In September of the year 1811, a little boy arrived at the door of
Aswarby Hall in the middle of Lincolnshire. He rang the bell and
looked around him at the tall, square eighteenth-century house.
An evening light fell on the building, making the windows shine
like fires. In front of the hall there was a park full of trees, and a
church with a clock. It all seemed very pleasant to the boy as he
waited for someone to open the door.
The boy's parents were dead and his elderly cousin. Mr Abney.
wanted him to go and live at Aswarby. People who knew Mr
Abney were surprised at his offer because they thought he was a
man who loved books more than people and who preferred to
Mr Abney opened the door and seemed very happy to see his
young cousin. Stephen Elliot. He immediately started to ask
questions: 'How old are you. my boy? How are you? And how
old are you? 1 mean. I hope you are not too tired to eat your
'No, thank you, sir,' said Stephen. 'I am quite well.'
'Good,' said Mr Abney. 'And how old are you, my boy?' It
seemed strange that he asked the question twice in the first two
minutes of their conversation.
'I'm twelve years old next birthday.' said Stephen.
'And when is your birthday, my dear boy? Eleventh of
September, eh? That's good, that's very good. 1 like to write these
tilings down in my book. Are you sure you will be twelve?'
'Yes, sir. quite sure.'
'Well, take him to Mrs Bunch's room, Parkes.' Mr Abney said
to his servant,'and let him have his supper.'
Mrs Bunch was the friendliest person at Aswarby. Stephen felt
comfortable with her and they became good friends in a quarter
of an hour. She was fifty-five years old and knew everything
about the house and its neighbourhood. She was quire willing to
share this information with Stephen and there were certainly
many things about Aswarby Hall and gardens that the boy wanted
to ask her.
One November evening, Stephen was sitting by the fire in Mri
Bunch's room, thinking about his new home. 'Is Mr Abney a
good man?' he suddenly asked.
'Good? My child!' said Mrs Bunch,'He's the kindest man I've
ever known! Haven't I told you about the little boy he brought
here from the street seven years ago, and the little girl two years
after 1 started working here?'
'No, please tell me about them, Mrs Bunch,' said Stephen.
'Well,' she began, 'I don't remember much about the little girl.
Mr Abney brought her back from his walk one day and told Mrs
Ellis to take care of her. The poor child had no family. She lived
with us for about three weeks and then one morning she got up
while everyone was still asleep and left the house. I've never seen
her again. Mr Abney looked everywhere but she never came
back. She was a very silent child but she helped me a lot and I
loved her very much.'
'And what about the little boy?' asked Stephen.
'Ah, that poor boy!' said Mrs Bunch. 'He came here one
winter day playing his music, and Mr Abney asked him lots of
questions, such as "Where do you come from? How old are you?
Where are your family?" He was very kind to the boy. but the
same thing happened — he just disappeared.' That night Stephen
had a strange dream. Near his bedroom at the top of the house
there was an old bathroom, which nobody used. The top of the
door was made of glass and it was possible to look in and see
the bath. In his dream, Stephen looked through the glass and saw
a body in the bath, a very thin, dusty body with a sad smile and
the hands pressed over the heart.