"Let no flower of the spring pass by us; let us crown ourselves with rosebuds
before they be withered."--BOOK OF WISDOM.
Pity that Offendene was not the home of Miss Harleth's childhood, or endeared to
her by family memories! A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot
of a native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth,
for the labors men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for
whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amid the
future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories
may be inwrought with affection, and--kindly acquaintance with all neighbors,
even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and
reflection, but as a sweet habit of the blood. At five years old, mortals are not
prepared to be citizens of the world, to be stimulated by abstract nouns, to soar
above preference into impartiality; and that prejudice in favor of milk with which
we blindly begin, is a type of the way body and soul must get nourished at least
for a time. The best introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as
a little lot of stars belonging to one's own homestead.
But this blessed persistence in which affection can take root had been wanting in
Gwendolen's life. It was only a year before her recall from Leubronn that
Offendene had been chosen as her mamma's home, simply for its nearness to
Pennicote Rectory, and that Mrs. Davilow, Gwendolen, and her four half-sisters
(the governess and the maid following in another vehicle) had been driven along
the avenue for the first time, on a late October afternoon when the rooks were
crawing loudly above them, and the yellow elm-leaves were whirling.
The season suited the aspect of the old oblong red-brick house, rather too
anxiously ornamented with stone at every line, not excepting the double row of
narrow windows and the large square portico. The stone encouraged a greenish
lichen, the brick a powdery gray, so that though the building was rigidly
rectangular there was no harshness in the physiognomy which it turned to the
three avenues cut east, west and south in the hundred yards' breadth of old
plantation encircling the immediate grounds. One would have liked the house to
have been lifted on a knoll, so as to look beyond its own little domain to the long
thatched roofs of the distant villages, the church towers, the scattered
homesteads, the gradual rise of surging woods, and the green breadths of
undulating park which made the beautiful face of the earth in that part of Wessex.
But though standing thus behind, a screen amid flat pastures, it had on one side
a glimpse of the wider world in the lofty curves of the chalk downs, grand
steadfast forms played over by the changing days.