The mists rolled back discreetly, the pearly curtain lifted demurely, as if conscious of the splendour that it concealed, then the turrets of Borne Abbey raised their carved pinnacles into the blue of the summer morning. The long white mantle folded itself slowly backward, and the house stood in view like some perfect picture with the great sweep of its famous beech trees behind. Where a moment before there had been nothing visible but the thin grey envelope of the mist and dew, stood now a long, low house, a miracle of cunning architecture, stained to a fine red-brown by the deft hand of the passing centuries. For this you cannot buy or manufacture, for it comes only with the passage of the years, and many a storm and many a shine goes to the exquisite making of it.
And there is nothing finer or more beautiful on the English countryside than Borne Abbey. It has all the strength and weight of a cathedral, with the grace and finish given it by such masters of the art of building as Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones and Pugin. Add to this the poetry in stonework of a Grinling Gibbons, and there stands out the faint picture of what Borne Abbey is like.
Indeed, the place had an atmosphere of its own. It lay there in the sunshine, glistening in the early moisture like some mythological beauty, fresh from a bath of sea spray, the sky bent, blue and grey and opalescent, behind the wondrous carvings and the quaint beauties of the twisted chimney stacks. For a whole three hundred feet the south front stretched itself along its flank of velvet lawns where the flowers were rioting in their beds, and beyond all this, the park extended almost to the sea. It looked like what it was, a cradle of heroes and men who have left their mark upon the blood-stained pages of history.
For nearly four hundred years the Cranwallis family had lived here, lords of broad acres and suzerain of a many goodly manors. Here was a house, at least, where the modern millionaire came not, and the plutocrat gave no trouble. It would never have occurred to Egbert Cranwallis, eighth Earl of Sherringborne, that such a possibility or such a contingency might arise. He knew that certain peers of his, drifting along the tide of modern democracy, had come under the glamour of the cheque book, but then, in their cases, poor men, it was oft-times a matter of sheer necessity. So far as he was concerned he had his rent roll, he could afford to play the part of the grand seigneur, and, to do him justice, he played it exceedingly well. It was no acting on his part, it was a clear dispensation of Providence, and he would know how to give an account of his stewardship when his time came to answer the roll-call.
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