“A woman thing who refrains from looking back!—Yes, I fear she has a soul.”
Then he returned to his pipe and his Aristotle.
Halcyone struck straight across the park until she came to the beech avenue, near the top, which ran south. The place had been nobly planned by that grim old La Sarthe who raised it in the days of seventh Henry. It stood very high with its terraced garden in the center of four splendid avenues of oak, lime, beech and Spanish chestnut running east, west, north and south. And four gates in different stages of dilapidation gave entrance through a broken wall of stone to a circular drive which connected all the avenues giving access to the house, a battered, irregular erection of gray stone.
To reach the splendid front door you entered from the oak avenue and crossed the pleasance, now only an overgrown meadow where the one cow grazed in the summer.
Then you were obliged to mount three stately flights of stone steps until you reached the first terrace, which was flagged near the house and bordered with stiff flower-beds. Here you might turn and look back due west upon a view of exquisite beauty—an undulating fertile country beneath, and then in the far distance a line of dim blue hills.
But if you chanced to wish to enter your carriage unwetted on a rainy day, you were obliged to deny yourself the pleasure of passing through the entrance hall in state, and to go out at the back by stone passages into the courtyard where the circular avenue came up close to a fortified door, under the arch of which you could drive.
Everything spoke of past grandeur and present decay—only the flower-beds of the highest terrace appeared even partly cultivated; the two lower ones were a wild riot of weeds and straggling rose trees unpruned and untrained, and if you looked up at the windows in the southern wing of the house, you saw that several panes in them were missing and that the holes had been stuffed with rags.
At this time of the year the beech avenue presented an indescribably lovely sight of just opening leaves of tender green. It was a never-failing joy to Halcyone. She walked the few paces which separated her from it and turning, stood leaning against the broken gate now, drinking in every tone of the patches the lowered sun made of gold between the green. For her it was full of wood nymphs and elves. It did not contain gods and goddesses like the others. She told herself long stories about them.
The beech avenue was her favorite for the spring, the lime for the summer, the chestnut for the autumn, and the oak for the winter. She knew every tree in all four, as a huntsman knows his hounds. And when, in the great equinoctial storm of the previous year, three giant oaks lay shattered and broken, the sight had caused her deep grief, until she wove a legend about them and turned them into monsters for Perseus to subdue with Medusa’s head. One, indeed, whose trunk was gnarled and twisted, became the serpent of the brazen scales who sleepeth not, guarding the Golden Fleece.