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36. CHAPTER XXXVI.
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 sat as motionless and in as deep a reverie as Grace in her little apartment at the homestead.
Having caught ear of Melbury's intelligence while she stood on the landing at his house, and been eased of much of her mental distress, her sense of personal decorum returned upon her with a rush. She descended the stairs and left the door like a ghost, keeping close to the walls of the building till she got round to the gate of the quadrangle, through which she noiselessly passed almost before Grace and her father had finished their discourse. Suke Damson had thought it well to imitate her superior in this respect, and, descending the back stairs as Felice descended the front, went out at the side door and home to her cottage.
Once outside Melbury's gates Mrs. Charmond ran with all her speed to the Manor House, without stopping or turning her head, and splitting her thin boots in her haste. She entered her own dwelling, as she had emerged from it, by the drawing-room window. In other circumstances she would have felt some timidity at undertaking such an unpremeditated excursion alone; but her anxiety for another had cast out her fear for herself.
Everything in her drawing-room was just as she had left it--the candles still burning, the casement closed, and the shutters gently pulled to, so as to hide the state of the window from the cursory glance of a servant entering the apartment. She had been gone about three-quarters of an hour by the clock, and nobody seemed to have discovered her absence. Tired in body but tense in mind, she sat down, palpitating, round-eyed, bewildered at what she had done.
She had been betrayed by affrighted love into a visit which, now that the emotion instigating it had calmed down under her belief that Fitzpiers was in no danger, was the saddest surprise to her. This was how she had set about doing her best to escape her passionate bondage to him! Somehow, in declaring to Grace and to herself the unseemliness of her infatuation, she had grown a convert to its irresistibility. If Heaven would only give her strength; but Heaven never did! One thing was indispensable; she must go away from Hintock if she meant to withstand further temptation. The struggle was too wearying, too hopeless, while she remained. It was but a continual capitulation of conscience to what she dared not name.
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