Gothic Romance – opening chapter

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 in 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.

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