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Grandmother Dear Part 22

I said, 'If only it keeps off now, we could manage.'

"We dressed quickly, and had eaten our breakfast by half-past eight; for at nine, by arrangement, the agent was to call for us to escort us on our voyage of discovery. The weather gave promise of improving, a faint wintry sunshine came timidly out, and there seemed no question of more snow. When Mr. Turner, the agent, a respectable fatherly sort of man, made his appearance, he altogether pooh-poohed the idea of the roads being impassable; but he went on to say that, to his great regret, it was perfectly impossible for him to accompany us. Mr. H----, Mr. Walter H----, that is to say, the younger son of the owner of the Grange, the larger of the two houses we were to see, had arrived unexpectedly, and Mr. Turner was obliged to meet him about business.

"'I have managed the business about here for them since they left the Grange, and Mr. Walter is only here for a day,' said the communicative Mr. Turner. 'It is most unfortunate. But I have engaged a comfortable carriage for you, Miss Berkeley, and a driver who knows the country thoroughly, and is a very steady man. And, if you will allow me, I will call in this evening to hear what you think of the houses--which you prefer.' He seemed to be quite sure we should fix for one or other.

"'Thank you, that will do very well,' said Mary,--not in her heart, to tell the truth, sorry that we were to do our house-hunting by ourselves.

'We shall get on quite comfortably, I am sure, Mr. Turner. Which house shall we go to see first?'

"'The farthest off, I would advise,' said Mr. Turner. 'That is Hunter's Hall. It is eight miles at least from this, and the days are so short.'

"'Is that the old house with the terraced garden?' I asked.

"Mr. Turner glanced at me benevolently.

"'Oh no, Miss,' he said. 'The terraced garden is at the Grange. Hunter's Hall is a nice little place, but much smaller than the Grange. The gardens at the Grange are really quite a show in summer.'

"'Perhaps they will be too much for us,' said Mary. 'My father does not want a very large place, you understand, Mr. Turner--not being in good health he does not wish to have the trouble of looking after much.'

"'I don't think you would find it too much,' said Mr. Turner. 'The head gardener is to be left at Mr. H----'s expense, and he is very trustworthy. But I can explain all these details this evening if you will allow me, after you have seen the house,' and, so saying, the obliging agent bade us good morning.

"'I am sure we shall like the Grange the best,' I said to Mary, when, about ten o'clock, we found ourselves in the carriage Mr. Turner had provided for us, slowly, notwithstanding the efforts of the two fat horses that were drawing us, making our way along the snow-covered roads.

"'I don't know,' said Mary. 'I am afraid of its being too large. But certainly Hunter's Hall is a long way from the town, and that is a disadvantage.'

"A _very_ long way it seemed before we got there.

"'I could fancy we had been driving nearly twenty miles instead of eight,' said Mary, when at last the carriage stopped before a sort of little lodge, and the driver informed us we must get out there, there being no carriage drive up to the house.

"'Objection number one,' said Mary, as we picked our steps along the garden path which led to the front door. 'Father would not like to have to walk along here every time he went out a drive. Dear me!' she added, 'how dreadfully difficult it is to judge of any place in snow! The house looks so dirty, and yet very likely in summer it is a pretty bright white house.'

"It was not a bad little house: there were two or three good rooms downstairs and several fairly good upstairs, besides a number of small inconvenient rooms that might have been utilised by a very large family, but would be no good at all to us. Then the kitchens were poor, low-roofed, and straggling.

"'It might do,' said Mary doubtfully. 'It is more the look of it than anything else that I dislike. It does not look as if gentle-people had lived in it--it seems like a better-class farm-house.'

"And so it proved to be, for on inquiry we learnt from the woman who showed us through, that it never had been anything but a farm-house till the present owner had bought it, improved it a little, and furnished it in a rough-and-ready fashion for a summer residence for his large family of children.

"'We should need a great deal of additional furniture,' said Mary.

'Much of it is very poor and shabby. The rent, however, is certainly very low--to some extent that would make up.'

"Then we thanked the woman in charge, and turned to go. 'Dear me!' said Mary, glancing at her watch, 'it is already half-past twelve. I hope the driver knows the way to the Grange, or it will be dark before we get there. How far is it from here to East Hornham?' she added, turning again to our guide.

"'Ten miles good,' said the woman.

"'I thought so,' said Mary. 'I shall have a crow to pluck with that Mr.

Turner for saying it was only eight. And how far to the Grange?'

"'Which Grange, Miss? There are two or three hereabouts.'

"Mary named the family it belonged to.

"'Oh it is quite seven miles from here, though not above two from East Hornham.'

"'Seven and two make nine,' said Mary. 'Why didn't you bring us here past the Grange? It is a shorter way,' she added to the driver, as we got into the carriage again.

