“The Pine Planters” is a poem from the perspective of the character Marty South in Hardy’s novel The Woodlanders. Below, you can find a summary and extracts from the novel to provide context for studying the poem.
The story takes place in a small woodland village called Little Hintock, and concerns the efforts of an honest woodsman, Giles Winterborne, to marry his childhood sweetheart, Grace Melbury. Although they have been informally betrothed for some time, her father has made financial sacrifices to give his adored only child a superior education and no longer considers Giles good enough for her. When the new doctor – a well-born and handsome young man named Edred Fitzpiers – takes an interest in Grace, her father does all he can to make Grace forget Giles, and to encourage what he sees as a brilliant match. Grace has more awe than love for Fitzpiers, but marries him nonetheless. After the honeymoon, the couple take up residence in an unused wing of Melbury’s house. Soon, however, Fitzpiers begins an affair with a rich widow named Mrs. Charmond, takes to treating Grace coldly, and finally deserts her one night after he accidentally reveals his true character to his father-in-law.
Melbury tries to procure a divorce for his daughter so she can marry Giles after all, but in vain. When Fitzpiers quarrels with Mrs. Charmond and returns to Little Hintock to try to reconcile with his wife, she flees the house and turns to Giles for help. He is still convalescing from a dangerous illness, but nobly allows her to sleep in his hut during stormy weather, whilst he insists on sleeping outside. As a result, he dies. Grace later allows herself to be won back to the at least temporarily repentant Fitzpiers, thus sealing her fate as the wife of an unworthy man. No one is left to mourn Giles except a courageous peasant girl named Marty South, who all along has been the overlooked but perfect mate for him, and who has always loved him.
Chapter II (excerpt)
He hesitated no longer, but tapped at the door and entered. The young woman turned at the crunch of his boots on the sanded floor, and exclaiming, “Oh, Mr. Percombe, how you frightened me!” quite lost her color for a moment.
He replied, “You should shut your door—then you’d hear folk open it.”
“I can’t,” she said; “the chimney smokes so. Mr. Percombe, you look as unnatural out of your shop as a canary in a thorn-hedge. Surely you have not come out here on my account—for—”
“Yes—to have your answer about this.” He touched her head with his cane, and she winced. “Do you agree?” he continued. “It is necessary that I should know at once, as the lady is soon going away, and it takes time to make up.”
“Don’t press me—it worries me. I was in hopes you had thought no more of it. I can NOT part with it—so there!”
“Now, look here, Marty,” said the barber, sitting down on the coffin-stool table. “How much do you get for making these spars?”
“Hush—father’s up-stairs awake, and he don’t know that I am doing his work.”
“Well, now tell me,” said the man, more softly. “How much do you get?”
“Eighteenpence a thousand,” she said, reluctantly.
“Who are you making them for?”
“Mr. Melbury, the timber-dealer, just below here.”
“And how many can you make in a day?”
“In a day and half the night, three bundles—that’s a thousand and a half.”
“Two and threepence.” The barber paused. “Well, look here,” he continued, with the remains of a calculation in his tone, which calculation had been the reduction to figures of the probable monetary magnetism necessary to overpower the resistant force of her present purse and the woman’s love of comeliness, “here’s a sovereign—a gold sovereign, almost new.” He held it out between his finger and thumb. “That’s as much as you’d earn in a week and a half at that rough man’s work, and it’s yours for just letting me snip off what you’ve got too much of.”
The girl’s bosom moved a very little. “Why can’t the lady send to some other girl who don’t value her hair—not to me?” she exclaimed.
“Why, simpleton, because yours is the exact shade of her own, and ’tis a shade you can’t match by dyeing. But you are not going to refuse me now I’ve come all the way from Sherton o’ purpose?”
“I say I won’t sell it—to you or anybody.”
“Now listen,” and he drew up a little closer beside her. “The lady is very rich, and won’t be particular to a few shillings; so I will advance to this on my own responsibility—I’ll make the one sovereign two, rather than go back empty-handed.”
“No, no, no!” she cried, beginning to be much agitated. “You are a-tempting me, Mr. Percombe. You go on like the Devil to Dr. Faustus in the penny book. But I don’t want your money, and won’t agree. Why did you come? I said when you got me into your shop and urged me so much, that I didn’t mean to sell my hair!” The speaker was hot and stern.
“Marty, now hearken. The lady that wants it wants it badly. And, between you and me, you’d better let her have it. ‘Twill be bad for you if you don’t.”
“Bad for me? Who is she, then?”
The barber held his tongue, and the girl repeated the question.
“I am not at liberty to tell you. And as she is going abroad soon it makes no difference who she is at all.”
“She wants it to go abroad wi’?”
Percombe assented by a nod. The girl regarded him reflectively. “Barber Percombe,” she said, “I know who ’tis. ‘Tis she at the House—Mrs. Charmond!”
