This expedition began this morning almost an hour later than I had planned, despite my having completed my packing and loaded the Ford with all necessary items well before eight o’clock. What with Mrs Clements and the girls also gone for the week, I suppose I was very conscious of that once I departed, Darlington Hall would stand empty for probably the first time this century — perhaps for the first time since the day it was built. It was an odd feeling and perhaps accounts for why I delayed my departure so long, wandering around the house many times over, checking one time all was in order.
It is hard to explain my feelings once I did finally set off. For the first twenty minutes or so of motoring, I cannot say I was seized by any excitement or anticipation at all. This was due, no doubt to the fact that though I motored further and further from the house, continued to find myself in surroundings with which I had at least a passing acquaintance. Now I had always supposed I travelled very little, restricted as I am by my responsibilities in the house, but of course, over time one does make various excursions for one professional reason or another, and it would seem I become much more acquainted with those neighbouring districts than I had realised. For as I say I motored on in the sunshine towards the Berkshire border, I continued to be surprised by familiarity of the country around me.
But then eventually the surroundings grew unrecognizable and I knew I had gone beyond all previous boundaries. I have heard people describe the moment, when setting sail in a ship, when one loses sight of the land. I imagine the experience of unease mixed with exhilaration often described in connection with this moment is very similar to what I felt in the Ford as the surroundings strange to me. I took a turning and found myself on a road curving round the edge of a hill. I could sense the steep drop to my left, though could not see it due to the trees and thick foliage that lined the roadside. The feeling swept over me that I had truly left Darlington Hall behind, and I must confess I did feel a slight sense of alarm — a sense aggravated by the feeling that I was perhaps not I on the correct road at all, but speeding off in totally wrong direction into a wilderness. It was only the feeling of a moment, but it caused me to slow down. And even when I had assured myself I was on the right road, I felt compelled to stop the car a moment to take stock, as it were.
I decided to step out and stretch my legs a little and when I did so, I received a stronger impression than ever of being perched on the side of a hill. On the one side of the road, thickets and small trees rose sharply, while on the other I could now glimpse through the foliage the distant countryside.
I believe I had walked a little way along the roadside, peering through the foliage hoping to a better view, when I heard a voice behind me. Until this point, of course, I had believed myself quite alone and I turned in some surprise. A little way further up the road on the opposite side, I could see the start of a footpath, which disappeared sharply up into the thickets. Sitting on the large stone marked this spot was a thin, white-haired man in a cloth cap, smoking his pipe. He called to me and though I could not quite make out his words, I could see him gesturing for me to join a moment. I took him for a vagrant, but then I saw he was just some local fellow enjoying the air and summer sunshine, and saw no reason not to comply.
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Where was the old man that the writer came across?
- directly behind the writer
- at the side of the road looking out from the bushes
- in some trees at the top of a hill
- at the start of a footpath
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