A Very Kind House
When he was six years old Frank was sent, along with his baby sister, to live with his aunt Leonora. Auntie Lili, as he was encouraged to call this formidable person, was not actually his aunt at all, but a sort of cousin so distant that even Mr Landsberg — tutor to Auntie Lili’s sons, and by far the most brilliant person Frank had ever met — had been unable to explain the exact connection. But his summary — ‘Lady Lili is a very kind woman’ — was surely correct.
Lady Lili and her husband the Colonel kept a flat in London, just off Sloane Street, but the house where Frank stayed, and where Auntie Lili lived most of the time too, was a place in Norfolk called Friary Farm.
Friary Farm had, indeed, once been a farmhouse, but since Aunti Lili had got to work on it — helped by an urbane, harmlessly flirtatious London architect and an army of local craftsmen — the warren of heavily-timbered, low-slung rooms, punctuated by inconvenient beams and surprising doors, had somehow transformed itself into a handsome, well-appointed, intensely charming yet also comfortable minor country house. ‘Well, this is what a sense of style will do,’ observed Mr Landsberg. Then he added, ‘money helps too, of course’.
Friary Farm was also extensively haunted. No one in Auntie Lili’s family or retinue was remotely troubled by this. Nor, it has to be said, once he’d got used to them, did Frank mind the ghosts either. Frank had known a great deal of change and upheaval in his short life, so much so that the admixture of a ghostly element into his daily routine hardly registered. Indeed, he soon learned from Auntie Lili’s sons to blame any missing sock or jersey on the phantom hound that roamed the long gallery at the top of the stairs, or to salute the old soldier who used to pace up and down in the old kitchen but at its former floor level, so that he seemed to walk knee-deep among the tiles, or to point out to Auntie Lili, who liked to be kept informed about them, the shadowy tonsured friars who could often be seen down at the end of the meadow near the big barn, going about their conventual duties in the indistinct, sweet-scented, late summer dusk.Read the rest of this entry »