that rough man’s work, and it’s yours for just letting me snip off what you’ve got too much of.”

The girl’s bosom moved a very little. “Why can’t the lady send to some other girl who don’t value her hair–not to me?” she exclaimed.

“Why, simpleton, because yours is the exact shade of her own, and ’tis a shade you can’t match by dyeing. But you are not going to refuse me now I’ve come all the way from Sherton o’ purpose?”

“I say I won’t sell it–to you or anybody.”

“Now listen,” and he drew up a little closer beside her. “The lady is very rich, and won’t be particular to a few shillings; so I will advance to this on my own responsibility–I’ll make the one sovereign two, rather than go back empty-handed.”

“No, no, no!” she cried, beginning to be much agitated. “You are a-tempting me, Mr. Percombe. You go on like the Devil to Dr. Faustus in the penny book. But I don’t want your money, and won’t agree. Why did you come? I said when you got me into your shop and urged me so much, that I didn’t mean to sell my hair!” The speaker was hot and stern.

“Marty, now hearken. The lady that wants it wants it badly. And, between you and me, you’d better let her have it. ‘Twill be bad for you if you don’t.”

“Bad for me? Who is she, then?”

The barber held his tongue, and the girl repeated the question.

“I am not at liberty to tell you. And as she is going abroad soon it makes no difference who she is at all.”

“She wants it to go abroad wi’?”

Percombe assented by a nod. The girl regarded him reflectively. “Barber Percombe,” she said, “I know who ’tis. ‘Tis she at the House–Mrs. Charmond!”

“That’s my secret. However, if you agree to let me have it, I’ll tell you in confidence.”

“I’ll certainly not let you have it unless you tell me the truth. It is Mrs. Charmond.”

The barber dropped his voice. “Well–it is. You sat in front of her in church the other day, and she noticed how exactly your hair matched her own. Ever since then she’s been hankering for it, and at last decided to get it. As she won’t wear it till she goes off abroad, she knows nobody will recognize the change. I’m commissioned to get it for her, and then it is to be made up. I shouldn’t have vamped all these miles for any less important employer. Now, mind–’tis as much as my business with her is worth if it should be known that I’ve let out her name; but honor between us two, Marty, and you’ll say nothing that would injure me?”

“I don’t wish to tell upon her,” said Marty, coolly. “But my hair is my own, and I’m going to keep it.”

“Now, that’s not fair, after what I’ve told you,” said the nettled barber. “You see, Marty, as you are in the same parish, and in one of her cottages, and your father is ill, and wouldn’t like to turn out, it would be as well to oblige her. I say that as a friend. But I won’t press you to make up your mind to-night. You’ll be coming to market to-morrow, I dare say, and you can call then. If you think it over you’ll be inclined to bring what I want, I know.”

“I’ve nothing more to say,” she answered.

Her companion saw from her manner that it was useless to urge her further by speech. “As you are a trusty young woman,” he said, “I’ll put these sovereigns up here for ornament, that you may see how handsome they are. Bring the hair to-morrow, or return the sovereigns.” He stuck them edgewise into the frame of a small mantle looking-glass. “I hope you’ll bring it, for your sake and mine. I should have thought she could have suited herself elsewhere; but as it’s her fancy it must be indulged if possible. If you cut it off yourself, mind how you do it so as to keep all the locks one way.” He showed her how this was to be done.

“But I sha’nt,” she replied, with laconic indifference. “I value my looks too much to spoil ’em. She wants my hair to get another lover with; though if stories are true she’s broke the heart of many a noble gentleman already.”

“Lord, it’s wonderful how you guess things, Marty,” said the barber. “I’ve had it from them that know that there certainly is some foreign gentleman in her eye. However, mind what I ask.”

“She’s not going to get him through me.”

Percombe had retired as far as the door; he came back, planted his cane on the coffin-stool, and looked her in the face. “Marty South,” he said, with deliberate emphasis, “YOU’VE GOT A LOVER YOURSELF, and that’s why you won’t let it go!”

She reddened so intensely as to pass the mild blush that suffices to heighten beauty; she put the yellow leather glove on one hand, took up the hook with the other, and sat down doggedly to her work without turning her face to him again. He regarded her head for a moment, went to the door, and with one look back at her, departed on his way homeward.

Marty pursued her occupation for a few minutes, then suddenly laying down the bill-hook, she jumped up and went to the back of the room, where she opened a door which disclosed a staircase so whitely scrubbed that the grain of the wood was wellnigh sodden away by such cleansing. At the top she gently approached a bedroom, and without entering, said, “Father, do you want anything?”

A weak voice inside answered in the negative; adding, “I should be all right by to-morrow if it were not for the tree!”

“The tree again–always the tree! Oh, father, don’t worry so about that. You know it can do you no harm.”

“Who have ye had talking to ye down-stairs?”

“A Sherton man called–nothing to trouble about,” she said, soothingly. “Father,” she went on, “can Mrs. Charmond turn us out of our house if she’s minded to?”

