ROYD CASTLE

The Reverend David Grant, Vicar-elect of Royd, was a novelist as well as
a priest. So when he paid his preliminary visit to Royd Castle, and sat
himself down to write to his wife about it he did so with the idea of
making his letter a piece of literature; or at least of making her see.
For that was literature—making people see. He would take as much
trouble over his letter as he would over a chapter of a novel; and when
she had read it she would have a clear picture in her mind of the place
she was coming to and the people she would meet there. She had not been
able to come herself because she was close to her confinement. Poor
girl! It was rather hard luck that she should have to miss all this
excitement. They had been married thirteen years and had always looked
forward to settling into the ideal country parsonage. But either he
would have to settle in himself, or else wait a couple of months or so
until the baby was born and Ethel was well enough to take a hand in the
blissful arrangements. Longing to get to work at it as he was, with
money saved from his royalties to be spent in making their home what
they wanted it to be, he yet thought that he would prefer to wait until
she was strong again. After thirteen years of married life, in
circumstances not of the easiest, this couple still liked doings things
together.

The time and the place invited to literary composition. The time was
shortly after ten o’clock of a warm spring night, for the Castle retired
early. The place was a room which David Grant had sometimes imagined
for himself as the background for a scene in a novel, but never yet had
the satisfaction of occupying. It was a great state Tudor bedroom, with
carved and panelled walls, a stone fireplace with a fire of logs burning
in it, Flemish tapestry above, a polished oak floor with old carpets in
front of the hearth, by the heavy pillared canopied bed and in the deep
embrasure of the window. There were heavy oak chairs and tables and
presses. The washing arrangements, necessarily more modern, since in
Tudor days they washed very little, were in a closet apart. The
writing-table alone showed modernity, with everything on it in the way
of apparatus that could please a person who loved writing for its own
sake, and could appreciate its accessories. It stood in the windowed
recess, which was as large as a fair-sized room, and contained another
table for books, with a cushioned chair by its side, and still left
space for moving about from one window to the other. Wax candles in
heavy silver candle-sticks stood invitingly on the writing-table, and
elsewhere about the room. There were six of these lit when David Grant
came up, but it was so large that the effect was still one of rich
dimness, warmed into life by the glowing fire on the hearth.

David Grant’s soul was full of content as he came into the room and shut
the heavy door behind him. If he couldn’t write a letter in this
atmosphere that would eventually read well in his biography, he wasn’t
worth his salt. He was not without occasional qualms as to whether he
actually was worth his salt as a novelist, but none of them troubled him
to-night. He was wakeful and alert; he had half a mind to sit down at
that inviting silver-laden table and write a chapter of “A Love Apart.”
But no. Ethel, poor girl, must come first. He felt tender towards her;
they were going to be so happy together at Royd. And, after all, this
was a chapter in the story of their own lives, and more interesting to
both of them than a chapter in the lives of fictitious characters.

He took off his coat and put on the flannel jacket in which he was
accustomed to write. Then he went to the windows and drew back all the
heavy curtains, and opened one of the casements. His facile emotions,
always ready to be stirred by beauty, and to turn it immediately into
words, were stirred for a moment into something that he could not have
put into words as he stood there, though they came to him the moment
afterwards as he recognized how it all fitted in with the impression
encouraged in his mind by the old rich room in the old castle—the
moonlight outside, silvering the fairy glades of the park into
mysterious beauty, the silence and the sweet scents of the slumbering
earth.

The grass of the park grew right up to the stones of the castle wall on
this side. Just above him were some great beeches, which seemed to be
climbing the hill that rose behind. Below there were more trees, and
between them stretched a glade which led the eye to further undulations
of moonlit grass, and the bare trunks and branches of the trees that
bordered them. He had been rather disappointed, in coming first into
his room, to find that it did not look out on to the gardens; but under
the moon this romantic glimpse of silvered trees and fairy glades seemed
to him more beautiful than any tamed or ordered garden.

Anything might happen out there, on such a night. Oberon and Titania
suggested themselves to him; the least that could be expected to happen
was that a herd of deer led by a many-antlered stag should wander across
a moonlit glade, and give just that touch of life that was wanted to
enhance the lovely scene.

What actually did happen was that his eye was caught by a moving figure
in the shadow of the trees, and, before he had had time to wonder, or
even to be startled by it, came out into the bright stretch of grass in
front of his window, and stood looking up at him.