"The man touched his hat respectfully, and replied that he had brought us round the other way that we might see more of the country.

"We laughed to ourselves at the idea of seeing the country, shut up in a close carriage and hardly daring to let the tips of our noses peep out to meet the bitter, biting cold. Besides, what was there to see? It was a flat, bare country, telling plainly of the near neighbourhood of the sea, and with its present mantle of snow, features of no kind were to be discerned. Roads, fields, and all were undistinguishable.

"'I wonder he knows his way,' we said to each other more than once, and as we drove on farther we could not resist a slight feeling of alarm as to the weather. The sky grew unnaturally dark and gloomy, with the blue-grey darkness that so often precedes a heavy fall of snow, and we felt immensely relieved when at last the carriage slackened before a pair of heavy old-fashioned gates, which were almost immediately opened by a young woman who ran out from one of the two lodges guarding each a side of the avenue.

"The drive up to the house looked very pretty even then--or rather as if it would be exquisitely so in spring and summer time.

"'I'm sure there must be lots and lots of primroses and violets and periwinkles down there in those woody places,' I cried. 'Oh Mary, Mary, _do_ take this house.'

"Mary smiled, but I could see that she too was pleased. And when we saw the house itself the pleasant impression was not decreased. It was built of nice old red stone, or brick, with grey mullions and gables to the roof. The hall was oak wainscotted all round, and the rooms that opened out of it were home-like and comfortable, as well as spacious. Certainly it was too large, a great deal too large, but then we could lock off some of the rooms.

"'People often do so,' I said. 'I think it is a delicious house, don't you, Mary?'

"One part was much older than the other, and it was curiously planned, the garden, the terraced garden behind which I had heard of, rising so, that after going upstairs in the house you yet found yourself on a level with one part of this garden, and could walk out on to it through a little covered passage. The rooms into which this passage opened were the oldest of all--one in particular, tapestried all round, struck me greatly.

"'I hope it isn't haunted,' I said suddenly. Mary smiled, but the young woman looked grave.

"'You don't mean to say it _is_?' I exclaimed.

"'Well, Miss, I was housemaid here several years, and I certainly never saw nor heard nothing. But the young gentlemen did used to say things like that for to frighten us, and for me I'm one as never likes to say as to those things that isn't for us to understand.'

"'I do believe it _is_ haunted,' I cried, more and more excited, and though Mary checked me I would not leave off talking about it.

"We were turning to go out into the gardens when an exclamation from Mary caught my attention.

"'It is snowing again and _so_ fast,' she said, 'and just see how dark it is.'

"''Twill lighten up again when the snow leaves off, Miss,' said the woman. 'It is not three o'clock yet. I'll make you a bit of fire in a minute if you like, in one of the rooms. In here----' she added, opening the door of a small bedroom next to the tapestry room, 'it'll light in a minute, the chimney can't be cold, for there was one yesterday. I put fires in each in turns.'

"We felt sorry to trouble her, but it seemed really necessary, for just then our driver came to the door to tell us he had had to take out the horses and put them into the stable.

"'They seemed dead beat,' he said, 'with the heavy roads. And besides it would be impossible to drive in the midst of such very thick falling snow. 'Twould be better to wait an hour or two, till it went off. There was a bag in the carriage--should he bring it in?'

"We had forgotten that we had brought with us some sandwiches and buns.

In our excitement we had never thought how late it was, and that we must be hungry. Now, with the prospect of an hour or two's enforced waiting with nothing to do, we were only too thankful to be reminded of our provisions. The fire was already burning brightly in the little room--'Mr. Walter's room' the young woman called it--'That must be the gentleman that was to be with Mr. Turner to-day,' I whispered to Mary--and she very good-naturedly ran back to her own little house to fetch the necessary materials for a cup of tea for us.

"'It is a fearful storm,' she informed us when she ran back again, white from head to foot, even with the short exposure, and indeed from the windows we could see it for ourselves. 'The snow is coming that thick and fast, I could hardly find my own door,' she went on, while she busied herself with preparations for our tea. 'It is all very well in summer here, but it is lonesome-like in winter since the family went away. And my husband's been ill for some weeks too--I have to sit up with him most nights. Last night, just before the snow began, I did get such a fright--all of a sudden something seemed to come banging at our door, and then I heard a queer breathing like. I opened the door, but there was nothing to be seen, but perhaps it was that that made me look strange when Miss here,' pointing to me, 'asked me if the house was haunted.

Whatever it was that came to our door certainly rushed off this way.'

"'A dog, or even a cat, perhaps,' said Mary.

"The woman shook her head.

"'A cat couldn't have made such a noise, and there's not a dog about the place,' she said.

Chapter end

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