It was winter, and great gusts were rattling at the windows; a very dark night, and a very cheerful fire, blazing in a genuine old fire-place in a sombre old room. A girl of a little more than seventeen, slight and rather tall, with a countenance rather sensitive and melancholy, was sitting at the tea-table in a reverie. I was that girl. The only other person in the room was my father, Mr. Ruthyn, of Knowl. Rather late in life he had married, and his beautiful young wife had died, leaving me to his care. This bereavement changed him–made him more odd and taciturn than ever. There was also some disgrace about his younger brother, my Uncle Silas, which he felt bitterly, and he had given himself up to the secluded life of a student.