Authors: Veronica Bale
The Ghosts of Tullybrae House
Copyright © 2016 by Veronica Bale
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This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to organizations, events or persons whether living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Also by Veronica Bale
(Highland Loyalties Trilogy Book 1)
(Highland Loyalties Trilogy Book 2)
(Highland Loyalties Trilogy Book 3)
(The Black Douglas Series Book 1)
A Noble Treason
(The Black Douglas Series Book 2)
Coming soon from
Boroughs Publishing Group
Visit Veronica Bale Online At:
THE MORNING WAS
warm. It was a languid, lazy sort of warm, the kind that was perfect for hammocks and cloud watching. It was August, but in the Highlands of Scotland, where weather rarely conformed to the conventions of seasonal rhythm (unless it was winter), warmth and summer did not always go hand in hand.
Larks chirped from their perches on the stone windowsills of Tullybrae House, a seventeenth-century manor, the estate of which stretched to the horizon in vast, empty swells of emerald hills.
Inside, sleepy yellow sunlight filtered through the diamond lattice glass of the manor’s oriel windows, creating ribbons of dust motes. Clunie, Tullybrae’s resident house cat, luxuriated in a particularly thick mote-filled ribbon in the study. His rich purring filled the otherwise silent room. Occasionally his ragged tail twitched against the worn Oriental rug beneath his fat, orange body.
In the drawing room, old Harold Lamb whisked his Swiffer duster over Tullybrae’s antique mahogany and oak furniture, a collection which had been amassed through centuries of continual occupation by the same family. He was fighting a losing battle; if Lamb had not been so set in his ways it might occur to him to wonder why he bothered.
But Lamb was set in his ways. At eighty four, he was too old to change the majority of his routine—the simple act of switching to a Swiffer from a traditional feather duster ten years ago had been a big enough step. Since the passing of Lamb’s employer last month, the vacuuming had been scaled back to once a week (the only other change to his routine). Lamb had been loyal to Lord Cranbury for more than forty years. Yet the old codger would never pony up the cash to buy a second vacuum so that his butler-slash-housekeeper-slash-cook would not have to drag the only one Tullybrae had up and down three storeys on a daily basis.
Not that Harold Lamb ever complained.
Much… or, at least, aloud.
The crunch of car tires on the gravel drive announced the arrival of a visitor.
“She’s here, she’s here,” squealed Mrs. Lamb, who hovered at the drawing room window. Her starched black wool dress rustled as she bounced in place.
“Yes, Mother,” Lamb sighed.
A persistent tugging on his sleeve stilled the Swiffer’s methodical strokes. “Come to the window. Come see.”
“I’m no’ done my dusting yet, Mother.”
“You old fool, nobody cares about your bloody dusting. Come see the girl. Oh, she is a lovely wee thing, isn’t she?”
“I’ll see her when I let her in.”
Mrs. Lamb harrumphed. “Suit yourself. Stubborn goat.” She went back to the window to watch the girl, who was climbing out of a powder blue Fiat Panda.
Less than a minute later, the grand chime of the front doorbell echoed through the manor. Clunie did not trouble himself to lift his head.
Lamb placed his Swiffer duster on the ledge of a cherry wood bookshelf and shuffled out into the corridor. Out of habit, he closed the door of the drawing room behind him. It had been a requirement of the late Lord Cranbury: Doors to unoccupied rooms
remain closed at all times. Under the earl’s orders, the house was sparingly heated, so where the radiators were going, the heat must
be lost to empty spaces.
Frugal was too charitable a description for the man.
In the foyer, from within heavy gilt frames mounted on the wall above the grand staircase, the oil-painted likenesses of generations of lords and ladies stared out at him. Their eyes were always eerily alive, even in the dead of night. Especially in the dead of night. Lamb felt the weight of their collective gaze every time he came through here.
