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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 the timber-dealer’s troubles. It took the form of a wide sprinkling of conjecture, wherein no man knew the exact truth. Tantalizing phenomena, at once showing and concealing the real relationship of the persons concerned, caused a diffusion of excited surprise. Honest people as the woodlanders were, it was hardly to be expected that they could remain immersed in the study of their trees and gardens amid such circumstances, or sit with their backs turned like the good burghers of Coventry at the passage of the beautiful lady.

Rumor, for a wonder, exaggerated little. There were, in fact, in this case as in thousands, the well-worn incidents, old as the hills, which, with individual variations, made a mourner of Ariadne, a by-word of Vashti, and a corpse of the Countess Amy. There were rencounters accidental and contrived, stealthy correspondence, sudden misgivings on one side, sudden self- reproaches on the other. The inner state of the twain was one as of confused noise that would not allow the accents of calmer reason to be heard. Determinations to go in this direction, and headlong plunges in that; dignified safeguards, undignified collapses; not a single rash step by deliberate intention, and all against judgment.

It was all that Melbury had expected and feared. It was more, for he had overlooked the publicity that would be likely to result, as it now had done. What should he do–appeal to Mrs. Charmond himself, since Grace would not? He bethought himself of Winterborne, and resolved to consult him, feeling the strong need of some friend of his own sex to whom he might unburden his mind.

He had entirely lost faith in his own judgment. That judgment on which he had relied for so many years seemed recently, like a false companion unmasked, to have disclosed unexpected depths of hypocrisy and speciousness where all had seemed solidity. He felt almost afraid to form a conjecture on the weather, or the time, or the fruit-promise, so great was his self-abasement.

It was a rimy evening when he set out to look for Giles. The woods seemed to be in a cold sweat; beads of perspiration hung from every bare twig; the sky had no color, and the trees rose before him as haggard, gray phantoms, whose days of substantiality were passed. Melbury seldom saw Winterborne now, but he believed him to be occupying a lonely hut just beyond the boundary of Mrs. Charmond’s estate, though still within the circuit of the woodland. The timber-merchant’s thin legs stalked on through the pale, damp scenery, his eyes on the dead leaves of last year; while every now and then a hasty “Ay?” escaped his lips in reply to some bitter proposition.

His notice was attracted by a thin blue haze of smoke, behind which arose sounds of voices and chopping: bending his steps that way, he saw Winterborne just in front of him. It just now happened that Giles, after being for a long time apathetic and unemployed, had become one of the busiest men in the neighborhood. It is often thus; fallen friends, lost sight of, we expect to find starving; we discover them going on fairly well. Without any solicitation, or desire for profit on his part, he had been asked to execute during that winter a very large order for hurdles and other copse-ware, for which purpose he had been obliged to buy several acres of brushwood standing. He was now engaged in the cutting and manufacture of the same, proceeding with the work daily like an automaton.

The hazel-tree did not belie its name to-day. The whole of the copse-wood where the mist had cleared returned purest tints of that hue, amid which Winterborne himself was in the act of making a hurdle, the stakes being driven firmly into the ground in a row, over which he bent and wove the twigs. Beside him was a square, compact pile like the altar of Cain, formed of hurdles already finished, which bristled on all sides with the sharp points of their stakes. At a little distance the men in his employ were assisting him to carry out his contract. Rows of copse-wood lay on the ground as it had fallen under the axe; and a shelter had been constructed near at hand, in front of which burned the fire whose smoke had attracted him. The air was so dank that the smoke hung heavy, and crept away amid the bushes without rising from the ground.

After wistfully regarding Winterborne a while, Melbury drew nearer, and briefly inquired of Giles how he came to be so busily engaged, with an undertone of slight surprise that Winterborne could seem so thriving after being deprived of Grace. Melbury was not without emotion at the meeting; for Grace’s affairs had divided them, and ended their intimacy of old times.

Winterborne explained just as briefly, without raising his eyes from his occupation of chopping a bough that he held in front of him.

“‘Twill be up in April before you get it all cleared,” said Melbury.

“Yes, there or thereabouts,” said Winterborne, a chop of the billhook jerking the last word into two pieces.

There was another interval; Melbury still looked on, a chip from Winterborne’s hook occasionally flying against the waistcoat and legs of his visitor, who took no heed.

“Ah, Giles–you should have been my partner. You should have been my son-in-law,” the old man said at last. “It would have been far better for her and for me.”

Winterborne saw that something had gone wrong with his former friend, and throwing down the switch he was about to interweave, he responded only too readily to the mood of the timber-dealer. “Is she ill?” he said, hurriedly.