“That’s my secret. However, if you agree to let me have it, I’ll tell you in confidence.”
“I’ll certainly not let you have it unless you tell me the truth. It is Mrs. Charmond.”
The barber dropped his voice. “Well—it is. You sat in front of her in church the other day, and she noticed how exactly your hair matched her own. Ever since then she’s been hankering for it, and at last decided to get it. As she won’t wear it till she goes off abroad, she knows nobody will recognize the change. I’m commissioned to get it for her, and then it is to be made up. I shouldn’t have vamped all these miles for any less important employer. Now, mind—’tis as much as my business with her is worth if it should be known that I’ve let out her name; but honor between us two, Marty, and you’ll say nothing that would injure me?”
“I don’t wish to tell upon her,” said Marty, coolly. “But my hair is my own, and I’m going to keep it.”
“Now, that’s not fair, after what I’ve told you,” said the nettled barber. “You see, Marty, as you are in the same parish, and in one of her cottages, and your father is ill, and wouldn’t like to turn out, it would be as well to oblige her. I say that as a friend. But I won’t press you to make up your mind to-night. You’ll be coming to market to-morrow, I dare say, and you can call then. If you think it over you’ll be inclined to bring what I want, I know.”
“I’ve nothing more to say,” she answered.
Her companion saw from her manner that it was useless to urge her further by speech. “As you are a trusty young woman,” he said, “I’ll put these sovereigns up here for ornament, that you may see how handsome they are. Bring the hair to-morrow, or return the sovereigns.” He stuck them edgewise into the frame of a small mantle looking-glass. “I hope you’ll bring it, for your sake and mine. I should have thought she could have suited herself elsewhere; but as it’s her fancy it must be indulged if possible. If you cut it off yourself, mind how you do it so as to keep all the locks one way.” He showed her how this was to be done.
“But I sha’nt,” she replied, with laconic indifference. “I value my looks too much to spoil ’em. She wants my hair to get another lover with; though if stories are true she’s broke the heart of many a noble gentleman already.”
“Lord, it’s wonderful how you guess things, Marty,” said the barber. “I’ve had it from them that know that there certainly is some foreign gentleman in her eye. However, mind what I ask.”
“She’s not going to get him through me.”
Percombe had retired as far as the door; he came back, planted his cane on the coffin-stool, and looked her in the face. “Marty South,” he said, with deliberate emphasis, “YOU’VE GOT A LOVER YOURSELF, and that’s why you won’t let it go!”
She reddened so intensely as to pass the mild blush that suffices to heighten beauty; she put the yellow leather glove on one hand, took up the hook with the other, and sat down doggedly to her work without turning her face to him again. He regarded her head for a moment, went to the door, and with one look back at her, departed on his way homeward.
Marty pursued her occupation for a few minutes, then suddenly laying down the bill-hook, she jumped up and went to the back of the room, where she opened a door which disclosed a staircase so whitely scrubbed that the grain of the wood was wellnigh sodden away by such cleansing. At the top she gently approached a bedroom, and without entering, said, “Father, do you want anything?”
A weak voice inside answered in the negative; adding, “I should be all right by to-morrow if it were not for the tree!”
“The tree again—always the tree! Oh, father, don’t worry so about that. You know it can do you no harm.”
“Who have ye had talking to ye down-stairs?”
“A Sherton man called—nothing to trouble about,” she said, soothingly. “Father,” she went on, “can Mrs. Charmond turn us out of our house if she’s minded to?”
“Turn us out? No. Nobody can turn us out till my poor soul is turned out of my body. ‘Tis life-hold, like Ambrose Winterborne’s. But when my life drops ’twill be hers—not till then.” His words on this subject so far had been rational and firm enough. But now he lapsed into his moaning strain: “And the tree will do it—that tree will soon be the death of me.”
“Nonsense, you know better. How can it be?” She refrained from further speech, and descended to the ground-floor again.
“Thank Heaven, then,” she said to herself, “what belongs to me I keep.”
The lights in the village went out, house after house, till there only remained two in the darkness. One of these came from a residence on the hill-side, of which there is nothing to say at present; the other shone from the window of Marty South. Precisely the same outward effect was produced here, however, by her rising when the clock struck ten and hanging up a thick cloth curtain. The door it was necessary to keep ajar in hers, as in most cottages, because of the smoke; but she obviated the effect of the ribbon of light through the chink by hanging a cloth over that also. She was one of those people who, if they have to work harder than their neighbors, prefer to keep the necessity a secret as far as possible; and but for the slight sounds of wood-splintering which came from within, no wayfarer would have perceived that here the cottager did not sleep as elsewhere.