Being somewhat less spry in recent decades than he once was, it took him a long while to reach the front entrance. When eventually his stiff legs made it, he opened the massive paneled door to the young woman standing on the step.
She smiled eagerly at him, her fresh, pink face raised upwards. Sunny curls were twisted at the nape of her neck and secured in a tortoiseshell clip. Her slight torso was clad in a stylish tweed jacket with three-quarter-length sleeves, and underneath it was a white blouse of gauzy satin. She wore snug, black pants with brown, knee-high riding boots overtop. A silver charm bracelet dangled from a delicate wrist.
“Are you the new Lord Cranberry?”
“It is Cranbury, madam. No’ Cran
The woman’s glossed lips opened slightly, and her hazel eyes widened. “Oh, geez. I’m so sorry, sir. Your Lordship, I mean. I thought your wife was saying ‘Cranberry’ when I spoke to her on the phone.” She laughed nervously. “I thought to myself, ‘Am I hearing that right? That’s a funny name,’ and—”
Her eyes widened further, and her cheeks flushed scarlet. “Oh, crud. Now I’ve gone and made fun of you. I’m so sorry, sir. Your Lordship, I mean … Well aren’t I off to a great start?”
Lamb waited for the young lady’s flustered self-admonishments to fade into an embarrassed silence.
“No need to fret, madam. I am no’ his Lordship. The late Lord Cranbury passed nigh on a month ago, and it’s his eldest daughter, Lady Rotherham, who arranged to bring you here. I am the butler at Tullybrae House.”
A whoosh of air left the young lady’s lips and a manicured hand pressed to her breast. “Ah, okay. That clears up a lot. I was confused about the whole thing. I thought Rotherham was the family name, and Lady Rotherham was his wife. But she was talking about ‘Daddy’ and ‘Oliver’ and ‘Anne-Marie’—she kept throwing out names like I knew these people. And I didn’t want to ask and risk looking ignorant in case I
supposed to know them.” She giggled. “Thank God. That would have been awkward, wouldn’t it? You must be Mr. Lamb, then.”
“Just Lamb, madam.”
“Sorry. Lamb. I should know that. I’m no less of a Downton Abbey fan than anyone else in Corner Brook.” She stuck her hand out rather forcefully, her wide smile revealing a uniform row of white teeth. “I’m Emmie. Emmie Tunstall.”
Lamb assessed her hand quickly before submitting to a brief, energetic pump.
“Let the lass in, for pity’s sake,” barked Mrs. Lamb from behind. She jabbed her son in the back with a bony forefinger.
Lamb moved back, holding the door for the young lady to pass. She stepped gingerly through, hugging her leather tote—which, he noticed, matched her boots—to her side. Her eyes immediately lifted to the carved wooden bannisters of the second-floor gallery as he closed the door.
“Wow. Talk about grand, huh?”
“Aye, it is a grand house. No’ as grand as it once was, mind.”
“No, it’s gorgeous. We don’t have anything like this back home, and the only manor houses I’ve seen on my year abroad in London were museums.”
“And ‘back home’ is Corner Brook?”
“Yeah. Corner Brook, Newfoundland.”
Lamb furrowed his brow, the paper-thin skin wrinkling even more than it already was. “
-land? Where is that, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Canada. Atlantic coast. A world of its own.”
“I see,” Lamb said. He didn’t, but there was no point in telling her. “Well then, let me show you to your room. I’m sure you must want to freshen up after your drive.”
“Thanks, that would be great. It’s so nice of her ladyship to let me stay here. Saved me the hassle of finding a place in town.”
“I think you’ll find her ladyship is exceedingly generous. And besides, you’ll probably want to be close to the work since there is so much of it to do.”
“No kidding.” Emmie laughed lightly. It was an infectious laugh. Lamb decided he liked the young woman. His mother certainly liked her; she was practically bouncing with glee.
He led the way, taking Emmie up two flights of the main staircase to the second floor of the house. He walked slowly. Though it was not for her benefit—his old stiff bones being what they were—it did give her time to absorb her surroundings.
