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Authors: Barbara Michaels

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The driver had unloaded my things—one bag of clothes, three of books and papers. He accepted the bills I handed him and scratched his head again.

“I don’t like to leave you here, miss, if nobody’s home.”

I reassured him, if not myself, and he left. It seemed highly possible that Kevin had forgotten I was to arrive that day. I felt sure he would not leave the old dog unattended for any great length of time, but if he had gone out he might not be back till midnight.

Retreating a few steps, I shaded my eyes and looked up. The gatehouse was one story higher than the rest of the wing whose center it formed. Its windows were small squares, deeply imbedded in the thick walls. But the sunlight was still bright; as I stared I saw something move behind the highest window. A pale circle that might have been a face pressed itself against the glass.

The idea that someone was in the house and had refused to answer the door made me even angrier than I already was. I went back to the door. I would have kicked it if I had been wearing regular shoes, but the bare, dusty toes protruding from my sandals gave me pause. Moved more by exasperation than by an expectation of finding the door unlocked, I seized the iron handle and twisted it.

It turned, sweetly and smoothly. The door swung open. Before me was a vast open expanse of dully shining floor, framed by paneled walls hung with paintings and tapestries—and a tall form, trotting quickly toward me.

Kevin was wearing jeans and a blue T-shirt streaked with paint. His feet were bare, and as he came toward me, smiling broadly, a pattern of dusty prints marked his path. He should have looked howlingly out of place in that elegant, baronial hall, but he didn’t; even the grubby footprints seemed appropriate, marking his right to be there.

He gave me a quick, brotherly hug. “Hey, good to see you. Have any trouble finding the place?”

“I lost your directions,” I admitted. “And I’ve been banging on the door for hours. Where the hell were you?”

“Honest Injun, I didn’t hear you.”

“I’ll bet you were asleep.”

Kevin’s protestations were so heartfelt and his pleasure at seeing me so genuine that I got over being miffed. We carried my luggage inside, and then he said, “Want to see your room first, or have a drink?”

“I could use a little something. I’ve been on the road since seven this morning.” I spoke absently; now that my eyes had adjusted to the lesser degree of light inside, I was increasingly awed. The hallway must have been forty feet long, bisecting this wing of the house. At the far end a double stair lifted toward a central landing. Between the two wings of the stairs an open doorway showed part of the central court—flagstones, a fountain, hanging pots of flowers.

“This way.” Kevin took my arm.

By the time we reached the library I really did need a drink. It was in the west wing; to reach it we passed through a dining room with mullioned windows and tapestry-hung walls, a parlor lined with cupboards holding Delft pottery, and the Great Hall, which had a medieval timbered roof and one of those stone fireplaces big enough to roast an ox. By comparison the library was almost cozy. Walls covered with books always make me feel at home. There were two levels of bookcases, the upper gallery being reached by a spiral iron staircase. The room was large enough to contain several big tables, couches, and chairs without looking crowded. Double doors opened onto another part of the central courtyard. Deep leather chairs and low tables faced the fireplace, with its carved stone overmantel.

When Kevin asked me what I wanted to drink I collapsed into a chair and waved my hand distractedly.

“Anything, I don’t care. Good heavens, my boy, I’ve never seen a place like this—except in museums, where they have whole rooms taken from castles and manor houses. The place can’t be genuine, it’s four hundred years earlier than the first settlements in America. Did some eccentric millionaire reproduce his ancestral mansion, or what?”

Kevin handed me a glass and took a chair opposite mine. A table between us was covered with books, papers, glasses, coffee cups, and plates. Obviously this was where Kevin spent much of his time. I was pleased to see such evidences of scholarly industry.

“You get points for the eccentric millionaire,” he said, “but this place is no reproduction. It’s authentic, from the topmost chimney pot to the stones in the cellar. Rudolf Karnovsky found it in Warwickshire, back in the twenties, and moved the whole kit and caboodle to Pennsylvania.”

“It wasn’t his ancestral home, then?”

“He was an emigrant from somewhere in central Europe,” Kevin said, smiling. “Rumor has it that he arrived on Ellis Island with a pocket handkerchief and a mind full of guile, and very little else. He was fifteen. Thirty years later he was one of the richest men in America—which is pretty impressive when you consider that his peers had names like Carnegie and Rockefeller. Of course those were the good old days; no nasty taxes, no unfair antitrust laws.”

“So he bought himself some roots and the stones to anchor them in. Fantastic.”

“It wasn’t so unusual. Hearst did something similar at Sans Souci, if you remember. He spent over a million dollars a year for fifty years, buying not only ceilings and mantels and paneling from European châteaus, but whole medieval castles and monasteries.”

“Yes, I’ve read about that.”

Kevin hardly waited for me to finish the sentence. His eyes shining, he went on. “I’ll bet you don’t realize how many castles were actually built in the United States. One of the most elaborate was in Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. It was modeled after Alnwick Castle in England, and was over two hundred feet long. Then there was Palmer Castle in Chicago, and Dar Island Castle in the Thousand Islands region, and Lambert Castle in Paterson, New Jersey—”

If I hadn’t interrupted he might have gone on for hours. “I didn’t realize you knew so much about the subject.”

“I’ve been doing some reading,” Kevin indicated the books on the table; they were not lit books after all, but bore such titles asAmerican Castles and The Gothic Revival in America . A vague, undefined feeling of discomfort passed through me when I realized this, but my interest in what Kevin was saying made me forget it.

