The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 7
Kaleidoscopic dreams of a weird alchemist-surgeon, Grammer Oliver's skeleton,
and the face of Giles Winterborne, brought Grace Melbury to the morning of the
next day. It was fine. A north wind was blowing--that not unacceptable
compromise between the atmospheric cutlery of the eastern blast and the
spongy gales of the west quarter. She looked from her window in the direction of
the light of the previous evening, and could just discern through the trees the
shape of the surgeon's house. Somehow, in the broad, practical daylight, that
unknown and lonely gentleman seemed to be shorn of much of the interest which
had invested his personality and pursuits in the hours of darkness, and as
Grace's dressing proceeded he faded from her mind.
Meanwhile, Winterborne, though half assured of her father's favor, was rendered
a little restless by Miss Melbury's behavior. Despite his dry self-control, he could
not help looking continually from his own door towards the timber-merchant's, in
the probability of somebody's emergence therefrom. His attention was at length
justified by the appearance of two figures, that of Mr. Melbury himself, and Grace
beside him. They stepped out in a direction towards the densest quarter of the
wood, and Winterborne walked contemplatively behind them, till all three were
soon under the trees.
Although the time of bare boughs had now set in, there were sheltered hollows
amid the Hintock plantations and copses in which a more tardy leave-taking than
on windy summits was the rule with the foliage. This caused here and there an
apparent mixture of the seasons; so that in some of the dells that they passed by
holly-berries in full red were found growing beside oak and hazel whose leaves
were as yet not far removed from green, and brambles whose verdure was rich
and deep as in the month of August. To Grace these well-known peculiarities
were as an old painting restored.
Now could be beheld that change from the handsome to the curious which the
features of a wood undergo at the ingress of the winter months. Angles were
taking the place of curves, and reticulations of surfaces--a change constituting a
sudden lapse from the ornate to the primitive on Nature's canvas, and
comparable to a retrogressive step from the art of an advanced school of painting
to that of the Pacific Islander.
Winterborne followed, and kept his eye upon the two figures as they threaded
their way through these sylvan phenomena. Mr. Melbury's long legs, and gaiters
drawn in to the bone at the ankles, his slight stoop, his habit of getting lost in
thought and arousing himself with an exclamation of "Hah!" accompanied with an
upward jerk of the head, composed a personage recognizable by his neighbors
as far as he could be seen. It seemed as if the squirrels and birds knew him. One