“Turn us out? No. Nobody can turn us out till my poor soul is turned out of my body. ‘Tis life-hold, like Ambrose Winterborne’s. But when my life drops ’twill be hers–not till then.” His words on this subject so far had been rational and firm enough. But now he lapsed into his moaning strain: “And the tree will do it–that tree will soon be the death of me.”

“Nonsense, you know better. How can it be?” She refrained from further speech, and descended to the ground-floor again.

“Thank Heaven, then,” she said to herself, “what belongs to me I keep.” 

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Articles
The Woodlanders
4.5
The Woodlanders, novel by Thomas Hardy, published serially in Macmillan's Magazine from 1886 to 1887 and in book form in 1887. The work is a pessimistic attack on a society that values high status and socially sanctioned behaviour over good character and honest emotions.
1

Chapter 1

23 May 2023
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The rambler who, for old association or other reasons, should trace the forsaken coach-road running almost in a meridional line from Bristol to the south shore of England, would find himself during th

2

Chapter 2

23 May 2023
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In the room from which this cheerful blaze proceeded, he beheld a girl seated on a willow chair, and busily occupied by the light of the fire, which was ample and of wood. With a bill-hook in one hand

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Chapter 3

23 May 2023
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The lights in the village went out, house after house, till there only remained two in the darkness. One of these came from a residence on the hill-side, of which there is nothing to say at present; t

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Chapter 4

23 May 2023
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There was now a distinct manifestation of morning in the air, and presently the bleared white visage of a sunless winter day emerged like a dead-born child. The villagers everywhere had already bestir

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Chapter 5

23 May 2023
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Winterborne sped on his way to Sherton Abbas without elation and without discomposure. Had he regarded his inner self spectacularly, as lovers are now daily more wont to do, he might have felt pride i

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Chapter 6

23 May 2023
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Meanwhile, Winterborne and Grace Melbury had also undergone their little experiences of the same homeward journey. As he drove off with her out of the town the glances of people fell upon them, the y

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Chapter 7

23 May 2023
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Kaleidoscopic dreams of a weird alchemist-surgeon, Grammer Oliver’s skeleton, and the face of Giles Winterborne, brought Grace Melbury to the morning of the next day. It was fine. A north wind was blo

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Chapter 8

23 May 2023
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The inspiriting appointment which had led Grace Melbury to indulge in a six-candle illumination for the arrangement of her attire, carried her over the ground the next morning with a springy tread. He

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Chapter 9

24 May 2023
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“I heard the bushes move long before I saw you,” she began. “I said first, ‘it is some terrible beast;’ next, ‘it is a poacher;’ next, ‘it is a friend!'” He regarded her with a slight smile, weighing

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Chapter 10

24 May 2023
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Supper-time came, and with it the hot-baked from the oven, laid on a snowy cloth fresh from the press, and reticulated with folds, as in Flemish “Last Suppers.” Creedle and the boy fetched and carried

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Chapter 11

24 May 2023
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“‘Tis a pity–a thousand pities!” her father kept saying next morning at breakfast, Grace being still in her bedroom. But how could he, with any self-respect, obstruct Winterborne’s suit at this stage

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Chapter 12

24 May 2023
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It was a day of rather bright weather for the season. Miss Melbury went out for a morning walk, and her ever-regardful father, having an hour’s leisure, offered to walk with her. The breeze was fresh

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Chapter 13

24 May 2023
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The news was true. The life–the one fragile life–that had been used as a measuring-tape of time by law, was in danger of being frayed away. It was the last of a group of lives which had served this pu

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Chapter 14

24 May 2023
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The encounter with the carriages having sprung upon Winterborne’s mind the image of Mrs. Charmond, his thoughts by a natural channel went from her to the fact that several cottages and other houses in

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Chapter 15

24 May 2023
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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 th

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Chapter 16

24 May 2023
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Dr. Fitzpiers lived on the slope of the hill, in a house of much less pretension, both as to architecture and as to magnitude, than the timber-merchant’s. The latter had, without doubt, been once the

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Chapter 17

25 May 2023
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Grace’s exhibition of herself, in the act of pulling-to the window-curtains, had been the result of an unfortunate incident in the house that day–nothing less than the illness of Grammer Oliver, a wom

18

Chapter 18

25 May 2023
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It was at this time that Grace approached the house. Her knock, always soft in virtue of her nature, was softer to-day by reason of her strange errand. However, it was heard by the farmer’s wife who k

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Chapter 19

25 May 2023
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Instead of resuming his investigation of South’s brain, which perhaps was not so interesting under the microscope as might have been expected from the importance of that organ in life, Fitzpiers recli

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Chapter 20

25 May 2023
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The leaves over Hintock grew denser in their substance, and the woodland seemed to change from an open filigree to a solid opaque body of infinitely larger shape and importance. The boughs cast green

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Chapter 21

25 May 2023
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When the general stampede occurred Winterborne had also been looking on, and encountering one of the girls, had asked her what caused them all to fly. She said with solemn breathlessness that they ha

