Mists Over Newbroke [Excerpt]

Adriana Newbroke, née diLusi, the Diva of Verona, died on the 21st day of January, in the Year of Our Lord 1833. The Italian beauty lay gasping for breath on blood-spattered sheets, her last great performance. One final, agonising cry and her swan song was concluded. They pulled up the tainted sheet to cover her face and all that remained of that great performer, the jewel in the crown of Italy’s opera houses, was a red-faced, squalling babe, every inch his mother’s equal in voice.

The child grew in size, for five more years, and could no longer be suckled at the breast of a wet-nurse from town, nor dandled on the hip of the housekeeper while she went about her duties. He had need of a nanny and a governess, in the way of children of great lords. And so Katherine Tilsley was called to serve.

Katherine Tilsley was rarely addressed as such. For those that had not her intimate acquaintance, she was Miss Tilsley. For those in her home village of Bramberly, she was the Reverend’s Daughter. And to most others, she was simply Kat.

The Reverend was a kindly man, full of love for his only child, but he simply did not have the living to support an unmarried woman of twenty in a town with no eligible men. So, she sought her own living. Not industrious enough for a seamstress, and thinking too highly of herself for a lesser servant, Kat decided she would become a governess. She had some learning, and was not unfond of children.

Unfortunately for the good Reverend, but perhaps to Kat’s advantage, one did not simply become a governess. First, she must attend a reputable school and obtain a declaration from that institute to say she was fit to impart education of a suitable standard. So she was sent to Bath, to Miss Fothering’s Academy.

Here she learnt all that a good governess should, as well as delighting the men of the Assembly Rooms with her coppery brown hair, jovial green eyes, and pealing laugh. Without a sizeable dowry, though, she did not make herself a match and remained for over a year at the Academy. Until the letter came.

She was called to Miss Fothering’s sitting room not long after supper. Her dormitory mate and sometime partner-in-crime, Thomasina Brown, was seated by the fire. Miss Fothering stood imposingly upon the patterned rug, a letter in her hand. Kat’s first thought was that some misdeed had been caught out and her only hope was that the accusations would be put to her first, so she could come up with a convincing lie.

“Great news, my dear Kat!” exclaimed the headmistress. “Your father writes to tell me he has found you a position!”

Kat decided she would rather have preferred a punishment. Miss Fothering continued. “A chance encounter with an old friend from theological college has told him of a vacancy in a great house.”

Kat drew her hands behind her back and crossed her fingers. Since she could not remain here at the school, in the leisurely manner to which she had become accustomed, she allowed herself to hope for a good situation. Already her mind raced with possibilities of a fashionable London family or perhaps even a small house in Bath, where Corporal Marks could take her for a walk after church on her Sundays off.

“You are to travel to Newbroke Hall at first light and see His Lordship, the Lord Darnley. He is a widower, and has need of a governess to his son.”

“And where is Newbroke Hall, Miss Fothering?” she asked.

“In the town of Newbroke itself, my girl, on the coast. It is not far from here, a day in the stagecoach.”

Kat knew very little of Newbroke save the gossip spoken in Bramberly, from whence the residents had cause to trade with each other. Newbroke was small, in all essence a village, but had managed to acquire and retain a royal charter of township sometime time ago. Apart from this facts, what else she knew was concerned with the manner and behaviour of the town’s residents. Reports were as thus unfavourable.

Kat bit her lower lip. Failure to answer forthwith would prompt a long lecture on silly, ungrateful girls. She was acutely aware that it was the goodwill of Miss Fothering and the financial support of her father that kept her at the school. While the former was easily won and lost in rapid succession, the latter would be quickly withdrawn upon notice she had rejected the very living she sought.

“It’s wonderful news, Miss Fothering. I shall write at once…”

She was swiftly interrupted. “There is no need to write. I have booked you onto the stagecoach already. Thomasina will accompany you as far as Newbroke, as she travels on to her own employment.”

Kat’s displeasure faded fast when she heard of her friend’s appointment. Whereas Kat’s circumstances necessitated her vocation as a governess, Thomasina actively craved it. Most of her conversation centred on the enlightenment of young minds. She felt a tinge of shame to have been so self-absorbed she did not notice the reserved, yet undeniable, smile on her friend’s face.

“Oh, Tamsin, I’m so pleased for you!” she exclaimed.

“And I you, Kat!” she replied. “And what an adventure we shall have tomorrow on the coach! You know, I’ve never been north of Bath!”

As the conversation grew exceedingly trivial, turning to a discussion of the accoutrements a young lady should pack that would afford her both fashion and substance as a governess, Miss Fothering banished them from the room. They continued to talk as they prepared their luggage for the trip. She remained jovial throughout, but as the last candle burned out and she lay down for her last night in the Academy’s bed, she could not shake the leaden feeling that had settled in the pit of her stomach.

The stagecoach turned out to be a tremendous bore, despite the anticipation that filled the two young ladies. After an uncomfortably hurried repast of bread and cheese to see them through the day’s journey, they were bundled into the coach.

Miss Fothering, who had come to see them off, begun to weep piteously as the carriage departed, alternating between blowing her nose into her handkerchief and waving semaphorically with the used linen. In an uncharacteristic bout of sarcasm, Kat remarked to her companion that Miss Fothering wept not for the loss of her two favourite pupils, but rather the two pounds each per week they brought to her income.

As they departed Bath and moved north into the countryside, their attention was quickly lost by the repeated views of dirt road, stone wall, and sheep in pasture. They were rattled and jostled from side to side and any attempt at conversation was lost after each bump in the road.

The day drew on, and soon it was dark. The green fields disappeared rapidly from view, as the carriage was consumed by a large, dense forest on all sides.

“Oh, Kat, where are we? Look at all these trees! We could be set upon by bandits at any moment.” Thomasina’s voice had reached an almost unbearably high pitch.

“Relax,” she replied. “The only ruffians near here are in that storybook in your reticule. Why, I’m sure the coach must travel this road many times a day and not once have we heard it set upon.”

“Yet,” said Thomasina pointedly, resuming her horrified gazes out of the window.

There was a jolt and they felt the carriage draw to halt. The driver jumped down and opened the door. Thomasina drew back, again afraid of bandits.

“You see, Tamsin!” said Kat. “We have arrived, untouched I might add.”

