Mill House is a megalith of slate and gneiss, blackened with age. Roan stares up, noting how it disappears into the raging sky, though part of the house vanishes into the mountain, melting one into the other like some kind of awful chimera. The young man had dropped her portmanteau at the foot of a door that looked like a servants’ hatch, and disappeared back into the mountain without a word. “Off with you, then!” she had called. “Cretin.”
So. This is now to be her home. This is where her father had wished her to go. Safety in isolation. Roan scoffs at that. Certainly she will be isolated here. But why? And why this man, this doctor, whom she has never met nor heard her father speak of? She stiffens at the idea that Dr. Maudley may know more about her than she knows of him. And worse: that he knows more about her than she does of herself. The door, warped by long years of expansion and contraction, stands like a sentry before her. And in such a large house, she doubts anyone will hear her. Still, she raises her gloved hand and knocks. Nothing for a long time, so she knocks again, thinking she might have to spend the night out on the mountain, or else resort to breaking in through one of the windows. She pulls at her skirt-smothered crinoline and looks up. Letting her guard slip with a momentary but intense flash of anger, she kicks the door. It rattles on its hinges.
The door opens only a crack, and with speed. A woman with a severe, hardened face and gray hair beneath a cotton cap glares at her.
She spits out a sentence that Roan cannot understand, and when she simply stares, dripping beneath her bonnet and muddied up to her traveling cloak, the woman snaps, “What hour for calling is this?” in a churlish accent.
Roan bends to pick up her portmanteau but it slips from her frozen fingers, clattering onto the stone tiles.
“Well, come in,” the woman barks, “unless you want to drown where you stand.” She strides back into the house, leaving Roan to haul up her bag and follow. They are in a pantry, Roan sees, and beyond, a large kitchen looms dark and still.
“An unsociable hour,” mutters the woman, stalking over to a table and picking up a goblet, polishing it with a rag.
“It could not be helped.” Roan raises her chin, noting the steaming pie on the small table. “And it would appear you were awake.”
The woman raises her brows. “I’ve heard stranger things in my day. How you found a coach to bring you out at this time, I shall never know—nor want to,” she adds stiffly. She places the goblet beside several others and then grabs a brush and comes at Roan’s portmanteau like it is a creature for killing.
“Which one are you?” she asks briskly, kneeling down to scrub the mud from the bag.
Roan freezes. “Do you mean to say there are others?” She thought her father had wished her away from society, and that her arrival would be a surprise. She had told no one where she was going, nor had she sent advance warning. There had been no time. A chill of unease prickles at her neck.
The woman smirks. “Hark! She thinks she has sole claim to the Master’s kindness.”
Roan says nothing. Instead, she removes her coat and holds it out.
Knees cracking and with the aid of her hands, the servant gets back on her feet and takes the cloak. “I am the Master’s housekeeper here at Pant Tywyll.”
“I thought it was Mill House.”
The woman’s lip curls. “That is the English name. You may call me Mrs. Goode.”
Roan nods. “I am the new ward of Dr. Maudley.” It is the truth, yet a gamble. Should Dr. Maudley refuse her… The letter in her pocket feels suddenly heavy, burning with heat. “You may call me Miss Eddington.”
Mrs. Goode considers her for a moment with rheumy eyes and then inspects the cloak, clucking her tongue. “Drewgi,” she mutters. “I’ll have this cleaned and sent to you in the morning.” Her lip curls again. “Perhaps by the afternoon. You’re in mourning,” she adds, noticing Roan’s heavy black dress.
Roan makes no reply.
“Well, you have the complexion for it!”
Roan stares. Still no reply. Her fingers are itching.
break the neck easy as a chicken’s
Roan starts, spinning to look behind her. “What was that?”
“What was what?”
“I thought I heard someone.”
“At this hour? Everyone is abed.” Again, the tone of disapproval.
Roan shakes her head. “It must have been the rain.”
Mrs. Goode turns and, slowly, taking her time, walks over to the fireplace where she hangs the cloak and proceeds meticulously to straighten every wrinkle, every fold, every pleat.
crunch down so easy now
Roan spins. “There. Again. Did you not hear it?”
Mrs. Goode straightens. “I am not so old that my hearing is going, Miss Eddington. I hear nothing but the usual. Rain and rain and more ungodly rain.”
Roan shuts her eyes once Mrs. Goode’s gaze is diverted, the old woman bending low to fuss over a wicker basket tucked beneath the table. Roan slips off a glove and rubs her forehead. She clenches her hand against her brow, fingernails in the bed of her hand, cutting sharply. The pain is clarifying. She is weary from travel. That is all.