Humility was rather ostentatiously cheerful at dinner that day; a sure sign that at heart she was disappointed. She had looked for a bigger congregation. Mrs. Venning, who had been carried downstairs for the meal, saw this and asked few questions. Both the women stole glances at Mr. Raymond when they thought he was not observing them. He at least pretended to observe nothing, but chatted away cheerfully.
“Taffy,” he said, after dinner, “I want you to run up to Tredinnis with a note from me. Maybe I will follow later, but I must go to the village first.”
A footpath led Taffy past the church, and out at length upon a high road, in face of two tall granite pillars with an iron gate between. The gate was surmounted with a big iron lantern, and the lantern with a crest—two snakes’ heads intertwined. The gate was shut, but the fence had been broken down on either side, and the gap, through which Taffy passed, was scored with wheel-ruts. He followed these down an ill-kept road bordered with furze-whins, tamarisks, and clumps of bannel broom. By-and-by he came to a ragged plantation of stone pines, backed by a hedge of rhododendrons, behind which the hounds were baying in their kennels. It put him in mind of the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” He heard the stable clock strike three, and caught a glimpse, over the shrubberies, of its cupola and gilt weather-cock. And then a turn of the road brought him under the gloomy northern face of the house, with its broad carriage sweep and sunless portico. Half the windows on this side had been blocked up and painted black, with white streaks down and across to represent framework.
He pulled at an iron bell-chain which dangled by the great door. The bell clanged far within and a dozen dogs took up the note, yelping in full peal. He heard footsteps coming; the door was opened, and the dogs poured out upon him—spaniels, terriers, lurchers, greyhounds, and a big Gordon setter—barking at him, leaping against him, sniffing his calves. Taffy kept them at bay as best he could and waved his letter at a wall-eyed man in a dirty yellow waistcoat, who looked down from the doorstep but did not offer to call them off.
“Any answer?” asked the wall-eyed man.
Taffy could not say. The man took the letter and went to inquire, leaving him alone with the dogs.
It seemed an age before he reappeared, having in the interval slipped a dirty livery coat over his yellow waistcoat. “The Squire says you’re to come in.” Taffy and the dogs poured together into a high, stone-flagged hall; then through a larger hall and a long dark corridor. The footman’s coat, for want of a loop, had been hitched on a peg by its collar, and stuck out behind his neck in the most ludicrous manner; but he shuffled ahead so fast that Taffy, tripping and stumbling among the dogs, had barely time to observe this before a door was flung open and he stood blinking in a large room full of sunlight.