She took the coachman’s hand and dismounted onto the dirt road. They had stopped at a crossroads in the centre of town. She saw that, centred in this divergence in the road, was a finely carved stone cross. She observed that it was crumbling, blackened and cracked throughout. The man helped Thomasina down also and then called to the ladies that they had ten minutes before he would depart onwards.

Kat took a look at the town that was to become her home. It was rather plain, verging on dismal. The buildings were all of the same grey or dull white, with small, grimy windows, obscured by layers of filth. She took notice of a general store, several other shops, and a well-appointed church. These buildings were arranged around a rough diamond of unkempt grass, the town common.

Across from the common was a piece of stony ground. Having no value for pasture or otherwise, its chief appointment had been as resting place for the horse and carts of the public house. At this present moment, there were indeed horses in residence, tied up next to brightly painted caravans with curved roofs.

“Gypsies!” breathed Kat excitedly.

Thomasina looked worriedly towards the horses while simultaneously clasping her reticule closer to her body. Kat let out a little laugh.

“Tamsin! They aren’t all thieves, you know. Many are honest people, traders, and performers, trying to make a living.”

Thomasina did not look mollified. She looked a hair’s breadth from a swoon when one of the women approached them. She was elderly and stooped over, bent in the way of persons aged. Her skin was swarthy and deeply wrinkled. The gypsy woman wore a vibrant red headscarf and large gold earrings, as befitted her people, and was swaddled in a number of voluminous knitted shawls. Kat supposed it not a manner of dress, but a costume for the benefit of persons such as themselves.

“Tell your fortune for a penny, Miss?” asked the gypsy woman

Kat was reluctant, calling to mind much of her father’s preaching on the superstitions of people. To her recollection, it was not a sin in itself but opened the door to much greater sins — pride, wrath and perhaps even the worship of Lucifer himself.

Surprisingly, Thomasina stepped forward and produced a penny from her reticule. The woman took it at once and secreted it within the folds of her shawls. Taking up Thomasina’s hand, she ran her fingers along the lines in her palm.

“I see…”

“Not I,” said Thomasina. “My friend here.”

The gypsy reached for Kat’s hand but she held still. “Go on,” said Thomasina. “I am curious to see what Newbroke holds for you.”

“Do you not want to know your own future?”

“I know my future. It involves many good years of teaching, with many a scholar produced and as many a hoyden, followed by the publication of the seminal tract on the practice of a governess, and finally the acquirement of quiet country curate for a very practical and amiable marriage.”

Thomasina then promptly reached over and snatched up Kat’s hand, depositing it in the clasp of the waiting gypsy woman. She peered at the dainty hand.

“Let me see…hmmm, this line here shows you will know love like you never have before. Ooh, I see many handsome men in your future. But…”

“But what?” urged Kat. “Go on, please.”

“Your life line is broken.”

“Which means?”

“That your life will be tragic. Or short.”

Kat resisted the urged to gasp. She refused to be horrified by lies and trickery. “Is there anything else?”

“I see fire and blood miss, much of it. This will not be a happy place for you, and I would not linger long.”

With that, the gypsy woman dropped Kat’s hand. She crossed herself and then spat noisily over her left shoulder before departing for the rest of her clan. As she walked away, she drew her shawls closer and began to mutter in her native language. Once she was sufficiently out of earshot, Kat allowed herself a demure laugh.

“Hogwash, Tamsin! As my father would say, hogwash!”

Thomasina did not look agreeable to this statement and instead began to chew upon her bottom lip in a most unladylike fashion. The coachman returned and assisted Thomasina in returning to her seat. Thomasina reached down from the window to make their goodbyes.

“Kat, you know I hold not with gypsies and superstition, but…”

“But what?”

“I have a bad feeling about this Newbroke place,” she said. “Keep your time here as short as possible, and write me every week until you find somewhere else.”

Kat nodded, clasping Thomasina’s hand one last time. There was little else to say between two who had spent nearly every day of the past year in each other’s company, and thought themselves sure to see one another again. Thomasina withdrew her hand into the carriage and knocked loudly on the roof. Kat stepped back and the carriage trundled off down the dirt path. It soon disappeared, Thomasina along with it. Kat suddenly felt very alone.

The night drew on further and no one from the house came to collect her, as Miss Fothering assured her they would. Kat was not entirely sure of the hour, but knew it long past the time that young governesses should be abroad, unaccompanied in a strange place. She wondered if Thomasina had arrived at her destination safely.

The town was much deserted at this hour, aside from those leaving the public house. Their state of inebriation not only made a worrisome notion for Kat’s safety, but made her unable to approach them for directions towards Newbroke Hall. It was Kat’s belief that, had she known the whereabouts of the house, she would have made good enough time on foot. Was Miss Fothering incorrect and Kat expected at the house much earlier by her own conveyance?

It had now grown as cold as it was dark. It settled on her skin, no matter how tightly she drew her shawl. Each chill ran up her arms like a hundred little spider feet. Her feet ached from standing, so she settled shamelessly on the ground beside the stone cross.

The gypsies had long since doused their campfires and retired to the caravans. The town was silent. Across each building, the last candle burned down until there was naught but a darkened window to be seen. Yet, despite the desertion, Kat perceived an acute sensation upon the back of her neck. Inexplicably, in the town devoid of people, the inhabitants in slumber, she was being watched.

A mist had settled throughout the town, obscuring all but the closest of sights. She looked about worriedly, yet could perceive no one in the haze. She steeled herself against the mind’s own threats, yet the primitive urge to flee had settled upon her. There was a weary rattle, almost like a low moan. Someone approached.

From the mist emerged a dark shape, large and formless. Again, the sound, like a beast braying in labour. Kat’s breath quickened in fear, and she opened her mouth to scream, but her mouth was dry. She jumped to her feet and prepared to flee. It drew closer still, until Kat was sure it would simply descend upon her and wipe her from existence.

“Miss Tilsley?” asked a voice.

Kat’s face rapidly reddened, in counterpart to the deathly white it had been moments before. She had been frightened half to death by a squeaky old hay cart.

Two men sat in the driver’s perch. One was an older gentleman, with a whip in hand. The other, a young lad, perhaps Kat’s age or slightly older, jumped down from the hay-cart and gathered up her baggage onto the back of the cart. He was tall and solidly built in the way of manual labourers. A mop of unruly black hair rested on his head and Kat observed that his clothes were immensely fine for one in his position. When Kat fixed him with an appraising stare, he winked at her. Kat’s hand flew to her mouth in shock. She hoped that Miss Fothering would not come to know that such ruinous behaviour had befallen her on her first night of employment.

