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Authors: John Boyne

This House is Haunted

BOOK: This House is Haunted
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NOVELS
The House of Special Purpose
The Absolutist
Mutiny: A Novel of the Bounty
Next of Kin
Crippen
The Congress of Rough Riders
The Thief of Time
NOVELS FOR YOUNGER READERS
The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket
Noah Barleywater Runs Away
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
NOVELLAS
The Dare
The Second Child

 

 

 

 

For more information on John Boyne and his books, visit his Web site at
www.johnboyne.com

Copyright © John Boyne 2013

First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Doubleday,
an imprint of Transworld Publishers

Production Editor: Yvonne E. Cárdenas

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from Other Press LLC, except in the case of brief quotations in reviews for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast. For information write to Other Press LLC, 2 Park Avenue, 24th Floor, New York, NY 10016. Or visit our Web site:
www.otherpress.com

The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:

Boyne, John, 1971-
This house is haunted / by John Boyne.
pages cm
eISBN: 978-1-59051-680-5
1. Governesses—Fiction. 2. Family secrets—Fiction. 3. Haunted houses—East Anglia (England)—Fiction. 4. Ghost stories, English—19th century—Fiction. 5. East Anglia (England)—Fiction. I. Title.
PR6102.096T49 2013       823′.92—dc23
2013012034

Publisher’s Note:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

v3.1

For Sinéad

Contents

Cover

Other Books by This Author

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-one
Chapter Twenty-two
Chapter Twenty-three
Chapter Twenty-four
Chapter Twenty-five
Chapter Twenty-six

About the Author

Chapter One

London, 1867

I
BLAME
C
HARLES
D
ICKENS
for the death of my father.

In tracing the moment where my life transformed from serenity to horror, twisting the natural into the unspeakable, I find myself seated in the parlour of our small terraced home near Hyde Park, observing the frayed edges of the hearth rug and wondering whether it might be time to invest in a new one or try to repair it myself. Simple, domestic thoughts. It was raining that morning, an indecisive but unremitting shower, and as I turned away from the window to catch my reflection in the looking glass above the fireplace, I grew disheartened by my appearance. It was true that I had never been attractive but my skin appeared paler than usual, my dark hair wiry and unkempt. There was a certain hunched aspect to my shoulders as I sat, my elbows propped upon the table, a teacup positioned between my hands, and I tried to relax in an attempt to correct my posture. I did something foolish then—I smiled at myself—hoping that a manifestation of contentment would improve the rendering, and was startled when I noticed a second face, much smaller than my own, staring back at me from the lower corner of the mirror.

I gasped, a hand to my breast, then laughed at my folly, for the image I observed was nothing more than the reflection of a portrait of my late mother that was pinned to the wall behind my chair. The mirror was capturing both our likenesses side by side and I did not benefit from the comparison, for Mother was a very beautiful woman, with wide, bright eyes where mine were narrow and pallid, a feminine jawline where mine tended towards harsh masculinity, and a slender build where my own had always felt outsized and absurd.

The portrait was a familiar one, of course. It had been hanging on that wall for so long that perhaps I never really noticed it any more, in the way that one often ignores familiar things, like seat cushions or loved ones. However, that morning her expression somehow captured my attention and I found myself lamenting her loss anew, despite the fact that she had passed from this world to the next more than a decade before, when I was little more than a child. And I wondered then about the afterlife, about where her spirit might have settled after death and whether or not she had been watching over me all these years, taking pleasure in my small triumphs and grieving for my numerous mistakes.

The morning fog was beginning to descend on the street outside and a persistent wind was forcing its way down the chimney, tracking a path along the loose stonework within and diminishing only slightly as it entered the room, forcing me to wrap my shawl more closely around my shoulders. I shivered and longed to return to the warmth of my bed.

I was pulled out of my reverie, however, by a cry of delight from Father, who was sitting across from me, his herrings and eggs half-eaten, scanning the pages of the
Illustrated London News
. The issue had been lying unread since the previous
Saturday on a small table in that same room in which we sat, and I had intended on discarding it that morning, but some impulse had made Father decide to glance through its pages over breakfast. I looked up in surprise—it sounded as if something had passed his throat the wrong way—but his face was flushed with excitement and he folded the paper in two, tapping it several times with his fingers as he passed it across to me.

“Look, my dear,” he said. “The most wonderful thing!”

I took the newspaper and glanced at the page he had indicated. The article seemed to have something to do with a great conference that was scheduled to take place in London before Christmas in order to discuss affairs related to the North American continent. I read through a few paragraphs but quickly became lost in the political language, which seemed designed both to provoke and intrigue the reader simultaneously, before looking back at Father in confusion. He had never before shown any interest in American matters. Indeed, he had professed his belief on more than one occasion that those who lived on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean were nothing more than barbarous, antagonistic scoundrels who should never have been permitted independence, an act of disloyalty to the Crown for which the name of Portland should for ever after be damned.

