Old and grey and weather-stained, the walls of Brethaven Priory shone in the hot sunlight. It had been built in Norman days a full mile and a half inland; but more than the mile had disappeared in the course of the crumbling centuries, and only a stretch of gleaming hillside now intervened between it and the sea. The wash and roar of the Channel and the crying of gulls swept over the grass-clad space as though already claim had been laid to the old grey building that had weathered so many gales. Undoubtedly the place was doomed. There was something eerily tragic about it even on that shining August afternoon, a shadow indefinable of which Olga had been conscious even in her childish days.
She looked over her shoulder several times as she rode in the direction in which her friend had disappeared, but she saw no sign of her. Finally, reaching the house, she went round to a shed at the back, in which she was accustomed to lodge her bicycle.
Here she was joined by an immense Irish wolf-hound, who came from the region of the stables to greet her.
She stopped to fondle him. She and Cork were old friends. As she finally returned to the carriage-drive in front of the house, he accompanied her.
The front door stood open, and she went in through its Gothic archway, glad to escape from the glare outside. The great hall she thus entered had been the chapel in the days of the monks, and it had the clammy atmosphere of a vault. Passing in from the brilliant sunshine, Olga felt actually cold.
It was dark also, the only light, besides that from the open door, proceeding from a stained-glass window at the farther end—a gruesome window representing in vivid colours the death of St. John the Baptist.
A carved oak chest, long and low, stood just within, and upon this the girl seated herself, with the great dog close beside her. Her ten-mile bicycle ride in the heat had tired her.
There was no sound in the house save the ticking of an invisible clock. It might have been a place bewitched, so intense and so uncanny was the silence, broken only by that grim ticking that sounded somehow as if it had gone on exactly the same for untold ages.
“What a ghostly old place it is, Cork!” Olga remarked to her companion. “And you actually spend the night here! I can’t think how you dare.”
In response to which Cork smiled with a touch of superiority and gave her to understand that he was too sensible to be afraid of shadows.
They were still sitting there conversing, with their faces to the sunlit garden, when there came the sound of a careless footfall and Violet Campion, her riding-whip dangling from her wrist, strolled round the corner of the house, and in at the open door.
She was laughing as she came, evidently at some joke that clung to her memory.
“Look at me!” she said. “I’m all foam. But I’ve conquered his majesty King Devil for once. He’s come back positively abject. My dear, do get up! You’re sitting on my coffin!”