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Danielle Arney lives

close

to

an old railway

embankment. She has always loved exploring and uncovering hidden treasures. This, in combination with her love of old houses and secrets inspired her to follow her dream to write a book and have it published.

Witherstone

For all the girls, in alphabetical order: Alex, Ashaleigh, Hattie, Maddie and Sabrina. Enjoy it!

D a n i e l l e

A r n e y

Witherstone

D a n i e l l e A r n e y Witherstone

Copyright © Danielle Arney

The right of Danielle Arney to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication

may be

reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any

form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,

recording, or otherwise, publishers.

without the prior permission of the

Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

ISBN 9781849633086

www.austinmacauley.com

First Published (2013) Austin & Macauley Publishers Ltd. 25 Canada Square Canary Wharf London E14 5LB

Printed & Bound in Great Britain

Chapter 1

Aira stared blankly out of the car window. Distorted by speed, the outside world became a confusing blur. She had ceased to notice however, lost in thoughts of happier times before the crash, before her mother had died. Aira could not

understand why her mother had been taken from her and with no one to blame for the accident she had resorted to blaming the only thing she could Witherstone Manor. She blamed the house’s derelict grandeur for the effect that it

had on her parents; if it had not managed to captivate the

interest of her father and in turn enchanted her mother, then Lilias Thwaite would never have been driving home alone along the deserted country road.

‘Sweetheart?’ The sound of her father’s voice shook Aira from her reverie and she turned her head slowly to look at him. ‘It won’t be long sweetheart, fifteen more minutes or so and we’ll be there.’ William’s voice sounded unnaturally loud to Aira in the

relative silence of the car and she shook her head as if to

clear her mind of the interruption.

‘Aira, did you hear what I said?’

Her eyes lingered a moment on her father’s face then flickered back towards the window as she softly replied, Yes, I heard you.’ William glanced quickly at his daughter, his eyes full of sorrow and concern. He wished he could somehow make things different for her, take away the hurt and pain that she

was feeling, but he was powerless to do so. All he could do was reassure her that things would get better, that in time

she would feel at peace, but he wasn’t sure that this was

possible. The sorrow he felt seemed only to deepen, with every passing moment he missed his beautiful wife more and more. He glanced at Aira once again; noticing the familiar expression of solemnity and marvelling at how similar her features were to that of her mother, before turning his attention back to the deserted country road.

In the distance a length of blue and white tape fluttered in the breeze, tracing a haunting pattern in the sky. Skid

marks scarred the black tarmac, standing out starkly like open wounds on undamaged skin. Up above two birds circled each other; swooping and darting about they appeared to be dancing in the sky. Aira watched rapturously as the birds continued to fly, captivated by how gracefully they moved in the air. As she followed the birds with her eyes she caught sight of the tape as it was whipped furiously by a gust of wind. Her heart plummeted into her stomach as she let out an audible gasp.

‘I’m sorry Aira,’ she heard her father say and his voice ’

....

but he broke

cracked as he added, ‘this is the only way

off as he heard her crying. William slowed the car down as they approached the

site of the accident and spoke hesitantly, ‘Aira, umm, I, uh,

I brought flowers. Aira?’ He looked across to the passenger

seat she had turned her head away from him but he could see her shoulders shaking and hear her muffled sobs.

Touching her arm gently he spoke again, ‘Aira, do you want to lay the flowers with me?’

She remained silent as he pulled out across the traffic and stopped on the verge on the other side of the road. As he stepped out of the car William turned to look at his

daughter before heading towards the boot and removing a

beautiful wreath from the car. He had chosen the planting carefully, selecting lilies for his darling Lilias, as he could not think of a more beautiful way to remember her. The wreath itself was stunning the pink and white lilies were accompanied by luscious green foliage and stood out majestically yet somehow unobtrusively. It was as if the lilies themselves had been grown naturally into the arrangement, to which they seemed so much to belong. It was a fitting tribute to a woman whose love had so encompassed all who surrounded her. Aira watched William walk towards the tree and felt a sudden, aching need to join him. The pain was so intense; she felt as though she had been stabbed in the heart and she

got out of the car and ran over to her father. She stood by him for a moment, looking at the array of flowers that had been placed by well-wishers around the base of the tree; tulips and posies, carnations and freesias of all varieties and colours.

