The Woodlanders HTML version

Chapter 16
Dr. Fitzpiers lived on the slope of the hill, in a house of much less pretension,
both as to architecture and as to magnitude, than the timber-merchant's. The
latter had, without doubt, been once the manorial residence appertaining to the
snug and modest domain of Little Hintock, of which the boundaries were now lost
by its absorption with others of its kind into the adjoining estate of Mrs.
Charmond. Though the Melburys themselves were unaware of the fact, there
was every reason to believe--at least so the parson said that the owners of that
little manor had been Melbury's own ancestors, the family name occurring in
numerous documents relating to transfers of land about the time of the civil wars.
Mr. Fitzpiers's dwelling, on the contrary, was small, cottage- like, and
comparatively modern. It had been occupied, and was in part occupied still, by a
retired farmer and his wife, who, on the surgeon's arrival in quest of a home, had
accommodated him by receding from their front rooms into the kitchen quarter,
whence they administered to his wants, and emerged at regular intervals to
receive from him a not unwelcome addition to their income.
The cottage and its garden were so regular in their arrangement that they might
have been laid out by a Dutch designer of the time of William and Mary. In a low,
dense hedge, cut to wedge-shape, was a door over which the hedge formed an
arch, and from the inside of the door a straight path, bordered with clipped box,
ran up the slope of the garden to the porch, which was exactly in the middle of
the house front, with two windows on each side. Right and left of the path were
first a bed of gooseberry bushes; next of currant; next of raspberry; next of
strawberry; next of old- fashioned flowers; at the corners opposite the porch
being spheres of box resembling a pair of school globes. Over the roof of the
house could be seen the orchard, on yet higher ground, and behind the orchard
the forest-trees, reaching up to the crest of the hill.
Opposite the garden door and visible from the parlor window was a swing-gate
leading into a field, across which there ran a foot- path. The swing-gate had just
been repainted, and on one fine afternoon, before the paint was dry, and while
gnats were still dying thereon, the surgeon was standing in his sitting-room
abstractedly looking out at the different pedestrians who passed and repassed
along that route. Being of a philosophical stamp, he perceived that the chararter
of each of these travellers exhibited itself in a somewhat amusing manner by his
or her method of handling the gate.
As regarded the men, there was not much variety: they gave the gate a kick and
passed through. The women were more contrasting. To them the sticky wood-
work was a barricade, a disgust, a menace, a treachery, as the case might be.