Trethwick Abbey, Cornwall, April 1818
It was a dark and stormy night—or, rather, it should have been.
In reality, it was a sunny, breezy afternoon—one of those mild April days that truly felt as though summer were properly on its way. It had been a wet, cold winter, and Penvale had more than once wondered why, precisely, he’d thought it wise to leave London to return to Cornwall in January, of all months.
Today, however, he could not help thinking that the atmosphere would be well served by some of the bleak, stormy weather for which his ancestral home was so famed. Because he—Peter Bourne, seventh Viscount Penvale, owner of one of the oldest stately homes in all of England—was ghost-hunting.
Penvale didn’t really believe in ghosts, of course. He was a practical man, not given to flights of fancy. There was simply no chance that a house—and certainly not his house—could be haunted.
And yet here he was.
“Did you hear that?” his wife asked.
Penvale turned slowly, surveying their surroundings. “I did,” he said, squinting into the gloom. It might have been a sunny afternoon, but they were in one of the unused bedrooms on the third floor, the curtains drawn to prevent any light from entering, the furniture still covered to ward off dust, and this all lent an eerie, lonely mood to their activities.
The household staff was in the process of airing out these rooms in preparation for a house party they would be hosting in a couple of weeks’ time. Penvale’s sister and brother-in-law and closest friends would be staying with them for a fortnight, taking in the sea air, enjoying long walks along the scenic cliffs atop which Trethwick Abbey was perched, and generally savoring all the comforts the estate had to offer.
Penvale thought a haunting might cast a bit of a pallor on the proceedings.
“I think it came from the wardrobe,” his wife continued uncertainly, her large blue-violet eyes mirroring some of his own unease.
A moment of silence.
“The wardrobe,” Penvale repeated, casting a wary glance at the piece of furniture in question, a hulking presence in one corner. “Well, I suppose I should check inside.”
“Yes,” his wife agreed.
Neither one moved.
“Penvale?” she prompted.
“Yes, of course,” he said, taking a few steps toward the wardrobe; no sooner had he made it halfway across the room, however, than there was another ominous thump, this one coming from the opposite wall.
Penvale paused. “That,” he pronounced with great certainty, “did not come from the wardrobe.” He turned back to his wife, noticing that she’d gone paler.
“No?” she ventured, her voice more hesitant than he’d ever heard it.
“No,” he said more firmly, advancing on her slowly. Her eyes were fixed on his face as he approached, close enough that he could detect the fresh citrus scent that always clung to her skin.
Then, without warning, the silence between them was shattered by an earsplitting, unearthly scream.
And the candle in his wife’s hand flickered out.