great nursery where she played, and on attention being drawn
to it, it was found to be loose, and was by-and-by removed,
revealing a ladder leading to a hiding-place between the floor oi
the nursery and the ceiling of the room below—a hiding-place
in which was found a quaint old carved oak chest half filled
with priests' vestments that had been hidden away, no doubt,
in those cruel days when the Ufe of a man was in danger if ha
was discovered to have harboured a Eoman CathoUc priest, os"
to have had mass said in his house.
The broad outer moat was dry o.iid grass-grown, and the
laden trees of the orchard hung over it wth gnarled stragghng
branches that drew fantastical patterns upon the green slope
Within this moat there was, as I have said, the fish-pond—a
sheet of water that extended the whole length of the garden,
and bordering which there was an avenue called the hme-tree
walk; an avenue so shaded from the sun and sky, so screened
from observation by the thick shelter of the over-arching trees,
that it seemed a chosen place for secret meetings or for stolen
interviews; a place in which conspiracy might have been
planned or a lover's vow registered with equal safety; and yet
it was scarcely twenty p.aces from the house.
At the end of this dark arcade there was the shrubbery,
where, half buried amongst the tangled branches and the
neglected weeds, stood the rusty wheel of that old well of
which I have spoken. It had been of good service in its time,
'to doubt; and busy nuns have perhaps drawn the cool water
with their own fair hands; but it had fallen into disuse now,
and scarcely any one at Audley Court knew whether the spring
had dried up or not. But sheltered as was the solitude of this
lime-tree walk, I doubt very much if it was ever put to any
romantic uses. Often in the cool of tl^e evening Sir Michael
Audley would stroll up and down, smoking his cigar, with his
dog at his heels, and his pretty young wife dawdling by his
side; but in about ten minutes the baronet and his companion
would grow tired of the rustling limes and the still water,
hidden under the spreading leaves of the water-HHes, and the
long green vista with the broken well at the end, and would
«troU back to the white drawing-room, where my lady played
dreamy melodies by Beethoven and Mendelssohn till her hus¬
band fell asleep in his easy chair.
Sir Michael Audley was fifty-six years of age, and he had
married a second wife three months after his fifty-fifth birth*
day. He was a big man, tall and stont, with a deep sonorou*
voice, handsome black eyes, and a white beard—a white bean!
which made him look venerable against his will; for he was as
active as a boy, and one of the haidest riders in the county.
For seventeen years he had been a widower with an only child.