“Hop on!” called the older man. Neither made move to assist her into the vehicle. Kat breathed a sigh of frustration and hauled herself onto the back of the cart, after much battle with her skirts. She balanced herself precariously against the side of the cart. The lad turned his head to smother a smirk. Kat shot a glare against his back.

The hay cart departed northwards from the town. As the dull grey buildings of Newbroke were subsumed into the thickening mist, Kat was once again surrounded by trees. It was as though the town of Newbroke had simply been constructed within a forest clearing.

Kat shivered in the back of the hay cart. The night had become colder still and her shawl did little to block out the cold. In the forest around her, she heard many noises and doings by the creatures that lived in the night. Kat’s time in Bath, short as it was, had transformed her entirely into a city girl and she was now uncomfortable with the proximity of wilderness that was customary of the country.

Searching for a diversion from the interminable boredom of her seemingly ceaseless travelling, she observed the two men that were her escort to Newbroke Hall. The first man, the old man, sat hunched over in the driver’s seat, his whip fidgeting back and forth in his grasp. He had a tired look in his face, not the look of a man who had gone without sleep, but whose very days are indeed a challenge in physical and mental endurance.

That face had features which few would call pleasant. There was something unusual about them which Kat could not place. His eyes were small and set well back into his face, like the little beads of black glass that had given countenance to the dolls of her childhood. From the side, she could not observe things greatly, but saw them flick from side to side rapidly. His chin was rounded and occasionally he would twist his head from side to side as if listening for something.

The boy provided an interesting and pleasing contrast. Kat wondered if he was the older gentleman’s son or nephew, and thought it unlikely, for he bore very little physical resemblance. His jet black hair was a most striking feature. She was unsure if she had ever seen hair that dark before. She leaned forward to take a closer look. She could not be certain in the dull light of the moon but she was sure that there were little streaks of purple and green throughout his hair.

Her observations of the two drivers were immediately drawn away by her first sight of Newbroke Hall. They had emerged from the forested road and on to a broad track at the base of a hill. Perched awkwardly upon the prow of the sweeping hill was the Hall. It was constructed of a dour grey stone, and jutted out at strange angles. The building was comprised entirely of sharp points, constructed from rectangles and squares seemingly at odds with one another. It lacked the softening features of the country houses Kat had seen previously, like the ornate columns in the Greek style, and instead favoured the rigidity of buttresses and the sharp crenellations that ran along the length of the building.

They pulled around a corner and Kat was presented with a view of a strong portcullis gate that originated from a time far older than her twenty-one years on this earth. By the rust, scrapes and bent areas, it had clearly bore witness to the turbulent times in Britain’s history. They travelled beneath the stone archway as the spikes of the portcullis loomed menacingly overhead. Kat was sure that they would drop at any moment and sever the cart in two, impaling all of the unfortunate passengers.

They entered the courtyard proper. It was featureless, merely an enclosure surrounded on all sides by the insipid stone walls. Throughout there were little windows set into the walls, yet they gave no impression of welcoming, or that in fact they had ever been opened.

The hay cart drove on and then pulled up to a square sandstone archway erected shabbily against one of the walls of the property. Evidently it served as a little portico for carriages. Standing at the door was a man dressed soberly in black with an elaborate, if outdated, white ruff around his next. The man walked over and presented his hand to her. She took it gratefully and alighted from the carriage.

“Our heartfelt apologies, Miss Tilsley. The master was…entertaining.”

She nodded. “I am not late then?”

“No, Miss, only by our own remiss.”

He gestured to the boy who brought her luggage down from the cart and placed it inside, far more carefully that he had retrieved it in the town. The boy did not look up the entire time and kept his head bowed in a strange deference, uncharacteristic of one who had so ribaldly teased her earlier in the evening. Evidently this man, a senior servant undoubtedly, had a great sway over the lad’s future at Newbroke Hall.

Done, he mounted the hay cart again. Both men were dismissed with a wave of the would-be preacher’s hand. Kat was unable to call her thanks for the transportation, but she knew readily enough that it would not have been appreciated by the recipients nor entirely honest on the part of the giver. Hay carts were not Kat’s usual mode of transport and she hoped that the master valued his son enough to allow them use of a well-appointed carriage at any point they need undertake a journey.

“I am the butler,” spoke the man. His voice was grave and quiet, yet had an uneven edge, not unlike the squawk of a crow or magpie. “You may call me Mr Beachcombe.”

Mr Beachcombe was a balding man, as old as her father. He drew up his broad shoulders and wrinkled his hooked nose as he bowed to Kat. She curtsied in return.

“The master will see you at once,” he announced. “He is keen to decide on your suitability for the position.”

“Oh,” she replied. “I had assumed I was now employed here, Mr Beachcombe.”

“A mere formality, Miss Tilsley, I assure you.” He gestured to the door. Kat swept up her skirts and entered the Hall.

She found herself within the main hall of Newbroke Hall. It was an austere room, encircled on all sides by thick wooden panelling which rendered the entire place in oppressive darkness. Sweeping upwards was a plain, yet impressively carved, staircase made of the same dark wood as the wall panelling. The floor was stone, as was the vaulted ceiling. Little gargoyles peered down from the corners of the ceiling, their carved faces pulled into grotesque expressions.

“If you would follow me,” directed Mr Beachcombe.

He lifted a lit candlestick from the sideboard and proceeded to walk on. Kat followed after rapidly, for fear she would be plunged into absolute darkness. Mr Beachcombe swept on and she struggled to keep up. He was not forthcoming with conversation as they proceeded down a further wood panelled passage.

“The Lord Darnley is unusual, is he not?” she proffered. “A peer of his rank who shares his name with both house and town, with no name of his own?”

Mr Beachcombe did not respond, and quickened his pace. From his downturned and protruding lips, the butler did not find this display of aristocratic trivia endearing. They continued on, and finally reached an arched door set into the panelled.

Beachcombe grasped the knocker, a mottled iron ring, firmly and pushed the door open. Striding in, he intoned with all the pomp and circumstance of a duchess’ presentation to society “Miss Katherine Tilsley, milord.”

