Chapter One – Arabella
She was bored. She walked up and down across the wooden floors of her abnormally large and depressingly dark bedroom. Her black, hobnailed boots moved soundlessly as she tiptoed across the floor so as not to make a noise. Up and down, up and down she walked, slowly, cautiously, not wanting to make a sound. Not that anyone would actually hear her if she did.
Eventually, the game of walking up and down noiselessly across her bedroom floor became boring too. She went to look out of the window. The rain was clattering onto the glass panes of the window that was the stretched from the floor to the ceiling that was so high she could only see it if she squinted.
The view out of the window bored her too. Tearing her eyes away from the sombre landscape, she flopped onto her bed. It was a four poster bed, brown with holes in which various wood dwelling creatures lived, but the wood was so dark that it was impossible to tell if there really was a spider hidden there or not.
Around the bed hung black curtains that were thick with dust and cobwebs. Staring around at them, she wondered for the thousandth time why no one had ever bothered to dust them – it seemed so odd considering that she lived in a house with such an absurd amount of staff that she was sure she hadn't even met them all – which was a pity, she said to herself as an afterthought.
She turned over and buried her head into her pillow. She thumped her fists against the covers and a loud thump erupted, a symbol of her frustration.
She sat up and twiddled her fingers: there wasn't much else to do.
Then the massive, heavy oak door opened. "Good evening, Miss Arabella," said a voice and a maid in a grey dress with a white apron and bonnet entered the room, evidently with difficulty as she heaved the door open, carrying a bucket full of coals. "I've come to light your fire." She bent over the fireplace and began poking around and within a few moments a fire had been lit. It blazed light over the room, brightening it and the bored girl called Arabella felt a little better.
She jumped off her bed. "Thank you, Martha," she tried, hoping that she had got the right name. When the maid didn't correct her, Arabella felt a leap of joy in her stomach. "Did I get it right?" she asked her maid who looked a little uncomfortable.
"It's not really my job to correct," replied the maid shyly.
"Oh you can tell me," whined Arabella. "I don't mind it if you correct me! Obviously my parents would send you packing if you even spoke to them, but I'm not like that." Arabella beamed.
The maid continued to look uncomfortable, but then she said, "My name's Mary."
"Oh that's a lovely name!" exclaimed Arabella, enthusiastically. She actually thought it was a very boring name, but she wanted to be polite.
"Thank you," Mary blushed, quietly, apparently a little taken aback Arabella's enthusiasm.
"I'll try to remember it." Arabella continued to beam and swayed backwards and forwards on her toes, her hands neatly clasped behind her back. She seemed to be waiting for Mary to say something more. When she didn't, Arabella said, "What's it like, working here?" She wondered why she hadn't asked this before.
"It's very nice," said Mary who now looked even more uncomfortable at being asked that question.
"Really?" Arabella was surprised. "Are you sure? You can be honest with me – I won't tell my parents."
"Really, Miss Arabella, I'm very happy working here."
Arabella was about to ask something else when Mary looked frightened and said, "I ought to go now – there's always so much to do working here." She bustled out and Arabella was left alone again and she was once more bored. She looked at the fire that had made her feel happier only a little while ago and scowled. She threw herself onto her bed for what must have been the twentieth time that day. She was frustrated and she was even more annoyed when she felt tears pricking at her eyelids: the result of her boredom.
About an hour later, ten year old Arabella found herself walking down an enormous staircase that, in her opinion, had far too many steps and was far too elegant for its own good. She was late for supper and she was amazed that she had forgotten all about it considering how bored she had been all day, all week, all month, all year. In fact, Arabella couldn't remember not being bored.
As she paced down the staircase she could hear some people bustling about the house, people cleaning rooms that nobody ever used. It took her a while to reach the dining room and she stopped outside it. A butler stood by the door.
"You're late," he teased with a smart wink, dressed in green with pristine white dust sitting about the shoulders and patches on his knees. The house was so old that even the people in it had started attracting dust.