It was young Sir Harry, owner of Royd Castle and all the magic beauty
connected with it that was making such an impression upon the
clerico-novelist’s susceptible mind, but though in that fortunate
position not yet of an age to be out under the trees of his park at this
time of night. At nine o’clock he had said good-night to his
grandmother’s guest downstairs. Grant had thought it full early for a
boy of his age to be sent up to bed, as Lady Brent had actually sent
him, though without insistence, and with no protest on his part. He was
no more than sixteen, but a well-grown boy, in the evening garb of a
man; and he had sat opposite to his grandmother at the head of the table
and taken a bright part in the conversation, so that, with his title to
give him still further dignity, he had seemed altogether beyond the
stage of being sent early to bed.

However, it appeared that bed had not been the aim of his departure,
after all. He stood looking up at the window, not far above the ground,
with a smile upon his handsome young face, and asked his grandmother’s
guest not to give him away. “I come out sometimes like this, when
everybody is asleep,” he said. “There’s no harm in it, but Granny would
try to stop me if she knew—lock me in, perhaps.” He laughed freely.
“So please don’t tell her,” he said, and melted away into the shadows
without waiting for a promise of secrecy.

Grant rather liked that in him. He had been much attracted by young Sir
Harry, who had shown himself charmingly friendly to him in a frank and
boyish way that had yet seemed to contain something of the dignity of a
_grand seigneur_. There was something pleasing in the thought of this
handsome boy, master of the old rich beautiful house, even if he was as
yet only nominal master. It was not unpleasing either to think of him
roaming about his lovely demesne under the moonlight which made it still
more fair. Certainly there was nothing wrong in it. If he was up to
some mischief, it would only be of a kind that the women who held him in
check might call such. He was too young and too frank for the sort of
nocturnal mischief that a man might take notice of. At his age a sense
of adventure would be satisfied by being abroad in the night while he
was thought to be asleep. David Grant smiled to himself as he shut the
window. He would like to make friends with this charming boy. He was
rather pleased to have this little secret in common with him.

Now he walked about the great room, composing the lines of his letter,
as he was accustomed to walk about composing the lines of a chapter in
one of his novels. Its main “idea” was to be the pleasure he and his
wife and the children were to have in Royd Vicarage. But that must be
led up to. He must begin at the beginning, “make her see” the place,
and the people among whom they would lead their lives. The people
especially; there was room here for the neat little touches of
description upon which he prided himself. The Vicarage must come last,
and he would end on a tender note, which would please the dear girl, and
make her feel that she was part of it all, as indeed she was.

And now he was ready to begin, and sat down at the table, all on fire
with his subject. He wrote on and on until late into the night.
Sometimes he rose to put another log on to the fire, to enjoy the
crackle it made, and to sense the grateful atmosphere of the old room.
Once or twice he went to the window and looked out, never failing to be
charmed by the beauty of the scene. At these times he thought of the
boy, out there under the moon or in the dim shadows of the trees, and
wondered what he was doing, and if he would come and call up at his
window again as he returned from his wandering. He rather hoped that he
might, and left the casement open the second time he went to the window.
But by the time he had finished his letter no sound had broken the
stillness, except now and then the soft hooting of owls, and with a last
look at the moonlit glades he blew out the candles and climbed into the
great bed, very well satisfied with himself and with life in general.

“Oh, the tiresome old dear, he’s trying to be literary,” said Mrs.
Grant, as she embarked eagerly upon the voluminous pages. She turned
them over until she came to the description of the Vicarage towards the
end:

“Lady Brent said very kindly, ’I expect you would like to go over the
house by yourself, Mr. Grant. Harry shall go with you and show you the
cottage where the key is kept. The church, I believe, is open. We
shall expect you back to tea at half-past four, and if you have not
finished you can go back again afterwards.’

“This was just what I wanted—to moon about the house which is to be our
happy home, dearest, alone, and to build castles in the air about it.
So we started off, the boy and I. We went down the avenue——”

“H’m. H’m.” Mrs. Grant skipped a page.

“It was the Vicarage of our dreams, a low stone house, facing south,
embowered in massy trees, its walls covered with creepers, the sun
glinting on its small-paned windows.”

Mrs. Grant skipped a little more. She wanted to know the number of
rooms, and if possible the size of the principal ones, what the kitchen
and the back premises were like, whether the kitchen garden was large
enough to supply the house, and if it could all be managed by one man,
who would also look after the pony, and perhaps clean the boots and
knives.