He beckoned Kat into the room and she was rewarded with her first sight of Lord Darnley Newbroke.Lord Darnley had a face that was unremarkable, until one became aware of the peerage that adorned his name. Once known to be suitably entitled, Lord Darnley had the looks which many a mama hoped her daughter could ensnare. His cheekbones and chin bore sign of his aristocratic stock, nobly chiselled and defined, and his dark hair and olive skin spoke to a Norman heritage.

However, Lord Darnley did not dress with the flair Kat attributed to the men of his station she had come to know in Bath. He dressed more like a country man after a day’s harvest, with his rough shirt open to the neck. He stood briefly to bow in greeting and then returned to his chair, set throne like between the two iron candelabra that illuminated the room.

He waited for no words from Kat. No sooner had she returned from her curtsey, that Lord Darnley began, locking his pale grey eyes with hers. Under the intensity of his gaze, she felt forced to regard the floor with some scrutiny.

“You come highly recommended from the Reverend Webb, Miss Tilsley, but believe me, you would not be first choice for the education of my son.”

Kat felt her breath retreat from her lungs as she struggled for a response. Her eyes remained downcast.

He continued. “Your duties are as thus. You will impart to my son a firm, practical education. His letters and numbers, good penmanship for letters, a grasp of the geographies, history and a little politics, as such as a woman might understand them. He need only know enough of poetry and art to impress some flighty damsel of the ton and her mama. I am in want of a suitable heir to manage the estate, not a scholar.”

“Yes, my Lord, I can do that.” Kat relaxed slightly, the first time she felt confident in her abilities.

“You speak French, of course?” he asked. “And the child must also learn some Italian, to keep his motley family from complaining. Just a few words, so he might converse with the grandmother.”

Kat curtsied low to the floor. Her voice trembled slightly, her confidence easily lost. “I speak only a little French, my lord, and no Italian.”

Lord Darnley rose from his chair. “You play an instrument, of course, or you sketch?”

“I sing, my Lord, and my embroidery is fair.” She curtsied again, low enough now that she feared her knees might give way.

He approached her, “You sing? Your embroidery is fair?” She fancied him close enough to feel his breath on her face, the slight whiff of brandy not unnoticeable.

“I am not raising an accomplished lady of the beau monde, I am raising a son!” he bellowed.

Kat turned her face away and willed her eyes not to shut in fear.

“My Lord,” interjected the butler, moving silently across the floor. “Miss Tilsley is merely answering by rote, answers she would have learned from her governess school, no matter the age or gender of the child,”

Kat nodded quickly, grateful. He continued.

“Forgive Miss Tilsley her ignorance, but she does not come from the great schools of the City, but from a petit école, nor should she for what we offer in recompense. But really, she need only teach the boy enough so he does not embarrass Newbroke when he goes to school. She is more of a learned playmate than a true tutor.”

She was less grateful for the gentleman’s closing remarks. Lord Darnley returned to his chair. He rested his chin upon his clenched fist, as if he were weighing the facts presented to him like a great judge of the Old Testament. Evidently he had come to a conclusion, for his mouth had taken on a pinched appearance.

“Show her to her room, and see her settled in. She may have tomorrow morning to become acquainted with the house, but she must begin her lessons after luncheon.”

“Very good, My Lord,” said Mr Beachcombe, bowing. He came over at once to Kat, and in a very peculiar manner, managed to sweep her out of the room without touching her at all. In complete silence, he led her down the passageway, out into the main hall and up the creaking steps of the main staircase. She followed after him, making her way across the first-floor corridor.

Beachcombe stopped abruptly and pointed down a corridor. “The third door, Miss Tilsley. You will find your luggage already there, though you must unpack it yourself. It is late, and we cannot spare a maidservant.”

Kat unwittingly made a small noise of confusion. Mr Beachcombe turned to face her. “There is some issue with your lodgings?”

She quickly shook her head. “No sir, but merely unusual. Would I not be housed in the attic, with the rest of the servants?”

“The attics are unsafe, Miss Tilsley, and forbidden entirely for your own safety. We have had to rehouse most of the servants, in the basements or in rooms away from persons of consequence.”

“The master keeps good society, then?” she asked.

Her hopes of grand parties and fine soirees were instantly dismissed. “Rarely,” the butler replied. “His Lordship is devoted to his own pursuits, though he often calls on the neighbouring gentry. When the master is in search of society, he prefers his club in London.”

Kat’s confusion was not abated, merely heightened. Hadn’t Beachcombe told her the master was entertaining? She opened her mouth to question him, but the butler simply spoke over her.

“Mrs Ridgeley, the housekeeper, shall call upon you in the morning at an appropriate hour. She will acquaint you with the workings of the house and its layout. After luncheon, I shall fetch you and introduce you to Master Ambrose. Good night, Miss Tilsley.”

Kat did not have the time to bid the butler goodnight. He turned and was gone at once from the corridor with a rustle of his dark coat. Without a candle of her own, Beachcombe’s departure plunged the corridor into darkness. The only source of light was a small window set into the wall at the end of the passageway. The moonlight trickled through, fighting to illuminate the tunnel-like corridor.

She hitched up her skirts and pressed on, feeling her way along the raised wood of the wall panelling. Her hand felt cool stone and then it fell down, dipping into nothingness. First door. She continued to feel her away along the smooth wood and rough stone. Second door. Third door. She pushed her hand out, feeling the wood against her palm, and brought her hand down to grasp the iron ring.

Before she could twist the knocker, there was a scraping sound. Kat drew a frightened breath, her nerves already on edge from her time alone in the town and her almost violent, certainly humiliating, encounter with Lord Darnley. Kat resumed her attempts to open the door but, again, the sound echoed in Kat’s ears.

It was the undeniable scrape of a boot on the stone floor. Kat turned slowly on the spot, struggling against the weak moonlight to make sense of the shadows before her. The corridor in its abject darkness could have been filled with hundreds, the shadows swirling before her eyes, forming endless shapes.

She gripped the handle tighter, turned it, and felt the ancient latch give way. As the door creaked open, Kat felt a rush of air against her neck, as though someone hurried past her. She turned her head and caught from the corner of her eye a flash of something rounding the corner at the end of the corridor.

She flung herself into the bedroom, closing the door behind her as quickly as possible. Once the lock was turned, she leant back against the cool wood, her breath thundering in her lungs.

