The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 26
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 connection with Melbury, on whose
premises Giles kept his cider-making apparatus, now that he had no place of his
own to stow it in. Coming here one evening on his way to a hut beyond the wood
where he now slept, he noticed that the familiar brown- thatched pinion of his
paternal roof had vanished from its site, and that the walls were levelled. In
present circumstances he had a feeling for the spot that might have been called
morbid, and when he had supped in the hut aforesaid he made use of the spare
hour before bedtime to return to Little Hintock in the twilight and ramble over the
patch of ground on which he had first seen the day.
He repeated this evening visit on several like occasions. Even in the gloom he
could trace where the different rooms had stood; could mark the shape of the
kitchen chimney-corner, in which he had roasted apples and potatoes in his
boyhood, cast his bullets, and burned his initials on articles that did and did not
belong to him. The apple-trees still remained to show where the garden had
been, the oldest of them even now retaining the crippled slant to north-east given
them by the great November gale of 1824, which carried a brig bodily over the
Chesil Bank. They were at present bent to still greater obliquity by the heaviness
of their produce. Apples bobbed against his head, and in the grass beneath he
crunched scores of them as he walked. There was nobody to gather them now.
It was on the evening under notice that, half sitting, half leaning against one of
these inclined trunks, Winterborne had become lost in his thoughts, as usual, till
one little star after another had taken up a position in the piece of sky which now
confronted him where his walls and chimneys had formerly raised their outlines.
The house had jutted awkwardly into the road, and the opening caused by its
absence was very distinct.
In the silence the trot of horses and the spin of carriage-wheels became audible;
and the vehicle soon shaped itself against the blank sky, bearing down upon him
with the bend in the lane which here occurred, and of which the house had been
the cause. He could discern the figure of a woman high up on the driving-seat of
a phaeton, a groom being just visible behind. Presently there was a slight scrape,
then a scream. Winterborne went across to the spot, and found the phaeton half
overturned, its driver sitting on the heap of rubbish which had once been his
dwelling, and the man seizing the horses' heads. The equipage was Mrs.
Charmond's, and the unseated charioteer that lady herself.
To his inquiry if she were hurt she made some incoherent reply to the effect that
she did not know. The damage in other respects was little or none: the phaeton