CHAPTER I A DECISION
Overfield Court lay basking in warm June sunshine. The western side of the great house with its new timber and plaster faced the evening sun across the square lawns and high terrace; and the woods a couple of hundred yards away cast long shadows over the gardens that lay beyond the moat. The lawns, in their broad plateaux on the eastern side descended by steps, in cool shadow to the lake that formed a quarter-circle below the south-eastern angle of the house; and the mirrored trees and reeds on the other side were broken, circle after circle, by the great trout that were rising for their evening meal. The tall front of the house on the north, formed by the hall in the centre with the kitchen at its eastern end and the master's chamber on the western, was faced by a square-towered gatehouse through which the straight drive leading into the main road approached the house under a lime-avenue; and on the south side the ground fell away again rapidly below the chapel and the morning-room, in copse and garden and wild meadow bright with buttercups and ox-eye daisies, down to the lake again and the moat that ran out of it round the entire domain.
The cobbled courtyard in the centre of the house, where the tall leaded pump stood, was full of movement. Half a dozen trunks lay there that had just been carried in from the luggage-horses that were now being led away with patient hanging heads towards the stables that stood outside the gatehouse on the right, and three or four dusty men in livery were talking to the house-servants who had come out of their quarters on the left. From the kitchen corner came a clamour of tongues and dishes, and smoke was rising steadily from the huge outside chimney that rose beyond the roofs.
Presently there came clear and distinct from the direction of the village the throb of hoofs on the hard road; and the men shouldered the trunks, and disappeared, staggering, under the low archway on the right, beside which the lamp extinguisher hung, grimy with smoke and grease. The yard dog came out at the sound of the hoofs, dragging his chain after him, from his kennel beneath the little cloister outside the chapel, barked solemnly once or twice, and having done his duty lay down on the cool stones, head on paws, watching with bright eyes the door that led from the hall into the Court. A moment later the little door from the masters chamber opened; and Sir James Torridon came out and, giving a glance at the disappearing servants, said a word or two to the others, and turned again through the hall to meet his sons.
The coach was coming up the drive round toward the gatehouse, as he came out on the wide paved terrace; and he stood watching the glitter of brasswork through the dust, the four plumed cantering horses in front, and the bobbing heads of the men that rode behind; and there was a grave pleased expectancy on his bearded face and in his bright grey eyes as he looked. His two sons had met at Begham, and were coming home, Ralph from town sites a six months' absence, and Christopher from Canterbury, where he had been spending a week or two in company with Mr....