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The Girl in the Castle


Co. Cork, Ireland, 1925

The two little boys with grubby faces and scuffed knees reached the rusted iron gate by way of a barely distinguishable track that branched off the main road and cut through the forest in a sleepy curve. On the other side of the gate, forgotten behind trees, were the charred remains of Castle Deverill, home to one of the grandest Anglo-Irish families in the land before it was consumed in a fire three years before. The drystone wall around the property had collapsed in places from neglect and harsh winter winds. Moss spread undeterred, weeds seeded themselves indiscriminately, grass grew like tufts of hair along the top of the wall and ivy spread its fingers over the stones, swallowing entire sections completely. The boys were unfazed by the large sign that warned trespassers of prosecution or the dark driveway ahead that was littered with moldy leaves, twigs and mud. The padlock clanked ineffectively against its chain as the boys pushed the gates apart and slipped through.

On the other side, the forest was silent and soggy, for the summer was ended and autumn had blown in with icy gales and cold rain. The drive once had been lined on either side with red rhododendron bushes but now they were obscured by dense nettles, ferns and overgrown laurel. The boys ran past them, oblivious of what the shrubs represented, unaware that that very drive had once witnessed carriages bearing the finest in the county to the magnificent castle over-looking the sea. Now the drive was little more than a dirt track and the castle lay in ruins. Only ravens and pigeons ventured there, and intrepid little boys intent on adventure, confident that no one would discover them in this forgotten place.

The children hurried excitedly through the wild grasses to play among the remnants of the once stately rooms. The sweeping staircase was long gone and the center chimneys had fallen through the roof and formed a mountain of bricks for the boys to scale. In the west wing the surviving part of the roof remained as sturdy beams that straddled two of the enduring walls, like the exposed ribcage of a giant animal left to decay in the open air.

The boys were too distracted to feel the sorrow that hung over the place or to hear the plaintive echo of the past. They were too young to have an awareness of nostalgia and the melancholic sense of mortality it induces. The ghosts who dwelt there, mourning the loss of their home and their brief lives, were as wind blowing in off the water. The boys heard the moaning of the empty windows and the whistling about the remaining chimney stacks and felt only a frisson of exhilaration, for the eeriness served to enhance their pleasure, not diminish it. The ghosts might as well have been alone for the attention the boys paid them.

Over the front door, one of the boys was able to make out some Latin letters, tarnished by soot, half concealed in the blackened lintel. “Castellum Deverilli est suum regnum 1662,” he read out.

“What does that mean?” asked the smaller boy.

“Everyone around here knows what that means. A Deverill’s castle is his kingdom.”

The smaller child laughed. “Not much of a kingdom now,” he said.

They went from room to room in the fading light like a pair of urchins, excavating hopefully where the ground was soft. Their gentle chatter mingled with the croaking of ravens and the cooing of pigeons, and the ghosts were appeased as they remembered their own boyhoods and the games they had played in the sumptuous gardens of the castle. For once, the castle had been magnificent.

At the turn of the century there had been a walled garden, abundant with every sort of fruit and vegetable to feed the Deverill family and their servants. There had been a rose garden, an arboretum and a maze where the Deverill children had routinely lost themselves and each other among the yew hedges. There had been elaborate glass houses where tomatoes had grown among orchids and figs, and yellow cowslips had reflected the summer sun in the wildf lower garden where the ladies of the house had enjoyed picnics and afternoons full of laughter and gossip. Those gardens had once been a paradise but now they smelled of decay. A shadow lingered in spite of the sunshine and year after year bindweed slowly choked the gardens to death. Nothing remained of the castle’s former beauty except a savage splendor of sorts, made all the more arresting by its tragedy.

At the rattling sound of a motor car the boys stopped their digging. The noise grew louder as the car advanced up the drive. They looked at each other in bewilderment and crept hastily through the rooms to the front, where they peered out of a glassless window to see a shiny Ford Model T making its way past the castle before halting at the steps leading up to where the front door had once been.

Consumed with curiosity, they elbowed each other in their effort to get a closer look, careful to stay concealed behind the wall. The boys’ jaws fell open at the sight of the car with its soft top and smoothly curved lines. The sun bounced off the sleek green bonnet and the silver headlights shone like a frog’s eyes. Then the driver’s door opened and a man stepped out wearing a brown felt hat and smart camel coat. He swept his eyes over the castle, taking a moment to absorb the dramatic vision. He shook his head and pulled a face as if to acknowledge the sheer scale of the misfortune that had destroyed such a beautiful castle. Then he walked around to the passenger door and opened it.

