The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 4
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 bestirred themselves, rising at this time of the
year at the far less dreary hour of absolute darkness. It had been above an hour
earlier, before a single bird had untucked his head, that twenty lights were struck
in as many bedrooms, twenty pairs of shutters opened, and twenty pairs of eyes
stretched to the sky to forecast the weather for the day.
Owls that had been catching mice in the out-houses, rabbits that had been eating
the wintergreens in the gardens, and stoats that had been sucking the blood of
the rabbits, discerning that their human neighbors were on the move, discreetly
withdrew from publicity, and were seen and heard no more that day.
The daylight revealed the whole of Mr. Melbury's homestead, of which the
wagon-sheds had been an outlying erection. It formed three sides of an open
quadrangle, and consisted of all sorts of buildings, the largest and central one
being the dwelling itself. The fourth side of the quadrangle was the public road.
It was a dwelling-house of respectable, roomy, almost dignified aspect; which,
taken with the fact that there were the remains of other such buildings
thereabout, indicated that Little Hintock had at some time or other been of
greater importance than now, as its old name of Hintock St. Osmond also
testified. The house was of no marked antiquity, yet of well-advanced age; older
than a stale novelty, but no canonized antique; faded, not hoary; looking at you
from the still distinct middle-distance of the early Georgian time, and awakening
on that account the instincts of reminiscence more decidedly than the remoter
and far grander memorials which have to speak from the misty reaches of
mediaevalism. The faces, dress, passions, gratitudes, and revenues of the great-
great- grandfathers and grandmothers who had been the first to gaze from those
rectangular windows, and had stood under that key-stoned doorway, could be
divined and measured by homely standards of to- day. It was a house in whose
reverberations queer old personal tales were yet audible if properly listened for;
and not, as with those of the castle and cloister, silent beyond the possibility of
The garden-front remained much as it had always been, and there was a porch
and entrance that way. But the principal house-door opened on the square yard
or quadrangle towards the road, formerly a regular carriage entrance, though the
middle of the area was now made use of for stacking timber, fagots, bundles, and
other products of the wood. It was divided from the lane by a lichen- coated wall,
in which hung a pair of gates, flanked by piers out of the perpendicular, with a
round white ball on the top of each.