My eyes had been occupied with the grey chimneys below, among the Spanish chestnuts, at the very moment when I slipped on the northern face of Skirrid and twisted my ankle. This indeed explains the accident; and the accident explains why my interest in the house with the grey chimneys suddenly became a personal one. Five miles separated me from my inn in Aber town. But the white smoke of a goods train went crawling across the green and cultivated plain at my feet; and I knew, though I carried no map, that somewhere under the slope to my left must hide the country station of Llanfihangel. To reach it I must pass the house, and there, no doubt, would happen on someone to set me on the shortest way.
So I picked up my walking-stick and hobbled down the hillside, albeit with pain. Where the descent eased a little I found and followed a foot-track, which in time turned into a sunk road scored deep with old cart-ruts, and so brought me to a desolate farmstead, slowly dropping to ruin there in the perpetual shadow of the mountain. The slates that had fallen from the roof of byre and stable lay buried already under the growth of nettle and mallow and wild parsnip; and the yard-wall was down in a dozen places. I shuffled through one of these gaps, and almost at once found myself face to face with a park-fence of split oak—in yet worse repair, if that were possible. It stretched away right and left with promise of a noble circumference; but no hand had repaired it for at least twenty years. I counted no less than seven breaches through which a man of common size might step without squeezing; availed myself of the nearest; and having with difficulty dragged my disabled foot up the ha-ha slope beyond, took breath at the top and looked about me.
The edge of the ha-ha stood but fifty paces back from an avenue of the most magnificent Spanish chestnuts I have ever seen in my life. A few of them were withering from the top; and under these many dead boughs lay as they had fallen, in grass that obliterated almost all trace of the broad carriage-road. But nine out of ten stood hale and stout, and apparently good for centuries to come. Northward, the grey facade of the house glimmered and closed their green prospective, and towards it I now made my way.
But, I must own, this avenue daunted me, as a frame altogether too lordly for a mere limping pedestrian. And therefore I was relieved, as I drew near, to catch the sound of voices behind the shrubberies on my right hand. This determined me to take the house in flank, and I diverged and pushed my way between the laurels in search of the speakers.
“A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse! Lobelia, how many horses has your father in stable? Red, white, or grey?”
“One, Miss Wilhelmina; an’ that’s old Sentry-go, and father says he’ll have to go to the knacker’s before another winter.”
“Then he shall carry me there on his back: with rings on my fingers and bells on my toes”—