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Ewan Lawrie

Ewan Lawrie spent 23 years in the Royal Air Force, including 10 years in Cold War Berlin and 12 years flying over the rather warmer conflicts which followed. He has had poetry and short stories published in anthologies and is hopeful concerning the publishing of his first novel. Nowadays he spends his time in the south of Spain, teaching English to Andalucians and other hispanophones. Though he has had stories and poetry published in several anthologies, Gibbous House is his first novel.



The above is an extract from the novel Gibbous House soon to be published by Unbound hopefully with the help of your pledges.

Gibbous House is intelligent, cryptic and brimming with historical detail. The book combines suspense and mystery with comic asides to Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens – adding an engaging modern irony to the rich texture of the classic gothic novel.


Of course, I was not in possession of any keys. No matter, I considered that it would be interesting to discover who answered the bell on my return. I swung the door wide and looked out into a starlit night. Turning left I passed the front of the east wing and peered in the dining room window. The view to the interior was somewhat obscured by yet another item of exotic bric-a-brac: it appeared to be an orrery, although the number of planets was plainly incorrect, since a celestial body unknown to man was stationed outwith the orbit of the newly discovered Neptune. 

          Even so, it was a beautiful thing, if tarnished, and I wondered that it had not caught my eye during dinner. The next two windows also looked in on the dining room, and the second of them presented me with a sight as like to stop the heart of any disposed to afreets and phantasms. Some large furnishing blocked the view into the room, but it stood some feet back from the glass. Directly behind the grubby window stood a skeleton, displayed, I supposed, for the benefit of students of medicine. I hurried on my way.

          In common with the asymmetry of the towers of both the west and east wings, the windows were not placed equidistant along the wall. Again, it seemed as if the architect had been intent on offending every tenet of aesthetics regarding his profession. He appeared to have delighted in odd numbers and an absence of motif or repetition. For example, the windows would be at random any one of mullioned, sash, oriel, celestory and even, memorably, stained glass. The latter type of window enjoyed a run of three into the vivarium and I was more than grateful for that.

          But the most disconcerting of all were two windows which appeared to offer insight into a room through which I had not passed: the withdrawing room I had previously noted as being deficient. The windows were the more expensive double-hung sash rather than the singles of the taxidermical room. It contained two chaises-longues, a sopha and a rather grand chesterfield. A long sideboard provided place for cordials suitable to the most refined of ladies. There were two paintings on the walls, after Gainsborough and Reynolds, or perhaps by those two themselves, strangely — and ironically — close, given that each had been anathema to the other whilst alive. The room could not possibly have existed, but there it was, visible from outside the building, plainly sited betwixt the vivarium and the library.



To my relief, the windows of the library revealed only the extraordinary room in which I had enjoyed a tincture with the wandering Professor. It was only when I noted that the candles had been snuffed that I realised that someone had been but recently in the hidden room. Why else had it been illuminated? Who had been stealthily bearing tapers and doubters to all parts of the house? Maccabi had not mentioned any staff other than the insubstantial Mrs Gonderthwaite. My determination to have more than several matters out with Maccabi grew still more forceful with every hour.

          I turned left at the end of the west wing. The French windows at the library's end opened onto a generously proportioned terrace. A long sward of grass swept downward, flanked by oaks of some antiquity, and I could see a tiny coal red light in the distance, moving rhythmically but slowly as though someone was smoking a briar pipe. Surely someone tended the numerous sheep I had seen on my arrival at the house? The terrain dropped away as the flags of the terrace marked the edge of the library wall. To my left I could see a wall adjoining the main body of the west wing approximately where the library ended, and where the secret room began. This long extension to the rear of the house obscured the wall supporting the dome. I had seen no entry to this part of the building, although almost anything could have been concealed by the disorder in the atrium. Of course, it was likely that access to this part of the building was in the mysteriously hidden withdrawing room; but I had discerned no such portal when I peered through the sash windows, and, as I have said, the room was unaccountably well lit.

