« PreviousContinue »
BY JOHN BUCHAN.
Between the Windrush and the Colne
THE October day was bright- bracken flamed to the skyline. ening towards late afternoon Inside were folds of ancient when Leithen and I climbed pasture with here and there a the hill above the stream and thorn - bush, falling to rese came in sight of the house. gardens, and, on one side, to All morning a haze with the the smooth sward of a terrace sheen of pearl in it had lain on above a tiny lake. At the the folds of downland, and the heart of it stood the house like vision of far horizons, which a jewel well set. It was a is the glory of Cotswold, had miniature, but by the hand of been veiled, so that every a master. The style was late valley seemed as a place en- seventeenth-century, when an olosed and set apart. But now a glow had come into the air, and for a little the autumn lawns stole the tints of summer. The gold of sunshine was warm on the grasses, and only the riot of colour in the berry-laden edges of the fields and the slender woodlands told of the failing year.
We were looking into a green cup of the hills, and it was all a garden. A little place, bounded by slopes that defined its graciousness with ne hint of barrier, so that a dweller there, though his view was but half a mile on any side, would yet have the sense of dwelling on uplands and commanding the world. Round the top edge ran an old wall of stones, beyond which the October
agreeable classic convention had opened up to sunlight and comfort the dark magnificence of the Tudor fashion. The place had the spacious air of a great mansion, and was finished in every detail with a fine sorupulousness. Only when the eye measured its proportions with the woods and the hillside did the mind perceive that it was a small dwelling. The stone of Cotswold takes curiously the colour of the weather. Under thunder-clouds it will be as dark as basalt; on a grey day it will be grey like lava; but in sunshine it absorbs the sun. At the moment the little house was pale gold, like honey.
Leithen swung a long leg across the stile.
Copyright in the United States of America.
"Pretty good, isn't it?" he said. "It's pure authentie Sir Christopher Wren. The name is worthy of it, too. It is ealled Fallcircle."
He told me its story. It had been built after the Restoration by the Carteron family, whose wide domains ran into these hills. The Lord Carteron of the day was a friend of the Merry Monarch, but it was not as a sanctuary for orgies that he built the house. Perhaps he was tired of the gloomy splendour of Minster Carteron, and wanted a home of his own and not of his ancestors' choosing. He had an elegant taste in letters, as we can learn from his neat imitations of Martial, his pretty Bucolics, and the more than respectable Latin hexameters of his Ars Vivendi. Being a great nobleman, he had the best skill of the day to construct his hermitage, and hither he would retire for months at a time with likeminded friends to a world of books and gardens. He seems to have had no ill-wishers; contemporary memoirs speak of him charitably, and Dryden spared him four lines of encomium. "A selfish old dog," Leithen called him. "He had the good sense to eschew politics and enjoy life. His soul is in that little house. He only did one rash thing in his career -he anticipated the King, his master, by some years in turning Papist.'
I asked about its later history.
"After his death it passed to a younger branch of the Carterons. It left them in
the eighteenth century, and the Applebys got it. They were a jovial lot of hunting squires, and let the library go to the dogs. Old Colonel Appleby was still alive when I came to Borrowby. Something went wrong in his inside when he was nearly seventy, and the doctors knocked him off liquor. Not that he drank too much, though he did himself well. That finished the poor old boy. He told me that it revealed to him the amazing truth that during a long and, as he hoped, publioly useful life he had never been quite sober. He was a good fellow, and I missed him when he died. . . . The place went to a remote cousin called Giffen."
Leithen's eyes, 88 they scanned the prospect, seemed amused.
"Julian and Ursula Giffen, . . . I dare say you know the names. They always hunt in couples, and write books about sociology and advanced ethics and psychics-books called either The New This or That,' or 'The Truth about Something or Other.' know the sort of thing. They're deep in all the pseudosciences. . .. Decent souls, but you can guess the type. I came across them in a case I had at the Old Bailey-defending a ruffian who was charged with murder. I hadn't a doubt he deserved hanging on twenty counts, but there wasn't enough evidence to convict him on this
Dodderidge was at his worst-it was just before they
induced him to retire and new. 'Pioneers' they call his handling of the jury was themselves-funny little un
a masterpiece of misdirection. Of course there was a shindy. The thing was a scandal, and it stirred up all the humanitarians till the murderer was almost forgotten in the iniquities of old Dodderidge. You must remember the case. It filled the papers for weeks. Well, it was in that connection that I fell in with the Giffens. I got rather to like them, and I've been to see them at their house in Hampstead. Golly, what a place! Not a chair fit to sit down on, and colours that made you want to howl. I never met people with heads so full of feathers."
I said something about that being an odd milieu for him,
"Oh, I like human beings -all kinds. It's my profession to study them, for without that the practice of the law would be a lean affair. There are hordes of people like the Giffens-only not so good, for they really have hearts of gold. They are the rootless stuff in the world to-day,-in revolt against everything and everybody with any ancestry. A kind of innocent self-righteousness-wanting to be the people with whom wisdom begins and ends. They are mostly sensitive and tenderhearted, but they wear themselves out in an eternal dissidence. Can't build, you know, for they object to all tools, but very ready to crab. They scorn any form of Christianity, but they'll walk miles to patronise some wretched seot that has the merit of being brand
clad people adventuring into the cold desert with no maps. Giffen once described himself and his friends to me as 'forward-looking,' but that, of course, is just what they are not. To tackle the future you must have a firm grip of the past, and for them the past is only a pathological curiosity. They're up to their necks in the mud of the present. . . . But good, after a fashion; and innocent-sordidly innocent. Fate was in an ironical mood when she saddled them with that wicked little house."