‘Dad, can I

...

?’

she faltered, then spoke again, ‘Can I

...

?’

Aira didn’t need to finish the question; William pressed the

flowers into her hand and stood still, tears silently falling down his face. He watched as she laid the flowers gently onto the floor before softly tracing the indents on the tree

with her fingertips, as if by healing its wounds she could finally begin to heal her own.

‘I’ll never forget you Mum, I promise. I love you so much,’ she whispered softly as she turned and walked slowly away.

The road toward Witherstone Manor meandered lazily and as they rounded another corner William found himself driving into a tree tunnel. Branches of beech, oak and ash entwined to create a living, breathing covering across the road that stretched ahead into the distance. Light filtered through the canopy, creating an amalgamation of green: lime, olive, forest, myrtle and pine.

Though the canopy itself fluoresced, the light was unable to penetrate through the dense foliage, casting a dark shadow across the road ahead. Aira looked to the left; the gnarled, twisted tree trunks threaded together and she thought that if it were not for the sunlight filtering softly through the gaps in the branches the forest would be rather foreboding. Through the trees Aira caught glimpses of grey stone in the distance and saw flashes of light bouncing off what she could only assume were windows. She wondered if it was Witherstone Manor that she was glimpsing through the trees and found herself hoping that it was. Though the house held painful memories for her she was quite excited to finally be arriving; she had long been fascinated by the past, by the stories of people long gone and of secrets forgotten, or, as yet, undiscovered. The sun suddenly appeared, almost blinding Aira and she realised that the branches of the trees no longer joined up overhead. The abrupt ending of the tunnel of trees seemed to signify the end of the road, despite the fact that the road itself seemed to carry on into the distance until it met the line of the horizon. The lack of trees puzzled Aira for a moment but her confusion soon abated when William turned left onto a small and somewhat dilapidated road. The tarmac was old and had come away in places, making the ride particularly bumpy and uncomfortable. Aira was glad of the comfortable seating in the car her father had insisted upon buying; William had always loved the sleek lines and comfort of his BMW and when the newer saloon model had been released he had felt compelled to purchase one for himself. This had sparked a furious argument between him and Lilias who had pointed out that as they had just bought a new house they could hardly afford the expense of a new car. William, however, maintained that the car was a necessity, claiming that the

wear and tear on the old car was giving potential clients a bad impression; he argued that the more successful he appeared to be the more likely he was to find well-paid,

high profile work. He had reminded his wife that although architects were in great demand there was fierce competition for the best jobs and in the end it was this fact

that had changed Lilias’ mind.

The car turned smoothly round a corner and Witherstone Manor loomed into view. Aira gasped,

completely awestruck, ‘It’s amazing isn’t it?’ William commented. ‘I fell in love with it the first time I saw it – so did your mother’. He smiled fondly, remembering the look

on Lilias’ face the first time he had brought her to the

house.

‘It’s ....

wow!’ Aira was lost for words; the splendour of

the place was such that it had rendered her speechless. As they got closer William slowed down and pulled to a stop outside a grand pair of wrought iron gates. The iron had been intricately formed into a pattern that resembled flowers on a vine; above the gates was a wrought iron archway with a circle in the centre. Inside the circle was an ornate S perched on top of an equally ornate W, the middle of which had been shortened so the S did not sit above the level of the top of the W. Ivy had grown up across part of the gates adding to both their charm and Aria’s feeling of enchantment. As William opened the gates Aira got her first full view of the Manor and its grounds. There was a long avenue leading towards the house and it was lined with well- established oriental beech trees. As they got nearer Aira noticed a large three-tiered stone fountain that seemed to function as a roundabout. To the right of the Manor the forest stretched away into the distance and to the left the entrance to the kitchen gardens and orchards was just about visible. The grounds

looked unkempt and had obviously not been attended to in a very long time. William pulled up on the left hand side of the house and parked the car. Aira undid her seatbelt and stepped outside, looking up at her new home. The grey stone building was three storeys tall and a stone parapet surrounded the roof, which was made from some form of dark grey slate. The stone itself was worn and ivy and lichen covered the walls in some places, adding to, not detracting from, the charm of the building. On the ground and first floors large, twelve-paned sash windows sat in wooden frames and although all of the panes of glass were in place many were cracked and would need replacing. Aira looked upwards, noticing the smaller six- paned dormer windows on the top floor and she suddenly remembered that these would have been the windows in the

servants’ quarters.