In the dark, Kat could not be certain that she had seen anyone flee the corridor. But, unmistakably, someone had brushed against her. She had felt the touch of their rough cloth against her exposed elbow. Of this she was sure.Adriana Newbroke, née diLusi, the Diva of Verona, died on the 21st day of January, in the Year of Our Lord 1833. The Italian beauty lay gasping for breath on blood-spattered sheets, her last great performance. One final, agonising cry and her swan song was concluded. They pulled up the tainted sheet to cover her face and all that remained of that great performer, the jewel in the crown of Italy’s opera houses, was a red-faced, squalling babe, every inch his mother’s equal in voice.

The child grew in size, for five more years, and could no longer be suckled at the breast of a wet-nurse from town, nor dandled on the hip of the housekeeper while she went about her duties. He had need of a nanny and a governess, in the way of children of great lords. And so Katherine Tilsley was called to serve.

Katherine Tilsley was rarely addressed as such. For those that had not her intimate acquaintance, she was Miss Tilsley. For those in her home village of Bramberly, she was the Reverend’s Daughter. And to most others, she was simply Kat.

The Reverend was a kindly man, full of love for his only child, but he simply did not have the living to support an unmarried woman of twenty in a town with no eligible men. So, she sought her own living. Not industrious enough for a seamstress, and thinking too highly of herself for a lesser servant, Kat decided she would become a governess. She had some learning, and was not unfond of children.

Unfortunately for the good Reverend, but perhaps to Kat’s advantage, one did not simply become a governess. First, she must attend a reputable school and obtain a declaration from that institute to say she was fit to impart education of a suitable standard. So she was sent to Bath, to Miss Fothering’s Academy.

Here she learnt all that a good governess should, as well as delighting the men of the Assembly Rooms with her coppery brown hair, jovial green eyes, and pealing laugh. Without a sizeable dowry, though, she did not make herself a match and remained for over a year at the Academy. Until the letter came.

She was called to Miss Fothering’s sitting room not long after supper. Her dormitory mate and sometime partner-in-crime, Thomasina Brown, was seated by the fire. Miss Fothering stood imposingly upon the patterned rug, a letter in her hand. Kat’s first thought was that some misdeed had been caught out and her only hope was that the accusations would be put to her first, so she could come up with a convincing lie.

“Great news, my dear Kat!” exclaimed the headmistress. “Your father writes to tell me he has found you a position!”

Kat decided she would rather have preferred a punishment. Miss Fothering continued. “A chance encounter with an old friend from theological college has told him of a vacancy in a great house.”

Kat drew her hands behind her back and crossed her fingers. Since she could not remain here at the school, in the leisurely manner to which she had become accustomed, she allowed herself to hope for a good situation. Already her mind raced with possibilities of a fashionable London family or perhaps even a small house in Bath, where Corporal Marks could take her for a walk after church on her Sundays off.

“You are to travel to Newbroke Hall at first light and see His Lordship, the Lord Darnley. He is a widower, and has need of a governess to his son.”

“And where is Newbroke Hall, Miss Fothering?” she asked.

“In the town of Newbroke itself, my girl, on the coast. It is not far from here, a day in the stagecoach.”

Kat knew very little of Newbroke save the gossip spoken in Bramberly, from whence the residents had cause to trade with each other. Newbroke was small, in all essence a village, but had managed to acquire and retain a royal charter of township sometime time ago. Apart from this facts, what else she knew was concerned with the manner and behaviour of the town’s residents. Reports were as thus unfavourable.

Kat bit her lower lip. Failure to answer forthwith would prompt a long lecture on silly, ungrateful girls. She was acutely aware that it was the goodwill of Miss Fothering and the financial support of her father that kept her at the school. While the former was easily won and lost in rapid succession, the latter would be quickly withdrawn upon notice she had rejected the very living she sought.

“It’s wonderful news, Miss Fothering. I shall write at once…”

She was swiftly interrupted. “There is no need to write. I have booked you onto the stagecoach already. Thomasina will accompany you as far as Newbroke, as she travels on to her own employment.”

Kat’s displeasure faded fast when she heard of her friend’s appointment. Whereas Kat’s circumstances necessitated her vocation as a governess, Thomasina actively craved it. Most of her conversation centred on the enlightenment of young minds. She felt a tinge of shame to have been so self-absorbed she did not notice the reserved, yet undeniable, smile on her friend’s face.

“Oh, Tamsin, I’m so pleased for you!” she exclaimed.

“And I you, Kat!” she replied. “And what an adventure we shall have tomorrow on the coach! You know, I’ve never been north of Bath!”

As the conversation grew exceedingly trivial, turning to a discussion of the accoutrements a young lady should pack that would afford her both fashion and substance as a governess, Miss Fothering banished them from the room. They continued to talk as they prepared their luggage for the trip. She remained jovial throughout, but as the last candle burned out and she lay down for her last night in the Academy’s bed, she could not shake the leaden feeling that had settled in the pit of her stomach.

The stagecoach turned out to be a tremendous bore, despite the anticipation that filled the two young ladies. After an uncomfortably hurried repast of bread and cheese to see them through the day’s journey, they were bundled into the coach.

Miss Fothering, who had come to see them off, begun to weep piteously as the carriage departed, alternating between blowing her nose into her handkerchief and waving semaphorically with the used linen. In an uncharacteristic bout of sarcasm, Kat remarked to her companion that Miss Fothering wept not for the loss of her two favourite pupils, but rather the two pounds each per week they brought to her income.

As they departed Bath and moved north into the countryside, their attention was quickly lost by the repeated views of dirt road, stone wall, and sheep in pasture. They were rattled and jostled from side to side and any attempt at conversation was lost after each bump in the road.

The day drew on, and soon it was dark. The green fields disappeared rapidly from view, as the carriage was consumed by a large, dense forest on all sides.

“Oh, Kat, where are we? Look at all these trees! We could be set upon by bandits at any moment.” Thomasina’s voice had reached an almost unbearably high pitch.

“Relax,” she replied. “The only ruffians near here are in that storybook in your reticule. Why, I’m sure the coach must travel this road many times a day and not once have we heard it set upon.”

“Yet,” said Thomasina pointedly, resuming her horrified gazes out of the window.

There was a jolt and they felt the carriage draw to halt. The driver jumped down and opened the door. Thomasina drew back, again afraid of bandits.

“You see, Tamsin!” said Kat. “We have arrived, untouched I might add.”

She took the coachman’s hand and dismounted onto the dirt road. They had stopped at a crossroads in the centre of town. She saw that, centred in this divergence in the road, was a finely carved stone cross. She observed that it was crumbling, blackened and cracked throughout. The man helped Thomasina down also and then called to the ladies that they had ten minutes before he would depart onwards.