Eleven, twelve, one o’clock struck; the heap of spars grew higher, and the pile of chips and ends more bulky. Even the light on the hill had now been extinguished; but still she worked on. When the temperature of the night without had fallen so low as to make her chilly, she opened a large blue umbrella to ward off the draught from the door. The two sovereigns confronted her from the looking-glass in such a manner as to suggest a pair of jaundiced eyes on the watch for an opportunity. Whenever she sighed for weariness she lifted her gaze towards them, but withdrew it quickly, stroking her tresses with her fingers for a moment, as if to assure herself that they were still secure. When the clock struck three she arose and tied up the spars she had last made in a bundle resembling those that lay against the wall.
She wrapped round her a long red woollen cravat and opened the door. The night in all its fulness met her flatly on the threshold, like the very brink of an absolute void, or the antemundane Ginnung-Gap believed in by her Teuton forefathers. For her eyes were fresh from the blaze, and here there was no street-lamp or lantern to form a kindly transition between the inner glare and the outer dark. A lingering wind brought to her ear the creaking sound of two over-crowded branches in the neighboring wood which were rubbing each other into wounds, and other vocalized sorrows of the trees, together with the screech of owls, and the fluttering tumble of some awkward wood-pigeon ill-balanced on its roosting-bough.
But the pupils of her young eyes soon expanded, and she could see well enough for her purpose. Taking a bundle of spars under each arm, and guided by the serrated line of tree-tops against the sky, she went some hundred yards or more down the lane till she reached a long open shed, carpeted around with the dead leaves that lay about everywhere. Night, that strange personality, which within walls brings ominous introspectiveness and self-distrust, but under the open sky banishes such subjective anxieties as too trivial for thought, inspired Marty South with a less perturbed and brisker manner now. She laid the spars on the ground within the shed and returned for more, going to and fro till her whole manufactured stock were deposited here.
This erection was the wagon-house of the chief man of business hereabout, Mr. George Melbury, the timber, bark, and copse-ware merchant for whom Marty’s father did work of this sort by the piece. It formed one of the many rambling out-houses which surrounded his dwelling, an equally irregular block of building, whose immense chimneys could just be discerned even now. The four huge wagons under the shed were built on those ancient lines whose proportions have been ousted by modern patterns, their shapes bulging and curving at the base and ends like Trafalgar line-of-battle ships, with which venerable hulks, indeed, these vehicles evidenced a constructed spirit curiously in harmony. One was laden with sheep-cribs, another with hurdles, another with ash poles, and the fourth, at the foot of which she had placed her thatching-spars was half full of similar bundles.
She was pausing a moment with that easeful sense of accomplishment which follows work done that has been a hard struggle in the doing, when she heard a woman’s voice on the other side of the hedge say, anxiously, “George!” In a moment the name was repeated, with “Do come indoors! What are you doing there?”
The cart-house adjoined the garden, and before Marty had moved she saw enter the latter from the timber-merchant’s back door an elderly woman sheltering a candle with her hand, the light from which cast a moving thorn-pattern of shade on Marty’s face. Its rays soon fell upon a man whose clothes were roughly thrown on, standing in advance of the speaker. He was a thin, slightly stooping figure, with a small nervous mouth and a face cleanly shaven; and he walked along the path with his eyes bent on the ground. In the pair Marty South recognized her employer Melbury and his wife. She was the second Mrs. Melbury, the first having died shortly after the birth of the timber-merchant’s only child.
“‘Tis no use to stay in bed,” he said, as soon as she came up to where he was pacing restlessly about. “I can’t sleep—I keep thinking of things, and worrying about the girl, till I’m quite in a fever of anxiety.” He went on to say that he could not think why “she (Marty knew he was speaking of his daughter) did not answer his letter. She must be ill—she must, certainly,” he said.
“No, no. ‘Tis all right, George,” said his wife; and she assured him that such things always did appear so gloomy in the night-time, if people allowed their minds to run on them; that when morning came it was seen that such fears were nothing but shadows. “Grace is as well as you or I,” she declared.
But he persisted that she did not see all—that she did not see as much as he. His daughter’s not writing was only one part of his worry. On account of her he was anxious concerning money affairs, which he would never alarm his mind about otherwise. The reason he gave was that, as she had nobody to depend upon for a provision but himself, he wished her, when he was gone, to be securely out of risk of poverty.
To this Mrs. Melbury replied that Grace would be sure to marry well, and that hence a hundred pounds more or less from him would not make much difference.
Her husband said that that was what she, Mrs. Melbury, naturally thought; but there she was wrong, and in that lay the source of his trouble. “I have a plan in my head about her,” he said; “and according to my plan she won’t marry a rich man.”
“A plan for her not to marry well?” said his wife, surprised.
“Well, in one sense it is that,” replied Melbury. “It is a plan for her to marry a particular person, and as he has not so much money as she might expect, it might be called as you call it. I may not be able to carry it out; and even if I do, it may not be a good thing for her. I want her to marry Giles Winterborne.”
His companion repeated the name. “Well, it is all right,” she said, presently. “He adores the very ground she walks on; only he’s close, and won’t show it much.”
Marty South appeared startled, and could not tear herself away.