“No, no.” Melbury stood without speaking for some minutes, and then, as though he could not bring himself to proceed, turned to go away.

Winterborne told one of his men to pack up the tools for the night and walked after Melbury.

“Heaven forbid that I should seem too inquisitive, sir,” he said, “especially since we don’t stand as we used to stand to one another; but I hope it is well with them all over your way?”

“No,” said Melbury–“no.” He stopped, and struck the smooth trunk of a young ash-tree with the flat of his hand. “I would that his ear had been where that rind is!” he exclaimed; “I should have treated him to little compared wi what he deserves.”

“Now,” said Winterborne, “don’t be in a hurry to go home. I’ve put some cider down to warm in my shelter here, and we’ll sit and drink it and talk this over.”

Melbury turned unresistingly as Giles took his arm, and they went back to where the fire was, and sat down under the screen, the other woodmen having gone. He drew out the cider-mug from the ashes and they drank together.

“Giles, you ought to have had her, as I said just now,” repeated Melbury. “I’ll tell you why for the first time.”

He thereupon told Winterborne, as with great relief, the story of how he won away Giles’s father’s chosen one–by nothing worse than a lover’s cajoleries, it is true, but by means which, except in love, would certainly have been pronounced cruel and unfair. He explained how he had always intended to make reparation to Winterborne the father by giving Grace to Winterborne the son, till the devil tempted him in the person of Fitzpiers, and he broke his virtuous vow.

“How highly I thought of that man, to be sure! Who’d have supposed he’d have been so weak and wrong-headed as this! You ought to have had her, Giles, and there’s an end on’t.”

Winterborne knew how to preserve his calm under this unconsciously cruel tearing of a healing wound to which Melbury’s concentration on the more vital subject had blinded him. The young man endeavored to make the best of the case for Grace’s sake.

“She would hardly have been happy with me,” he said, in the dry, unimpassioned voice under which he hid his feelings. “I was not well enough educated: too rough, in short. I couldn’t have surrounded her with the refinements she looked for, anyhow, at all.”

“Nonsense–you are quite wrong there,” said the unwise old man, doggedly. “She told me only this day that she hates refinements and such like. All that my trouble and money bought for her in that way is thrown away upon her quite. She’d fain be like Marty South–think o’ that! That’s the top of her ambition! Perhaps she’s right. Giles, she loved you–under the rind; and, what’s more, she loves ye still–worse luck for the poor maid!”

If Melbury only had known what fires he was recklessly stirring up he might have held his peace. Winterborne was silent a long time. The darkness had closed in round them, and the monotonous drip of the fog from the branches quickened as it turned to fine rain.

“Oh, she never cared much for me,” Giles managed to say, as he stirred the embers with a brand.

“She did, and does, I tell ye,” said the other, obstinately. “However, all that’s vain talking now. What I come to ask you about is a more practical matter–how to make the best of things as they are. I am thinking of a desperate step–of calling on the woman Charmond. I am going to appeal to her, since Grace will not. ‘Tis she who holds the balance in her hands–not he. While she’s got the will to lead him astray he will follow–poor, unpractical, lofty-notioned dreamer–and how long she’ll do it depends upon her whim. Did ye ever hear anything about her character before she came to Hintock?”

“She’s been a bit of a charmer in her time, I believe,” replied Giles, with the same level quietude, as he regarded the red coals. “One who has smiled where she has not loved and loved where she has not married. Before Mr. Charmond made her his wife she was a play-actress.”

“Hey?” But how close you have kept all this, Giles! What besides?”

“Mr. Charmond was a rich man, engaged in the iron trade in the north, twenty or thirty years older than she. He married her and retired, and came down here and bought this property, as they do nowadays.”

“Yes, yes–I know all about that; but the other I did not know. I fear it bodes no good. For how can I go and appeal to the forbearance of a woman in this matter who has made cross-loves and crooked entanglements her trade for years? I thank ye, Giles, for finding it out; but it makes my plan the harder that she should have belonged to that unstable tribe.”

Another pause ensued, and they looked gloomily at the smoke that beat about the hurdles which sheltered them, through whose weavings a large drop of rain fell at intervals and spat smartly into the fire. Mrs. Charmond had been no friend to Winterborne, but he was manly, and it was not in his heart to let her be condemned without a trial.

“She is said to be generous,” he answered. “You might not appeal to her in vain.”

“It shall be done,” said Melbury, rising. “For good or for evil, to Mrs. Charmond I’ll go.” 

48
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

4

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

5

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

7

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

8

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

9

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

10

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

11

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

12

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

14

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

16

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

17

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

19

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

20

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

22

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

23

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

25

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

26

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

27

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,

29

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

30

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

31

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

32

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

33

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

34

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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