Kat took a look at the town that was to become her home. It was rather plain, verging on dismal. The buildings were all of the same grey or dull white, with small, grimy windows, obscured by layers of filth. She took notice of a general store, several other shops, and a well-appointed church. These buildings were arranged around a rough diamond of unkempt grass, the town common.

Across from the common was a piece of stony ground. Having no value for pasture or otherwise, its chief appointment had been as resting place for the horse and carts of the public house. At this present moment, there were indeed horses in residence, tied up next to brightly painted caravans with curved roofs.

“Gypsies!” breathed Kat excitedly.

Thomasina looked worriedly towards the horses while simultaneously clasping her reticule closer to her body. Kat let out a little laugh.

“Tamsin! They aren’t all thieves, you know. Many are honest people, traders, and performers, trying to make a living.”

Thomasina did not look mollified. She looked a hair’s breadth from a swoon when one of the women approached them. She was elderly and stooped over, bent in the way of persons aged. Her skin was swarthy and deeply wrinkled. The gypsy woman wore a vibrant red headscarf and large gold earrings, as befitted her people, and was swaddled in a number of voluminous knitted shawls. Kat supposed it not a manner of dress, but a costume for the benefit of persons such as themselves.

“Tell your fortune for a penny, Miss?” asked the gypsy woman

Kat was reluctant, calling to mind much of her father’s preaching on the superstitions of people. To her recollection, it was not a sin in itself but opened the door to much greater sins — pride, wrath and perhaps even the worship of Lucifer himself.

Surprisingly, Thomasina stepped forward and produced a penny from her reticule. The woman took it at once and secreted it within the folds of her shawls. Taking up Thomasina’s hand, she ran her fingers along the lines in her palm.

“I see…”

“Not I,” said Thomasina. “My friend here.”

The gypsy reached for Kat’s hand but she held still. “Go on,” said Thomasina. “I am curious to see what Newbroke holds for you.”

“Do you not want to know your own future?”

“I know my future. It involves many good years of teaching, with many a scholar produced and as many a hoyden, followed by the publication of the seminal tract on the practice of a governess, and finally the acquirement of quiet country curate for a very practical and amiable marriage.”

Thomasina then promptly reached over and snatched up Kat’s hand, depositing it in the clasp of the waiting gypsy woman. She peered at the dainty hand.

“Let me see…hmmm, this line here shows you will know love like you never have before. Ooh, I see many handsome men in your future. But…”

“But what?” urged Kat. “Go on, please.”

“Your life line is broken.”

“Which means?”

“That your life will be tragic. Or short.”

Kat resisted the urged to gasp. She refused to be horrified by lies and trickery. “Is there anything else?”

“I see fire and blood miss, much of it. This will not be a happy place for you, and I would not linger long.”

With that, the gypsy woman dropped Kat’s hand. She crossed herself and then spat noisily over her left shoulder before departing for the rest of her clan. As she walked away, she drew her shawls closer and began to mutter in her native language. Once she was sufficiently out of earshot, Kat allowed herself a demure laugh.

“Hogwash, Tamsin! As my father would say, hogwash!”

Thomasina did not look agreeable to this statement and instead began to chew upon her bottom lip in a most unladylike fashion. The coachman returned and assisted Thomasina in returning to her seat. Thomasina reached down from the window to make their goodbyes.

“Kat, you know I hold not with gypsies and superstition, but…”

“But what?”

“I have a bad feeling about this Newbroke place,” she said. “Keep your time here as short as possible, and write me every week until you find somewhere else.”

Kat nodded, clasping Thomasina’s hand one last time. There was little else to say between two who had spent nearly every day of the past year in each other’s company, and thought themselves sure to see one another again. Thomasina withdrew her hand into the carriage and knocked loudly on the roof. Kat stepped back and the carriage trundled off down the dirt path. It soon disappeared, Thomasina along with it. Kat suddenly felt very alone.

The night drew on further and no one from the house came to collect her, as Miss Fothering assured her they would. Kat was not entirely sure of the hour, but knew it long past the time that young governesses should be abroad, unaccompanied in a strange place. She wondered if Thomasina had arrived at her destination safely.

The town was much deserted at this hour, aside from those leaving the public house. Their state of inebriation not only made a worrisome notion for Kat’s safety, but made her unable to approach them for directions towards Newbroke Hall. It was Kat’s belief that, had she known the whereabouts of the house, she would have made good enough time on foot. Was Miss Fothering incorrect and Kat expected at the house much earlier by her own conveyance?

It had now grown as cold as it was dark. It settled on her skin, no matter how tightly she drew her shawl. Each chill ran up her arms like a hundred little spider feet. Her feet ached from standing, so she settled shamelessly on the ground beside the stone cross.

The gypsies had long since doused their campfires and retired to the caravans. The town was silent. Across each building, the last candle burned down until there was naught but a darkened window to be seen. Yet, despite the desertion, Kat perceived an acute sensation upon the back of her neck. Inexplicably, in the town devoid of people, the inhabitants in slumber, she was being watched.

A mist had settled throughout the town, obscuring all but the closest of sights. She looked about worriedly, yet could perceive no one in the haze. She steeled herself against the mind’s own threats, yet the primitive urge to flee had settled upon her. There was a weary rattle, almost like a low moan. Someone approached.

From the mist emerged a dark shape, large and formless. Again, the sound, like a beast braying in labour. Kat’s breath quickened in fear, and she opened her mouth to scream, but her mouth was dry. She jumped to her feet and prepared to flee. It drew closer still, until Kat was sure it would simply descend upon her and wipe her from existence.

“Miss Tilsley?” asked a voice.

Kat’s face rapidly reddened, in counterpart to the deathly white it had been moments before. She had been frightened half to death by a squeaky old hay cart.

Two men sat in the driver’s perch. One was an older gentleman, with a whip in hand. The other, a young lad, perhaps Kat’s age or slightly older, jumped down from the hay-cart and gathered up her baggage onto the back of the cart. He was tall and solidly built in the way of manual labourers. A mop of unruly black hair rested on his head and Kat observed that his clothes were immensely fine for one in his position. When Kat fixed him with an appraising stare, he winked at her. Kat’s hand flew to her mouth in shock. She hoped that Miss Fothering would not come to know that such ruinous behaviour had befallen her on her first night of employment.

