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CHAPTER VII THE GARDEN OF SLEEP
After the turmoil of London and the excitements of that last uncomfortable week at The Home of Art, the peace and beauty and rural influences of Beckleigh were extremely pleasant. Patricia arrived with unsteady nerves and an unhappy feeling of unrest, but after seven days in this somnolent corner of Devonshire, she regained her usual placidity of character. Although she was Irish, the girl, by reason of her magnificent health, escaped, to a great extent, those up-in-the-air and down-in-the-sea moods which characterize the Celt. As Arthur had been taken to the island valley of Avilion, there to be healed of his grievous wound, so Patricia felt that she had been guided to this Garden of Sleep that her irritated nerves might be soothed. And at the end of a week, she was more convinced than ever that she had chanced upon a veritable paradise of rest, which well deserved the name. "It is the Garden of Sleep," thought Patricia dreamily, "and here I shall rest until----" she paused at this point, as her future could not be foretold in any way.

The girl found Beckleigh to be a little fairy bay on the south coast of Devonshire, shut out from the world by high moorlands, over which tourists rarely came. Where the rolling downs dipped to the sea, there was a secluded nook--a dimple on the face of natural beauty, and here a quaint, rambling old house of mellowed grey stone nestled close to a mighty cliff of red sandstone. It was a quarter of a mile from the mansion to the yellow sands of the tiny beach, and the fertile acres were covered with many trees. The wood was partly wild and partly artificial, and was threaded by dozens of paths, narrow and broad. These led unexpectedly to clearings, rainbow-hued with flowers, or to sylvan glades fit for the revels of Titania and her elves. Although it was close upon Christmas, yet myriad flowers were in bloom, and stately palms, growing here and there, gave a suggestion of tropical vegetation to the miniature forest. The climate of this particular beauty-spot was truly wonderful, with almost constant warmth and sunshine. And here again it resembled Avilion, lacking snow and hail and rain, and the voice of wild, destructive winds. The ruddy cliff gathered the heat of many suns and poured it forth when the skies were clouded, while the high moors screened this favoured paradise from the cutting north winds.

"It is truly lovely," said Patricia, as she strolled with Mara through these gardens of Alcinous, day after day, and found the same bland conditions prevailing. "I would not have believed that there was such a lovely spot in this cold, grey England."

"Oh, we have bad weather sometimes," said Mara, in her soft, low voice; "the skies grow cloudy and the sea grows very rough. It rains, too, heavily at times, but I don't think we have ever had snow or hail. The cliff keeps us warm."

The two girls turned on the edge of the lawn, where the woods began, and looked upward at the mighty cliff, which towered majestically above them like the Tower of Babel. To Mara, who had dwelt beneath it for so long, it looked like a kindly guardian giant, who gave shelter and warmth to the favoured acres at its base; but Patricia thought it looked frowning and menacing.

"It looks as though one day it would fall and crush the house," she said with a shiver, for the hostility of the great mass of rock seemed certain.

Mara smiled in her slow, sad way. "It has stood there without falling since the world began, I suppose," she said wisely, "so I don't see why it should fall, now you have come."

"I suppose not. Yet," Patricia shivered again, "it makes me feel uncomfortable. Do you remember in 'Childe Roland,' how the hills, like giants at hunting, lay watching the game at bay. It looks to me like that."

But Mara had not read Browning, and could not grasp the allusion. She gazed at the vast, lowering mass with affection, for to her it was like a domestic hearth where she could warm herself. After a time she turned, and stared seaward towards the glistening sapphire waters, which flashed in the pale winter sunshine. Through the woods a broad path was cut from the lawns surrounding the house to the smooth beach, where the wavelets broke in gentle play. To right and left of the bay were tall cliffs, similar to that which guarded the mansion, and these ended in bold headlands some distance out. On one side and the other, rising gently and greenly, the vast spaces of the moorlands swept grandly away to the heights above. And in their cup was the solitary mansion muffled in its warm woods. In spite of the lateness of the season, the air was moist and heated, as if the red cliff was clasping the home of the Colpsters to its gigantic breast.

