The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 14
The encounter with the carriages having sprung upon Winterborne's mind the
image of Mrs. Charmond, his thoughts by a natural channel went from her to the
fact that several cottages and other houses in the two Hintocks, now his own,
would fall into her possession in the event of South's death. He marvelled what
people could have been thinking about in the past to invent such precarious
tenures as these; still more, what could have induced his ancestors at Hintock,
and other village people, to exchange their old copyholds for life-leases. But
having naturally succeeded to these properties through his father, he had done
his best to keep them in order, though he was much struck with his father's
negligence in not insuring South's life.
After breakfast, still musing on the circumstances, he went up- stairs, turned over
his bed, and drew out a flat canvas bag which lay between the mattress and the
sacking. In this he kept his leases, which had remained there unopened ever
since his father's death. It was the usual hiding-place among rural lifeholders for
such documents. Winterborne sat down on the bed and looked them over. They
were ordinary leases for three lives, which a member of the South family, some
fifty years before this time, had accepted of the lord of the manor in lieu of certain
copyholds and other rights, in consideration of having the dilapidated houses
rebuilt by said lord. They had come into his father's possession chiefly through
his mother, who was a South.
Pinned to the parchment of one of the indentures was a letter, which Winterborne
had never seen before. It bore a remote date, the handwriting being that of some
solicitor or agent, and the signature the landholder's. It was to the effect that at
any time before the last of the stated lives should drop, Mr. Giles Winterborne,
senior, or his representative, should have the privilege of adding his own and his
son's life to the life remaining on payment of a merely nominal sum; the
concession being in consequence of the elder Winterborne's consent to demolish
one of the houses and relinquish its site, which stood at an awkward corner of
the lane and impeded the way.
The house had been pulled down years before. Why Giles's father had not taken
advantage of his privilege to insert his own and his son's lives it was impossible
to say. The likelihood was that death alone had hindered him in the execution of
his project, as it surely was, the elder Winterborne having been a man who took
much pleasure in dealing with house property in his small way.
Since one of the Souths still survived, there was not much doubt that Giles could
do what his father had left undone, as far as his own life was concerned. This
possibility cheered him much, for by those houses hung many things. Melbury's
doubt of the young man's fitness to be the husband of Grace had been based not