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Authors: Susan McNally

The Morrow Secrets

BOOK: The Morrow Secrets
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Table of Contents


Chapter One
Tallitha Gets into Trouble

It was on that cold, wet miserable day that Tallitha Mouldson made the decision that was to change her life forever. Had she but known the momentous events that would unfold perhaps she would have taken a different course, but she didn’t and Tallitha was nothing if not headstrong. Taking two steps at a time she raced up the staircase and darted down the dark corridor, hurriedly wiping away the tears that were streaming down her face. At last she reached the sanctuary of her room, slammed the door shut behind her and with a dramatic flop landed on the bed.

‘I won’t do it, they can’t make me!’ she wailed as she twisted her tangled hair in and out of her fingers, sulking about her predicament.
Those dreadful sisters had lied to her all these years, kept secrets from her, she was certain of that now.
‘Damn them all,’ she shouted and buried her face in the quilt.
Her sobbing came in fitful bursts until eventually she lay quite still in the tumble of blankets, scheming and plotting. Her mind flitted from one daring escape plan to another. She imagined leaving Winderling Spires, she imagined living somewhere else, having a completely different life. She would run away, that was it! But it was hopeless, where would she go? The impossibility of her plight made her cry all the more.
Tallitha was in many respects quite a cranky, sullen girl, at least with the grown-ups in her family. She was not plain and she was not pretty, just somewhere in the middle, with a small round face and an abundance of messy dark hair that rarely entertained a brush.
Sighing loudly she clambered off the bed, flung the quilt to the floor and stared longingly at the mountains in the distance. Hot tears of frustration trickled down her cheeks as she pressed her damp face against the cool glass and watched the rain sheeting down in waves across the pale washed-out skies.
She had to escape from her wretched family. Get away from them all.
‘Far away from this dreadful house!’ she cried, as her breath misted across the window pane and obscured her view of freedom.
There were so many things she didn’t understand about her eccentric relatives and the mysterious house they inhabited together.
Tallitha lived in a grand apartment in the east wing of Winderling Spires, an enormous, sprawling house in the land of Wycham Elva. There were servants to do her bidding, row upon row of beautiful clothes and boxes of sparkling jewels but the trouble was Tallitha hated all of it. Some would say she had everything a girl could wish for but Tallitha did not agree with them and now she was in a worse mess than ever.
Tallitha sniffed loudly and surveyed her untidy bedroom. In her distress she had thrown all the cushions off her bed and messed up the powders and perfumes on her dressing table, with one sweep of her hand.
‘I hate her; and I hate it here!’ she shouted to no one in particular, pacing the room and kicking a chair.
But the old house was eerily silent in response. Cissie, Tallitha’s faithful nurse, heard the rumpus from her sitting room and came bustling in.
‘There, there, my little Miss. You must stop frettin’ and scowlin’,’ she said lovingly, stroking Tallitha’s hair.
Tallitha lifted her tear-stained face and began sobbing again.
‘It’s so unfair. She wants me to speak like a lady and spend all day doing boring things. She never listens to what I want,’ she said, mimicking her Great Aunt Agatha’s voice, ‘I’m never allowed to do anything!’
‘Now, calm yourself my dear’.
‘I won’t!’ Tallitha shouted angrily, ‘I’m even forbidden from going upstairs,’ she cried, raising her eyes to the ceiling, ‘there are floors up there I haven’t ever seen!’
‘Hush there. What are we to do with you, makin’ such a racket,’ replied her indulgent nurse, clicking her tongue in dismay.
‘Don’t look at me like that,’ said Tallitha petulantly, kicking her feet in annoyance.
‘Well, what do you want to go upstairs for?’ asked Cissie trying to take the heat out of the situation.
She was a small busy bundle of a woman with a kind disposition. Her plump frame was always covered in flowered aprons tied tightly round her generous middle.
‘But I do, I do! I want to see what’s up there. I want to explore this weird old house.’
‘Eh, all those gloomy old rooms, most of them have been locked for years. Fusty and smelly, they ’aven’t been slept in since I first came here. Anyhow ’alf the keys are missing,’ said Cissie chuckling away to herself.
‘It’s not funny, you don’t know how rotten I feel,’ snapped Tallitha.
The trouble was Cissie had heard all of Tallitha’s complaints before. But Tallitha was not about to give up that easily.
‘I’m going to run away. I will! No one cares about me or Tyaas,’ she cried, sneaking a sideways look at Cissie.
‘You must stop speaking so. Tyaas is your little brother and looks up to you, now don’t you be encouraging him in your naughty ways.’
‘I will do as I please!’ Tallitha said haughtily, ‘stop treating me like a child.’
