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Doctor IlluminatusThe Alchemist's Son Part I
By Martin Booth
LITTLE, BROWNCopyright © 2004 the Estate of Martin Booth
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Little Piece of History
Stuck to the heavy oak door was a fluorescent green Post-it Note upon which Pip's mother had written Daughter's Room with a broad blue felt-tip marker. Down the passageway, Pip could see other notes on other doors - Son's Room, Master Bedroom, Guest Room 1 and Bathroom. Each one stood out in the semi-darkness, she thought, like a glowing, square green eye.
Lifting the iron latch, Pip stepped into her new bedroom. Compared to her last, it was huge, at least four meters square, with ancient mullioned windows set in sandstone. Two of the walls were lined with dark oak panels, and the ceiling was held up by massive wooden beams as black as if they had been charred in a fire. The floorboards were each of different widths, according to where they had been cut from the trunk of the tree. As she walked to the windows, they creaked.
"Well, what do you think of it so far?"
Pip turned around. Her father was standing in the doorway.
"It's ..." Momentarily, she was lost for words.
"Is this a pretty spectacular house, or what?" her father said for her. "And this," he looked around the empty room, "is a really stupendous bedroom."
Pip grinned.Spectacular was one of her father's favorite adjectives. Stupendous was the other.
"Your last one," her father continued, "was a rabbit hutch by comparison." He came to her side and gazed out of the window. "And to think that view's hardly changed in the last five hundred years. There's not a single tree out there that hasn't got a preservation order on it. I can't so much as prune a twig without local council permission."
Following his gaze, Pip took in the neat garden with its trim flowerbeds, smooth lawn and an ancient mulberry tree in the center, the curve of the gravel drive, down the center of which grew a strip of grass, and the pasture beyond with massive oak, elm and beech trees dotted about it. Farther off still was a river lined with pollarded willows.
"Once, the house was moated," her father went on. "See beyond the edge of the garden, where the ground dips? That was it. But in the eighteenth century, it was mostly filled in to make a ha-ha."
Pip, who was never quite sure when her father was being serious, gave him one of her disparaging looks and sarcastically replied, "Ha! Ha!"
"Really," he said, briefly pretending to be hurt. "It was a landscaping feature. A ha-ha is a grassy ditch, surrounding a house, that slopes down gently towards the building, but has a stone wall on the house side. The idea was to keep animals out of the gardens without a fence or hedge spoiling the view." He turned from the window and walked over to the door. "Your mother's put the kettle on. Tea and cake in ten minutes."
After he had gone, Pip unfolded the estate agent's leaflet she had in her pocket and, not for the first time that day, read the blurb printed on the front page beneath a color photo of the front elevation of the house.
Rawne Barton, she read, situated in beautiful countryside three miles from the pretty market town of Brampton, offers a rare opportunity to purchase a Grade I-listed, landedgentleman's country house set in thirty-two acres of pasture, formerly a deer park. Originally built in 1422, but extended over the following hundred years, the property comprises a spacious and superbly appointed six-bedroom family house with extensive period features including contemporary linen-fold paneling, beamed ceilings with carved features and magnificent fireplaces. Recent extensive modernization has been conducted to the highest standards and in complete keeping with the architectural and historical aspects of the house. A range of contemporary outbuildings includes a stable (restored and providing ample space for vehicles), a coach house and a malt-house (both in need of renovation: with planning permission).
The photograph showed a building made partly of white wattle-and-daub and partly of brick with black timber beams built into the walls. Above the tiled roof stood two stacks of chimneys, added in the sixteenth century, made of the same sandstone as the window frames, but twisted in spirals like sticks of old-fashioned barley sugar.
"Do you know what barton means?"
Pip looked around to see her twin brother, Tim. The knees of his jeans were grimy, his T-shirt was smudged with dirt and his brown hair looked as if it had been lightly powdered with flour.
"Try knocking," she said sharply.
"Door's already open," Tim responded, "and I'm not coming in." He slid to the floor, leaning against the doorpost. "It means a cow shed," he went on.
"No, it doesn't," Pip corrected him. "It means a farm owned by a landowner, not given to tenants. I looked it up." She ran her eye up and down her brother. "Why are you so grubby?"
Tim ignored her question.
"And you know what Grade I-listed means, don't you?" he continued. "It means we can't put up a satellite dish. Goodbye MTV and the Cartoon Channel."
"We can have one of those square ones in the attic," Pip said. "Grade I only means you can't alter the appearance of the house or destroy any historical features."
"They don't get such a good signal," Tim rejoined. "Besides, I've seen the attic. No chance. The rest of the house might have been modernized, but that hasn't. The cobwebs are like table-tennis nets."
"You've been up there?"
"There's a door at the end of the passage," Tim said. "I thought it was an airing cupboard, because it's got shelves and a copper water cylinder in it, but at the back there's an old paneled wall. One panel has a handle and slides sideways. It's a bit of a squeeze, which is probably why the builders didn't bother to go up there. Behind that, there're steps. The attic floor's boarded, but there aren't any rooms or anything, just a big space with a little window at the end and a lot of beams, crud and cobwebs. And a dried-up dead bat."
One of the removal men appeared at the door carrying a large cardboard box with yet another Post-it Note taped to it.
"You the daughter?" he asked. "This your room?" He didn't wait for an answer but, checking the Post-it Note on the door against that on the box, entered, stepping over Tim and looking around. "Nice. Very nice. Quite a place your mum and dad've bought." He put the box down and glanced out of the window. "You know what you got here, don't you? You got a real little piece of history, you have."
Excerpted from Doctor Illuminatus by Martin Booth Copyright © 2004 by the Estate of Martin Booth. Excerpted by permission.
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