Imatges de pÓgina


Apart from her, I had occasionally seen Miss Taroone herself in the overgrown garden, with her immense shears, or with her trencher of bread-crumbs and other provender, feeding the birds. And I once stole near enough under a hedge to watch this sight. They hopped and pecked in a multitude beneath her hands, tits and robins, starlings and blackbirds, and other much wilder and rarer birds, as if they had no need here for wings, or were under an enchantment more powerful than that of mere crumbs of bread. The meal done, the platter empty, Miss Taroone would clap her hands, and off they would fly with a skirring of wings, with shrill cries and snatches of song to their haunts.

She seemed to mind no weather; standing bareheaded in heavy rain or scorching sunlight. And I confess the sight of her never failed to alarm me. But I made up my mind always to keep my wits about me and my eyes open; and never to be caught trespassing.

Then one day, as I slid down from the roof of the barn from amid the branches of a chestnut tree, green with its spiky balls of fruit, I found Miss Taroone standing there in the entry, looking out on me as if out of a frame, or like a stone figure in the niche of a church. She made no stir herself, but her eyes did. Clear cold eyes of the colour of pebbly water, in which I seemed to be of no more importance than a boat floating on the I could neither speak nor run away.

I could only gawk at her, my pockets bulging with the unripe chestnuts I had pilfered, and a handsome slit in one leg of my breeches.

She asked me what I did there; my name; why I was not at school; where I lived; and did I eat the chest. nuts? It appeared she had more often seen me—I suppose from her windows-than I had seen her. She made no movement, never even smiled while I stammered out answers to her questions, but merely kept her


eyes steadily fixed on me, while her own lips just opened enough to let the words out of her mouth. She listened to me with a severe face, and said, “Well, if you are happy to be here with the rest, so much the better."

It was a relief when she turned away, bidding me follow her—and a foolish figure I must have cut as I clattered after her across the cobbled yard under the old red-brick arch and so through the porch and into the house.

When I was sat down in one of the shaded rooms within the house, she summoned the tall gaunt old maid with the cap-flaps I had seen at the windows, and bade her bring me some fruit and a dish of cream. Miss Taroone watched me while I ate it. And uncommonly good it was, though I would rather have been enjoying it alone. From the way she looked at me it might have been supposed it was a bird or a small animal that was sitting up at her table. The last spoonful finished, she asked me yet more questions and appeared to be not displeased with my rambling answers, for she invited me to come again and watched me take up my cap and retire.

This was the first time I was ever in Miss Taroone's house-within its solid walls I mean; and what a multitude of rooms, with their coffers and presses and cabinets, containing I knew not what treasures and wonders ! But Thrae was not Miss Taroone's only house, for more than once she spoke of another—named Sure VINE, as if of a family mansion and estate, very ancient and magnificent. When, thinking of my mother, I myself ventured a question about East Dene, her greengrey eyes oddly settled on mine a moment, but she made

I noticed this particularly. Soon I was almost as free and familiar in Miss Taroone's old house as in my own father's. Yet I cannot say that she was ever anything else than curt with

no answer.


She was

She was

me in her manner. It was a long time before I became accustomed to the still, secret way she had of looking at me. I liked best being in her company when she appeared, as was usually so, not to be aware that she was not alone. She had again asked me my name "for a sign" as she said, “to know you by''; though she always afterwards addressed me as Simon. Certainly in those days I was "simple" enough.

My next friend was the woman whom I had seen shaking her duster out of the upper windows. She, I discovered, was called Linnet Sara Queek or Quek or Cuec or Cueque, I don't know how to spell it. an exceedingly curious woman and looked as if she had never been any different, though, of course, she must once have been young and have grown up. bony, awkward, and angular, and when you spoke to her, she turned on you with a look that was at the same time vacant and piercing. At first she greeted me sourly, but soon became friendlier, and would allow me to sit in her huge kitchen with her parrot, her sleek tabby cat, and perhaps a dainty or two out of her larder.

She was continually muttering—though I could never quite catch what she said; never idle; and though slow and awkward in her movements, she did a vast deal of work. With small short-sighted eyes fixed on her mortar she would stand pounding and pounding; or stewing and seething things in pots—strange-looking roots and fruit and fungi. Her pantry was crammed with pans, jars, bottles, and phials, all labelled in her queer handwriting. An extraordinary place-especially when the sunbeams of evening struck into it from a high window in its white-washed wall.

Linnet she might be called, but her voice was no bird's, unless the crow's; and you would have guessed at once, at sight of her standing in front of the vast open hearth, stooping a little, her long gaunt arms beside her,


that her other name was Sara. But she could tell curious and rambling stories (as true as she could make them); and many of them were about the old days in Thrae, older days in Sure Vine, and about Miss Taroone, in whose service she had been since she was a small child.

She told me, too, some specially good tales—as good as Grimm—about some villages she knew of called the Ten Laps; and gave me a custard when I asked for

I once mentioned East Dene to her, too, and she said there was a short cut to it (though it seemed to me a long way about) through the quarry, by the pits, and that way round. “And then you come to a Wall,” she said, staring at me. “And you climb over."

"Did you?said I, laughing; and at that she was huffed.

Boy though I was, it occurred to me that in this immense house there must be a great deal more work than Sara could manage unaided. Something gave me the fancy that other hands must lend their help; but if any maids actually came in to Thrae from East Dene, or from elsewhere, they must have come and gone very late, or early. It seemed bad manners to be too curious. On the other hand, I rarely saw much of the back parts of the house.

I have sometimes wondered if Thrae had not once in act lain within the borders of East Dene, and that being so, if Miss Taroone, like myself, was unaware of it. It may have been merely pride that closed her lips, for one day, she showed me, with a curious smile, how Thrae's architect, centuries before, had planned its site. She herself led me from room to room; and she talked as she had never talked before.

Its southernmost window looked on a valley, beyond which on clear still days was visible the sea, and perhaps a brig or a schooner on its surface-placid blue as tur


quoise. Sheer against its easternmost window the sun mounted to his summer solstice from in between a cleft of the hills—like a large topaz between the forks of a catapult. On one side of this cleft valley was a windmill, its sails lanking up into the sky, and sometimes spinning in the wind with an audible clatter. Who owned the mill and what he ground I never heard.

Northwards, through a round bull's-eye window you could see, past a maze of coppices and hills, and in the distance, the cock of a cathedral spire. And to the west stood a wood of yew, its pool partially greened over, grey with willows, and the haunt of rare birds. On the one side of this pool spread exceedingly calm meadows; and on the other, in a hollow, the graveyard lay. The stones and bones in it were all apparently of Miss Taroone's kinsfolk. At least Linnet Sara told me so. Nor was she mournful about it. She seemed to have nobody to care for but her mistress; working for love, whatever her wages might be.

It is an odd thing to say, but though I usually tried to avoid meeting Miss Taroone, and was a little afraid of her, there was a most curious happiness at times in being in her company.

She never once asked me about my character, never warned me of anything, never said "You must”; and yet I knew well that if in stupidity or carelessness I did anything in her house which she did not approve of, my punishment would come.

She once told me, “Simon, you have, I see, the beginnings of a bad feverish cold. It is because you were stupid enough yesterday to stand with the sweat on your face talking to me in a draught. It will probably be severe."

And so it was. She never said anything affectionate; she never lost her temper. I never saw her show any pity or meanness or revenge. “Well, Simon," she would "

"Good morning”; or "Good evening” (as the case might be);


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