He held out his hand and a small black glove reached out and took it. The boys were so still that, were it not for their pink faces and black hair, they might have been a pair of cherub statues. With mounting interest they watched the woman step out. She wore an elegant dress of a deep emerald green and a long black coat, with a black cloche hat pulled low over her face. Only her scarlet lips were visible, shocking against her white skin. Glittering beneath her right shoulder was a large diamond star brooch. The boys’ eyes widened, for she looked as if she came from another world; the sort of world that had once inhabited this fine castle before it was swept away.

The woman stood at the foot of the darkened walls and lifted her chin. She took the man’s hand and turned to face him. “As God is my witness,” she said, and the boys had to strain their ears to hear her. “I will rebuild this castle.” She paused and the man made no move to hurry her. At length she returned her gaze to the castle and her jaw stiffened. “After all,

I have as much right as any of the others.”


Chapter One

Kitty Deverill was nine years old. For other children, born on other days, turning nine was of no great significance. But for Kitty, born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, turning nine had been very significant indeed. It wasn’t her mother, the beautiful and narcissistic Maud, who had put those ideas into the young child’s head; Maud was not interested in Kitty. She had two other daughters who were soon to come of age and a cherished son at Eton who was the light in his mother’s eyes. In the five years between Harry and Kitty’s births Maud had suffered three miscarriages induced by riding hard over the hills around Ballinakelly; Maud did not want her pleasure halted by an inconvenient pregnancy.

However, no amount of reckless galloping managed to unburden her of her fourth child, who, contrary to expectation, was a weak and squeaking girl with red hair and transparent skin, more like a scrawny kitten than a human baby. Maud had turned her face away in disgust and refused to acknowledge her. She had rejected her child, declining to allow her friends to visit, donning her riding habit and setting off with the hunt as if the birth had never happened. For a woman so enraptured with her own beauty an ugly baby was an affront. No, Maud would never have put ideas into Kitty’s head that she was in any way special or important.

It was her paternal grandmother, Adeline, Lady Deverill, who told her that the year 1900 was auspicious and that her date of birth was also remarkable, on account of it containing so many nines. Kitty was a child of Mars, Adeline would remind her when they sat together in Adeline’s private sitting room on the first floor, one of the few rooms of the castle that was always warm. This meant that her life would be defined by conflict—a testing hand of cards dealt by a God who surely knew that Kitty would rise to the challenge with courage and wisdom. Adeline told her much else, besides, and Kitty far preferred her stories of angels and demons to the dry tales her Scottish governess read her, and even to the kitchen maids’ tittle-tattle, mostly local gossip Kitty was too young to understand.

Adeline Deverill knew about things. Things at which Kitty’s grandfather rolled his eyes and dismissed as “blarney,” things her father mocked with affection and things that caused Kitty’s mother great concern. Maud Deverill was less amused by tales of spirits, stone circles and curses and instructed Miss Grieve, Kitty’s Scottish governess, to punish the child if she ever indulged in what she considered to be “ghastly peasant superstition.” Miss Grieve, with her tight lips and tight vowels, was only too happy to whack the palms of Kitty’s hands with a riding crop. Therefore the child had learned to be secretive. She had grown as furtive as a fox, indulging her interest only with her grandmother, in the warmth of her little den that smelled of turf fire and lilac.

Kitty didn’t live in the castle: that was where her grandparents lived and what, one day, her father would inherit, along with the title of Lord Deverill, dating back to the seventeenth century. Kitty lived on the estate in the old Hunting Lodge, positioned by the river, within walking distance of the castle. Overlooked by her mother and too cunning for her governess, the child was able to run wild about the gardens and surrounding countryside and to play with the local Catholic children who took to the fields with their Tommy cans. Had her mother known she would have developed a fever and retired to her room for a week to get over the trauma. As it was, Maud was often so distracted that she seemed to forget entirely that she had a fourth child and was irritated when Miss Grieve reminded her.

Kitty’s greatest friend and ally was Bridie, the raven-haired daughter of Lady Deverill’s cook, Mrs. Doyle. Kitty believed them to be “spiritual sisters,” thrown together at Castle Deverill, where Bridie would help her mother in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and washing up, while Kitty loitered around the big wooden table stealing the odd carrot when Mrs. Doyle wasn’t looking. They might have different parents, Kitty told Bridie, but their souls were eternally connected. Beneath their material bodies they were creatures of light and there was very little difference between them. Grateful for Kitty’s friendship, Bridie believed her.