“The craze was at its peak during the 1890’s,” he continued. “But there was a castle-type house built in western Pennsylvania as early as 1843, and Hammond Castle, in Massachusetts, wasn’t begun till 1925. It incorporated sections of actual buildings brought here from Europe, not to mention a reproduction of the Rose Window at Rheims Cathedral. The only thing that differentiated our friend Rudolf from other eccentric millionaires was that he had better taste; instead of using bits and pieces, he bought the whole house and everything in it.”

“You don’t mean every stick of furniture in the place is medieval,” I said skeptically.

“No, of course not. The family from whom Rudolf bought the place was hard up; they had sold most of the remaining antiques. But the library was virtually intact. There were also family portraits and odds and ends, things that had more sentimental than commercial value.”

“Well, I am speechless.”

“Not you,” Kevin said, grinning.

“Almost speechless. I love it, Kevin.”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet. How about a tour?”

I didn’t want a tour. My simple mind can only absorb small amounts of wonder; that’s why I never spend more than an hour at a time in a museum. If I had been allowed to follow my own inclinations I would have preferred to soak up the treasures in small sips, getting to know them gradually. Also, I was starved, having had nothing since breakfast except a stale sandwich somewhere between Philadelphia and Pittsfield. Before I could voice these sentiments, Kevin took my hand and pulled me up out of my chair.

I got to know the place later, only too well; but I can still recall the daze of confusion that followed that first inspection. There were a music room and two parlors, large and small, and a kitchen that had one small island of modernity—electric stove, refrigerator, and so on—lost in a vast stone-floored expanse of quaintness; there were bedrooms with four-poster beds and embroidered hangings and names like The White Room and Queen Mary’s Chamber. There were also bathrooms, which I was happy to see, having wondered whether antiquarian types worry about such things. I don’t know why I wondered, because the house showed other signs of continual remodeling and modernization. The bathrooms were the sort of thing Queen Victoria might have designed, but in their way they were rather divine, with fireplaces and marble tubs. One tub was either a good copy, or a genuine Roman sarcophagus, with carved reliefs of cherubs and nymphs.

By the time we finished admiring the bathrooms it was almost dark, and Kevin reluctantly admitted that we had better wait till morning before touring the grounds. “Why don’t we have a drink in the courtyard while our dinner cooks?” he suggested.

“What are we having?” I asked. The immaculate rooms had suggested that the house must be supplied with invisible servants, or old-style serfs who popped out of hidden doors in the paneling to scrub and dust as soon as we left. I allowed myself to hope that the same unseen servitors had prepared a pasty of peacock’s tongues to be followed by syllabub and grog.

“TV dinners,” Kevin said. “Would you rather have fried chicken, or spaghetti and meatballs?”

II

I had spaghetti and meatballs. By means of plantings of boxwood and shrubs, one side of the central courtyard had been formed into an enclosed patio area, adjoining the kitchen. I sat at a table there, with my aching feet up on another chair, and watched through the open doorway while Kevin went through the arduous labor of peeling the foil off the dinners. The household animals had congregated, and been fed; when Kevin came out to join me, they followed: Belle, pacing with slow arthritic strides, a younger dog, part Irish Setter, which had apparently spent the day in a bramble patch, and three cats of varying sizes and shapes. One was a meek-looking tabby tomcat who obviously went in terror of cat number two, a long-haired beauty who outweighed him by at least ten pounds. Kevin indicated the third, a minuscule creature with ears much too large for its pointed face.

“Mom’s latest acquisition. Somebody dumped it at the gate. The clods are always abandoning unwanted animals. I suppose they think the poor things can fend for themselves out in the country. Most of them die horrible deaths, of course.”

“But not the ones that meet your mother,” I said, trying to pet the kitten. It spat at me and backed off, its fur bristling.

“Bad girl, Pettibone,” said Kevin.

“I don’t blame her for being suspicious of humans.”

“She had a bad time, all right. She was skin and bone when Belle brought her in.”

“Belle?”

The old dog cocked a lazy eye at me when her name was mentioned.

“Belle is worse than Mother,” Kevin said. “She’s always bringing strays home. She must be part retriever; she never hurts anything, just fetches it. We’ve had rabbits, groundhogs, and once an extremely irritated skunk. Took two weeks, and a couple of gallons of tomato juice, to get Belle fit for human society.”

One of the other cats, the long-haired gray-and-white one, jumped onto my lap. It weighed almost twenty pounds. My knees sagged, and the cat dug in all its claws to keep from falling.

“That’s Tabitha,” Kevin said. “Chow hound and sex maniac.”

“She likes me,” I said, as Tabitha rubbed her head against my chest, leaving a patch of gray hair.

“I wish I could tell you that is a compliment. However, Tabitha likes everybody. She has no discrimination whatever.”

Tabitha squirmed and purred as I tickled her under the chin. One of the reasons for her affection became apparent when my TV dinner was delivered; I had to fight her for every meatball.

The long summer twilight deepened; the crenellated roofs and pointed towers of Grayhaven were sharp black silhouettes against the soft blue of the sky. I sat back in my chair with a sigh.

“It’s the most peaceful place. I can see why your parents fell in love with it, even though it is impractical.”

“Not all that impractical,” Kevin said quickly. “It seems outlandishly large at first, but there are only ten bedrooms.”

“Plus a Great Hall, a music room—and did you mention a chapel?”

“Most of the rooms are closed off unless the folks give a party.”

“I’m on your side,” I said, a little surprised at the sharpness of his tone. “It’s their house and they can do what they like. The only thing that worries me is the amount of housekeeping. I fully expected to do some cleaning, that’s only fair. But I can’t do justice to this place, Kevin, especially if we hope to get any work done on the book.”

“No problem. A cleaning team comes out a couple of times a week.”

BOOK: Someone in the House
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