I saw more clearly in the bright light of morning the signs of neglect and almost of dilapidation which had struck me as I approached. The court-yard was tufted over with grass, seldom from year to year crushed by the carriage-wheels, or trodden by the feet of visitors. This melancholy verdure thickened where the area was more remote from the centre; and under the windows, and skirting the walls to the left, was reinforced by a thick grove of nettles. The avenue was all grass-grown, except in the very centre, where a narrow track still showed the roadway The handsome carved balustrade of the court-yard was discoloured with lichens, and in two places gapped and broken; and the air of decay was heightened by the fallen trees, among whose sprays and yellow leaves the small birds were hopping.
Before my toilet was completed, in marched my cousin Milly. We were to breakfast alone that morning, ‘and so much the better,’ she told me. Sometimes the Governor ordered her to breakfast with him, and ’never left off chaffing her’ till his newspaper came, and ’sometimes he said such things he made her cry,’ and then he only ‘boshed her more,’ and packed her away to her room; but she was by chalks nicer than him, talk as he might. ‘Was not she nicer? was not she? was not she?’ Upon this point she was so strong and urgent that I was obliged to reply by a protest against awarding the palm of elegance between parent and child, and declaring I liked her very much, which I attested by a kiss.
’I know right well which of us you do think’s the nicest, and no mistake, only you’re afraid of him; and he had no business boshing me last night before you. I knew he was at it, though I couldn’t twig him altogether; but wasn’t he a sneak, now, wasn’t he?’
This was a still more awkward question; so I kissed her again, and said she must never ask me to say of my uncle in his absence anything I could not say to his face.
At which speech she stared at me for a while, and then treated me to one of her hearty laughs, after which she seemed happier, and gradually grew into better humour with her father.
’Sometimes, when the curate calls, he has me up—for he’s as religious as six, he is—and they read Bible and prays, ho—don’t they? You’ll have that, lass, like me, to go through; and maybe I don’t hate it; oh, no!’
We breakfasted in a small room, almost a closet, off the great parlour, which was evidently quite disused. Nothing could be homelier than our equipage, or more shabby than the furniture of the little apartment. Still, somehow, I liked it. It was a total change; but one likes ‘roughing it’ a little at first.
THE WINDMILL WOOD
I had not time to explore this noble old house as my curiosity prompted; for Milly was in such a fuss to set out for the ‘blackberry dell’ that I saw little more than just so much as I necessarily traversed in making my way to and from my room.