Because of her unconventional view of the world, Adeline was happy to turn a blind eye to the girls playing together. She loved her strange little granddaughter who was so much like herself. In Kitty she found an ally in a family who scoffed at the idea of fairies and trembled at the mention of ghosts while claiming not to believe in them. She was certain that souls inhabited physical bodies in order to live on earth and learn important lessons for their spiritual evolution. Thus, a person’s position and wealth were merely a costume required for the part they were playing and not a reflection of their worth as a soul. In Adeline’s opinion a tramp was as valuable as a king and so she treated everyone with equal respect. What was the harm of Kitty and Bridie enjoying each other’s company? she asked herself. Kitty’s sisters were too old to play with her, and Celia, her English cousin, only came to visit in

the summer, so the poor child was friendless and lonely. Were it not for Bridie, Kitty might be in danger of running off with the leprechauns and goblins and be lost to them forever.

One story in particular fascinated Kitty above all others: the Cursing of Barton Deverill. The whole family knew it, but no one besides Kitty’s grandmother, and Kitty herself, believed it. They didn’t just believe, they knew it to be true. It was that knowing that bonded grandmother and granddaughter firmly and irreversibly, because Adeline had a gift she had never shared with anyone, not even her husband, and little Kitty had inherited it.

“Let me tell you about the Cursing of Barton Deverill,” said Kitty to Bridie one Saturday afternoon in winter, holding the candle steady in their dark lair, an old, disused cupboard beneath the back staircase, in the servants’ quarters of the castle.

The light illuminated Kitty’s white face so that her big gray eyes looked strangely old, like a witch’s, and Bridie felt a shiver ripple across her skin, something close to fear. She had heard her mother speak of the Banshee and its shriek that prewarned of death.

“Who was Barton Deverill?” Bridie asked, her musical Irish accent in sharp contrast to Kitty’s clipped English vowels.

“He was the first Lord Deverill and he built this castle,” Kitty replied, keeping her voice low for dramatic effect. “He was a right brute.”

“What did he do?”

“He took land that wasn’t his and built on it.”

“Who did the land belong to?”

“The O’Learys.”

“The O’Learys?” Bridie’s black eyes widened and her cheeks flushed. “You don’t mean our Jack O’Leary?”

“The very same. I can tell you there is no love lost between the Deverills and the O’Learys.”

“What happened?”

“Barton Deverill, my ancestor, was a supporter of King Charles I of England. When his armies were defeated by Cromwell, he ran off to France with the King. Later, when King

Charles II was crowned, he rewarded Barton for his loyalty with a title and these lands where he built this castle. Hence the family motto: A Deverill’s castle is his kingdom. The trouble was those lands didn’t belong to the King, they belonged to the O’Learys. So, when they were made to leave, old Maggie O’Leary, who was a witch . . .”

Bridie laughed nervously. “She wasn’t really a witch!”

Kitty was very serious. “She was so. She had a cauldron and a black cat that could turn a person to stone with one look of its big green eyes.”

“Just because she had a cauldron and a cat doesn’t mean she was a witch,” Bridie argued.

“Maggie O’Leary was a witch and everyone knew it. She put a curse on Barton Deverill.”

Bridie’s laughter caught in her throat. “What was the curse?”

“That Barton Deverill and every male heir after him will never leave Castle Deverill but remain between worlds until an O’Leary returns to live on the land. It’s very unfair because

Grandpa and Father will have to hang around here as ghosts, possibly forever. Grandma says that it is very unlikely that a Deverill will ever marry an O’Leary!”

“You never know. They’ve come up in the world since then,” Bridie added, thinking of Jack O’Leary, whose father was the local vet.

“No, they are all doomed, even my brother Harry.” Kitty sighed. “None of them believes it, but I do. It makes me sad to know their fate.”

“So, are you telling me that Barton Deverill is still here?” Bridie asked.

Kitty’s eyes widened. “He’s still here and he’s not very happy about it.”

“You don’t really believe that, do you?”

 “I know it,” said Kitty emphatically. “I can see him.” She bit her lip, aware that she might have given too much away.

Now Bridie was more interested. She knew her friend wasn’t a liar. “How can you see him if he’s a ghost?”

Kitty leaned forward and whispered, “Because I see dead people.” The candle flame flickered eerily as if to corroborate her claim and Bridie shivered.

“You can see dead people?”

“I can and I do. All the time.”

“You’ve never told me before.”

“That’s because I didn’t know if I could trust you.”

“What are they like, dead people?”

