The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 25
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 the street were mullioned into
narrow lights, and only commanded a view of the opposite houses; hence,
perhaps, it arose that the best and most luxurious private sitting-room that the inn
could afford over-looked the nether parts of the establishment, where beyond the
yard were to be seen gardens and orchards, now bossed, nay incrusted, with
scarlet and gold fruit, stretching to infinite distance under a luminous lavender
mist. The time was early autumn,
"When the fair apples, red as evening sky, Do bend the tree unto the fruitful
ground, When juicy pears, and berries of black dye, Do dance in air, and call the
eyes around."
The landscape confronting the window might, indeed, have been part of the
identical stretch of country which the youthful Chatterton had in his mind.
In this room sat she who had been the maiden Grace Melbury till the finger of
fate touched her and turned her to a wife. It was two months after the wedding,
and she was alone. Fitzpiers had walked out to see the abbey by the light of
sunset, but she had been too fatigued to accompany him. They had reached the
last stage of a long eight-weeks' tour, and were going on to Hintock that night.
In the yard, between Grace and the orchards, there progressed a scene natural
to the locality at this time of the year. An apple- mill and press had been erected
on the spot, to which some men were bringing fruit from divers points in mawn-
baskets, while others were grinding them, and others wringing down the pomace,
whose sweet juice gushed forth into tubs and pails. The superintendent of these
proceedings, to whom the others spoke as master, was a young yeoman of
prepossessing manner and aspect, whose form she recognized in a moment. He
had hung his coat to a nail of the out-house wall, and wore his shirt-sleeves
rolled up beyond his elbows, to keep them unstained while he rammed the
pomace into the bags of horse-hair. Fragments of apple-rind had alighted upon
the brim of his hat--probably from the bursting of a bag--while brown pips of the
same fruit were sticking among the down upon his fine, round arms.
She realized in a moment how he had come there. Down in the heart of the apple
country nearly every farmer kept up a cider-making apparatus and wring-house
for his own use, building up the pomace in great straw "cheeses," as they were
called; but here, on the margin of Pomona's plain, was a debatable land neither
orchard nor sylvan exclusively, where the apple produce was hardly sufficient to
warrant each proprietor in keeping a mill of his own. This was the field of the