“Hop on!” called the older man. Neither made move to assist her into the vehicle. Kat breathed a sigh of frustration and hauled herself onto the back of the cart, after much battle with her skirts. She balanced herself precariously against the side of the cart. The lad turned his head to smother a smirk. Kat shot a glare against his back.

The hay cart departed northwards from the town. As the dull grey buildings of Newbroke were subsumed into the thickening mist, Kat was once again surrounded by trees. It was as though the town of Newbroke had simply been constructed within a forest clearing.

Kat shivered in the back of the hay cart. The night had become colder still and her shawl did little to block out the cold. In the forest around her, she heard many noises and doings by the creatures that lived in the night. Kat’s time in Bath, short as it was, had transformed her entirely into a city girl and she was now uncomfortable with the proximity of wilderness that was customary of the country.

Searching for a diversion from the interminable boredom of her seemingly ceaseless travelling, she observed the two men that were her escort to Newbroke Hall. The first man, the old man, sat hunched over in the driver’s seat, his whip fidgeting back and forth in his grasp. He had a tired look in his face, not the look of a man who had gone without sleep, but whose very days are indeed a challenge in physical and mental endurance.

That face had features which few would call pleasant. There was something unusual about them which Kat could not place. His eyes were small and set well back into his face, like the little beads of black glass that had given countenance to the dolls of her childhood. From the side, she could not observe things greatly, but saw them flick from side to side rapidly. His chin was rounded and occasionally he would twist his head from side to side as if listening for something.

The boy provided an interesting and pleasing contrast. Kat wondered if he was the older gentleman’s son or nephew, and thought it unlikely, for he bore very little physical resemblance. His jet black hair was a most striking feature. She was unsure if she had ever seen hair that dark before. She leaned forward to take a closer look. She could not be certain in the dull light of the moon but she was sure that there were little streaks of purple and green throughout his hair.

Her observations of the two drivers were immediately drawn away by her first sight of Newbroke Hall. They had emerged from the forested road and on to a broad track at the base of a hill. Perched awkwardly upon the prow of the sweeping hill was the Hall. It was constructed of a dour grey stone, and jutted out at strange angles. The building was comprised entirely of sharp points, constructed from rectangles and squares seemingly at odds with one another. It lacked the softening features of the country houses Kat had seen previously, like the ornate columns in the Greek style, and instead favoured the rigidity of buttresses and the sharp crenellations that ran along the length of the building.

They pulled around a corner and Kat was presented with a view of a strong portcullis gate that originated from a time far older than her twenty-one years on this earth. By the rust, scrapes and bent areas, it had clearly bore witness to the turbulent times in Britain’s history. They travelled beneath the stone archway as the spikes of the portcullis loomed menacingly overhead. Kat was sure that they would drop at any moment and sever the cart in two, impaling all of the unfortunate passengers.

They entered the courtyard proper. It was featureless, merely an enclosure surrounded on all sides by the insipid stone walls. Throughout there were little windows set into the walls, yet they gave no impression of welcoming, or that in fact they had ever been opened.

The hay cart drove on and then pulled up to a square sandstone archway erected shabbily against one of the walls of the property. Evidently it served as a little portico for carriages. Standing at the door was a man dressed soberly in black with an elaborate, if outdated, white ruff around his next. The man walked over and presented his hand to her. She took it gratefully and alighted from the carriage.

“Our heartfelt apologies, Miss Tilsley. The master was…entertaining.”

She nodded. “I am not late then?”

“No, Miss, only by our own remiss.”

He gestured to the boy who brought her luggage down from the cart and placed it inside, far more carefully that he had retrieved it in the town. The boy did not look up the entire time and kept his head bowed in a strange deference, uncharacteristic of one who had so ribaldly teased her earlier in the evening. Evidently this man, a senior servant undoubtedly, had a great sway over the lad’s future at Newbroke Hall.

Done, he mounted the hay cart again. Both men were dismissed with a wave of the would-be preacher’s hand. Kat was unable to call her thanks for the transportation, but she knew readily enough that it would not have been appreciated by the recipients nor entirely honest on the part of the giver. Hay carts were not Kat’s usual mode of transport and she hoped that the master valued his son enough to allow them use of a well-appointed carriage at any point they need undertake a journey.

“I am the butler,” spoke the man. His voice was grave and quiet, yet had an uneven edge, not unlike the squawk of a crow or magpie. “You may call me Mr Beachcombe.”

Mr Beachcombe was a balding man, as old as her father. He drew up his broad shoulders and wrinkled his hooked nose as he bowed to Kat. She curtsied in return.

“The master will see you at once,” he announced. “He is keen to decide on your suitability for the position.”

“Oh,” she replied. “I had assumed I was now employed here, Mr Beachcombe.”

“A mere formality, Miss Tilsley, I assure you.” He gestured to the door. Kat swept up her skirts and entered the Hall.

She found herself within the main hall of Newbroke Hall. It was an austere room, encircled on all sides by thick wooden panelling which rendered the entire place in oppressive darkness. Sweeping upwards was a plain, yet impressively carved, staircase made of the same dark wood as the wall panelling. The floor was stone, as was the vaulted ceiling. Little gargoyles peered down from the corners of the ceiling, their carved faces pulled into grotesque expressions.

“If you would follow me,” directed Mr Beachcombe.

He lifted a lit candlestick from the sideboard and proceeded to walk on. Kat followed after rapidly, for fear she would be plunged into absolute darkness. Mr Beachcombe swept on and she struggled to keep up. He was not forthcoming with conversation as they proceeded down a further wood panelled passage.

“The Lord Darnley is unusual, is he not?” she proffered. “A peer of his rank who shares his name with both house and town, with no name of his own?”

Mr Beachcombe did not respond, and quickened his pace. From his downturned and protruding lips, the butler did not find this display of aristocratic trivia endearing. They continued on, and finally reached an arched door set into the panelled.

Beachcombe grasped the knocker, a mottled iron ring, firmly and pushed the door open. Striding in, he intoned with all the pomp and circumstance of a duchess’ presentation to society “Miss Katherine Tilsley, milord.”

He beckoned Kat into the room and she was rewarded with her first sight of Lord Darnley Newbroke.Lord Darnley had a face that was unremarkable, until one became aware of the peerage that adorned his name. Once known to be suitably entitled, Lord Darnley had the looks which many a mama hoped her daughter could ensnare. His cheekbones and chin bore sign of his aristocratic stock, nobly chiselled and defined, and his dark hair and olive skin spoke to a Norman heritage.