William walked towards the Manor and Aira followed him, stopping to admire the heavy oak door that was the entrance to the building. Intricately carved with flowers and

flowering vines, the door had a large cast iron knocker that

depicted bluebells with the inscription ‘marceolapis’ written

underneath.

‘Do you know what that means?’ William asked his

daughter, nodding his head in the direction of the door.

‘Do I know what what means?’ she asked, looking

inquiringly back at him.

‘The inscription, underneath the bluebells,’ he replied. ‘Oh, so that’s what they are, bluebells,’ she exclaimed, ‘and no, I don’t know what the inscription means’.

‘Well, interestingly, it’s actually Witherstone, loosely translated into Latin I looked into it when I got home, the first time I came up here,’ he told her, smiling at the way

her face had lit up. ‘Wow, that is pretty cool actually,’ she replied, looking back at the door and tracing her finger over the inscription.

William came and stood next to her, taking a large brass key from inside his jacket pocket. He looked towards the doorknob, which, like the door, was decorated with flowers and flowering vines and held the key out to Aira.

‘Would you like to do the honours?’ he asked and she

looked at him, her eyes full of excitement.

‘Thanks Dad!’ she replied as she took the key and put it

into the lock. The lock was stiff and the key was difficult to

turn, but eventually she heard the lock click. Aira turned the knob and glanced backwards, taking one last look at the drive before pushing open the door and stepping inside.

Chapter 2

The entrance hall was rather dark and dim: the bright sunlight seemed unable to filter through the dusty windows, casting long shadows across the ancient wooden floor.

Aira’s eyes were immediately drawn to the grand oak

staircase; stretching toward the heavens, it filled the cavernous space, seamlessly connecting the two floors and enticing the onlooker to travel upwards.

‘Magic, isn’t it?’ William asked, as Aira jumped

involuntarily lost in her thoughts and the darkness of the hall, she had quite forgotten that she was not alone.

‘Hmm, it does sort of have a magical quality I suppose, ’

She left

it’s like it’s leading us onwards, drawing us in

.... the sentence unfinished, as if she were apprehensive to run with the thought, unwilling to travel along with it. ‘I’d better show you around this floor then, before you get spirited away!’ William chuckled, and seeing the humour in the situation Aira laughed too. ‘Yes, perhaps you’d better!’ Tearing her eyes away from the staircase, she looked around the entrance hall; the paper was peeling from the wall in places and a thick layer of dust covered four doors that led to rooms as yet unexplored. Eager to discover the rooms behind the doors, Aira glanced around looking for her father. William stood in front of the nearest of two doors on the left hand side of the entrance hall. As Aira approached he held open the door and ushered her inside. ‘Welcome,’ he announced, ‘to the lounge.’

‘Wow!’ gasped Aira. ‘It’s amazing’. Her eyes settled

upon the large marble fireplace and she stared astounded at the impressive gilt-framed mirror that hung above the mantelpiece, surprised that it had remained intact after so many years. Three large sofas surrounded the fireplace and a battered piano sat in the far right corner of the room. An elegant chandelier hung from the ceiling. Decorated with glittering crystals, it bounced light around the room, creating interesting shapes on the walls and floor. The pattern on the walls was indiscernible: eighty-four years of sunlight had stripped the paper of its colours and if it were not for the reflections from the crystals the walls would have looked somewhat bland.

‘We won’t need to do much in here,’ William said. ‘It’ll

just be a case of replacing some of the glass, re-staining the

floorboards, sprucing up the chairs and piano and maybe re-

papering the walls.’ ‘Hmm,’ Aira replied. ‘Well, shall we go through to the next room?’ William

asked, opening a door at the end of the lounge and stepping

into a similar room of smaller proportions. A moth-eaten

sofa sat against the far wall and Aira wondered who had sat

on it last, suddenly curious about the house’s previous

owners. She opened her mouth to ask her father, but closed it again, deciding to look around the house and try to work it out for herself. She noticed another door on the right hand side of the room and crossed the floor towards it. When she reached it she turned the brass handle and pushed the door, but it would not open. Aira tried pulling the door towards her instead, but still it would not budge. She studied the doorknob, looking for a keyhole and though she found one she could not locate a key, nor could she see anything jammed inside the lock. Aira was so intent on her task that she did not hear her father approach and remained unaware of his presence until he spoke.

