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"you are always welcome. Have a good look about you. Don't waste your time here. Even when all is said, you will not see too much of me and mine. But don't believe everything you may hear in the kitchen. Linnet Sara is a good servant, but still a groper.”
Not the least notion of what she meant occurred to me. But I peacocked about for a while as if she had paid me a compliment. An evening or two afterwards, and soon after sunset, I found her sitting in her westward window. Perhaps because rain was coming, the crouching headstones under the hill looked to be furlongs nearer. "Sleeping, waking; waking, sleeping, Simon”; she said, “sing while you can.” Like a little owl I fixed sober eyes on the yew-wood, but again I hadn't any inkling of what she meant.
She would sit patiently listening to me as long as I cared to unbosom myself to her. Her calm, severe, and yet, I think, beautiful face is clear in my memory. It resembles a little the figure in Albrecht Dürer's picture of a woman sitting beneath the wall of a house, with a hound crouched beside her, an inclined ladder, the rainbowed sea in the distance, and a bat-a tablet of magic numbers and a pent-housed bell over her head.
Sometimes I would be questioned at home about my solitary wanderings, but I never mentioned Miss Taroone's name, and spoke of her house a little deceitfully, since I did not confess how much I loved being in it.
One evening—and it was already growing late—Miss Taroone, after steadily gazing into my eyes for a few moments, asked me if I liked pictures. I professed that I did, though I had never spent much time in looking at the queer portraits and charts and mementóes that hung thick and closely on her own walls. “Well," she replied, "if you like pictures I must first tell you about Nahum."
I could not at first make head or tail of Mr. Nahum. Even now I am uncertain whether he was Miss Taroone's brother or her nephew or a cousin many times removed; or whether perhaps she was really and truly Mrs. Taroone and he her only son; or she still Miss Taroone and he an adopted one. I am not sure even whether or not she had much love for him, though she appeared to speak of him with pride. What I do know is that Miss Taroone had nurtured him from his cradle and had taught him all the knowledge that was not already his by right of birth.
Before he was come even to be my own age, she told me, Nahum Taroone had loved "exploring." As a boy he had ranged over the countryside for miles around. I never dared ask her if he had sat on Linnet Sara's “Wall”! He had scrawled plans and charts and maps, marking on them all his wanderings. And not only the roads, paths, chaces, and tracks, the springs and streams, but the rare-birds' nesting-places and the rarer wild flowers, the eatable or poisonous fruits, trees, animal lairs, withies for whips, clay for modelling, elder shoots for pitch pipes, pebbles for his catapult, Aint arrows, and everything of that kind. He was a nightboy too; could guide himself by the stars, was a walking almanac of the moon; and could decoy owls and nightjars, and find any fox's or badger's earth he was after, even in a dense mist.
I came to know Mr. Nahum pretty well—so far at any rate as one can know anybody from hearsay—before Miss Taroone referred to the pictures again. And I became curious about him, and hoped to see this strange traveller, and frequently hung around Thrae in mere chance of that.
Strangely enough, by the looks on her face and the tones of her voice, Miss Taroone was inclined to mock a little at Mr. Nahum because of his restlessness. She
didn't seem to approve of his leaving her so muchthough she herself had come from Sure Vine. Her keys would jangle at her chatelaine as if they said, “Ours secrets enough.” And she would stand listening, and mute, as if in expectation of voices or a footfall. Then as secretly as I could, I would get away.
All old memories resemble a dream. And so too do these of Miss Taroone and Thrae. When I was most busy and happy and engrossed in it, it seemed to be a house which might at any moment vanish before your eyes, showing itself to be but the outer shell or hiding place of an abode still more enchanting.
This sounds nonsensical. But if you have ever sat and watched a Transformation Scene in a pantomime, did you suppose, just before the harlequin slapped with his wand on what looked like a plain brick-and-mortar wall, that it would instantly after dissolve into a radiant coloured scene of trees and fountains and hidden beings -growing lovelier in their own showing as the splendour spread and their haunts were revealed? Well, so at times I used to feel in Thrae.
At last, one late evening in early summer, beckoning me with her finger, Miss Taroone lit a candle in an old brass stick and bade me follow her down a long narrow corridor and up a steep winding stone staircase.
"You have heard, Simon, of Mr. Nahum's round room; now you shall see it."
On the wider step at the top, before a squat oak door, she stayed, lifted her candle, and looked at me. "You will remember," she said, "that what I am about to admit you into is Mr. Nahum's room; not mine.
. You may look at the pictures, you may examine anything · that interests you, you may compose yourself to the
view. But replace what you look at, have a care in your handling, do nothing out of idle curiosity, and come away when you are tired. you are tired. Remember that Mr. Nahum
may be returning at any hour. He would be pleased to find you here. But hasten away out of his room the very instant you feel you have no right, lot or pleasure to be in it. Hasten away, I mean, so that you may return to it with a better mind and courage.”
She laid two fingers on my shoulder, cast another look into my face under her candle, turned the key in the lock, gently thrust me beyond the door, shut it: and left me to my own devices.
What first I noticed, being for awhile a little alarmed at this strange proceeding, was the evening light that poured in on the room from the encircling windows. Below, by walking some little distance from room to room, corridor to corridor, you could get (as I have said) a single narrow view out north, south, east or west. Here, you could stand in the middle, and turning slowly like a top on your heels, could watch float by one after the other, hill and windmill, ocean, distant city, dark yew-wood.
The crooning of doves was audible on the roof, swallows were coursing in the placid and rosy air, the whole world seemed to be turning softly out of the day's sunshine, stretching long dark shadows across hill and valley as if in delight to be on the verge of rest and slumber again, now that the heats of full summer were so
But I believe my first thought was
What a boiling hot and glaring place to sit in in the middle of the morning. And then I noticed that heavy curtains hung on either side each rounded window, for shade, concealment and solitude. As soon, however, as my eyes were accustomed to the dazzle, I spent little time upon the great view, but immediately peered about me at what was in this curious chamber.
Never have I seen in any room—and this was none so large—such a hugger-mugger of strange objects—oddshaped coloured shells, fragments of quartz, thunderbolts and fossils; skins of brilliant birds; outlandish shoes; heads, faces, masks of stone, wood, glass, wax, and metal; pots, images, glass shapes, and what not; lanterns and bells; bits of harness and ornament and weapons. There were, besides, two or three ships of different rigs in glass cases, and one in a green bottle; peculiar tools, little machines; silent clocks, instruments of music, skulls and bones of beasts, frowsy bunches of linen or silk queerly marked, and a mummied cat (I think). And partly concealed, as I twisted my head, there, dangling in an alcove, I caught sight of a fulllength skeleton, one hollow eye-hole concealed by a curtain looped to the floor from the ceiling.
I just cast my glance round on all these objects without of course seeing them one by one. The air was clear as water in the evening light, a little dust had fallen; all was in order, though at that first hasty glance there seemed none. Last, but not least, there was row on row of painted pictures. Wherever there was space on the walls free of books, this round tower room was hung with them as close as their frames and nails allowed. There I stood, hearing faintly the birds, conscious of the pouring sunlight, the only live creature amidst this departed traveller's treasures and possessions.
I was so much taken aback by it all, so mystified by Miss Taroone's ways, so cold at sight of the harmless bones above me, and felt so suddenly out of my familiars, that without a moment's hesitation I turned about, flung open the door and went helter skelter clattering down the stairs-out of the glare into the gloom.
There was no sign of Miss Taroone as I crossed through the house and sneaked off hastily through the garden. And not until the barn had shut me out from the lower windows behind me did I look back at the