“Watch there.” He pointed to a section of carpet which had ripped four years ago. Too late. With her eyes fixed above her on the paisley papered walls and the crumbling crown moulding, the toe of her boot caught, and she stumbled.
“Clumsy me,” she muttered.
“No’ at all, madam.”
“I really wish you’d call me Emmie. We’re colleagues.”
He thought about it, weighing the word “colleague” carefully. “I suppose you’re right. Emmie then.”
“Good.” She nodded, pleased. Which pleased Lamb—not that he made any hint of it.
At the end of the corridor, he pressed on a section of wall that was a concealed door. Up until the last century, servants had come and gone through these doors like ghosts. Unseen, unheard. The paper peeled away from the edge, revealing a layer of paint in a muted robin’s-egg blue—the second floor’s last iteration of décor.
With a groan, the door swung inward, revealing a narrow, uneven staircase. Sunlight streamed through a tall, plain window. The natural light revealed the dust in the corners of the stairs where Lamb had missed when he went over them the night before.
“Oh, now look,” his mother clucked. “Her first impression of the house and she’s got to trudge her way through a mountain of dust on each step.”
Lamb let the jab pass without comment. “I hope you don’t mind being quartered in the servants’ wing,” he said to Emmie, “but the rest of the rooms are no’ in any fit state to be inhabited at the moment. There haven’t been servants enough to fill this wing for decades, I’m afraid, so the rooms are all empty.”
“That’s just fine.” Emmie stepped through into the stairwell. “Is your room up here, too?”
“It is, madam.”
“And are you the only one here, or are there others?”
“I am by myself, ever since his lordship passed.”
They climbed up the stairs in silence. Emmie went slow, acting as though it were a normal speed for her, but Lamb knew she was just being courteous. She glanced around her, interested.
“Are these stairs original to the manor?”
“They are, madam. Emmie. Roger Pratt himself worked on the layout. He was a friend of the sixth Lord Cranbury.”
“Ah, yes. Sir Roger Pratt, famous for rebuilding Coleshill House in Berkshire and effectively removing servants from communal life by popularizing the concept of a separate servants’ quarters.”
Lamb’s white brows rose a fraction. “That’s an impressive recollection.”
Her answer was a shrug and a sheepish grin. “I looked it up before I came here. I was hoping I might get the opportunity to pull out that little nugget.”
A hint of a smile cracked on the old man’s pale lips.
“This staircase was wired with an electric light in the late nineteen-twenties.” He pointed to the bare lightbulb suspended from the peeling ceiling. “The light switches are at the top and bottom of the stairs.”
There was no door at the top. There had been once, and the frame and rusted hinges still remained, but the door itself had been removed when Lamb was a boy. He didn’t recall the reason, and made a mental note to ask his mother about it.
Their footsteps echoed down the empty, unfurnished corridor of the servants’ wing. Lamb led her to the last door on the left, which stood ajar.
“It’s the largest one up here,” he offered, pausing at the threshold. “It’s unfortunate there is no true window, or else you would be able to see down to the gardens. But this room gets the most natural light. And it’s the warmest. Just don’t touch that radiator in the winter. It gets fiercely hot when the furnace is going.”
Emmy entered the room, inspecting her new home. Her hand ran unconsciously over the utilitarian brass frame of the single bed he’d made up for her that morning. A plain chest of drawers stood against the far wall, and a night table stood beside the bed. A wooden chair was placed in the corner, beside which was a timeworn armoire a little more than six feet tall. The natural light of which he spoke was owing to an antique skylight that looked down onto the bed.
“I’m afraid it’s nothing fancy,” he apologized. “You are of course free to liven it up as much as you see fit.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. It’s perfect. Thank you, Lamb.”
“I’ll fetch your baggage, then, while you get used to the place.”
“Really, it’s no bother. I can do it myself.”