‘Very interesting that door. No key on either side as far

as I can tell, nothing obstructing the lock and yet I still

haven’t been able to get the damn thing open.’ ‘What’s in the room?’ Aira asked. ‘Well that’s the curious thing,’ William replied. ‘I’ve no idea. There’s another door to the room that leads off the parlour, but it’s the same thing – it just won’t open.’ ‘Isn’t there anything you can do?’ she asked. ‘Aren’t

there some plans or something that tell you how to get it

open, or if there’s another way to get in?’ ‘Unfortunately not – the plans I have show the two entrances to the room, but sadly they’re not going to help me to discover what’s inside. They’ll give me its size, but

that’s as good as it’s going to get I’m afraid. I’m hoping the key’s going to turn up somewhere, but if it doesn’t I’ll have to call in a locksmith.’ ‘Why don’t you call in a locksmith now?’ Aira asked,

disappointed that he had not already done so.

‘To be honest sweetie, it’s rather low on my list of priorities. Besides, it’ll be far more interesting to wait a bit, to see if the key turns up. I rather like having a bit of mystery about the place, it makes it more interesting adds charm to the house!’

‘Yep, you’re right about that,’ Aira said, not the least bit disappointed any longer, owing to the excitement of having

her very own mystery to solve. Interested to find out what other secrets she could uncover, she walked back through the lounge and out into the entrance hall. She opened the far door, which led into a small room furnished with two sofas, a lounge chair and a small mahogany table. Two doors led off the room; the far door was locked, denying entry to the mysterious room behind. The door on the right, however, was open and led into a large library with an impressive sash window. Each sash comprised of

six panes of glass, three across and two up, giving a ‘six over six’ panel window, a classic style in Georgian times.

The room was cavernous; a balcony dissected the wall, creating a second floor and adding to the illusion of space. Bookcases lined every wall, full of antique books of varying shapes and sizes. Rails ran around the room above the shelves upon which ladders were mounted and a small sweeping staircase led up to the balcony. Aira ran up the

stairs two at a time, reaching the top and surveying the room below. ‘It’s amazing,’ she called down to her father. ‘There are so many books to read.’ She knew she could while away

hours in this room, looking at all the books and choosing which ones to read but she would have to wait, she still had the rest of the house to explore.

Aira ran down the stairs, through the parlour and across the hall, entering the near door on the right.

‘Come on Dad!’ she yelled.

‘I’m coming,’ William called back, entering the room seconds after his daughter and looking around at the faded wallpaper and the large mahogany table with its twenty-two chairs all of which would need repairing and re-covering. Light flooded in through a large window and Aira imagined the family entertaining guests at the table, with servants bringing in trays laden with food. With this in mind she

turned to her father and asked, ‘Where’s the kitchen?’ ‘It’s through this door,’ William replied, opening it and

leading Aira through to the kitchen. She followed him in and was surprised to see that an oak table of similar proportions to that in the dining room sat in the middle of the kitchen, with long wooden benches either side for seating. There were plenty of cupboards and work surfaces and Aira was impressed by the enormous size of the room and by the large range and double sink that were set against the far wall. She wondered if they were working, supposing that they must be if they did not function they would not have been able to move in.

‘I sorted the plumbing, heating and electrics before we

moved in,’ said William, as if he had known what Aira had been thinking. ‘I just need to get some bulbs for the chandelier in the hall.’ They left the kitchen through a

second door, entering into a small reception room that was sparsely furnished and stepped out into the entrance hall.

‘Shall we?’ William asked, pointing towards the stairs. ‘Yes please!’ ‘After you then,’ he said and they began to climb the

stairs. When she reached the top Aira turned to the left and circled the first floor, counting twelve doors in total. ‘There are ten bedrooms,’ William said. ‘One en-suite, seven without and those two rooms at the other end share a

bathroom.’ ‘What about the twelfth door?’ Aira asked.