Yes, the timber-merchant asserted, he knew that well enough. Winterborne had been interested in his daughter for years; that was what had led him into the notion of their union. And he knew that she used to have no objection to him. But it was not any difficulty about that which embarrassed him. It was that, since he had educated her so well, and so long, and so far above the level of daughters thereabout, it was “wasting her” to give her to a man of no higher standing than the young man in question.
“That’s what I have been thinking,” said Mrs. Melbury.
“Well, then, Lucy, now you’ve hit it,” answered the timber-merchant, with feeling. “There lies my trouble. I vowed to let her marry him, and to make her as valuable as I could to him by schooling her as many years and as thoroughly as possible. I mean to keep my vow. I made it because I did his father a terrible wrong; and it was a weight on my conscience ever since that time till this scheme of making amends occurred to me through seeing that Giles liked her.”
“Wronged his father?” asked Mrs. Melbury.
“Yes, grievously wronged him,” said her husband.
“Well, don’t think of it to-night,” she urged. “Come indoors.”
“No, no, the air cools my head. I shall not stay long.” He was silent a while; then he told her, as nearly as Marty could gather, that his first wife, his daughter Grace’s mother, was first the sweetheart of Winterborne’s father, who loved her tenderly, till he, the speaker, won her away from him by a trick, because he wanted to marry her himself. He sadly went on to say that the other man’s happiness was ruined by it; that though he married Winterborne’s mother, it was but a half-hearted business with him. Melbury added that he was afterwards very miserable at what he had done; but that as time went on, and the children grew up, and seemed to be attached to each other, he determined to do all he could to right the wrong by letting his daughter marry the lad; not only that, but to give her the best education he could afford, so as to make the gift as valuable a one as it lay in his power to bestow. “I still mean to do it,” said Melbury.
“Then do,” said she.
“But all these things trouble me,” said he; “for I feel I am sacrificing her for my own sin; and I think of her, and often come down here and look at this.”
“Look at what?” asked his wife.
He took the candle from her hand, held it to the ground, and removed a tile which lay in the garden-path. “‘Tis the track of her shoe that she made when she ran down here the day before she went away all those months ago. I covered it up when she was gone; and when I come here and look at it, I ask myself again, why should she be sacrificed to a poor man?”
“It is not altogether a sacrifice,” said the woman. “He is in love with her, and he’s honest and upright. If she encourages him, what can you wish for more?”
“I wish for nothing definite. But there’s a lot of things possible for her. Why, Mrs. Charmond is wanting some refined young lady, I hear, to go abroad with her—as companion or something of the kind. She’d jump at Grace.”
“That’s all uncertain. Better stick to what’s sure.”
“True, true,” said Melbury; “and I hope it will be for the best. Yes, let me get ’em married up as soon as I can, so as to have it over and done with.” He continued looking at the imprint, while he added, “Suppose she should be dying, and never make a track on this path any more?”
“She’ll write soon, depend upon’t. Come, ’tis wrong to stay here and brood so.”
He admitted it, but said he could not help it. “Whether she write or no, I shall fetch her in a few days.” And thus speaking, he covered the track, and preceded his wife indoors.
Melbury, perhaps, was an unlucky man in having within him the sentiment which could indulge in this foolish fondness about the imprint of a daughter’s footstep. Nature does not carry on her government with a view to such feelings, and when advancing years render the open hearts of those who possess them less dexterous than formerly in shutting against the blast, they must suffer “buffeting at will by rain and storm” no less than Little Celandines.
But her own existence, and not Mr. Melbury’s, was the centre of Marty’s consciousness, and it was in relation to this that the matter struck her as she slowly withdrew.
Winterborne sped on his way to Sherton Abbas without elation and without discomposure. Had he regarded his inner self spectacularly, as lovers are now daily more wont to do, he might have felt pride in the discernment of a somewhat rare power in him—that of keeping not only judgment but emotion suspended in difficult cases. But he noted it not. Neither did he observe what was also the fact, that though he cherished a true and warm feeling towards Grace Melbury, he was not altogether her fool just now. It must be remembered that he had not seen her for a year.
Arrived at the entrance to a long flat lane, which had taken the spirit out of many a pedestrian in times when, with the majority, to travel meant to walk, he saw before him the trim figure of a young woman in pattens, journeying with that steadfast concentration which means purpose and not pleasure. He was soon near enough to see that she was Marty South. Click, click, click went the pattens; and she did not turn her head.
She had, however, become aware before this that the driver of the approaching gig was Giles. She had shrunk from being overtaken by him thus; but as it was inevitable, she had braced herself up for his inspection by closing her lips so as to make her mouth quite unemotional, and by throwing an additional firmness into her tread.
“Why do you wear pattens, Marty? The turnpike is clean enough, although the lanes are muddy.”
“They save my boots.”
“But twelve miles in pattens—’twill twist your feet off. Come, get up and ride with me.”
