The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 34
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 hired carriage. In his eye there was
a doubtful light, and the lines of his refined face showed a vague disquietude. He
appeared now like one of those who impress the beholder as having suffered
wrong in being born.
His position was in truth gloomy, and to his appreciative mind it seemed even
gloomier than it was. His practice had been slowly dwindling of late, and now
threatened to die out altogether, the irrepressible old Dr. Jones capturing patients
up to Fitzpiers's very door. Fitzpiers knew only too well the latest and greatest
cause of his unpopularity; and yet, so illogical is man, the second branch of his
sadness grew out of a remedial measure proposed for the first--a letter from
Felice Charmond imploring him not to see her again. To bring about their
severance still more effectually, she added, she had decided during his absence
upon almost immediate departure for the Continent.
The time was that dull interval in a woodlander's life which coincides with great
activity in the life of the woodland itself-- a period following the close of the winter
tree-cutting, and preceding the barking season, when the saps are just beginning
to heave with the force of hydraulic lifts inside all the trunks of the forest.
Winterborne's contract was completed, and the plantations were deserted. It was
dusk; there were no leaves as yet; the nightingales would not begin to sing for a
fortnight; and "the Mother of the Months" was in her most attenuated phase--
starved and bent to a mere bowed skeleton, which glided along behind the bare
twigs in Fitzpiers's company
When he reached home he went straight up to his wife's sitting- room. He found it
deserted, and without a fire. He had mentioned no day for his return;
nevertheless, he wondered why she was not there waiting to receive him. On
descending to the other wing of the house and inquiring of Mrs. Melbury, he
learned with much surprise that Grace had gone on a visit to an acquaintance at
Shottsford-Forum three days earlier; that tidings had on this morning reached her
father of her being very unwell there, in consequence of which he had ridden
over to see her.
Fitzpiers went up-stairs again, and the little drawing-room, now lighted by a
solitary candle, was not rendered more cheerful by the entrance of Grammer
Oliver with an apronful of wood, which she threw on the hearth while she raked
out the grate and rattled about the fire-irons, with a view to making things
comfortable. Fitzpiers considered that Grace ought to have let him know her