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23 > Page 23 of Barren honour : a novel / by the author of "Guy Livingston," "The sword and gown," &c., &c., &c.

BARREN HONOUR.2 in black oak-and the garden-front. The architect had availed himself right well of the advantages of the ground, which (as I have said) sloped steeply down, almost from the windows; so that you looked out upon a succession of terraces -each framed in its setting of curious- ly-wrought balustrades-connected by broad flights of steps leading down to a quaint stone bridge spanning a clear, shallow stream. Beyond this lay the Plaisance, with its smooth-shaven grass, studded with islets of evergreens, and endless winding walks through shady shrubberies, issuing from which, after crossing a deep sunk-fence, you found yourself again among the great oaks and elms of the deer-park. If there had been no other attraction at Dene, the trees would have been worth going miles to see; indeed, the stanch adherents of the Vavasours always brought the timber forward, as a complete and crushing refutation of any blasphemer who should presume to hint that the family ever had been, or could be, embarrassed. The stables were of comparatively modern date, and quite perfect in their way; they harmonized with the style of the main building, though this was not of much importance, for the belt of firs around them was so dense, that a stran- ger was only made aware of their exist- ence by a slender spire of delicate stone- work shooting over the tree-tops, the pinnacle of a fountain in the centre of the court. The best point of view was from the farther end of the Plaisance. Looking back from thence, you saw a picture hardly to be matched even amongst the "stately homes of Eng- land," and to which the Continent could show no parallel, if you traversed it from Madrid to Moscow. The grand old house, rising, grey and solemn, over the long sloping estrade of bright flowers, reminded one of some aged Eastern king reclining on his divan of purple, and sil- ver, and pearl. No wonder that Dene was a favorite resort of the haute bour- geoisie of Newmanham on Mondays, when the public was admitted to the gardens, the state apartments, and the picture gallery; indeed, on any other day it was easy to gain admission if the Squire was at home, for Hubert Vava- sour, firom his youth upwards, had always been incapable of refusing anybody any- thing in reason. If "' my ladv y' happened to be mistress of the position, success was not quite such a certainty. I think we have done our duty by the mansion; it is almost time to say some- thing about its inmates. CHAPTER II. MP, A CULPA. THERE were all sorts of rooms at Dene, ranging through all degrees of luxury, from magnificence down to comfort. To the last class certainly be- longed especial apartment, which, from time immemorial, had been called "the Squire's own." For many generations this had represented the withdrawing- room, the council chamber, the study, and the divan of the easy-going poten- tates who had ruled the destinies of the House of Vavasour; if their authority over the rest of the mansion was some- times disputed, here at least they reigned supreme. There was easy access from without, by a door opening on a narrow winding walk that led through thick shubberies into the stables, so that the Squires were enabled to welcome in their sanctum, unobserved, such modest and retiring comrades as, from the state of their apparel or of their nerves, did not feel equal to the terrors of the grand entrance. Hither also thev were wont to resort, as a sure refuge, whenever they chanced to be worsted in anv domestic skirmish: though tradition preserves the names of several imperious and power- ful Chatelaines, and chronicles their prowess, not one appears to have forced or even assailed these entrenchments. It almost seemed as if provision had been made against a sudden surprise; for, at the extremity of the passage lead- ing to the main part of the building, were two innocent-looking green-baized doors, with great weights, so cunningly adjusted, that one, if not both of them, was sure to escape from weak or unwary 23