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Table of Contents
I will not deny that I took a pleasure in studying the character of Mrs Widdup, nor that to me she seemed to possess a good deal of worth of a particular kind. Thirty years ago (our acquaintance dated its commencement thus far back) I had believed very heartily in her worth without studying her character. She then ruled me as one of a flock of four – her nurslings. Of this flock I was not her favourite; indeed my place was lowest in her grace. Even through boyhood and adolescence she held me for a riddle rather than a model. After two decades of separation and more than half a generations’s change beheld us again under the same roof, still the housekeeper of Ellin Hall, while respecting its master, revolved him day and night as an unsolved conundrum.
It was and must be so: habit and circumstances attached us, but nothing could combine, nothing quite unfold.
In a certain sense Mrs Widdup was spotlessly honest; she had the fidelity of a consistent and steady nature; she was a partisan in friendship, an unflinching foe; she was usually humane and cheerful. She was narrow-minded, loved money, and by natural instinct still leant to the guidance of interest. Fidelity, partisanship, interest, all counselled her to attachment to the Ellin family, and accordingly she was attached to me, that family’s surviving representative.
Ellin Hall had for five ages been the home of the Ellins. In my youth it passed out of their hands. My eldest half-brother sold it. He died suddenly, leaving neither will nor direct heir; his fortune fell to me, and I purchased back the ancient homestead. That eldest half-brother of mine was a stronger man in body and a tyrant in heart. I would advert to his deeds, but they are such as we suffer Death to cancel from memory.
Table of Contents
In other countries, and in distant times, it is possible that more of my kind might have been attracted to human dwellings – hut or mansion – and secretly taken them in lease, than for these hundred years past have been known to make their home in such abodes. Yet we were always few, our presence rare, its signs faint, and its proofs difficult to seize.
My house was not picturesque: it had no turrets, no battlements, no mullioned or lozenged windows. From the first, however, I believe its stones were grey, dug from a grey quarry on a grey waste. They who planned it had loved fresh air, and had chosen a raised site, building it where the green ground swelled highest. Its outlook was free and four-fold: it commanded both sunrise and sunset, and viewed an equal and a wide expanse north and south. These builders, too, preferred solitude to convenience: the village was distant – near enough, perhaps, in summer weather, but remote for a winter’s day walk. As to a sentimental peculiarity of the vicinage, I believe the first owners had not known nor reckoned it in their choice of ground. The short, green, flower-bearing turf around covered an ancient burying-ground – so ancient that all the sleepers under the flowers had long ago ceased to be either clay or bone, and were become fine mould, throwing out violets in May, and a carpet of close silken grass all spring, summer, and autumn. These violets were white, and in their season they gathered thickly in a bleached wreath about what seemed a deep-sunk and iron-grey rock – the sole left foundation stone of a forgotten chapel, or the basement of a cross broken away. A quiet gable of the house looked upon this mossy bit of mead. In the lower story of the gable was no aperture, in the upper a single window, having before it a balcony of stone, a peculiarity rare in that neighbourhood, forming indeed the distinctive feature of the house and originating its name – Ellin Balcony.
Who am I? Was I owner of the house? No. Was I its resident tenant, taking it perhaps on lease, and paying the rent? No. Was I a child of the family? No. A servant? No. Ask me no more questions for they are difficult to meet. I was there, and it was my house.
I recollect the first hour that I knew it. I came to consciousness at a moment within the rim of twilight. I came upward out of earth – not downward from heaven, and what first welcomed and seemed to aid me to life was a large disk high over me, a globule, clear, cragged, and desolate. I saw the moon before I could see the sky; but that too, night-veiled and star-inspired, soon opened for me. A sweet silence watched my birth-hour. I took affection for this mossy spot, I stole all through building and nook of land. In the mild beam and pure humidity of a midsummer night I found my seal and sign printed here in dew and there in moonbeam on roof and lawn of Ellin Balcony.