The Black Moth (Chapter 3, page 1 of 9)


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Chapter 3

Wyncham! A stately old house with mullioned windows, standing high on its stone terraces, half-covered by creepers; a house surrounded by lawns, rolling down on the one side to a river that rippled and murmured its way along beneath overhanging trees and a blue sky, over boulders and rocks, so clear and sparkling that the myriad pebbles could be seen deep down on its bed.

In the other direction, the velvet lawns stretched away till they met the orchards and the quiet meadowland.

On two sides the house had its terraces, very white in the sunshine, with stone steps leading down to a miniature lake where waterlilies grew, and where the tiny fish darted to and fro unconcernedly.

Flagged walks there were, running between flower beds a riot of colour, and solemn old trees that had stood there through all the years.

Cool woodland lay beyond the little river, carpeted with dark moss, where in spring the primroses grew. So thick was the foliage of the trees that the sun but penetrated in uneven patches.

Up the terrace walls crept roses, yellow and red, pink and white, and tossed their trailing sprays across the parapet. Over the walls of the house they climbed, mingling with purple clematis, jasmine, and sickly honeysuckle. The air was heavy with their united perfumes, while, wafted from a bed below, came the smoky scent of lavender.

The old house seemed half asleep, basking in the sunlight. Save for a peacock preening its feathers on the terrace steps, there was no sign of life. . . .

The old place had harboured generations of Carstares. Earl had succeeded Earl and reigned supreme, and it was only now that there was no Earl living there. No one knew where he was. Scarce a month ago one died, but the eldest son was not there to take his place. For six years he had been absent, and none dared breathe his name, for he disgraced that name, and the old Earl cast him off and forbade all mention of him. But the poor folk of the countryside remembered him. They would tell one another tales of his reckless courage; his sweet smile and his winning ways; his light-heartedness and his never-failing kindness and good-humour. What a rider he was! To see him sit his horse! What a swordsman! Do ye mind the time he fought young Mr. Welsh over yonder in the spinney with half the countryside watching? Ah, he was a one, was Master Jack! Do ye mind how he knocked the sword clean out o' Mr. Welsh's hand, and then stood waiting for him to pick it up? And do ye mind the way his eyes sparkled, and how he laughed, just for the sheer joy o' living?

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