The Shadow of the East (Chapter 5, page 1 of 21)


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Chapter 5

Miss Craven was sitting alone in the library at the Towers. She had been reading, but the book had failed to hold her attention and lay unheeded on her lap while she was plunged in a profound reverie.

She sat very still, her usually serene face clouded, and once or twice a heavy sigh escaped her.

The short November day was drawing in and though still early afternoon it was already growing dark. The declining light was more noticeable in the library than elsewhere in the house--a sombre room once the morning sun had passed; long and narrow and panelled in oak to a height of about twelve feet, above which ran a gallery reached by a hammered iron stairway, it housed a collection of calf and vellum bound books which clothed the walls from the floor of the gallery to within a few feet of the lofty ceiling. On the fourth side of the room, whither the gallery did not extend, three tall narrow windows overlooked the drive. The furniture was scanty and severely Jacobean, having for more than two hundred years remained practically intact; a ponderous writing table, a couple of long low cabinets, and half a dozen cavernous armchairs recushioned to suit modern requirements of ease. Some fine old bronzes stood against the panelled walls. There was about the room a settled peacefulness. The old furniture had a stately air of permanence. The polished panels, and, above, the orderly ranks of ancient books suggested durability; they remained--while generations of men came and passed, transient figures reflected in the shining oak, handling for a few brief years the printed treasures that would still be read centuries after they had returned to their dust.

The spirit of the house seemed embodied in this big silent room that was spacious and yet intimate, formal and yet friendly.

It was Miss Craven's favourite retreat. The atmosphere was sympathetic. Here she seemed more particularly in touch with the subtle influence of family that seemed to pervade the whole house. In most of the rooms it was perceptible, but in the library it was forceful.

The house and the family--they were bound up inseparably.

For hundreds of years, in an unbroken line, from father to son ... from father to son.... Miss Craven sat bolt upright to the sound of an unmistakable sob. She looked with amazement at two tears blistering the page of the open book on her knee. She had not knowingly cried since childhood. It was a good thing that she was alone she thought, with a startled glance round the empty room. She would have to keep a firmer hold over herself than that. She laughed a little shakily, choked, blew her nose vigorously, and walked to the middle window. Outside was stark November. The wind swept round the house in fierce gusts before which the big bare-branched trees in the park swayed and bowed, and trains of late fallen leaves caught in a whirlwind eddied skyward to scatter widely down again.

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