‘Aah, the middle door at this end. It leads to the stairs,’ her father replied. ‘One set will take you up to the second

floor and the attics, the other down to the kitchen and pantry. They would have been the servants’ stairs – it wouldn’t do for the staff to be seen going about their business!’ he joked and Aira laughed. ‘I suppose not!’ she replied, then paused before asking, ‘which one’s my room then?’ ‘I thought I’d let you choose your own,’ William replied and Aira smiled. It was the response she had been hoping

for and she sped off along the corridor to investigate the

rooms, beginning with the one to the left of the servants’

stairs.

‘Hey! That one’s mine,’ her father called. ‘I’m only looking,’ she called back, entering into a large

room with a huge double bed. An antique wardrobe stood against one wall and a mirrored dresser against another. Aira looked sadly at the furniture, knowing that her mother would have loved it, would have loved the room. Choking back tears she headed towards the bathroom it was the same size as her bedroom had been in the old house, a room

she had never considered to be small. A large claw-footed bathtub stood against one wall, a double sink and a toilet against the other. She walked back into the bedroom to find her father.

‘Your bathroom’s huge,’ she said. ‘Hmm, it is rather,’ William replied. ‘Go on you, go and

explore the other rooms,’ he urged. Aira walked back into

the corridor opening the door to the first room she came across. Most of the rooms were the same; each had a bed, either double or single, a wardrobe and a small dressing table some even had armchairs or sofas. All of the rooms were enormous and despite their furnishings looked relatively

empty. The two rooms that shared a bathroom were identical, each the mirror image of the other and the

bathroom itself was similar to that in her father’s room. It

contained a double sink and a toilet, the only difference was that the bathtub was a conventional one and as such did not

have clawed feet. Although Aira was impressed by all of the rooms she did not feel any real affiliation with them and could not imagine herself living in any one of them, something that caused her considerable discomfort. Her anxiousness must have shown on her face as her father asked her, ‘Are you okay sweetheart? You don’t look too happy.’ ‘I’m alright,’ Aira replied. ‘It’s just, the rooms are really ’

nice and everything, but they’re

...

She faltered, not really

knowing how to finish the sentence.

‘They’re not what you expected,’ William offered. ‘No, not exactly, I guess I was expecting something a bit older, a room with character.’ ‘If you want character, perhaps you should try a room on the second floor. You don’t have to sleep down here you know!’ ‘Really?’

‘Yes, really, go on up and take a look up there, I’ll follow you in a moment.’

Aira opened the door and walked up the dusty stairs, feeling the rough boards underfoot. When she reached the landing she looked around it was much plainer up here:

there was no wallpaper on the walls and the floorboards were dull and looked worn. Obviously little care had been

paid up here in the servants’ quarters. This did not bother

Aira, in fact it was quite the opposite; she found the lack of detail rather charming and felt that this floor, more than any other, had both atmosphere and character. There was something about this area of the house that drew her in and she felt herself being pulled towards a door at the other end

of the corridor. William stood and smiled as he watched her approach the room. When he and Lilias had walked around the house she had predicted that Aira would fall in love with this floor of the house she had even ventured as far as to suggest that her young daughter would love the bedroom at the far end of the corridor, though she had been unable to explain why she thought this was. He walked toward the room and stood in the doorway, watching his daughter investigate the space and observing the look of rapture on her face. His heart ached with sadness as he thought of his wife and how much she had been looking forward to showing Aira around the room.

‘She looks so happy darling,’ he whispered softly to the air. ‘I wish you could see her.’ ‘Did you say something?’ Aira asked. ‘Your mother thought you’d like this room. What do you think of it?’ ‘It’s fantastic, Dad. I’m definitely going to have this one.’ There was something about the room that intrigued

her; she felt as though there was more to the room than met the eye, perhaps more mysteries to be solved.

The room itself was rather quaint; underneath the window were two single beds, each with simple wrought iron frames. A small chest of drawers sat in between them

and there was a large wardrobe by the wall to the left of the door. A small bookcase stood on the floor on the right hand

wall and there were several children’s books scattered on

the shelves, something that Aira found strange. Though she knew that children had worked as servants in the early

1900’s – the time in which the house was last inhabited she did not feel that this was the case here, although she

couldn’t pinpoint why.

Unable to contain her curiosity any longer she turned to

her father and asked, ‘What were they like, Dad, the family

that lived here last?’ ‘Family? There was no family, Aira – Witherstone Manor was an orphanage.’