She hesitated, removed her pattens, knocked the gravel out of them against the wheel, and mounted in front of the nodding specimen apple-tree. She had so arranged her bonnet with a full border and trimmings that her lack of long hair did not much injure her appearance; though Giles, of course, saw that it was gone, and may have guessed her motive in parting with it, such sales, though infrequent, being not unheard of in that locality.
But nature’s adornment was still hard by—in fact, within two feet of him, though he did not know it. In Marty’s basket was a brown paper packet, and in the packet the chestnut locks, which, by reason of the barber’s request for secrecy, she had not ventured to intrust to other hands.
Giles asked, with some hesitation, how her father was getting on.
He was better, she said; he would be able to work in a day or two; he would be quite well but for his craze about the tree falling on him.
“You know why I don’t ask for him so often as I might, I suppose?” said Winterborne. “Or don’t you know?”
“I think I do.”
“Because of the houses?”
“Yes. I am afraid it may seem that my anxiety is about those houses, which I should lose by his death, more than about him. Marty, I do feel anxious about the houses, since half my income depends upon them; but I do likewise care for him; and it almost seems wrong that houses should be leased for lives, so as to lead to such mixed feelings.”
“After father’s death they will be Mrs. Charmond’s?”
“They’ll be hers.”
“They are going to keep company with my hair,” she thought.
Thus talking, they reached the town. By no pressure would she ride up the street with him. “That’s the right of another woman,” she said, with playful malice, as she put on her pattens. “I wonder what you are thinking of! Thank you for the lift in that handsome gig. Good-by.”
He blushed a little, shook his head at her, and drove on ahead into the streets—the churches, the abbey, and other buildings on this clear bright morning having the liny distinctness of architectural drawings, as if the original dream and vision of the conceiving master-mason, some mediaeval Vilars or other unknown to fame, were for a few minutes flashed down through the centuries to an unappreciative age. Giles saw their eloquent look on this day of transparency, but could not construe it. He turned into the inn-yard.
Miss Melbury’s arrival so early was, as Marty could see, unexpected by Giles, which accounted for his not being ready to receive her. Indeed, her father had named five o’clock as her probable time, for which reason that hour had been looming out all the day in his forward perspective, like an important edifice on a plain. Now here she was come, he knew not how, and his arranged welcome stultified.
His face became gloomy at her necessity for stepping into the road, and more still at the little look of embarrassment which appeared on hers at having to perform the meeting with him under an apple-tree ten feet high in the middle of the market-place. Having had occasion to take off the new gloves she had bought to come home in, she held out to him a hand graduating from pink at the tips of the fingers to white at the palm; and the reception formed a scene, with the tree over their heads, which was not by any means an ordinary one in Sherton Abbas streets.
Nevertheless, the greeting on her looks and lips was of a restrained type, which perhaps was not unnatural. For true it was that Giles Winterborne, well-attired and well-mannered as he was for a yeoman, looked rough beside her. It had sometimes dimly occurred to him, in his ruminating silence at Little Hintock, that external phenomena—such as the lowness or height or color of a hat, the fold of a coat, the make of a boot, or the chance attitude or occupation of a limb at the instant of view—may have a great influence upon feminine opinion of a man’s worth—so frequently founded on non-essentials; but a certain causticity of mental tone towards himself and the world in general had prevented to-day, as always, any enthusiastic action on the strength of that reflection; and her momentary instinct of reserve at first sight of him was the penalty he paid for his laxness.
He gave away the tree to a by-stander, as soon as he could find one who would accept the cumbersome gift, and the twain moved on towards the inn at which he had put up. Marty made as if to step forward for the pleasure of being recognized by Miss Melbury; but abruptly checking herself, she glided behind a carrier’s van, saying, dryly, “No; I baint wanted there,” and critically regarded Winterborne’s companion.
Meanwhile, Winterborne and Grace Melbury had also undergone their little experiences of the same homeward journey.
As he drove off with her out of the town the glances of people fell upon them, the younger thinking that Mr. Winterborne was in a pleasant place, and wondering in what relation he stood towards her. Winterborne himself was unconscious of this. Occupied solely with the idea of having her in charge, he did not notice much with outward eye, neither observing how she was dressed, nor the effect of the picture they together composed in the landscape.
Their conversation was in briefest phrase for some time, Grace being somewhat disconcerted, through not having understood till they were about to start that Giles was to be her sole conductor in place of her father. When they were in the open country he spoke.
“Don’t Brownley’s farm-buildings look strange to you, now they have been moved bodily from the hollow where the old ones stood to the top of the hill?”
She admitted that they did, though she should not have seen any difference in them if he had not pointed it out.
“They had a good crop of bitter-sweets; they couldn’t grind them all” (nodding towards an orchard where some heaps of apples had been left lying ever since the ingathering).
She said “Yes,” but looking at another orchard.
“Why, you are looking at John-apple-trees! You know bitter-sweets—you used to well enough!”