‘But it’s dangerous outside Winderling Spires. This house, well it may be odd in its way but it’s your home and you’re safe here. There, there, stop cryin’. You must promise me, no more silliness about runnin’ away.’
Tallitha folded her arms and scowled. She wouldn’t promise Cissie any such thing.
‘Besides,’ Tallitha said, ‘it doesn’t have to be like this. Why can’t father be Aunt Agatha’s heir?’
‘Now, you know why not. Wycham Elva has always been ruled by the women of the family, goin’ back for generations.’
Cissie felt put on the spot by Tallitha’s questions, the girl had a habit of cornering her.
‘Well, what about mother? She likes all the grandeur.’
‘There’s no use kicking against it. Snowdroppe can’t rule Wycham Elva. It was decided long ago,’ said Cissie becoming exasperated.
‘I’m not going to do what they want. They can’t make me,’ she said sharply.
‘But they can, my dear. You know they can, and they will,’ said Cissie in her softest voice.
Tallitha flung herself across her nurse’s lap.
‘Do stop now. ’Tis no use,’ said Cissie, lovingly.
But Tallitha felt wretched. She was the wrong girl in the wrong life. Something was just not right and she knew it.
Of course the strange old house didn’t help. Tallitha was certain that Winderling Spires, with its secrets and peculiarities, had somehow infected the personalities of all the occupants turning them into freakish, contrary beings. Each generation of the Morrow family had tried to outdo the last by building ever more extraordinary wings and adding bizarre turrets to the grand facade of the Spires. The ancient topsy-turvy house was a forbidding landmark as it towered loftily over the countryside, imposing its haunting presence over all it surveyed. The dark cluttered interior with its bewildering layout was no more welcoming. Abandoned rooms and dark lonely floors were linked by a labyrinth of corridors and twisting staircases where the family never ventured.
In the darkest corners of the Spires, complete wings had been locked for generations, their history lost to the collective memory of the Morrow family. Tallitha had once overheard the Housekeeper, Mrs Armitage, complaining that she needed more staff, with over four hundred rooms to clean, and they were just the ones she knew about! The house had an ominous atmosphere. On every landing, high up in the corners of ornate ceilings and leaning earthward with lashing tongues and bulging eyes, malevolent gargoyles jutted out from dusty cornices and leered from old carvings encased in wooden staircases.
As Tallitha saw it, her predicament had become worse that very morning. She had been summoned by her great aunt to discuss her progress. Agatha Morrow had designed a programme of study for her great niece. She was determined to teach Tallitha the old-fashioned accomplishments of painting and needlework, and mastering Ennish, the ancient language of the Northern Wolds. Unfortunately, Tallitha was hopeless with needles and she found it hard to concentrate on unpronounceable verbs from a language she had never heard spoken. Each week she did her best to please her great aunt, to paint pretty scenes and to keep the stitches in her sampler neat but this went against her unruly nature. She tried to follow the stencil and use the colours in the correct order, but somehow she got into knots, terrible knots, and Agatha Morrow despised knots.
That morning, at the appointed hour, Tallitha sighed and straightened her dishevelled appearance. She meandered through the Spires, wasting time, hoping to avoid the meeting, until one of the shroves came and found her in the conservatory. The shroves, the strange old retainers who worked at the Spires, roamed the house from dawn to dusk. They knew every hiding place and if they found Tallitha in the wrong place at the wrong time they would snitch on her to Great Aunt Agatha and she would get into more trouble. So there was nothing for it. She knocked on the door of her great aunt’s sitting room and waited.
Great Aunt Agatha lived in the oldest part of the house, a ramshackle collection of ornate rooms with interconnecting staircases known as the Fedora wing, named after her ancestor, the first Grand Morrow. Agatha’s sitting room was filled with needlework and tapestries and Tallitha was convinced that her aunt laid these samplers out each week to make her feel even more inadequate.
‘Enter!’ shouted Agatha imperiously.
The Grand Morrow sat on a huge chair with a vexed expression on her face. Marlin, her great aunt’s shrove, had collected Tallitha’s sewing earlier that morning and now Agatha was turning the sampler round in her hand and sighing.
‘Oh there you are. Well Tallitha, this is poor. What have you to say for yourself?’
The Grand Morrow had a knack of making all those in her presence feel rather small and a little afraid. But Tallitha was a resourceful girl and had rehearsed her speech to achieve maximum charm, or so she thought.
‘Dear, dear Aunt Agatha, please don’t be cross with me, I have tried hard this week,’ she said and feigned an exhausted expression. ‘I’ve spent hours on these stitches. Look, how I’ve embroidered the ‘Pink Sherbet’ flowers, the ‘Persian Indigo’ sky and the ‘Tea Green’ hedges in that field!’
