In spring-time, the Manor looked wonderful—the lawns cut for the first time since the winter, the hedges of blackthorn splashed thick with snow-blossom, and daffodils, as if sackfuls of new-minted gold were emptied underneath the trees and elves had scattered pieces here and there from out the mass. Birds were building in all the thickets, and the young leaves—virgin green—shyly hid their love-making. Everything alive was possessed with a new-found energy. The sparrows—most ostentatious of any bird there is—flew about, trailing long threads of hay, with an air as if they carried the Golden Fleece in their beaks each time they returned to the apple trees. But other creatures were as busy as they. Strange little brown birds—whitethroats and linnets perhaps, if the eye could only have followed them—flew in and out of the blackthorn hedges all day long. Thrushes and blackbirds hopped pompously about the lawns, and the starlings chattered like old women on the roofs of the red gables.
The house itself was modelled as are nearly all such residences of the Tudor period, the gables at either end making, with the hall, the formation of the letter E so characteristic of the architecture of that time. Only two additions had been made, oriel windows to enlarge the rooms at each end of the gables; but they had been executed, some seventy years before Sir William Hewitt Traill’s occupation of the place, by a man who had respect for the days of King Harry and they had long since toned into the atmosphere. A great tree of wisteria lifted itself above one of the windows, and on the other a clematis clung with its wiry, brittle shoots.
The huge cedars, holding out their black-green fans of foliage like Eastern canopies—the high yew-trees, to whom only age could bring such lofty dimensions, all surrounded the old, red building and wrapped it in a velvet cloak of warm security. Tulips in long beds—brilliant mosaics in a floor of green marble—were let into the lawn that stretched down the drive. Away on the horizon, the rising ground about Wycombe showed blue through the soft spring atmosphere, and in the middle distance, the ploughed fields—freshly turned—glowed with the rich, red blood of the earth’s fulness. So it presented itself to the eyes of Mrs. Durlacher, when, one morning late in April, she drove up in her motor to the old iron-barred oak-door which opened into the panelled hall of her country residence.
She was alone. Her maid and another servant had come down by rail to High Wycombe and were being driven over in one of the house conveyances from the station, a distance of five miles. The chauffeur descended from the seat, opened the door of the car, and when she had passed into the house, beckoned a gardener who was at work on one of the tulip beds, to help him in with some of the luggage which Mrs. Durlacher had brought with her.
“She’s coming to stay, then?” said the gardener.