“I am afraid I have forgotten, and it is getting too dark to distinguish.”
Winterborne did not continue. It seemed as if the knowledge and interest which had formerly moved Grace’s mind had quite died away from her. He wondered whether the special attributes of his image in the past had evaporated like these other things.
However that might be, the fact at present was merely this, that where he was seeing John-apples and farm-buildings she was beholding a far remoter scene—a scene no less innocent and simple, indeed, but much contrasting—a broad lawn in the fashionable suburb of a fast city, the evergreen leaves shining in the evening sun, amid which bounding girls, gracefully clad in artistic arrangements of blue, brown, red, black, and white, were playing at games, with laughter and chat, in all the pride of life, the notes of piano and harp trembling in the air from the open windows adjoining. Moreover, they were girls—and this was a fact which Grace Melbury’s delicate femininity could not lose sight of—whose parents Giles would have addressed with a deferential Sir or Madam. Beside this visioned scene the homely farmsteads did not quite hold their own from her present twenty-year point of survey. For all his woodland sequestration, Giles knew the primitive simplicity of the subject he had started, and now sounded a deeper note.
“‘Twas very odd what we said to each other years ago; I often think of it. I mean our saying that if we still liked each other when you were twenty and I twenty-five, we’d—”
“It was child’s tattle.”
“H’m!” said Giles, suddenly.
“I mean we were young,” said she, more considerately. That gruff manner of his in making inquiries reminded her that he was unaltered in much.
“Yes….I beg your pardon, Miss Melbury; your father SENT me to meet you to-day.”
“I know it, and I am glad of it.”
These ruminations were occupying him when there became audible a slight knocking at his front door. He descended the path and looked out, and beheld Marty South, dressed for out-door work.
“Why didn’t you come, Mr. Winterborne?” she said. “I’ve been waiting there hours and hours, and at last I thought I must try to find you.”
“Bless my soul, I’d quite forgot,” said Giles.
What he had forgotten was that there was a thousand young fir-trees to be planted in a neighboring spot which had been cleared by the wood-cutters, and that he had arranged to plant them with his own hands. He had a marvellous power of making trees grow. Although he would seem to shovel in the earth quite carelessly, there was a sort of sympathy between himself and the fir, oak, or beech that he was operating on, so that the roots took hold of the soil in a few days. When, on the other hand, any of the journeymen planted, although they seemed to go through an identically similar process, one quarter of the trees would die away during the ensuing August.
Hence Winterborne found delight in the work even when, as at present, he contracted to do it on portions of the woodland in which he had no personal interest. Marty, who turned her hand to anything, was usually the one who performed the part of keeping the trees in a perpendicular position while he threw in the mould.
He accompanied her towards the spot, being stimulated yet further to proceed with the work by the knowledge that the ground was close to the way-side along which Grace must pass on her return from Hintock House.
“You’ve a cold in the head, Marty,” he said, as they walked. “That comes of cutting off your hair.”
“I suppose it do. Yes; I’ve three headaches going on in my head at the same time.”
“Yes, a rheumatic headache in my poll, a sick headache over my eyes, and a misery headache in the middle of my brain. However, I came out, for I thought you might be waiting and grumbling like anything if I was not there.”
The holes were already dug, and they set to work. Winterborne’s fingers were endowed with a gentle conjuror’s touch in spreading the roots of each little tree, resulting in a sort of caress, under which the delicate fibres all laid themselves out in their proper directions for growth. He put most of these roots towards the south-west; for, he said, in forty years’ time, when some great gale is blowing from that quarter, the trees will require the strongest holdfast on that side to stand against it and not fall.
“How they sigh directly we put ’em upright, though while they are lying down they don’t sigh at all,” said Marty.
“Do they?” said Giles. “I’ve never noticed it.”
She erected one of the young pines into its hole, and held up her finger; the soft musical breathing instantly set in, which was not to cease night or day till the grown tree should be felled—probably long after the two planters should be felled themselves.
“It seems to me,” the girl continued, “as if they sigh because they are very sorry to begin life in earnest—just as we be.”
“Just as we be?” He looked critically at her. “You ought not to feel like that, Marty.”
Her only reply was turning to take up the next tree; and they planted on through a great part of the day, almost without another word. Winterborne’s mind ran on his contemplated evening-party, his abstraction being such that he hardly was conscious of Marty’s presence beside him. From the nature of their employment, in which he handled the spade and she merely held the tree, it followed that he got good exercise and she got none. But she was an heroic girl, and though her out-stretched hand was chill as a stone, and her cheeks blue, and her cold worse than ever, she would not complain while he was disposed to continue work. But when he paused she said, “Mr. Winterborne, can I run down the lane and back to warm my feet?”
“Why, yes, of course,” he said, awakening anew to her existence. “Though I was just thinking what a mild day it is for the season. Now I warrant that cold of yours is twice as bad as it was. You had no business to chop that hair off, Marty; it serves you almost right. Look here, cut off home at once.”