"But how do you get food here?" asked Patricia suddenly, when she saw that Mara did not speak; "are there any villages about?"

"Two on the moorlands, and one on the way to Hendle, where the railway stops."

"Ah, yes," Patricia nodded. "I remember Hendle, and how I drove here with the Squire down that winding road. But it was so dark that I could see nothing on the way, and since I have been in this place I have not explored the neighbourhood."

"We can do so whenever you like," said Mara quietly; "but it will be best to wait until Basil comes home next week. He loves this place, and knows every inch of the surrounding country."

"Doesn't Mr. Dane know it also?"

"Theodore? Oh, yes, in a way. But he is like my father, and is never so happy as when he is reading and writing. He does not go out much, and we only see him at luncheon and dinner. It is nearly luncheon now."

Patricia caught the girl's slim hand. "Let us go in now," she said. "I am hungry, Mara, but I don't believe you are. A fairy like you, lives on:--

"'apricocks and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.'"

"Who said that?" asked Mara, smiling in her dreamy fashion.

"Titania said it, and Shakespeare put the words into her mouth. Mara, I must educate you in English literature. You knew nothing of Browning when I quoted him lately, and now I see that you have not read Shakespeare's plays. This is dreadful."

Mara shrugged her thin shoulders. "I don't care for reading, Patricia. It is much nicer to walk about under the open sky. I don't wish to become like Theodore and father. They stay indoors everlastingly."

"Do they never go away for a change?"

"Rarely. Both Theodore and father have been in London lately. Theodore came back first, and then father came last week with you."

"Are you sorry he brought me?" asked Patricia, slipping her arm impulsively round the girl's waist.

"No," said Mara, in so unemotional a fashion that Patricia felt chilled. "I like you, as you don't worry me. Miss Tibbets always worried me with lessons."

"But you must be educated, Mara?"

"Why? I don't see the use of learning things."

Patricia looked at her curiously, for although she had been studying the girl for several days, Mara was still an enigma to her. Mr. Colpster's only daughter and only child was undersized and slim, graceful in figure and movements, and clever enough, in spite of her dreamy ways, to look after herself in a very thorough fashion. Patricia did not at all agree with Mrs. Sellars' use of the word "weak" as applied to Mara, for that young lady made shrewd remarks at times which showed a capable character. But there was something decidedly elfish about the girl, both in looks and ways. Mara's pale golden locks and pale blue eyes and pale complexion presented her to the onlooker as a somewhat shadowy creature. Her silent movements and low voice and frequent lack of conversation gave the same impression. Patricia could not get near the shy soul clothed in this fragile, tintless body. She seemed to be scarcely human, but to be compounded of moonlight and grey mist, containing in herself all that was melancholy in Nature. The warmth and tropical luxuriance of Beckleigh did not suit her personality. She should have been placed in some sad, antique temple, isolated on a lonely plain, and under sombre skies. The Irish girl was warm, human, life-loving and affectionate, so it was difficult to make friends with this Undine, so chill and distant in her ways and looks. Patricia began to think that, after all, the salary she had thought so large was not too much, seeing that she had to warm this statue into life. But how to set about the task she did not know.

"What do you like doing?" she asked, as they walked towards the house.

"Nothing."

"Don't you get bored?"

"Not at all; I--" Mara hesitated, then turned her pale blue eyes on the flushed and lovely face of her companion--"I dream," she said quietly.

"What do you dream about?" asked Patricia curiously.

Mara passed her pale hand across her pale forehead. "I can hardly tell you," she said in her low voice, which suggested softly breathing midnight winds; "there is something wanting."

"Something wanting?"

"To bring back that which I dream about."

"But what do you dream about?" persisted Miss Carrol, more puzzled than ever, as she looked at Mara's pale, pathetic face.

"The something will tell me when it brings it back."

"Brings what back?"

"That which I dream about?"

"And that is----?"

"I don't know."

