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of adopting modern conveniences and improvements than of conforming to the antiquated style of the original building.
The rambling structure bewildered the eye by a succession of varying gables, some originally decorated by projecting frames of richly carved oak, surmounted by crotcheted pinnacles crowned with a cross, most of which enrichments had crumbled away, or suffered defacement, from the corrosions of time. Even the monster-faced stone corbels, on which the woodwork had once rested, had lost some portion of their grim ugliness, their abraded and discoloured features now inspiring compassion rather than aversion, especially when the rain, escaping from the decayed spouts, fell like tear-drops from their furrowed faces.
A large Gothic window with heavy stone mullions branching into trefoil and quatrefoil divisions, which had once given light to the refectory, imparted to the principal gable an air of dignity but ill supported by its neighbours, whose projecting latticed casements, receding loopholes, or flat modern windows, peered forth from the massive walls with a comparative meanness. Above the centre of the steep ponderous roof stood, or rather tottered, the remains of a wooden belfry, a portion of which had either crumbled to decay, or had been blown down in some unremembered storm. The spacious fish-ponds of the garden, which had once supplied piscatory delicacies to the monks during Lent, and probably at all other times, had been long filled up; though the old brickwork of their margins was still visible. A sun-dial, minus the brass plate and gnomon, retained its place between them; and a colossal pigeon-house of stone, spite of its mannifest dilapidation, looked as if it would defy the final assaults of time for ages yet to come. Around the whole domain, which was of considerable extent, ran a massive wall of rough stones, fortified at regular intervals by solid buttresses.
After the death of its last occupant (a certain Lady Mayhew), the right to this venerable mansion had been contested by two claimants, by whose disputes the property was ultimately thrown into Chancery, and, in spite of the sneers and sarcasms which have associated that court with the notion of an almost interminable delay, candour compels us to admit that the process in question did not extend much beyond the term of nineteen years.
In vindication of its decisions, we must also record that, although a verdict was given in favour of the wrong party, the fortunate gainer of the suit, who had previously been in good circumstances, was completely ruined by its expense, so that there was a species of retributive justice even in its erroneous judgment.
The impoverished owner of the ManorHouse now offered it for sale; but, as it had assumed, from neglect during the litigation, a most forlorn and desolate appearance, no purchaser had appeared until about three weeks previous to the commencement of our history; when it had been bought, not without much sharp and strenuous haggling, by Adam Brown, a retired merchant, who, after giving orders for the hasty preparation of such apartments as he meant immediately to occupy, was expected to arrive and take possession of his new property on the afternoon which we are proceeding to describe.
Towards the latter end of autumn, the breezes which had tempered the heat of a sultry day had subsided into a dead calm ; the setting sun, shooting its rays in the direction of the Cheltenham high road, imparted an appearance of fiery smoke to the dust thrown up by a flock of sheep wending to their fold; the tops of the Cotswold Hills, burnished by the rays, shone out distinctly against the sky, while their lower ranges already began to be wreathed with ascending vapours; crows were making their heavy way back to the Manor-House rookery; horses and labourers were plodding wearily home from plough; cows, indolently whisking off the flies, were dawdling to their homestead ; not a cloud moved above, not a leaf below; it seemed as if the sky and the earth, exhausted by the fervours of the day, languidly awaited its decline, that they might enjoy the cool repose of night.
From this general air of drowsy tranquillity we must specially except that portion of the village which was in the immediate vicinity of the Green Man public-house and the bridge. Here there was an unusual assemblage of people, all animated by a rare curiosity and excitement, for on this spot a bonfire had been prepared to celebrate the arrival of the new Squire (as they termed the purchaser of the Manor-House), and here had a majority of the inhabitants been already waiting upwards of two hours, that they might have the first sight of the stranger and his equipage, and testify their respect for a village patron who was reported to be very wealthy, and who could hardly fail to benefit them by the large expenditure which his residence would occasion. Their impatience and eager anticipation had already led to one awkward mistake, for Jem Harris, an urchin stationed in the elm-tree that fronted the public-house, with orders to wave a flag as a signal to the bell-ringers at the church, mistook the dust of John Chubbs's market cart for that of the Squire's carriage, and by a hasty flourish of his flag occasioned a pre