"Shush," said Arabella, pressing her finger against her lips with a cheeky grin.
The butler opened the door quietly. The room was massive and dark even though there were windows lined along a wall at various intervals. Lamps lit it dimply, looking miserable as they hung on the panelled walls, the electricity flickering. It was a long room with an exceedingly long table down the centre. However, despite the ridiculous length of the table there were only four chairs around it. A woman sat at one end and a man at the other end. It took Arabella a good thirty seconds to get to her seat in the middle of one of the long sides of the table.
She sat down inelegantly.
"You're late, Arabella," said the man who was Arabella's father, Arnold Lockwood.
"Yes," she agreed, as though apparently only just noticing this fact herself. She had to speak loudly so that her parents might hear her across the enormous room and he voice echoed in its emptiness. She took the napkin from the side of the plate and spread it over her lap.
"Why were you late?" he asked, a tone of annoyance in his voice.
"I couldn't open the door to my bedroom," said Arabella, a story spinning from her mouth. "It was stuck – but eventually I got it open and then I had to fight my way passed this simply gigantic rat that seemed determined not to let me walk down the stairs and then one of the armoured statues in the mirrored gallery toppled over and blocked my path so I had to…"
A gigantic sniff sounded from the opposite end of the table which stopped Arabella in the midst of her wondrous tale and she turned to face her mother, feeling slightly irritated. She was an imaginative child and she would have very much liked to have known what she did next after the statue fell over.
The sniff had come from Araminta Lockwood, Arabella's scrawny mother who seemed to be shrinking by the day, just as Arnold Lockwood seemed to be getting larger.
Bother Arnold Lockwood and Arabella looked at Araminta expectantly. She dabbed her eyes and blew her nose on her lace handkerchief. Arabella marvelled that such a great noise could come from such a small woman.
Looking up, Araminta seemed to realise that the rest of her family were waiting for an explanation for the disturbing sound she had just made.
"Sorry," she said, faintly. "I was just thinking how lovely it would be if," the word she said next was incomprehensible as she blew her nose again, "could join us," she finished and collapsed back into her chair, her small shoulders heaving as she sobbed.
Arabella tucked into her food understandingly. The word that had been lost as her mother blew her nose must have referred to her brother, Alfred. She had completely forgotten that today marked the day he had disappeared two years ago. He had got lost on his way back from the purple library – so called because of the deep purple walls – and had not been seen since one of the maids had seen him walking through the billiard room.
Neither Arabella nor her father had anything to add and so the meal resumed in silence. Since the loss of Alfred, both her parents had been awfully subdued and uncommunicative – even more than they had been before. By the end of the silent meal, Arabella was glad to retreat to her bedroom where she was, once more, overwhelmed by boredom: a very, very dark grey cloud that constantly hovered low above her head, giving her a headache and spreading gloom wherever she walked.
On the anniversary of Alfred's disappearance, Arabella couldn't help wondering where Alfred was at that very moment – if he was still wandering around the mammoth size house, but she doubted that. Her parents felt sure that he must have got so deep into the passage ways and corridors of the house that intertwined like a confusing maze and just, sort of, disappeared. Arabella couldn't help thinking that was an odd explanation for her brother's vanishing.
Once she had thought that, Arabella couldn't help feeling that Alfred hadn't simply 'got lost'. It was very true that the house was so large that they often found rooms that they had never been into before and locked doors and sliding panels behind curtains that opened onto a new wing no one knew existed, but surely Alfred couldn't be lost? Surely, in reality and not in her parents' head, a house couldn't be that big that you could actually be wandering around it without knowing where you are for years on end? Her parents convinced themselves daily that Alfred would turn up eventually, that he would return from the depths of the house. It was apparently the only explanation. But surely, her mind continued to think, it must be quite difficult to get lost on an island because eventually you would come to the sea – that was certain. And so, she concluded, Alfred couldn't really be lost because an island was exactly what they lived on.