When William Came HTML version

Yeovil got out of the train at a small, clean, wayside station, and rapidly formed the
conclusion that neatness, abundant leisure, and a devotion to the cultivation of
wallflowers and wyandottes were the prevailing influences of the station-master’s life.
The train slid away into the hazy distance of trees and meadows, and left the traveller
standing in a world that seemed to be made up in equal parts of rock garden, chicken
coops, and whiskey advertisements. The station-master, who appeared also to act as
emergency porter, took Yeovil’s ticket with the gesture of a kind-hearted person brushing
away a troublesome wasp, and returned to a study of the Poultry Chronicle, which was
giving its readers sage counsel concerning the ailments of belated July chickens. Yeovil
called to mind the station-master of a tiny railway town in Siberia, who had held him in
long and rather intelligent converse on the poetical merits and demerits of Shelley, and he
wondered what the result would be if he were to engage the English official in a
discussion on Lermontoff—or for the matter of that, on Shelley. The temptation to
experiment was, however, removed by the arrival of a young groom, with brown eyes
and a friendly smile, who hurried into the station and took Yeovil once more into a world
where he was of fleeting importance.
In the roadway outside was a four-wheeled dogcart with a pair of the famous Torywood
blue roans. It was an agreeable variation in modern locomotion to be met at a station
with high-class horseflesh instead of the ubiquitous motor, and the landscape was not of
such a nature that one wished to be whirled through it in a cloud of dust. After a quick
spin of some ten or fifteen minutes through twisting hedge-girt country roads, the roans
turned in at a wide gateway, and went with dancing, rhythmic step along the park drive.
The screen of oak-crowned upland suddenly fell away and a grey sharp-cornered building
came into view in a setting of low growing beeches and dark pines. Torywood was not a
stately, reposeful-looking house; it lay amid the sleepy landscape like a couched
watchdog with pricked ears and wakeful eyes. Built somewhere about the last years of
Dutch William’s reign, it had been a centre, ever since, for the political life of the
countryside; a storm centre of discontent or a rallying ground for the well affected, as the
circumstances of the day might entail. On the stone-flagged terrace in front of the house,
with its quaint leaden figures of Diana pursuing a hound-pressed stag, successive squires
and lords of Torywood had walked to and fro with their friends, watching the
thunderclouds on the political horizon or the shifting shadows on the sundial of political
favour, tapping the political barometer for indications of change, working out a party
campaign or arranging for the support of some national movement. To and fro they had
gone in their respective generations, men with the passion for statecraft and political
combat strong in their veins, and many oft-recurring names had echoed under those
wakeful-looking casements, names spoken in anger or exultation, or murmured in fear
and anxiety: Bolingbroke, Charles Edward, Walpole, the Farmer King, Bonaparte, Pitt,
Wellington, Peel, Gladstone—echo and Time might have graven those names on the
stone flags and grey walls. And now one tired old woman walked there, with names on
her lips that she never uttered.