The conversation was turning in a circle, and Mara was repeating her answers, as was Patricia her questions. Some invisible barrier divided the two girls, and although Patricia wished, in order to earn her salary honestly, to break it down, Mara apparently did not. Neither in look nor gesture did she make any advance, so Miss Carrol could do nothing but sigh over the difficulty of the problem which she had to solve, and renew her walk towards the house. Mara followed in silence, not sullen at being questioned and not angry. She was simply indifferent.

The Colpster homestead was two-storey and rambling, confusedly composed of various styles of architecture. The oldest portion was Tudor, and had been built by Amyas, the founder of the family, when he had first set up his tent in this solitary spot. Later Colpsters had added and taken away, so that one wing was wanting, while the other was of Jacobean style. On one side also there stood a square Georgian block of many rooms, comfortable but ugly. The effect of this mass of different orders of architecture was to make the entire dwelling look picturesque, if not strictly beautiful. Time also had mellowed the whole to lovely restful hues, and Nature had clothed many eye-sores with trailing ivy and Virginian creeper. Indeed, so thickly were the walls covered with living vegetation, that it looked as though the loosely-built, untidy dwelling was fastened to the emerald sward of the lawns. Or, as Patricia thought, halting on the doorstep for a single moment, as though the building had sprang therefrom in a single night, like a mushroom. And the house dwelt in, and fondled, and loved for many generations had about it a warm, homely feeling of intimate humanity. But over it, as the girl again observed with a shiver, ever hung the angry, red-faced cliff, menacing and sinister.

The interior of the mansion was as jumbled, so to speak, as its outside, for various additions and alterations and removals had destroyed the original plan of the dwelling, if, indeed, it ever had possessed any such design. Some rooms had doors leading into others, passages twisted and turned in a most bewildering manner, and a few ended in blank walls. A stranger would find himself stepping down into one room and up into another, as the flooring of the whole house was irregular. There were narrow doors and broad doors: many of the windows were diamond-paned casements, while others presented a large surface of modern glass. Grates were here, and vast open fireplaces there, and many rooms were as dark as others were light.

The house both pleased and irritated, as everywhere the visitor came upon unexpected corners, or was brought up short before closed entrances. It was a nightmare house, and like none that Patricia, used to extreme modernity, had ever entered.

The furniture and furnishing of the many rooms was also fantastic, and here Patricia saw more plainly the effects of Colpster's narrow income, as everything was old-fashioned and worn. The carpets and hangings, the paper covering the walls and the paintings adorning the ceiling, were shabby and faded. The drawing-room was filled with Chippendale tables, Sheraton chairs, fender-stools of the Albert period, and Empire sofas covered with worn brocade, while the dining-room had merely a horsehair mahogany suite, aggressively slippery. The whole house looked shabby and was shabby, yet the hand of Time had so co-ordinated the furniture and decorations of various epochs that the effect of the whole was beautiful. The sombre family portraits, the tarnished silver ornaments, the subdued hues of curtains and carpets, all gave the dwelling a refined air. There was nothing modern or garish or machine-made about the place. Everything looked mellow, suitable, old-world and slightly melancholy. It was a house to dream in, as it was filled with drowsy suggestions: a mansion of meditation, as the grounds without were the Gardens of Sleep. No wonder Mara was given to vague visions. A stronger person would have succumbed to the somniferous influence of the place.

The luncheon-table, laid with snow-white linen, glittering with diamond-cut glass, and heavy, old-fashioned silver, looked very attractive in the soft light of the large room, which stole in through quaint casements. Patricia, anxious to take up her household duties, had arranged the decorations of the table, and was rapidly getting into the swing of her domestic duties. She found the servants dull and out-of-date, but very obedient; and although, with the privilege of old retainers, they grumbled at many of her innovations, they did what she asked them to do. Mr. Colpster congratulated her on her successful début on this very occasion.

"You are a born housekeeper, Miss Carrol," he said, when he took his place at the head of the table, looking leaner and more like a student than ever.

"I used to look after my father's house before he died," said Patricia with a sigh, "and he was very particular."

"He was, even as a boy. I remember him at Sandhurst."

"Were you at Sandhurst?" remarked the girl, looking at her host, who did not in any way resemble a military man.