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Chapter 22

25 May 2023
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The sunny, leafy week which followed the tender doings of Midsummer Eve brought a visitor to Fitzpiers’s door; a voice that he knew sounded in the passage. Mr. Melbury had called. At first he had a pa

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Chapter 23

25 May 2023
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With this in view he took her out for a walk, a custom of his when he wished to say anything specially impressive. Their way was over the top of that lofty ridge dividing their woodland from the cider

24

Chapter 24

25 May 2023
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He left her at the door of her father’s house. As he receded, and was clasped out of sight by the filmy shades, he impressed Grace as a man who hardly appertained to her existence at all. Cleverer, gr

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Chapter 25

26 May 2023
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The chief hotel at Sherton-Abbas was an old stone-fronted inn with a yawning arch, under which vehicles were driven by stooping coachmen to back premises of wonderful commodiousness. The windows to th

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Chapter 26

26 May 2023
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Winterborne’s house had been pulled down. On this account his face had been seen but fitfully in Hintock; and he would probably have disappeared from the place altogether but for his slight business c

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Chapter 27

26 May 2023
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The doctor’s professional visit to Hintock House was promptly repeated the next day and the next. He always found Mrs. Charmond reclining on a sofa, and behaving generally as became a patient who was

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Chapter 28

26 May 2023
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A week had passed, and Mrs. Charmond had left Hintock House. Middleton Abbey, the place of her sojourn, was about twenty miles distant by road, eighteen by bridle-paths and footways. Grace observed,

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Chapter 29

26 May 2023
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She walked up the soft grassy ride, screened on either hand by nut-bushes, just now heavy with clusters of twos and threes and fours. A little way on, the track she pursued was crossed by a similar on

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Chapter 30

26 May 2023
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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 i

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Chapter 31

26 May 2023
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As February merged in March, and lighter evenings broke the gloom of the woodmen’s homeward journey, the Hintocks Great and Little began to have ears for a rumor of the events out of which had grown t

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Chapter 32

26 May 2023
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At nine o’clock the next morning Melbury dressed himself up in shining broadcloth, creased with folding and smelling of camphor, and started for Hintock House. He was the more impelled to go at once b

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Chapter 33

27 May 2023
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There was agitation to-day in the lives of all whom these matters concerned. It was not till the Hintock dinner-time–one o’clock– that Grace discovered her father’s absence from the house after a depa

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Chapter 34

27 May 2023
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It was at the beginning of April, a few days after the meeting between Grace and Mrs. Charmond in the wood, that Fitzpiers, just returned from London, was travelling from Sherton-Abbas to Hintock in a

35

Chapter 35

27 May 2023
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The mare paced along with firm and cautious tread through the copse where Winterborne had worked, and into the heavier soil where the oaks grew; past Great Willy, the largest oak in the wood, and then

36

Chapter 36

27 May 2023
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Grace was not the only one who watched and meditated in Hintock that night. Felice Charmond was in no mood to retire to rest at a customary hour; and over her drawing-room fire at the Manor House she

37

Chapter 37

27 May 2023
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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

38

Chapter 38

27 May 2023
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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 mont

39

Chapter 39

27 May 2023
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All night did Winterborne think over that unsatisfactory ending of a pleasant time, forgetting the pleasant time itself. He feared anew that they could never be happy together, even should she be free

40

Chapter 40

27 May 2023
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Life among the people involved in these events seemed to be suppressed and hide-bound for a while. Grace seldom showed herself outside the house, never outside the garden; for she feared she might enc

41

Chapter 41

29 May 2023
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The first hundred yards of their course lay under motionless trees, whose upper foliage began to hiss with falling drops of rain. By the time that they emerged upon a glade it rained heavily. “This i

42

Chapter 42

29 May 2023
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The next morning Grace was at the window early. She felt determined to see him somehow that day, and prepared his breakfast eagerly. Eight o’clock struck, and she had remembered that he had not come t

43

Chapter 43

29 May 2023
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She re-entered the hut, flung off her bonnet and cloak, and approached the sufferer. He had begun anew those terrible mutterings, and his hands were cold. As soon as she saw him there returned to her

44

Chapter 44

29 May 2023
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Fitzpiers had hardly been gone an hour when Grace began to sicken. The next day she kept her room. Old Jones was called in; he murmured some statements in which the words “feverish symptoms” occurred.

45

Chapter 45

29 May 2023
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Weeks and months of mourning for Winterborne had been passed by Grace in the soothing monotony of the memorial act to which she and Marty had devoted themselves. Twice a week the pair went in the dusk

46

Chapter 46

29 May 2023
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The woods were uninteresting, and Grace stayed in-doors a great deal. She became quite a student, reading more than she had done since her marriage But her seclusion was always broken for the periodic

47

Chapter 47

29 May 2023
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Were the inventors of automatic machines to be ranged according to the excellence of their devices for producing sound artistic torture, the creator of the man-trap would occupy a very respectable if

48

Chapter 48

29 May 2023
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All the evening Melbury had been coming to his door, saying, “I wonder where in the world that girl is! Never in all my born days did I know her bide out like this! She surely said she was going into

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