“Well, what of it?” I asked. “You don’t plan on attending as a protester, surely? The museum would take a very dim view of your engaging in political matters, I think.”

“What?” he asked, confused by my response, before shaking his head quickly. “No, no,” he said. “Not the article about those villains. Leave them well alone, they have made their beds and they may lie in them and be damned for all I care. No, look to the left. The advertisement at the side of the page.”

I picked up the paper again and realized immediately what he was referring to. It was announced that Charles Dickens, the world-famous novelist, would read from his work the following evening, Friday, in a Knightsbridge speakers’ hall, a venue no more than a half hour’s walk from where we lived. Those who wished to attend were advised to come early, as it was well known that Mr. Dickens always attracted a substantial and enthusiastic audience.

“We must go, Eliza!” cried Father, beaming in delight and taking a mouthful of herring to celebrate.

Outside, a slate fell from the roof, unsettled by the wind, and crashed in the yard. I could hear movement in the eaves.

I bit my lip and read the advertisement again. Father had been suffering from a persistent cough that had weighed heavily on his chest for more than a week, and it was showing no sign of improvement. He had attended a doctor two days before and been prescribed a bottle of some green, glutinous liquid which I had to force him to take but which did not, in my view, appear to be doing much good. If anything, he seemed to be growing worse.

“Do you think it’s wise?” I asked. “Your illness has not quite passed yet and the weather is so inclement. You would be sensible to remain indoors in front of the fireplace for another few days, don’t you agree?”

“Nonsense, my dear,” he said, shaking his head, looking dismayed that I might deny him this great treat. “I’m almost entirely recovered, I assure you. By tomorrow night I shall be myself again.”

As if to belie that statement he immediately let forth a deep and sustained cough that forced him to turn away from me, his face growing red, his eyes streaming with tears. I ran to
the kitchen and poured a glass of water, set it before him and he took a deep draught, finally smiling at me with an expression that suggested mischief. “It’s just working its way out of my system,” he said. “I assure you that I’m improving by the hour.”

I glanced out the window. Had it been springtime, had the sun been shining through the branches of the blossoming trees, I might have felt more persuaded by his argument. But it was not springtime, it was autumn. And it seemed imprudent to me that he would risk further ill health for the sake of hearing Mr. Dickens speak in public when the novelist’s words could be more honestly located between the covers of his novels.

“Let’s see how you feel tomorrow,” I said, an attempt at conciliation, for surely no decision needed to be reached just yet.

“No, let us decide now and be done with it,” he insisted, setting the water aside and reaching for his pipe. He tapped the remains of last night’s fug into his saucer before refilling it with the particular brand of tobacco that he had favoured since he was a young man. A familiar scent of cinnamon and chestnuts drifted through the air towards me; Father’s tobacco held a strong infusion of the spice and whenever I detected it elsewhere it always recalled the warmth and the comfort of home. “The museum has permitted me to remain away from my post until the end of the week. I shall stay indoors all day today and tomorrow and then in the evening we shall don our greatcoats and go together to hear Mr. Dickens speak. I would not miss it for the world.”

I sighed and nodded, knowing that for all he relied upon my advice, this was one decision upon which he was determined to have his way.

“Capital!” he cried, striking a match and allowing it to burn for a few seconds to disperse the sulphur before holding it to the chamber and sucking on the bit so contentedly that I could not help but smile at how much pleasure it afforded him. The darkness of the room, coupled with the mixed light from candles, fire and pipe, made his skin seem ghostly thin and my smile diminished slightly to recognize how much he was ageing. When had our roles altered so much, I wondered, that I, the daughter, should have to grant permission for an outing to him, the parent?

Chapter Two

F
ATHER HAD ALWAYS
been an impassioned reader. He maintained a carefully selected library in his ground-floor study, a room to which he would retire when he wanted to be alone with his thoughts and memories. One wall housed a series of volumes dedicated to his particular study, entomology, a subject that had fascinated him since childhood. As a boy, he told me, he rather horrified his parents by keeping dozens of samples of living insects in a glass box in the corner of his bedroom. In the opposite corner he kept a second display case, exhibiting their corpses
post mortem
. The natural progression of the insects from one side of the room to the other was a source of great satisfaction to him. He did not want to see them die, of course, preferring to study their habits and interactions while they were still alive, but he was industrious in keeping a series of journals relating to their behaviour during development, maturity and decomposition. Naturally the maids protested at having to clean the room—one even resigned in protest at being asked—and his mama refused to enter it. (His family had money back then, hence the presence of domestics. An older brother, dead many years by now, had
squandered the inheritance and so we had enjoyed few such extravagances.)

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