Colpster laughed in his silent fashion. "Oh, yes. I had thoughts of winning the V.C., and so tormented my father to make me a soldier. But I soon grew tired of the Army, as I had not the necessary money to keep it up. I therefore retired when my father died and have vegetated here ever since. I hope you don't find our life here too dull, Miss Carrol," and he looked anxiously towards the bright face of the girl.

"I like it," replied Patricia absently; "it is such a rest after the rush and worry of London. By the way, Mr. Colpster, I wish you would not call me Miss Carrol: it sounds so stiff."

"Patricia, then," said the Squire genially, and with a bright look in his usually sad eyes which showed that he was pleased; "it is a very charming name and suits"--he made an old-world bow--"a very charming young lady."

The girl laughed and coloured and bowed in return. Then, to turn the conversation, which was becoming too complimentary, she glanced at the vacant place opposite to that of Mara's. "Where is Mr. Dane?" she asked abruptly.

"Talk of angels and you hear their wings," said the Squire, for at that moment the door opened to admit the eldest nephew.

Theodore was tall and rather stout, with a heavy face by no means attractive. His skin was pale, and he possessed very bright blue eyes, and reddish hair, worn--as was his uncle's--rather long. His jaw was of the bull-dog order, and with this, and his bulky figure, to say nothing of the piercing look in his eyes, he appeared to be rather a formidable personage. But he was so good-natured and conversational that Patricia liked him, and thought--which was probably true--that his bark was much worse than his bite. He dressed much more carefully than did Mr. Colpster, and one noticeable point about him were his delicate white hands, which he was rather fond of using to emphasize his conversation. Patricia guessed that the man was proud of those hands, as one of his rare good points, and liked to draw attention to their perfection.

"I am sorry that I am late, Miss Carrol," said Theodore, sitting down with an alacrity surprising in so heavy a man. "I was taken up with a new manuscript which I acquired when I was in London."

"What is it about?" asked Patricia politely.

"Occult matters. You would not understand even if I explained." Theodore stopped; then looked into her face and added: "Yet you are Irish."

"What has that got to do with your remark, Mr. Dane?"

"Only this: that the Celt is usually more in touch with the Unseen than is the Saxon. I come of the latter race, and have no psychic powers; but I think you have, Miss Carrol."

"What do you mean exactly by psychic powers?"

"You can see things and feel things, which is more than many people can do by reason of their limitations. Ah!" he looked at her sharply, as he saw her face change. "You have felt something, or you have seen something."

"Well, yes," answered Patricia, and regretted the admission. At the moment, she was thinking of the Mikado Jewel and her sensations when holding it. Fearful of being ridiculed, she had not said anything even to Mr. Colpster about this, and did not wish to speak even to Theodore, although she guessed from his talk that he was less sceptical about such things than the ordinary man. "I may tell you about my experience some day," she added, quickly, seeing from his face that he was about to press his questions. "Not now."

Theodore nodded. "I shall keep you to your promise," he said alertly, "and we might try some experiments. Mara won't let me experiment with her."

"I don't like your experiments, Theodore," said Mara quietly, and looking up with a nervous look on her pale face, "they are dangerous."

"There is always danger, my dear girl, when one is exploring a new country, and the Realms of the Unseen are new to us. Your dreams----"

Mara flushed. "Never mind about my dreams," she said frowning, and with a sudden glance at Patricia.

"And never mind continuing this unwholesome conversation," said Mr. Colpster, who had been opening letters, "it is not good for Mara. By the way, Basil is coming home in three days. His ship is at Falmouth."

"Oh, I am so glad!" cried Mara delightedly. "I love Basil. He's a dear!"

"Let us hope that Miss Carrol will love him also," said Theodore grimly.

"I love everybody who is nice to me," said Patricia, laughing, although she wondered why Mr. Dane made such a remark.

"Oh, Basil will be nice! He's a universal lover," scoffed the man shrugging.

Patricia looked at him sharply and noticed the acrid tone. It seemed to her that Theodore was not fond of his brother. "I wonder why?" she asked herself, but naturally could obtain no reply to such an intimate question.


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