Tallitha pointed at the sampler and gasped. Her endeavours had become a fudgy mess of muddled threads. Yet the stitches had seemed so neat yesterday. Oh bother, what was she to do? Agatha Morrow repositioned the spectacles on the bridge of her thin nose and peered at the needlepoint, clicking her tongue and pulling out Tallitha’s knotted stitches.
‘Such sloppy embroidery!’ she snapped.
‘But the sewing was neat yesterday. Maybe Marlin dropped it, or trod on it,’ said Tallitha shooting an acid look at the old shrove.
‘Nonsense girl, what am I to do with you?’
Tallitha twisted nervously from side to side, wishing she could disappear. Her Great Aunt Agatha was about to deliver her weekly lecture and Tallitha braced herself. Agatha Morrow leaned forward and peered right into Tallitha’s face.
‘The women of the Morrow family, and this includes you Tallitha, have important duties. The responsibility for all this will fall to you someday. Wycham Elva is a wild place with strange ways. There are some who would take our lands, if we let them,’ she said darkly.
Agatha bit her lip and glanced towards the mountains in the distance. Tallitha noticed a look of sadness flit for a moment across her great aunt’s face.
‘What is it, Aunt? You look upset,’ she ventured.
‘Upset! Of course I’m upset, with your laziness,’ she scowled, ‘and why can’t you look tidy. That dress is appalling,’ she shrieked pulling Tallitha’s clothes into place.
Tallitha wrenched away from her great aunt’s grasping fingers.
‘Why can’t you let me be!’ she shouted.
Agatha slammed her hand down on the table.
‘Do not vex me further! We will try again, Tallitha, and this time you must pay attention. My fear is that you’re not up to the responsibilities that will one day fall to you, but you must TRY!’
At that moment Tallitha thought she would explode. She hated Agatha Morrow and every one of her peculiar family, apart from Tyaas of course. Why couldn’t her mother take on the family responsibilities? After all, she had nothing better to do.
‘You’re right. I’m hopeless at this. So why not let mother take my place. She would love all the tea parties and...,’ persisted Tallitha.
‘Snowdroppe, don’t get me started on her! She’s a vain creature. Besides she isn’t my relation, she’s married to that numbskull, your father, and he’s a feckless wastrel and intoxicated half the time.’
Agatha stared hard at her great niece. She was undoubtedly a wilful child with little talent and scant regard for her duties. But the frustration of trying to unpick the tangle of knots became so upsetting that she momentarily forgot herself.
‘These are terrible knots! I despair Tallitha. If only things had been different and my...’ She stopped, put her hand to her brow and pressed her lips firmly together.
Tallitha was taken aback by her great aunt’s momentary lapse. So there was something she didn’t know.
‘If what was different? What do you mean Great Aunt?’
Agatha shot her niece a withering glance and put the sewing in her lap.
‘Absolutely nothing. I’m considering what to do with you!’ she said changing the subject.
That girl would be the death of her. She raised her eyes to the ceiling. What was she to do?
‘I have tried, week after week, giving you careful instruction? Either you’re wilful or just plain stupid. I cannot decide which,’ she snapped.
‘But I can’t see the point. Why do I have to sew and paint? Maybe learning Ennish is just too hard for me.’
‘Don’t disappoint me Tallitha. All the Morrow girls have had to learn these skills. As a child I too found them difficult, but I persevered, as did my sisters.’ Agatha paused and her expression softened. Perhaps there was a solution after all. ‘You require strict instruction. The time has come. I’m afraid there’s only one solution.’
Agatha Morrow closed her eyes, sighed and summoned her shrove to attend her.
‘Marlin, ask my sisters to come to my sitting room this afternoon at four o’clock, in time for tea.’
Marlin, who had been half-snoozing whilst ear-wigging from his cosy nook, leapt at the sound of the Grand Morrow’s voice and hurried to his mistress’s side. Without speaking, he bowed and scraped, curled his lip at Tallitha and scurried from the room. The old shrove was an expert listener-in on other people’s conversations. He prided himself on knowing all the tittle-tattle in the Spires. There was nothing better, as far as Marlin was concerned, than poring over the misfortunes of others and gleaning what he could from their problems in order to further his own scheming ends. On this occasion, satisfied he wasn’t missing any further tongue-lashing, he scampered up one of the many staircases to the sisters’ suite of rooms.
All the while, plans of escape were forming in Tallitha’s mind. Perhaps she could be ill. Or Tyaas could help devise a plan to release her from the clutches of her Great Aunt Sybilla Patch and her equally loathsome Grandmother, Edwina Mouldson. Grim was not the word once these two vitriolic hags got their hands on her. They would bore her to death, droning on about the family history and her dear little fingers would be so sore from needles, thimbles and bodkins. Of course she could always run away. That was it! She had to escape.

BOOK: The Morrow Secrets
3.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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