Chapter 1

One of the old roads leaving a well-known county town in the west of England climbs a long slope and finally reaches a kind of open plain, a windy spot from which a wide prospect of the countryside is available. Fields of corn occupy the near and middle distance, while the rolling downs further off are grazed by numerous flocks of sheep. Much closer at hand there stands a clump of tall pines and other trees, the branches of which overhang a brick wall surrounding a dwelling of some substantial kind. Chimneys and a roof may be glimpsed especially in winter, but the wall is of sufficient height to obstruct the gaze of any pedestrians on the road, and the house remains as well hidden as if it were deep in a wood. Most wayfarers pass by scarcely aware of its existence. Yet a few curious souls, noticing a white entrance gate set in the wall, occasionally linger to ask themselves who may live in such a secluded, lonely place. On a blue November dawn, not long before the present time, an old man might have been observed walking down the short drive that led from the house to the gate...

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