“A run down the lane will be quite enough.”
“No, it won’t. You ought not to have come out to-day at all.”
“But I should like to finish the—”
“Marty, I tell you to go home,” said he, peremptorily. “I can manage to keep the rest of them upright with a stick or something.”
She went away without saying any more. When she had gone down the orchard a little distance she looked back. Giles suddenly went after her.
“Marty, it was for your good that I was rough, you know. But warm yourself in your own way, I don’t care.”
When she had run off he fancied he discerned a woman’s dress through the holly-bushes which divided the coppice from the road. It was Grace at last, on her way back from the interview with Mrs. Charmond. He threw down the tree he was planting, and was about to break through the belt of holly when he suddenly became aware of the presence of another man, who was looking over the hedge on the opposite side of the way upon the figure of the unconscious Grace. He appeared as a handsome and gentlemanly personage of six or eight and twenty, and was quizzing her through an eye-glass. Seeing that Winterborne was noticing him, he let his glass drop with a click upon the rail which protected the hedge, and walked away in the opposite direction. Giles knew in a moment that this must be Mr. Fitzpiers. When he was gone, Winterborne pushed through the hollies, and emerged close beside the interesting object of their contemplation.
Chapter IX (excerpt)
When he reached the plantation he found that Marty had come back, and dismissing Creedle, he went on planting silently with the girl as before.
“Suppose, Marty,” he said, after a while, looking at her extended arm, upon which old scratches from briers showed themselves purple in the cold wind—”suppose you know a person, and want to bring that person to a good understanding with you, do you think a Christmas party of some sort is a warming-up thing, and likely to be useful in hastening on the matter?”
“Is there to be dancing?”
“There might be, certainly.”
“Will He dance with She?”
“Then it might bring things to a head, one way or the other; I won’t be the one to say which.”
“It shall be done,” said Winterborne, not to her, though he spoke the words quite loudly. And as the day was nearly ended, he added, “Here, Marty, I’ll send up a man to plant the rest to-morrow. I’ve other things to think of just now.”
She did not inquire what other things, for she had seen him walking with Grace Melbury. She looked towards the western sky, which was now aglow like some vast foundery wherein new worlds were being cast. Across it the bare bough of a tree stretched horizontally, revealing every twig against the red, and showing in dark profile every beck and movement of three pheasants that were settling themselves down on it in a row to roost.
“It will be fine to-morrow,” said Marty, observing them with the vermilion light of the sun in the pupils of her eyes, “for they are a-croupied down nearly at the end of the bough. If it were going to be stormy they’d squeeze close to the trunk. The weather is almost all they have to think of, isn’t it, Mr. Winterborne? and so they must be lighter-hearted than we.”
“I dare say they are,” said Winterborne.
Chapter XV (excerpt)
Everybody thought of Giles; nobody thought of Marty. Had any of them looked in upon her during those moonlight nights which preceded the burial of her father, they would have seen the girl absolutely alone in the house with the dead man. Her own chamber being nearest the stairs, the coffin had been placed there for convenience; and at a certain hour of the night, when the moon arrived opposite the window, its beams streamed across the still profile of South, sublimed by the august presence of death, and onward a few feet farther upon the face of his daughter, lying in her little bed in the stillness of a repose almost as dignified as that of her companion—the repose of a guileless soul that had nothing more left on earth to lose, except a life which she did not overvalue.
Chapter XLIII (excerpt)
“What—Marty!” said Grace.
“Yes. I have heard,” said Marty, whose demeanor had lost all its girlishness under the stroke that seemed almost literally to have bruised her.
“He died for me!” murmured Grace, heavily.
Marty did not fully comprehend; and she answered, “He belongs to neither of us now, and your beauty is no more powerful with him than my plainness. I have come to help you, ma’am. He never cared for me, and he cared much for you; but he cares for us both alike now.”
“Oh don’t, don’t, Marty!”
Marty said no more, but knelt over Winterborne from the other side.
“Did you meet my hus—Mr. Fitzpiers?”
“Then what brought you here?”
“I come this way sometimes. I have got to go to the farther side of the wood this time of the year, and am obliged to get there before four o’clock in the morning, to begin heating the oven for the early baking. I have passed by here often at this time.”
Grace looked at her quickly. “Then did you know I was here?”
“Did you tell anybody?”
“No. I knew you lived in the hut, that he had gied it up to ye, and lodged out himself.”
“Did you know where he lodged?”
“No. That I couldn’t find out. Was it at Delborough?”
“No. It was not there, Marty. Would it had been! It would have saved—saved—” To check her tears she turned, and seeing a book on the window-bench, took it up. “Look, Marty, this is a Psalter. He was not an outwardly religious man, but he was pure and perfect in his heart. Shall we read a psalm over him?”
“Oh yes—we will—with all my heart!”