"Wicked" did not seem to me to be a fair word. It sat honey-coloured among its gardens with the meekness of a dove. The sound of a bicycle on the road behind made us turn round, and Leithen advanced to meet a dismounting rider.
He was a tallish fellow, some forty years old perhaps, with one of those fluffy blond beards that have never been shaved. Short-sighted, of course, and wore glasses. Biscuit-coloured knickerbockers and stockings elad his lean limbs.
Leithen introduced me. "We are walking to Borrowby, and stopped to admire your house. Could we have just a glimpse inside? I want Jardine to see the staircase."
Mr Giffen was very willing. "I've been over to Clyston to send a telegram. We have some friends for the week-end who might interest you. Won't you stay to tea?"
There was a gentle formal
courtesy about him, and his voice had the facile intonations of one who loves to talk. He led us through a little gate, and along a shorn green walk among the bracken to a postern which gave entrance to the garden. Here, though it was October, there was still a bright show of roses, and the jet of water from the leaden Cupid dripped noiselessly among fallen petals. And then we stood before the doorway, above which the old Carteron had inscribed a line of Horace.
I have never seen anything quite like the little hall. There were two, indeed, separated by a staircase of a wood that looked like olive. Both were paved with black and white marble, and the inner was oval in shape, with a gallery supported on slender walnut pillars. It was all in It was all in miniature, but it had a spaciousness which no mere size could give. Also it seemed to be permeated by the quintessence of sunlight. Its air was of long-descended, confident, equable happiness.
There were voices on the terrace beyond the hall, Giffen led us into a room on the left. "You remember the house in Colonel Appleby's time, Leithen. This was the chapel. It had always been the chapel. You see the change we have made. . . . I beg your pardon, Mr Jardine. You're not by any chance a Roman Catholic?"
The room had a white panelling, and on two sides deep windows. At one end was a
fine Italian shrine of marble, and the floor was mosaic, blue and white, in a quaint Byzantine pattern. There was the same air of sunny cheerfulness as in the rest of the house. No mystery could find a ledgment here. It might have been a chapel for three centuries, but the place was pagan. The Giffens' changes were no sort of desecration. A greenbaize table filled most of the floor, surrounded by chairs like a committee room. On new raw-wood shelves were files of papers and stacks of blue-books and those desicoated works into which reformers of society torture the English tongue. Two type
writers stood on a side-table.
"It is our workroom," Giffen explained, "where we hold our Sunday moots. Ursula thinks that a week-end is wasted unless it produces some piece of real work. Often a quite valuable committee has its beginning here. We try to make our home a refuge for busy workers, where they need not idle but can werk under happy conditions."
"A college situate in a elearer air,' "Leithen quoted. But Giffen did not respond except with a smile; he had probably never heard of Lord Falkland.
A woman entered the room, a woman who might have been pretty if she had taken a little pains. Her reddish hair was drawn tightly back and dressed in a hard knot, and her clothes were horribly incongruous in a remete manor-house. She had bright eager eyes, like a bird,
and hands that fluttered nervously. She greeted Leithen with warmth.
"We have settled down marvellously," she told him. "Julian and I feel as if we had always lived here, and our life has arranged itself so perfectly. My Mothers' Cottages in the village will soon be ready, and the Club is to be opened next week. Julian and I will carry on the classes ourselves for the first winter. Next year we hope to have a really fine programme. . . . And then it is so pleasant to be able to entertain one's friends. . . . Won't you stay to tea? Dr Swope is here, and Mary Elliston, and Mr Peroy Blaker-you know, the member of Parliament. Must you hurry off? I'm so sorry. . . . What do you think of our workroom? It was utterly terrible when we first came here-a sort of decayed chapel, like a withered tuberose. We have let the air of heaven into it."
I observed that I had never seen a house so full of space and light.
"Ah, you notice that? It is a curiously happy place to live in. Sometimes I'm almost afraid to feel so light-hearted. But we look on ourselves as only trustees. It is a trust we have to administer for the common good. You know, it's a house on which you can lay your own impress. I can imagine places which dominate the dwellers, but Fullcircle is plastic, and we can make it our own as much as if we had planned and built it. That's
our chief piece of good fortune."
We took our leave, for we had no desire for the company of Dr Swope and Mr Percy Blaker. When we reached the highway we halted and looked back on the little jewel. Shafts of the westering sun now caught the stone and turned the honey to ripe gold. Thin spires of amethyst smoke rose into the still air. I thought of the well-meaning restless couple inside its walls, and somehow they seemed out of the picture. They simply did not matter. The house was the thing, for I had never met in inanimate stone such an air of gentle masterfulness. It had a personality of its own, clean-out and secure, like a high-born old dame among the females of profiteers. And Mrs Giffen claimed to have given it her impress!
That night in the library at Borrowby, Leithen discoursed of the Restoration. Borrowby, of which, by the expenditure of much care and a good deal of money, he had made a civilised dwelling, is a Tudor manor of the Cotswold type, with high-pitched narrow roofs and tall stone chimneys, rising sheer from the meadows with something of the massiveness of a Border keep. He nodded towards the linenfold panelling and the great carven chimneypiece.
"In this kind of house you have the mystery of the elder England. What was Raleigh's phrase? 'High thoughts and divine contemplations.' The people who built this sort of