However, Lord Darnley did not dress with the flair Kat attributed to the men of his station she had come to know in Bath. He dressed more like a country man after a day’s harvest, with his rough shirt open to the neck. He stood briefly to bow in greeting and then returned to his chair, set throne like between the two iron candelabra that illuminated the room.

He waited for no words from Kat. No sooner had she returned from her curtsey, that Lord Darnley began, locking his pale grey eyes with hers. Under the intensity of his gaze, she felt forced to regard the floor with some scrutiny.

“You come highly recommended from the Reverend Webb, Miss Tilsley, but believe me, you would not be first choice for the education of my son.”

Kat felt her breath retreat from her lungs as she struggled for a response. Her eyes remained downcast.

He continued. “Your duties are as thus. You will impart to my son a firm, practical education. His letters and numbers, good penmanship for letters, a grasp of the geographies, history and a little politics, as such as a woman might understand them. He need only know enough of poetry and art to impress some flighty damsel of the ton and her mama. I am in want of a suitable heir to manage the estate, not a scholar.”

“Yes, my Lord, I can do that.” Kat relaxed slightly, the first time she felt confident in her abilities.

“You speak French, of course?” he asked. “And the child must also learn some Italian, to keep his motley family from complaining. Just a few words, so he might converse with the grandmother.”

Kat curtsied low to the floor. Her voice trembled slightly, her confidence easily lost. “I speak only a little French, my lord, and no Italian.”

Lord Darnley rose from his chair. “You play an instrument, of course, or you sketch?”

“I sing, my Lord, and my embroidery is fair.” She curtsied again, low enough now that she feared her knees might give way.

He approached her, “You sing? Your embroidery is fair?” She fancied him close enough to feel his breath on her face, the slight whiff of brandy not unnoticeable.

“I am not raising an accomplished lady of the beau monde, I am raising a son!” he bellowed.

Kat turned her face away and willed her eyes not to shut in fear.

“My Lord,” interjected the butler, moving silently across the floor. “Miss Tilsley is merely answering by rote, answers she would have learned from her governess school, no matter the age or gender of the child,”

Kat nodded quickly, grateful. He continued.

“Forgive Miss Tilsley her ignorance, but she does not come from the great schools of the City, but from a petit école, nor should she for what we offer in recompense. But really, she need only teach the boy enough so he does not embarrass Newbroke when he goes to school. She is more of a learned playmate than a true tutor.”

She was less grateful for the gentleman’s closing remarks. Lord Darnley returned to his chair. He rested his chin upon his clenched fist, as if he were weighing the facts presented to him like a great judge of the Old Testament. Evidently he had come to a conclusion, for his mouth had taken on a pinched appearance.

“Show her to her room, and see her settled in. She may have tomorrow morning to become acquainted with the house, but she must begin her lessons after luncheon.”

“Very good, My Lord,” said Mr Beachcombe, bowing. He came over at once to Kat, and in a very peculiar manner, managed to sweep her out of the room without touching her at all. In complete silence, he led her down the passageway, out into the main hall and up the creaking steps of the main staircase. She followed after him, making her way across the first-floor corridor.

Beachcombe stopped abruptly and pointed down a corridor. “The third door, Miss Tilsley. You will find your luggage already there, though you must unpack it yourself. It is late, and we cannot spare a maidservant.”

Kat unwittingly made a small noise of confusion. Mr Beachcombe turned to face her. “There is some issue with your lodgings?”

She quickly shook her head. “No sir, but merely unusual. Would I not be housed in the attic, with the rest of the servants?”

“The attics are unsafe, Miss Tilsley, and forbidden entirely for your own safety. We have had to rehouse most of the servants, in the basements or in rooms away from persons of consequence.”

“The master keeps good society, then?” she asked.

Her hopes of grand parties and fine soirees were instantly dismissed. “Rarely,” the butler replied. “His Lordship is devoted to his own pursuits, though he often calls on the neighbouring gentry. When the master is in search of society, he prefers his club in London.”

Kat’s confusion was not abated, merely heightened. Hadn’t Beachcombe told her the master was entertaining? She opened her mouth to question him, but the butler simply spoke over her.

“Mrs Ridgeley, the housekeeper, shall call upon you in the morning at an appropriate hour. She will acquaint you with the workings of the house and its layout. After luncheon, I shall fetch you and introduce you to Master Ambrose. Good night, Miss Tilsley.”

Kat did not have the time to bid the butler goodnight. He turned and was gone at once from the corridor with a rustle of his dark coat. Without a candle of her own, Beachcombe’s departure plunged the corridor into darkness. The only source of light was a small window set into the wall at the end of the passageway. The moonlight trickled through, fighting to illuminate the tunnel-like corridor.

She hitched up her skirts and pressed on, feeling her way along the raised wood of the wall panelling. Her hand felt cool stone and then it fell down, dipping into nothingness. First door. She continued to feel her away along the smooth wood and rough stone. Second door. Third door. She pushed her hand out, feeling the wood against her palm, and brought her hand down to grasp the iron ring.

Before she could twist the knocker, there was a scraping sound. Kat drew a frightened breath, her nerves already on edge from her time alone in the town and her almost violent, certainly humiliating, encounter with Lord Darnley. Kat resumed her attempts to open the door but, again, the sound echoed in Kat’s ears.

It was the undeniable scrape of a boot on the stone floor. Kat turned slowly on the spot, struggling against the weak moonlight to make sense of the shadows before her. The corridor in its abject darkness could have been filled with hundreds, the shadows swirling before her eyes, forming endless shapes.

She gripped the handle tighter, turned it, and felt the ancient latch give way. As the door creaked open, Kat felt a rush of air against her neck, as though someone hurried past her. She turned her head and caught from the corner of her eye a flash of something rounding the corner at the end of the corridor.

She flung herself into the bedroom, closing the door behind her as quickly as possible. Once the lock was turned, she leant back against the cool wood, her breath thundering in her lungs.

In the dark, Kat could not be certain that she had seen anyone flee the corridor. But, unmistakably, someone had brushed against her. She had felt the touch of their rough cloth against her exposed elbow. Of this she was sure.


Excerpted from Mists Over Newbroke by Kieran Higgins.

Available on Kindle and coming soon to print.

Copyright Kieran Higgins 2016.

Do not reproduce without permission of the author.