Light entering the vast room--a room so high that its carved ceiling
refused itself to exact scrutiny--travelled with the wistful cold
curiosity of the dawn over a fantastic storehouse of Time. Light
unaccompanied by the prejudice of human eyes made strange revelation
of incongruities as though illuminating the dispassionate march of
For in this dining hall--one of the finest in England--the Caradoc
family had for centuries assembled the trophies and records of their
existence. Round about this dining hall they had built and pulled
down and restored until the rest of Monkland Court presented some
aspect of homogeneity. Here alone they had left virgin the work of
the old quasi-monastic builders and within it unconsciously
deposited their souls. For there were here meeting the eyes of
light all those rather touching evidences of man's desire to persist
for ever those shells of his former bodies the fetishes and queer
proofs of his faiths together with the remorseless demonstration of
their treatment at the hands of Time.
The annalist might here have found all his needed confirmations; the
analyst from this material formed the due equation of high birth; the
philosopher traced the course of aristocracy from its primeval rise
in crude strength or subtlety through centuries of power to
picturesque decadence and the beginnings of its last stand. Even
the artist might here perchance have seized on the dry ineffable
pervading spirit as one visiting an old cathedral seems to scent out
the constriction of its heart.
>From the legendary sword of that Welsh chieftain who by an act of
high rewarded treachery had passed into the favour of the conquering
William and received with the widow of a Norman many lands in
Devonshire to the Cup purchased for Geoffrey Caradoc; present Earl
of Valleys by subscription of his Devonshire tenants on the occasion
of his marriage with the Lady Gertrude Semmering--no insignia were
absent save the family portraits in the gallery of Valleys House in
London. There was even an ancient duplicate of that yellow tattered
scroll royally reconfirming lands and title to John the most
distinguished of all the Caradocs who had unfortunately neglected to
be born in wedlock by one of those humorous omissions to be found in
the genealogies of most old families. Yes it was there almost
cynically hung in a corner; for this incident though no doubt a
burning question in the fifteenth century was now but staple for an
ironical little tale in view of the fact that descendants of John's
'own' brother Edmund were undoubtedly to be found among the cottagers
of a parish not far distant.
Light glancing from the suits of armour to the tiger skins beneath
them brought from India but a year ago by Bertie Caradoc the
younger son seemed recording how those who had once been foremost
by virtue of that simple law of Nature which crowns the adventuring
and strong now being almost washed aside out of the main stream of
national life were compelled to devise adventure lest they should
lose belief in their own strength.
The unsparing light of that first half-hour of summer morning
recorded many other changes wandering from austere tapestries to the
velvety carpets and dragging from the contrast sure proof of a
common sense which denied to the present Earl and Countess the
asceticisms of the past. And then it seemed to lose interest in this
critical journey as though longing to clothe all in witchery. For
the sun had risen and through the Eastern windows came pouring its
level and mysterious joy. And with it passing in at an open
lattice came a wild bee to settle among the flowers on the table
athwart the Eastern end used when there was only a small party in
the house. The hours fled on silent till the sun was high and the
first visitors came--three maids rosy not silent bringing brushes.
They passed and were followed by two footmen--scouts of the
breakfast brigade who stood for a moment professionally doing
nothing then soberly commenced to set the table. Then came a little
girl of six to see if there were anything exciting--little Ann
Shropton child of Sir William Shropton by his marriage with Lady
Agatha and eldest daughter of the house the only one of the four
young Caradocs as yet wedded. She came on tiptoe thinking to
surprise whatever was there. She had a broad little face and wide
frank hazel eyes over a little nose that came out straight and
sudden. Encircled by a loose belt placed far below the waist of her
holland frock as if to symbolize freedom she seemed to think
everything in life good fun. And soon she found the exciting thing.
"Here's a bumble bee William. Do you think I could tame it in my
little glass bog?"
"No I don't Miss Ann; and look out you'll be stung!"
"It wouldn't sting me."
"Because it wouldn't."
"Of course--if you say so----"
"What time is the motor ordered?"
"I'm going with Grandpapa as far as the gate."
"Suppose he says you're not?"
"Well then I shall go all the same."
"I might go all the way with him to London! Is Auntie Babs going?"
"No I don't think anybody is going with his lordship."
"I would if she were. William!"
"Is Uncle Eustace sure to be elected ?"
"Of course he is."
"Do you think he'll be a good Member of Parliament?"
"Lord Miltoun is very clever Miss Ann."
"Well don't you think so?"
"Does Charles think so?"
"I don't like London. I like here and I like Cotton and I like
home pretty well and I love Pendridny--and--I like Ravensham."
"His lordship is going to Ravensham to-day on his way up I heard
"Oh! then he'll see great-granny. William----"
"Here's Miss Wallace."
>From the doorway a lady with a broad pale patient face said:
"All right! Hallo Simmons!"
The entering butler replied:
"Hallo Miss Ann!"
"I've got to go."
"I'm sure we're very sorry."
The door banged faintly and in the great room rose the busy silence
of those minutes which precede repasts. Suddenly the four men by the
breakfast fable stood back. Lord Valleys had come in.
He approached slowly reading a blue paper with his level grey eyes
divided by a little uncharacteristic frown. He had a tanned yet
ruddy decisively shaped face with crisp hair and moustache
beginning to go iron-grey--the face of a man who knows his own mind
and is contented with that knowledge. His figure too well-braced
and upright with the back of the head carried like a soldier's
confirmed the impression not so much of self-sufficiency as of the
sufficiency of his habits of life and thought. And there was
apparent about all his movements that peculiar unconsciousness of his
surroundings which comes to those who live a great deal in the public
eye have the material machinery of existence placed exactly to their
hands and never need to consider what others think of them. Taking
his seat and still perusing the paper he at once began to eat what
was put before him; then noticing that his eldest daughter had come
in and was sitting down beside him he said:
"Bore having to go up in such weather!"
"Is it a Cabinet meeting?"
"Yes. This confounded business of the balloons." But the rather
anxious dark eyes of Agatha's delicate narrow face were taking in the
details of a tray for keeping dishes warm on a sideboard and she was
thinking: "I believe that would be better than the ones I've got
after all. If William would only say whether he really likes these
large trays better than single hot-water dishes!" She contrived how-
ever to ask in her gentle voice--for all her words and movements were
gentle even a little timid till anything appeared to threaten the
welfare of her husband or children:
"Do you think this war scare good for Eustace's prospects Father?"
But her father did not answer; he was greeting a new-comer a tall