The gentle reader will believe no one of the fantastic legends here recorded; possibly they were not believed by their very fabricators. They are useful only as tending to show the moral atmosphere of the house and its occupants. There is sometimes a subtile symbolic element inwoven with such tales, which—though not the truth—helps us to apprehend the truth when we come to know it. Moreover, the fanciful parts of history are to the facts as clouds to a landscape; a picture is incomplete without them; they aid in bringing out the distances, and cast lights and shadows over tracts else harsh and bare.
Beyond what he had gathered from the ancient mariner, Balder Helwyse knew nothing of these fearful fables. This perhaps accounted for the boldness wherewith he pursued his way towards the mysterious house, following in the airy wake of the clear-throated little hoopoe.
Face to face.
The ground-plan of the house was like a capital H placed endwise towards the river. The northern side consisted of the original brick building and the additions of the second period; the southern was that stone edifice which so few persons had been lucky enough to see. The centre or cross-piece comprised the grand entrance-hall and staircase, heavily panelled with dark oak, and the floor flagged with squares of black and white marbles.
This entrance-hall opened eastward into a generous conservatory, filling the whole square court between the wings at that end. The corresponding western court was devoted to the roomy portico. Two or three broad steps mounted to a balcony twenty feet deep and nearly twice as wide, protected by a lofty roof supported on slender Moorish columns. Crossing this, one came to the hall-door, likewise Moorish in arch and ornamentation. Considered room by room and part by part, the house was good and often beautiful; taken as a whole, it was the craziest amalgamation of incongruities ever conceived by human brain.
Balder, approaching from the north, trod enjoyingly the silken grass. No misgiving had he; his uncle would hardly be from home, nor would he be apt to discredit his nephew’s identity. His face had already been evidence to more than one former knower of his father, and why not also to his uncle?
The house was more than half a mile in a direct line from the birch-tree, and presented an imposing appearance; but on drawing near, the odd architectural discrepancies became noticeable. Side by side with the prosy Americanism of the northern wing, sprang gracefully the Moorish columns of the portico; beyond, uprose in massive granite, quaintly inscribed and carved, and strengthened by heavy pilasters, the ponderous Egyptian features of the southern portion. The latter was neither storied nor windowed, and, as Balder conjectured, probably contained but a single vast room, lighted from within.