But presently, almost suddenly, Stafford came in sight of the magnificent iron gates, and he forgot his father and the talkative commercial traveller, and his interest in the girl of the dale flashed back upon him with full force. He saw that the gates were chained and locked, and, with a natural curiosity, he followed the road beside the wall. It stopped almost abruptly and gave place to a low railing which divided the lawn in front of the house from the park beyond; and the long irregular facade of the old building was suddenly revealed.
Stafford looked at it with admiration mingled with pity. In the light of the story the landlord had told him he realised the full pathos of its antique grandeur. It was not a ruin by any means: but it was grim with the air of neglect, of desolation, of solitude. In two only, of the many windows, was there any light; there was no sound of life about the vast place; and the moonlight showed up with cruel distinctness the ravages made in stone-work and wood-work by the clawlike hand of Time. A capital of one of the pillars of the still handsome portico had crumbled, several of the pillars were broken and askew; the great door was blistered and cracked by the sun; evidently no paint had touched the place for years. The stone balustrade of the broad terrace had several gaps in it, and the coping and the pillars were lying where they had fallen; the steps of the terrace had grass growing in the interstices of the stones; one of the lions which had flanked the steps had disappeared, and the remaining one was short of a front leg. The grass on the lawn was long and unkempt, the flower beds weedy and straggly, and the flowers themselves growing wild and untrained.
But for the smoke which ascended from two or three of the many chimneys the place might well have seemed deserted and uninhabited, and Stafford with this feeling upon him stood and gazed at the place unrestrainedly. It was difficult for him to realise that only a few hours ago he had left London, that only last night he had dined at his club and gone to the big Merrivale dance; it was as if he were standing in some scene of the middle ages; he would not have been greatly surprised if the grass-grown terrace had suddenly become crowded by old-world forms in patches and powder, hoops and ruffles.
“Good Lord, what would some of the people I know give to belong to—to own this place!” he said to himself. “To think of that girl living alone here with her father!”
He was turning away when he heard a slight sound, the great door opened slowly, and “that girl” came out on to the terrace. She stood for a moment on the great marble door sill, then she crossed the terrace, and leaning on the balustrade, looked dreamily at the moonlit view which lay before her. She could not see Stafford’s tall figure, which was concealed by the shadow of one of the trees; and she