Grace opened the thin brown book, which poor Giles had kept at hand mainly for the convenience of whetting his pen-knife upon its leather covers. She began to read in that rich, devotional voice peculiar to women only on such occasions. When it was over, Marty said, “I should like to pray for his soul.”
“So should I,” said her companion. “But we must not.”
“Why? Nobody would know.”
Grace could not resist the argument, influenced as she was by the sense of making amends for having neglected him in the body; and their tender voices united and filled the narrow room with supplicatory murmurs that a Calvinist might have envied. They had hardly ended when now and more numerous foot-falls were audible, also persons in conversation, one of whom Grace recognized as her father.
CHAPTER XLIV (excerpt)
“Marty,” she said, “we both loved him. We will go to his grave together.”
Great Hintock church stood at the upper part of the village, and could be reached without passing through the street. In the dusk of the late September day they went thither by secret ways, walking mostly in silence side by side, each busied with her own thoughts. Grace had a trouble exceeding Marty’s—that haunting sense of having put out the light of his life by her own hasty doings. She had tried to persuade herself that he might have died of his illness, even if she had not taken possession of his house. Sometimes she succeeded in her attempt; sometimes she did not.
They stood by the grave together, and though the sun had gone down, they could see over the woodland for miles, and down to the vale in which he had been accustomed to descend every year, with his portable mill and press, to make cider about this time.
Perhaps Grace’s first grief, the discovery that if he had lived he could never have claimed her, had some power in softening this, the second. On Marty’s part there was the same consideration; never would she have been his. As no anticipation of gratified affection had been in existence while he was with them, there was none to be disappointed now that he had gone.
Grace was abased when, by degrees, she found that she had never understood Giles as Marty had done. Marty South alone, of all the women in Hintock and the world, had approximated to Winterborne’s level of intelligent intercourse with nature. In that respect she had formed the complement to him in the other sex, had lived as his counterpart, had subjoined her thought to his as a corollary.
The casual glimpses which the ordinary population bestowed upon that wondrous world of sap and leaves called the Hintock woods had been with these two, Giles and Marty, a clear gaze. They had been possessed of its finer mysteries as of commonplace knowledge; had been able to read its hieroglyphs as ordinary writing; to them the sights and sounds of night, winter, wind, storm, amid those dense boughs, which had to Grace a touch of the uncanny, and even the supernatural, were simple occurrences whose origin, continuance, and laws they foreknew. They had planted together, and together they had felled; together they had, with the run of the years, mentally collected those remoter signs and symbols which, seen in few, were of runic obscurity, but all together made an alphabet. From the light lashing of the twigs upon their faces, when brushing through them in the dark, they could pronounce upon the species of the tree whence they stretched; from the quality of the wind’s murmur through a bough they could in like manner name its sort afar off. They knew by a glance at a trunk if its heart were sound, or tainted with incipient decay, and by the state of its upper twigs, the stratum that had been reached by its roots. The artifices of the seasons were seen by them from the conjuror’s own point of view, and not from that of the spectator’s.
“He ought to have married YOU, Marty, and nobody else in the world!” said Grace, with conviction, after thinking somewhat in the above strain.
Marty shook her head. “In all our out-door days and years together, ma’am,” she replied, “the one thing he never spoke of to me was love; nor I to him.”
“Yet you and he could speak in a tongue that nobody else knew—not even my father, though he came nearest knowing—the tongue of the trees and fruits and flowers themselves.”
She could indulge in mournful fancies like this to Marty; but the hard core to her grief—which Marty’s had not—remained. Had she been sure that Giles’s death resulted entirely from his exposure, it would have driven her well-nigh to insanity; but there was always that bare possibility that his exposure had only precipitated what was inevitable. She longed to believe that it had not done even this.
CHAPTER XLIVIII (excerpt)
Immediately they had dropped down the hill she entered the church-yard, going to a secluded corner behind the bushes, where rose the unadorned stone that marked the last bed of Giles Winterborne. As this solitary and silent girl stood there in the moonlight, a straight slim figure, clothed in a plaitless gown, the contours of womanhood so undeveloped as to be scarcely perceptible, the marks of poverty and toil effaced by the misty hour, she touched sublimity at points, and looked almost like a being who had rejected with indifference the attribute of sex for the loftier quality of abstract humanism. She stooped down and cleared away the withered flowers that Grace and herself had laid there the previous week, and put her fresh ones in their place.
“Now, my own, own love,” she whispered, “you are mine, and on’y mine; for she has forgot ‘ee at last, although for her you died. But I—whenever I get up I’ll think of ‘ee, and whenever I lie down I’ll think of ‘ee. Whenever I plant the young larches I’ll think that none can plant as you planted; and whenever I split a gad, and whenever I turn the cider-wring, I’ll say none could do it like you. If ever I forget your name, let me forget home and Heaven!—But no, no, my love, I never can forget ‘ee; for you was a GOOD man, and did good things!”