She gained a hint or two as she turned over the pages quickly, and then
read them more carefully. “Well, he doesn’t tell me much,” she said,
“but I expect it will be all right and I’m sure I shall love it. The
drawing-room opening into the garden and the best bedroom with a view of
the sea in the distance sound jolly, and I’m glad the old darling will
have a nice room to write his nonsense in. If he is pleased with his
surroundings he always does more work, and that means more money. Oh, I
do hope his sales will go up and we shall have enough to live
comfortably on there.” She went on to the end of the letter, which gave
her pleasure, as had been intended. “Dear old thing, he does lean on
me,” she said. “And well he may. Well, I shall bustle about and make
things happy and comfortable for him directly I’m strong enough. Oh, my
little love, why didn’t you put off your arrival for a few months
longer? But I shall adore you when you do come, and it will be lovely
to bring you up in that beautiful place. Now let’s see what these Brent
people are like, if he’s clever enough to give me any idea of them.”

She turned back to the beginning of the letter, and read it through in
the same way as she read his novels. She knew by intuition when it was
worth while to read every word, and—well, when it wasn’t.

“Young Sir Harry met me at the station. He is a handsome boy, very
bright and friendly. My heart warmed to him, and especially when he
showed a lively interest in our Jane and Pobbles. I told him that Jane
was only eleven and Pobbles nine, but he said that he wasn’t so very
much older himself, and laughed as he said it, like a young wood-god,
with all the youth of the world in him. I remember once walking in an
olive wood in Italy, and suddenly meeting…

“I was rather surprised at the carriage sent to meet us. It was a
stately affair, but with the varnish dull and cracked, and the horses
fat and slow. In spite of the liveried coachman and footman on the box,
the equipage was not what one might have expected from such a house as
Royd Castle. I was inclined at first to think that it meant poverty,
which is not always unallied to state; but there are all the signs of
very ample means in this house, and I incline now to the opinion that in
a woman’s house, as Royd Castle is at present, stable arrangements are
not much bothered about. Lady Brent goes about very little. In fact
there are no other houses near for her to visit. Poldaven Castle, I am
told, one of the seats of the Marquis of Avalon, lies about seven miles
off, but the family is hardly ever there. We ourselves, my dearest,
shall be very much to ourselves in this out-of-the-way corner of the
world. We shall have the people at the Castle, and our own more humble
parishioners, and—ourselves. But how happy we shall be! The beauty of
our surroundings alone would give us…”



Mrs. Grant skimmed lightly over a description of the seven-mile drive
from the little town by the sea, through rocky hilly country, bare of
trees, but golden with gorse under a soft April sky flecked with fleecy
clouds, and accepted without enthusiasm the statement that all nature,
including the young lambs and the rabbits, seemed to be laughing with
glee. She was anxious to get to Royd, which was to be her home, perhaps
for the rest of her life.

Trees had made their appearance in the landscape by the time it was
reached, and she gained an impression of a kinder richer country than
that of the coast. As they neared Royd there were picturesque
stone-built farm-houses, and then a steep village street lined with
stone-roofed cottages, their gardens bright with coloured primroses,
daffodils, ribes, berberi, aubretia and arabis, and here and there a gay
splash of cydonia japonica against a white-washed wall. Her husband was
always particular about the names of plants. No mere “early spring
flowers” for him! His descriptions were apt to read rather like a
nurseryman’s catalogue, but as they both of them knew their way about
nurserymen’s catalogues, she gained her picture of spring-garden colour
and was pleased with it. It would be lovely to have a real big garden
to play with, instead of the narrow oblong behind their semi-detached
villa. But she did want to get to Lady Brent, and the rest of the
household at the Castle.

The old church was at one end of the village, with a squat stone spire
on a squat tower. Description of its interior was reserved until later.
The Vicarage was beyond it, round the corner. The principal lodge gates
were opposite,—handsome iron gates between heavy stone pillars
surmounted by the Brent armorial leopards, collared and chained. A
little Tudor lodge stood on either side of the gate-pillars, and a high
stone wall ran off on either side. Young Sir Harry had told him that it
ran right round the park, which was three miles in circumference.

The description of the drive broke off here for an account of some other
things that young Sir Harry had told him. Expectation was to be
maintained a little longer. She wanted to get to the Castle, but did
not skip this part because it was rather interesting.

“The boy has never been to school. In fact, he has never slept a night
away from the Castle in all his sixteen years. He has a tutor—a Mr.
Wilbraham, who seems to have grounded him well in his classics. More of
him anon. The boy reads poetry too, and of a good kind. Altogether
rather a remarkable boy, and very good to look upon, with his crisp fair
hair, white teeth and friendly open look—a worthy head of the old family
from which he is descended. His father was killed in the South African
War, before Harry was born. He was born at the Castle and he and his
mother have lived here ever since. So much I learnt as we drove
together, and formed some picture in my mind of the people I was about
to meet.”

