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Part One. Sir Oliver Tressilian
The Huckster
Sir Oliver Tressilian sat at his ease in the lofty dining-room of the handsome house of
Penarrow, which he owed to the enterprise of his father of lamented and lamentable
memory and to the skill and invention of an Italian engineer named Bagnolo who had
come to England half a century ago as one of the assistants of the famous Torrigiani.
This house of such a startlingly singular and Italianate grace for so remote a corner of
Cornwall deserves, together with the story of its construction, a word in passing.
The Italian Bagnolo who combined with his salient artistic talents a quarrelsome,
volcanic humour had the mischance to kill a man in a brawl in a Southwark tavern. As a
result he fled the town, nor paused in his headlong flight from the consequences of that
murderous deed until he had all but reached the very ends of England. Under what
circumstances he became acquainted with Tressilian the elder I do not know. But certain
it is that the meeting was a very timely one for both of them. To the fugitive, Ralph
Tressilian--who appears to have been inveterately partial to the company of rascals of all
denominations-- afforded shelter; and Bagnolo repaid the service by offering to rebuild
the decaying half-timbered house of Penarrow. Having taken the task in hand he went
about it with all the enthusiasm of your true artist, and achieved for his protector a
residence that was a marvel of grace in that crude age and outlandish district. There arose
under the supervision of the gifted engineer, worthy associate of Messer Torrigiani, a
noble two-storied mansion of mellow red brick, flooded with light and sunshine by the
enormously tall mullioned windows that rose almost from base to summit of each
pilastered facade. The main doorway was set in a projecting wing and was overhung by a
massive balcony, the whole surmounted by a pillared pediment of extraordinary grace,
now partly clad in a green mantle of creepers. Above the burnt red tiles of the roof soared
massive twisted chimneys in lofty majesty.
But the glory of Penarrow--that is, of the new Penarrow begotten of the fertile brain of
Bagnolo--was the garden fashioned out of the tangled wilderness about the old house that
had crowned the heights above Penarrow point. To the labours of Bagnolo, Time and
Nature had added their own. Bagnolo had cut those handsome esplanades, had built those
noble balustrades bordering the three terraces with their fine connecting flights of steps;
himself he had planned the fountain, and with his own hands had carved the granite faun
presiding over it and the dozen other statues of nymphs and sylvan gods in a marble that
gleamed in white brilliance amid the dusky green. But Time and Nature had smoothed
the lawns to a velvet surface, had thickened the handsome boxwood hedges, and thrust up
those black spear-like poplars that completed the very Italianate appearance of that
Cornish demesne.