The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 2
In the room from which this cheerful blaze proceeded, he beheld a girl seated on
a willow chair, and busily occupied by the light of the fire, which was ample and
of wood. With a bill-hook in one hand and a leather glove, much too large for her,
on the other, she was making spars, such as are used by thatchers, with great
rapidity. She wore a leather apron for this purpose, which was also much too
large for her figure. On her left hand lay a bundle of the straight, smooth sticks
called spar-gads--the raw material of her manufacture; on her right, a heap of
chips and ends--the refuse--with which the fire was maintained; in front, a pile of
the finished articles. To produce them she took up each gad, looked critically at it
from end to end, cut it to length, split it into four, and sharpened each of the
quarters with dexterous blows, which brought it to a triangular point precisely
resembling that of a bayonet.
Beside her, in case she might require more light, a brass candlestick stood on a
little round table, curiously formed of an old coffin-stool, with a deal top nailed on,
the white surface of the latter contrasting oddly with the black carved oak of the
substructure. The social position of the household in the past was almost as
definitively shown by the presence of this article as that of an esquire or
nobleman by his old helmets or shields. It had been customary for every well-to-
do villager, whose tenure was by copy of court-roll, or in any way more
permanent than that of the mere cotter, to keep a pair of these stools for the use
of his own dead; but for the last generation or two a feeling of cui bono had led to
the discontinuance of the custom, and the stools were frequently made use of in
the manner described.
The young woman laid down the bill-hook for a moment and examined the palm
of her right hand, which, unlike the other, was ungloved, and showed little
hardness or roughness about it. The palm was red and blistering, as if this
present occupation were not frequent enough with her to subdue it to what it
worked in. As with so many right hands born to manual labor, there was nothing
in its fundamental shape to bear out the physiological conventionalism that
gradations of birth, gentle or mean, show themselves primarily in the form of this
member. Nothing but a cast of the die of destiny had decided that the girl should
handle the tool; and the fingers which clasped the heavy ash haft might have
skilfully guided the pencil or swept the string, had they only been set to do it in
good time.
Her face had the usual fulness of expression which is developed by a life of
solitude. Where the eyes of a multitude beat like waves upon a countenance they
seem to wear away its individuality; but in the still water of privacy every tentacle
of feeling and sentiment shoots out in visible luxuriance, to be interpreted as
readily as a child's look by an intruder. In years she was no more than nineteen