Old Leo talks of the difficulties of remembering his time at Brandham Hall. “Certain things” are established in his mind as “facts,” but he can’t visualize them. Other memories come back to him strongly but are unverified by any facts, “like the landscape of a dream.” At the time of his visit, he kept his diary religiously, aiding his ability to recall the story.
Leo’s memories have been repressed for so long that some of them have become less clear. It’s a psychological distance as much as a temporal one: he has deliberately pushed the memories as far away as possible so that he can live a semblance of a normal life.
In Leo’s diary is transcribed a description of Brandham Hall in the directory of Norfolk county: “Brandham Hall, the seat of the Winlove family, is an imposing early Georgian mansion pleasantly situated on a plot of rising ground and standing in a park of some five hundred acres.” The entry also lists some of the significant paintings found in the Hall, by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Cuyp, Ruysdael, Hobbema, and Teniers the Younger.
The very fact that Brandham Hall is in the county directory shows that it is a significant building occupied by powerful people. The list of paintings shows that those who have lived in the Hall over the years have been rich enough to collect art.
Old Leo remembers admiring the double staircase, which to him looked like a “tilted horseshoe” or a “magnet.” But he is surprised that he doesn’t have a good memory of the front façade of the grand building. He does remember that Brandham Hall is cavernous, with lots of confusing passageways.
The magnet symbol appears again, reinforcing the idea that this is a story about attraction. Leo doesn’t really remember the front of the building because most of his time is spent inside it or exploring the surrounding estate. Arriving at the front is more associated with formality and adult socializing.
Young Leo and his friend Marcus share a room at the top of the Hall, with a single window set high in the wall from which they can only see the sky. Lots of guests come and go, with dinners of up to eighteen people. Old Leo remembers Mr. Maudsley and Mrs. Maudsley sitting at either end of the long dining table, the former taking up less space than was necessary for him, and the latter taking up more.
Leo and Marcus are removed from the adults because of their age. This will give them certain privileges (like being able to move about fairly undetected) but will have its downfalls too. The reader also learns here that Mrs. Maudsley is the Hall’s matriarch, a stern woman who seeks to control what happens in her home.
Young Leo sometimes encounters Mr. Maudsley around the grounds, but only ever exchanges a few words with him. He is often asked if he is “enjoying himself,” to which he replies “Yes, sir.” He finds it difficult to think of Mr. Maudsley as the “master” of the house.
Mr. Maudsley is relatively similar to Leo’s own father in that he is reserved and generally doesn’t like to socialize much. This doesn’t seem like behavior befitting the “master” of such a grand environment, and accordingly Mr. Maudsley does not serve as a male role model for Leo.
Old Leo cannot remember Mrs. Maudsley’s face particularly well—but he sees her often in his dreams. In these, he sees her “with the look of a portrait by Ingres or Goya, a face with dark, lustrous eyes.” In his dreams, Mrs. Maudsley is as “cordial” to Leo as she was at the start of his visit. He wonders if her spirit wants to “make it right” with him.
Here is further evidence that part of Leo still thinks in supernatural terms. This also shows that, despite his attempts to repress his memories, the psychological impact of what happened means they have haunted him his whole life. The idea that something needs to be “made right” indicates that part of Leo’s objective in revisiting the summer of 1900 is reconciliation and closure.
At young Leo’s first dinner at Brandham Hall, Mrs. Maudsley asks him if he is a magician. He says, “not really”—only at school. Leo makes a mental note to chastise Marcus for his breach of trust (children aren’t meant to tell much to their parents) and wonders how adults occupy themselves.
It’s against the school code to give away too much about others, but Marcus has broken that code here. Leo is self-consciously embarrassed to talk about magic with the refined upper-class adults of Brandham.
Leo meets Marcus’s brother, Denys, whom he finds quite unremarkable. He is much more intrigued by Marcus’ sister, Marian, who has “hair bright with sunshine.” He thinks of her as his first real encounter with beauty.
Marian makes a big impression on Leo (while Marcus’s brother doesn’t). Hartley here sets up Marian as a force of light in Leo’s world, but also as the sun that, in line with the prologue, he will fly too close to.
Old Leo finds an entry in the diary of something he had forgotten, which comes back with the “utmost vividness”: “Wednesday 11th of July. Saw the Deadly Nightshade — Atropa Belladonna.”
The deadly nightshade is a notoriously poisonous plant once used in witchcraft and for the poison tips of arrows. It’s early appearance in the story sets up a feeling of foreboding and supernatural threat.
Young Leo finds the Atropa belladonna plant when he’s wondering aimlessly around the estate grounds. He is especially attracted to the derelict outhouses, and it’s in one of these that he finds the plant—which to him seems more like “a tree” as it’s so tall. He knows that the nightshade is poisonous, but also finds it beautiful. He is afraid to go close to it and tiptoes away. But he resolves not to tell Mrs. Maudsley about the plant, fearing that she will order the gardeners to destroy it.
Leo explores the newfound sense of freedom that comes with staying on such a large estate. The fact that there are derelict buildings on the estate suggests that the Maudsleys are not completely on top of everything that is going on. Leo is afraid but also enchanted by the nightshade—he knows that he ought to tell Mrs. Maudsley about it, but his fascination with the supernatural prevents him from doing so.