Read PROLOGUE of 'Me and Nobbles' , free online book, by Amy Le Feuvre, on ReadCentral.com.

It was a very silent old house.

Outside, the front windows stared gravely down upon the tidy drive with its rhododendron shrubberies, the well-kept lawn with the triangular beds, and the belt of gloomy fir trees edging the high brick wall that ran along the public road.  The windows were always draped and curtained, and opened one foot at the top with monotonous regularity.  No one was ever seen leaning out of them, or even pushing back the curtains to widen their view.  There was a broad flight of steps, and a ponderous door which, when opened, disclosed a long hall, at the end of which was a gaily flowered conservatory.  Instinct made people tread gently upon the thick Turkey rugs that were laid upon the polished floor; there was a stillness in the house that seemed to chill one.  If you peeped into the big dining-room, the portraits upon the wall eyed you with disapproval; the table, which was always laid with snowy-white cloth and shining silver, seemed severely austere and formal; the high back chairs and the massive sideboards bade you respect their age.

The drawing-room was quite as awe-inspiring, for the blinds were nearly always down, and it had a musty unused scent telling you that its grandeur was not for daily use.  The library was gloomier still.  Its windows were of stained glass; books of the dingiest hue surrounded you; they lined the walls; and the furniture and carpet matched them in tone.  Ghostly busts on pedestals, scientific machines, and a huge geographical and astronomical globe added to its gloom.  The sun had a way of only hastily shining in when he could not help himself, and he left it till the last moment just before he went to bed.  He was not fond of that room, and there was no one in the house that was.

Then there was the morning room, and this was where old Mrs. Egerton spent most of her day.  She was a tall severe old lady with no sense of humour and a very strong will.  She spent an hour after breakfast with her cook, for housekeeping was her hobby; then she sat at her table writing letters and doing her accounts till luncheon, after which she always went for a drive.  In the evening after dinner she read the paper or some solid book, knitted, and retired early to bed.  Her daughter, Miss Anna Egerton, was very like her, only she was seldom seen indoors.  She was full of good works, and was never idle, for she had more business than she could possibly get through, and her days were so crowded that meals seemed quite an effort.  The man of the house, Mrs. Egerton’s son, was also always out, and when at home spent his leisure moments in his smoking-room.  London claimed most of his time, for he was in a government office, and went to and fro by train, thinking nothing of the hours spent twice a day in a railway carriage.

‘A very dull house indeed,’ a lady visitor thought at the end of her first day there; and yet, in spite of its quietness, there were just a few indications of another element that puzzled her.

Once she heard a patter of childish feet along the corridor past her door, but that was very early in the morning before she was properly awake, so she thought she must be dreaming.  Then, in a secluded path in the shrubberies, she came across a child’s glove and a toy watering-can, and as she was going downstairs to dinner, and was passing a broad staircase window, she noticed upon its broad ledge a little bunch of daisies.  She looked at them and took them up in her hand.  She fancied, as she noted the droop of their stalks, that she could see the impress still upon them of a hot, childish grasp, and as she mused, she distinctly heard a childish chuckle of laughter not far away.

‘Is your house haunted?’ she asked Miss Egerton at dinner.

‘Indeed it is not.  Why do you ask?’

‘There is no child in the house is there?’

‘Yes,’ replied Miss Egerton, ‘there is Vera’s child.’

The visitor could not suppress her astonishment, and Mrs. Egerton, noting it, said with extra severity:  ’I like children to be kept in their proper place.  He has a good nurse, who looks after him entirely.  And I am thankful to say that the nurseries are at the top of the house, so we are not being continually reminded of his presence.’

‘He must be a very quiet child.’

There was no response.  When Miss Egerton was alone with her friend she gave her a little more information.

’When Vera went abroad with her husband her child was only a few months old, and very delicate, so she was advised to leave him behind.  She sent him here at once, without first asking mother’s permission to do so, and mother did not like it.  We do not care for children; but he is no trouble.  Mother visits the nurseries every morning and sees to his comfort and health.  When poor Vera died she determined to keep him for good and all.  His father never writes to us, or shows the slightest interest in his child.  We don’t know in which quarter of the globe he is.  Of course a child in a house is rather a nuisance, but in another year or two mother means to send him to a boarding-school.

‘A child in the house.’

The words rang through the visitor’s heart and brain.  She began to listen for the faint tokens of the little one’s presence.  She meditated a raid upon the nursery, and a sally forth from it with the child into the old garden below, where she and he would enjoy laughter and play together.  But a telegram called her suddenly away, and the quiet of the house and garden remained undisturbed.

The footsteps still pattered at intervals; the hushed little voice and gurgles of innocent laughter still echoed from distant corners.  For the child in the house was not a ghost, and his life is the one of which I am about to tell you.