(Author's Note: This version is a draft. If you would like to read the edited and revised edition, you can purchase it from Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords etc for 99c)
Night had fallen early due to the storm. It was pitch black outside, the only light came from the lantern at the front of the coach, bobbing crazily over the road. Wild gusts of wind threatened to tip them over every so often and the coachman gripped the reins even more tightly, swearing under his breath. Rain beat frantically against the windows, and Jonathan let the curtain fall, wondering how much further they had to go.
He pulled the rug tighter around his knees, grateful that he had not ridden, as he had originally intended.
“You can’t turn up to your new job on horseback, Master Jonathan!” Ellen had scolded. “Not when his lordship has offered to send his coach for you.” Ellen stood in front of him, arms crossed in disapproval. She had been his nurse when he was a child, and although he was now the ripe old age of twenty four, she still tended to treat him as her charge. Even though Ellen was his landlady, having married Joe Higgins, the innkeeper, Jonathan still felt the tug of that early obedience.
“I suppose not,” he’d agreed reluctantly.
Jonathan was glad now, that he had listened to her advice. He sat back against the cushions inside the coach. He might as well get as comfortable as he could, worrying wasn’t going to make the journey any shorter. He let his mind wander, wondering what sort of man his employer might be. He had yet to meet him. His interview for the position had been conducted by his lordship’s man of business, Mr Griffin, which in itself had been rather odd, come to think of it. One would have thought Sebastian, Lord D’Anvers, would have wished to meet in person, the man who was going to tutor his son.
Although, from what Mr Griffin had said, Evelyn was a sickly child, unable to participate in the sports and outdoor activities considered essential for an English lad. Jonathan knew some fathers would take this as a personal affront, his own father for example had never understood his preference for study over sport. “I didn’t send you to Oxford to have you spend all day with your nose in a book!” he had said, full of indignation. “You’re there to make a name for yourself, make friends—important friends—men who hunt and box, who can drive to an inch, shoot the heart out of an ace of spades!”
Jonathan smiled wryly. Quite what good his father thought those accomplishments were going to do him, he had no idea. None of them were likely to earn him a living.
He enjoyed riding, but he was no bruising rider to hounds, nor could he take the fly off a horse’s ear with the tip of his whip. No, in fact it was his despised studies which had earned him the position as tutor. Latin, mathematics, the classics; they were all essential knowledge for a modern boy, even if he was only twelve. He looked forward to introducing Evelyn to the academic world he loved; he hoped he would find the boy eager to learn, bored with being confined to his room for most of the time.
The coach came to a sudden halt and Jonathan peered out of the window. It seemed they had come to a gatehouse. A man, bent over under a heavy coat, hurried out into the rain and opened the gate. The coach picked up speed again, and Jonathan remained at the window, waiting to catch a glimpse of Castle Blackstone, the place that would be his home for the next six years.
He could see trees lining the drive, black and wet in the night, and then the coach came out into a broad expanse of lawn and Jonathan could see the castle for the first time. As if orchestrated specifically for him, a dagger of lightning split the air, illuminating the building which loomed over him, turrets and gables thrusting into the dark sky. The building appeared to be in total darkness, except for one window high up in a turret which glowed with golden light. He thought he saw a figure outlined there for a second, peering down at him, before the light went out.
Jonathan gathered his bags together as a footman opened the carriage door, struggling to hold it against the wind.
“Mr Winter?” the man spoke with a heavy accent.
“Yes,” answered Jonathan with a brief smile.
“Can I take your bags, sir?”
“No, I’ve got them. But there’s a trunk on the back,” he told him.
“Leave it with me, sir. The master’s waiting for you inside.”
Jonathan hurried up the steps, blinking in the rain, to where the door stood, held open by an elderly butler. He went inside with a nod of acknowledgement, looked in vain for a mat to wipe his boots on, then gazed around in search of Lord D’Anvers.
At first he saw no-one, and then he glanced upwards at the staircase in front of him. A tall man, dressed all in black, except for the white lace frothing at his neck and wrists, stood halfway down the stairs, staring back under hooded eyes. His thick black hair was unpowdered, swept back from his forehead, harsh lines bracketed his mouth which was thin lipped and unsmiling. He must have been forty, older than Jonathan had been expecting for some reason.
“Welcome to Blackstone.” His voice was a crisp baritone, cool despite the words of welcome. “Dinner will be served in half an hour, please don’t be late. Oh, James, show Mr Winter to his room will you?”
“Yes, m’lord,” murmured the footman, who had entered silently behind Jonathan.
“Thank you, milord,” said Jonathan, a bit uncertainly. He had felt he should say something but he didn’t want to parrot the footman.
He followed the footman up the stairs to the second floor and along the corridor to the left. James opened a door and went in. “This ere’s your room, sir. The schoolroom is next door and Master Evelyn is in the one after that.” The room was larger than he had expected and well, if plainly furnished, containing a bed, a chest of drawers and a cupboard. A chair sat before a small desk. Jonathan was surprised to find his trunk already there, at the foot of the bed.
A black jacket and a shirt of dark blue were laid out on the bed. His uniform he supposed, though rather grand surely for such a purpose? He fingered the shirt, the material slipped through his fingers like silk. He supposed it was natural enough for his employer to provide a uniform but he couldn’t help feeling a little uncomfortable. It was far more luxurious than anything he could afford himself. He turned to the waiting manservant.
“Thank you, James. Can I trouble you for some water to wash in?”
He caught the brief flash of concern over the man’s face. “It’s alright, I won’t take long, but I’d like to clean up before I sit down with his Lordship.’
“Of course, sir.”
Half an hour later, feeling more refreshed, and wearing the jacket, Jonathan followed James downstairs to the dining room. Lord D’Anvers was already there and he gestured to a seat at the end of the long table. When Jonathan was seated, he took his place at the other end.
Another manservant served the meal, and as Jonathan was waiting for his Lordship to speak first, the entire meal was spent in silence. At the end, D’Anvers blotted his lips with a white napkin, and rose. Jonathan scrambled hastily to his feet.
“I’ll bid you good night, I have business to attend to this evening. James will show you over the house before retiring, but I’ll introduce you to Evelyn, myself, in the morning.” He turned as if to walk away. “Oh just one thing. The top floor of the west wing is out of bounds. No-one goes there without my express permission. Is that clear?”
“Yes, my lord,” answered Jonathan, suddenly and intensely curious. What a queer set up and no mistake!