Here followed the mental portraits of Lady Brent, Mrs. Brent and Mr.
Wilbraham, but as they bore small likeness to the originals, as
afterwards appeared, they may be omitted.

“We entered by the lodge gates, and drove through the beautiful park, I
should say for the best part of a mile. With the trees not yet in leaf,
and the great stretches of fern showing nothing but the russet of last
year’s fronds, it was yet very beautiful. Herds of fallow deer were
feeding quietly on the green lawns, and a noble stag lifted his head to
look at us as we drove past, but made no attempt to escape, though he
can have been distant from us only a long mashie shot. Wood-pigeons
flew from tree-top to tree-top across the glades. I heard the tap-tap
of a woodpecker as we began to mount a rise where the trees grew
thicker, and the harsh screech of a jay, of which I caught a glimpse of
garish colour. There was a sense of peace and seclusion about this
beautiful enclosed space, as if nothing ugly from the world outside
could penetrate behind those high stone walls, and nature here rejoiced
in freedom and beauty.

“The hill became steeper, and the horses walked up it until we came to
the open ground at the top. There at last, as we drew out from under
the trees, I saw the ancient mass of the Castle with the flag flying
proudly above it, perhaps a quarter of a mile away. The ground sloped
down towards it. There was a wide open space of grass with the road
winding through, and here and there a noble beech, with which this part
of the park is chiefly planted. The ground rose again behind the
massive pile, and was once more thick with trees, so that it appeared
backed by a mass of delicate purple, which will soon take on that
delicious delicate green of young beech leaves, than which there is none
more beautiful in all nature, unless it be the emerald green of waves in
a blue sea.”

“I shall look out for that in the next novel,” said Mrs. Grant, at this
point. “I know that green, but he has always called it translucent
before.”

“The castle is low and spreading, nowhere more than two stories in
height, except for the row of dormers in the roof, and in the middle of
the mass, where there is a great gateway leading into an inner court,
exactly like the gateway of a college. In fact the building resembles
an ancient college in many particulars. The garden is enclosed within a
stone wall, which continues the front of the building. It is on one
side only, and is very beautiful, though I have not yet explored it, and
can speak only of a lawn bounded by an arcading of yew, to which access
is gained from the long drawing-room where I was received. The stables
are in an inner courtyard behind the first. On the side opposite to the
garden, in which the room where I am now writing is situated, one looks
out straight into the park.

“Young Sir Harry took me straight into the room where the ladies of the
house were sitting at their needlework. It was a long low room,
beautifully furnished with what I should judge to be French furniture
chiefly, but with deep chintz-covered easy chairs and sofas which took
away from any formal effect it might otherwise have had. Lady Brent and
Mrs. Brent were sitting by one of the windows, of which there are a line
opening on to a sort of stone built veranda facing the garden that I
have mentioned. They rose at once to meet me. Lady Brent, whom I had
pictured as rather a dominating old lady, walking possibly with a stick,
I was surprised to find not old at all in appearance. She must have
married young, and her son, Harry’s father, must have married young, as
indeed I afterwards found to have been the case. Wilbraham says that
she is still a few years short of sixty, and she does not look much over
fifty. She is not tall, but holds herself erect and moves in a stately
manner. She is not exactly handsome, but her features are pleasant to
the eye, and she has an agreeable smile. She made me welcome in a few
words, and I felt that I _was_ welcome, and immediately at home with
her.

“Of Mrs. Brent, Sir Harry’s mother, it is more difficult to speak. In
the light of what I afterwards heard about her, whatever surprised me on
my first introduction to her is explained; but I am trying to give you
my first impressions. She is good-looking, but it struck me at once in
rather a common way. She would be, I suppose, about five and thirty.
She was quietly dressed and quiet-spoken; but there was a _something_.
She did not look of Lady Brent’s class, and it was something of a
surprise to me to see in her the mother of Sir Harry, though in her
colouring and facial conformation she undoubtedly resembled him.”

At this point Mrs. Grant was aroused by the sounds of violent
quarrelling in the little garden below the window at which she was
sitting, and looked out to see her son and daughter locked in a close
but hostile embrace. She threw up the window and called to them, but
they took no notice, and she had to go down to separate them. They were
the most charming children, and inseparable companions, but apt to
express themselves occasionally in these desperate struggles. When peace
had been restored, and they were left amicably planting mustard and
cress, she returned to her letter, longing to know more about Mrs.
Brent, and especially the reason for her appearance of commonness.