The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 20
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 shades, which hurt the
complexion of the girls who walked there; and a fringe of them which overhung
Mr. Melbury's garden dripped on his seed-plots when it rained, pitting their
surface all over as with pock-marks, till Melbury declared that gardens in such a
place were no good at all. The two trees that had creaked all the winter left off
creaking, the whir of the night-jar, however, forming a very satisfactory
continuation of uncanny music from that quarter. Except at mid-day the sun was
not seen complete by the Hintock people, but rather in the form of numerous little
stars staring through the leaves.
Such an appearance it had on Midsummer Eve of this year, and as the hour grew
later, and nine o'clock drew on, the irradiation of the daytime became broken up
by weird shadows and ghostly nooks of indistinctness. Imagination could trace
upon the trunks and boughs strange faces and figures shaped by the dying
lights; the surfaces of the holly-leaves would here and there shine like peeping
eyes, while such fragments of the sky as were visible between the trunks
assumed the aspect of sheeted forms and cloven tongues. This was before the
moonrise. Later on, when that planet was getting command of the upper heaven,
and consequently shining with an unbroken face into such open glades as there
were in the neighborhood of the hamlet, it became apparent that the margin of
the wood which approached the timber-merchant's premises was not to be left to
the customary stillness of that reposeful time.
Fitzpiers having heard a voice or voices, was looking over his garden gate--
where he now looked more frequently than into his books--fancying that Grace
might be abroad with some friends. He was now irretrievably committed in heart
to Grace Melbury, though he was by no means sure that she was so far
committed to him. That the Idea had for once completely fulfilled itself in the
objective substance--which he had hitherto deemed an impossibility--he was
enchanted enough to fancy must be the case at last. It was not Grace who had
passed, however, but several of the ordinary village girls in a group--some
steadily walking, some in a mood of wild gayety. He quietly asked his landlady,
who was also in the garden, what these girls were intending, and she informed
him that it being Old Midsummer Eve, they were about to attempt some spell or
enchantment which would afford them a glimpse of their future partners for life.
She declared it to be an ungodly performance, and one which she for her part
would never countenance; saying which, she entered her house and retired to