THE spring of 1879 was unusually forward and open. Over the Lowlands the green of early corn spread smoothly, the chestnut spears burst in April, and the hawthorn hedges flanking the white roads which laced the countryside blossomed a month before time. In the inland villages farmers exulted cautiously and children ran barefooted after watering carts; in the towns which flanked the wide river the clangour of the shipyards lost its insistence and, droning

through the mild air, mounted to the foothills behind, where the hum of a precocious bee mingled with it and the exuberant bleating of lambs overcame it; in the city, clerks shed their coals for coolness and lolled in offices, execrating the sultry weather, the policy of Lord Beaconsfield, the news of the Zulu War, and the high cost of beer.

Thus, over the whole estuary of the Clyde, from Glasgow to Portdoran, upon Overton, Darroch, Ardfillan those towns which, lying between the Winton and Doran hills, formed the three cardinal points of the fertile triangle upon the right bank of the firth over the ancient Borough of Levenford, which stood bisecting exactly the base line of this triangle at the point where Leven entered Clyde, over all lay the radiance of a dazzling sun and, lapped in this strange benignant heat, the people worked, idled, gossiped, grumbled, cheated, prayed, loved, and lived.

Over Levenford, on this early day of May, thin wisps of cloud had hung languidly in the tired air, but now in the late afternoon these gossamer filaments moved slowly on to activity. A warm breeze sprang up and puffed them across the sky, when, having propelled them out of sight, it descended upon the town, touching first the high historic rock which marked the confluence of the tributary

Leven with its parent stream, and which stood, a landmark, outlined clearly against the opal sky like the inert body of a gigantic elephant. The mild wind circled the rock, then passed quickly through the hot, mean streets of the adjoining Newtown and wandered amongst the tall stocks, swinging cranes and the ribbed framework of half- formed ships in the busy yards of Latta and Company along the river's mouth. Next it wafted slowly along Church Street, as befitted

the passage of a thoroughfare dignified by the Borough Hall, the Borough Academy and the Parish Church, until, free of the sober street, it swirled jauntily in the advantageously open space of the Cross, moved speculatively between the rows of shops in the High Street, and entered the more elevated residential district of Knoxhill.

But here it tired quickly of sporting along the weathered, red sand-stone terraces and rustling the ivy on the old stone houses, and seeking the countryside beyond, passed inland once more, straying amongst the prim villas of the select quarter of Wellhall, and fanning the little round plots of crimson-faced geraniums in each front garden. Then, as it drifted carelessly along the decorous thoroughfare which led from this genteel region to the adjacent open country, suddenly it chilled as it struck the last house in the road.

This was a singular dwelling. In size it was small, of such dimensions that it could not have contained more than seven rooms; in its construction solid, with the hard stability of new grey stones; in its architecture unique.

The base of the house had the shape of a narrow rectangle with the wider aspect directed towards the street, with walls which arose, not directly from the earth, but from a stone foundation a foot longer and wider than themselves, and upon which the whole structure seemed to sustain itself like an animal upon its deep-dug paws. The frontage arising from this supporting pedestal reared itself with a cold severity to terminate in one half of its extent in a steeply pitched

gable and in the other in a low parapet which ran horizontally to join another gable, similarly shaped to that in front, which formed the coping of the side wall of the house. These gables were peculiar, each converging in a series of steep right-angled steps to a chamfered apex which bore with pompous dignity a large round ball of polished grey granite and, each in turn, merging into and becoming continuous with the parapet which, ridged and serrated regularly and deeply after the fashion of a battlement, fettered them together, forming thus a heavy stone-linked chain which embraced the body of the house like a manacle.

At the angle of the side gable and the front wall, and shackled likewise by this encircling fillet of battlement, was a short round tower, ornamented in its middle by a deep-cut diamond-shaped recess, carved beneath into rounded, diminishing courses which fixed it to the angle of the wall, and rising upwards to crown itself in a turret which carried a thin, reedy flagstaff. The heaviness of its upper dimensions made the tower squat, deformed, and gave to it the

appearance of a broad frowning forehead disfigured by a deep grooved stigma; while the two small embrasured windows which pierced it brooded from beneath the brow like secret, close-set eyes.

Immediately below this tower stood the narrow doorway of the house, the lesser proportion of its width giving it a meagre, inhospitable look, like a thin repellent mouth, its sides ascending above the horizontal lintel in a steep ogee curve encompassing a shaped and gloomy filling of darkly stained glass and ending in a sharp lancet point. The windows of the dwelling, like the doorway, were narrow and unbevelled, having the significance merely of apertures stabbed

through the thickness of the walls, grudgingly admitting light, yet sealing the interior from observation.

The whole aspect of the house was veiled, forbidding, sinister; its purpose likewise hidden and obscure. From its very size it failed pitifully to achieve the boldness and magnificence of a baronial dwelling, if this, indeed, were the object of its pinnacle, its ramparts and the repetition of its sharp-pitched angles. And yet, in its coldness, hardness and strength, it could not be dismissed as seeking merely the smug attainment of pompous ostentation. Its battlements were formal but not ridiculous; its design extravagant but never ludicrous; its grandiose architecture contained some quality which restrained merriment, some deeper, lurking, more perverse motive, sensed upon intensive

scrutiny, which lay about the house like a deformity and stood within its very structure like a violation of truth in stone.

The people of Levenford never laughed at this house, at least never openly. Something, some intangible potency pervading the atmosphere around it, forbade them even to smile.

No garden fronted the habitation but instead a gravelled courtyard, bare, parched, but immaculate, and containing in its centre the singular decoration of a small brass cannon, which, originally part of a frigate's broadside, had long since joined in its last salvo, and after years in the junk yard, now stood prim and polished between two attendant symmetrical heaps of balls, adding the last touch of incongruity to this fantastic domicile.

At the back of the house was a square grassy patch furnished at its corners with four iron clothes poles and surrounded by a high stone wall, against which grew a few straggling currant bushes, sole vegetation of this travesty of a garden, except for a melancholy tree which never blossomed and which drooped against a window of the kitchen.

Through this kitchen window, screened though it was by the lilac tree, it was possible to discern something of the interior. The room was plainly visible as commodious, comfortably though not agreeably furnished, with horsehair chairs and sofa, an ample table, with a bow-fronted chest of drawers against one wall and a large mahogany dresser flanking another. Polished wax-cloth covered the floor, yellow varnished paper the walls, and a heavy marble timepiece adorned

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