At the foot of the Berkshire downs, and itself on a gentle elevation, there is an old hall with gable ends and lattice windows, standing in grounds which once were stately, and where there are yet glade-like terraces of yew trees, which give an air of dignity to a neglected scene. In the front of the hall huge gates of iron, highly wrought, and bearing an ancient date as well as the shield of a noble house, opened on a village green, round which were clustered the cottages of the parish with only one exception, and that was the vicarage house, a modern building, not without taste, and surrounded by a small but brilliant garden. The church was contiguous to the hall, and had been raised by the lord on a portion of his domain. Behind the hall and its enclosure, the country was common land but picturesque. It had once been a beech forest, and though the timber had been greatly cleared, the green land was still occasionally dotted, sometimes with groups and sometimes with single trees, while the juniper which here abounded, and rose to a great height, gave a rich wildness to the scene, and sustained its forest character.
Hurstley had for many years been deserted by the family to which it belonged. Indeed, it was rather difficult to say to whom it did belong. A dreary fate had awaited an ancient, and, in its time, even not immemorable home. It had fallen into chancery, and for the last half-century had either been uninhabited or let to strangers. Mr. Ferrars’ lawyer was in the chancery suit, and knew all about it. The difficulty of finding a tenant for such a place, never easy, was increased by its remoteness from any railway communication, which was now beginning to figure as an important element in such arrangements. The Master in Chancery would be satisfied with a nominal rent, provided only he could obtain a family of consideration to hold under him. Mr. Ferrars was persuaded to go down alone to reconnoitre the place. It pleased him. It was aristocratic, yet singularly inexpensive. The house contained an immense hall, which reached the roof, and which would have become a baronial mansion, and a vast staircase in keeping; but the living rooms were moderate, even small, in dimensions, and not numerous. The land he was expected to take consisted only of a few meadows, which he could let if necessary, and a single labourer could manage the garden.
Mrs. Ferrars was so delighted with the description of the galleried hall, that she resolved on their taking Hurstley without even her previously visiting it. The only things she cared for in the country were a hall and a pony-chair.
All the carriages were sold, and all the servants discharged. Two or three maid-servants and a man who must be found in the country, who could attend them at table, and valet alike his master and the pony, was the establishment which was to succeed the crowd of retainers who had so long lounged away their lives in the saloons of Hill Street, and the groves and gardens of Wimbledon.
Mr. and Mrs. Ferrars and their daughter travelled down to Hurstley in a post-chaise; Endymion, with the servants, was sent by the stage-coach, which accomplished the journey of sixty miles in ten hours. Myra said little during the journey, but an expression of ineffable contempt and disgust seemed permanent on her countenance. Sometimes she shrugged her shoulders, sometimes she raised her eyebrows, and sometimes she turned up her nose. And then she gave a sigh; but it was a sigh not of sorrow, but of impatience. Her parents lavished attentions on her which she accepted without recognition, only occasionally observing that she wished she had gone with Endymion.
It was dusk when they arrived at Hurstley, and the melancholy hour did not tend to raise their spirits. However, the gardener’s wife had lit a good fire of beechwood in the drawing-room, and threw as they entered a pannier of cones upon the logs, which crackled and cheerfully blazed away. Even Myra seemed interested by the novelty of the wood fire and the iron dogs. She remained by their side, looking abstractedly on the expiring logs, while her parents wandered about the house and examined or prepared the requisite arrangements. While they were yet absent, there was some noise and a considerable bustle in the hall. Endymion and his retinue had arrived. Then Myra immediately roused herself, and listened like a startled deer. But the moment she caught his voice, an expression of rapture suffused her countenance. It beamed with vivacity and delight. She rushed away, pushed through the servants and the luggage, embraced him and said, “We will go over the house and see our rooms together.”
Wandering without a guide and making many mistakes, fortunately they soon met their parents. Mrs. Ferrars good-naturedly recommenced her labours of inspection, and explained all her plans. There was a very pretty room for Endymion, and tomorrow it was to be very comfortable. He was quite pleased. Then they were shown Myra’s room, but she said nothing, standing by with a sweet scoff, as it were, lingering on her lips, while her mother disserted on all the excellences of the chamber. Then they were summoned to tea. The gardener’s wife was quite a leading spirit, and had prepared everything; the curtains were drawn, and the room lighted; an urn hissed; there were piles of bread and butter and a pyramid of buttered toast. It was wonderful what an air of comfort had been conjured up in this dreary mansion, and it was impossible for the travellers, however wearied or chagrined, to be insensible to the convenience and cheerfulness of all around them.
When the meal was over, the children sate together in whispering tattle. Mrs. Ferrars had left the room to see if all was ready for their hour of retirement, and Mr. Ferrars was walking up and down the room, absorbed in thought.
“What do you think of it all, Endymion?” whispered Myra to her twin.
“I rather like it,” he said.
She looked at him with a glance of blended love and mockery, and then she said in his ear, “I feel as if we had fallen from some star.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07