           The long wall could well have been a mole — had it been at Seahouses, instead of land-locked in Northumbrian hills. It was uncommon long; a furlong perhaps, with not a window to it, although it plainly was the wall of a building. It was possessed of a mansard roof. At the top of the wall itself was a ludicrous arrangement of deep embrasures and high merlons: the house was scarce a hundred years old, as Maccabi had informed me during one of our interminable journeys in the phaeton. I doubted that the most irrational fear of the Jacobites could have justified the fortification.

           Again, at the termination of this long spur, the terrain swept down a steep gradient. A charming lake, little more than a pond perhaps, lay at the foot of the hill. I resolved to walk down to it. It was no more than several chains away. As I approached I could hear the waterfowl competing with a cacophony of frogs to claim precedence over the water. At the water's edge I turned to look back at Gibbous House. The ridiculous dome had taken a large bite out of the night's full moon and I learned a further reason for Fitzgibbon House's soubriquet.


          On the other side of this elongated extension from the main body of the house, a shorter edifice did indeed emerge from the dome. It was almost commensurate with what one might have expected from the bedroom arrangements on the first floor. Disconcertingly, it did seem a little short, as though several of the bedrooms were little more than closets.  Despite this peculiarity, I was in fact more interested in the ground floor for the simple reason that I had not seen it. The first two windows belonged to the kitchen: it was a little small for the house, had both wings been in use. A solitary candle guttered on a large table, its flickering light reflected in the shine from numerous copper pans hanging from a rack suspended from the ceiling. The room was deserted, although I did detect an occasional rapid movement, that might have warranted the recall of a cat or two from the west wing. At the next window, I truly was discomposed when the cook appeared with an oil lamp before her breast. The woman could have been blind for all she registered of my presence a few scant inches away on the other side of the glass. She put me in mind of the anatomical specimen hidden behind the wardrobe, peering out of the dining room window. Perhaps because she was naked, and would have provided quite as good a guide as to the composition of the thoracic skeleton as that other assemblage of bones.


I passed several darkened windows obscured by the absence of candlelight and the dirt of neglect. The final window in the wall was brightly illuminated; Maccabi was bare-chested. He appeared in a state of some excitement. I caught a flash of blue skirts as someone left his room. A sleepless night for Jedediah, I surmised. I stepped back quickly into the shadows. Maccabi stared, chin jutting, out of the window, the very picture of the romantic hero. Stifling a laugh, I decided to put off exploring the other half of the exterior until the morrow. Retracing my steps, I soon found myself on the terrace outside the library, where my eye was caught once more by the red coal light. I descended the gradient, thinking to place myself some yards to the right of the smoking shepherd.

          Though scarce ten feet from me, he remained unaware of my presence. The sheep were skittish, but he appeared to think little of it. There could be no other reason for a shepherd to be abroad at this hour save to protect his master's flock. This fellow appeared to making a very poor effort at his duty and so I felt his fate was deserved. There was a yellow scarf in my pocket, but even the most credulous would not have accepted the presence of thuggee in this isolated place. My boot struck a rock lightly, I bent down and picked it up. It made a fine sound as it cracked the man's skull. Picking him up, I carried him over the brow of the hill. We were looking towards the pond and both frogs and ducks were silent until I threw the shepherd down the slope. He rolled like a misshapen barrel until I heard a splash and the renewed hostilities between the waterfowl and the amphibians.


           I cursed the fact I had not kept his pipe, for a smoke would have completed my pleasure.


          The night had turned cold, although it was almost April. I had quite forgotten how much difference a few degrees of longitude could make to the climate, and how isolation and the absence of civilisation could lower the temperature. The faint sounds of the pond were almost masked by the Northumbrian wind. For the first time I contemplated turning my back on Gibbous House and all that I had not quite inherited, but a slight unpaid burdens the soul more than any sin. 

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