“Transparent. Some are light, some are dark. Some are loving and some aren’t.” Kitty shrugged. “Barton Deverill is quite dark. I don’t think he was a very nice man when he was alive.”

“Doesn’t it scare you?”

“It used to, until Grandma taught me not to be afraid. She sees them too. It’s a gift, she says. But I’m not allowed to tell anyone.”

“They’ll lock you away,” Bridie said and her voice quivered.

“They do that, don’t you know. They lock people away in the red-brick in Cork City for less and they never come out. Never.”

“Then you’d better not tell on me.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t.”

Kitty brightened. “Do you want to see one?”

“A ghost?”

“Barton Deverill.”

The blood drained from Bridie’s cheeks. “I don’t know . . .”

“Come on, I’ll introduce you.” Kitty blew out the candle and pushed open the door.

The two girls hurried along the passageway. Regardless of the disparity of their coloring, they could have been sisters as they skipped off together for they were similar in height and build. However, there was a marked difference in their clothes and countenance. While Kitty’s dress was white, embellished with fine lace and silk, tied at the waist with a pale blue bow, Bridie’s was brown and shapeless and made from a coarse, scratchy frieze. Kitty wore black lace-up boots that reached mid-calf, and thick black stockings, while Bridie’s feet were bare and dirty. Kitty’s governess brushed her hair and pinned it off her face with ribbons; Bridie received no such attention and her hair was tangled and unwashed, reaching almost as far as her waist. The difference was not only marked in their attire but in the way they looked out onto the world. Kitty had the steady, lofty gaze of a child born to privilege and entitlement, while Bridie had the feral stare of a waif who was always hungry, and yet there was an underlying need in Kitty that bridged the gap between them. Were it not for the loving company of her grandparents and the sporadic attention lavished on her by her father when he wasn’t out hunting, shooting game or at the races, Kitty would have been starved of love. It was this longing that gave balance to their friendship, for Kitty needed Bridie just as much as Bridie needed her.

While Kitty was unaware of these differences, Bridie, who heard her parents and brothers complaining endlessly about their lot, was very conscious of them. However, she liked Kitty too much to give way to jealousy, and she was too flattered by her friendship to risk losing it. She accepted her position with the passive compliance of a sheep.

The two girls heard Mrs. Doyle grumbling to one of the maids in the kitchen but they scurried on up the back staircase as quiet as kittens, aware that if they were caught their playtime would be over and Bridie summoned to wash up at the sink.

No one ever went up to the western tower. It was chilly and damp at the top of the castle and the spiral staircase was in need of repair. Two of the wooden steps had collapsed and Kitty and Bridie had to jump over the gaps. Bridie breathed easily now because no one would find them there. Kitty pushed open the heavy door at the top of the stairs and peered around it. Then she turned back to her friend. “Come,” she whispered. “Don’t be frightened. He won’t hurt you.”

Bridie’s heart began to race. Was she really going to see a ghost? Kitty seemed so sure. Tentatively and with high expectations, Bridie followed Kitty into the room. She looked at

Kitty. Kitty was smiling at a tatty old armchair as if someone was sitting in it. But Bridie saw nothing besides the faded burgundy silk. However, the room was colder than the rest of the castle and she shivered and hugged herself.

“Well, can’t you see him?” Kitty asked.

“I can’t see anything,” said Bridie, wanting to very much.

“But he’s there!” Kitty exclaimed, pointing to the chair.

“Look harder.”

Bridie looked as hard as she could until her eyes watered. “I don’t doubt you, Kitty, but I can see nothing but the chair.”

Kitty was visibly disappointed. She stared at the man scowling in the armchair, his feet propped up on a stool, his hands folded over his big belly, and wondered how it was possible for her to see someone so clearly when Bridie couldn’t. “But he’s right in front of your nose. This is my friend, Bridie,” Kitty said to Barton Deverill. “She can’t see you.”

Barton shook his head and rolled his eyes. That didn’t surprise him. He’d been stuck in this tower for over two hundred years and in all that time only the very few had seen him—most unintentionally. At first it had been quite amusing being a ghost but now he was bored of observing the many generations of Deverills who came and went, and even more disenchanted by the ones, like him, who remained stuck in the castle as spirits. He wasn’t keen on company and there were now too many furious Lord Deverills floating about the corridors to be easily avoided. This tower was the only place he could be free of them, and their wrath at discovering suddenly, upon dying, that the Cursing of Barton Deverill was not simply a family legend but an immutable truth. With the benefit of hindsight, they would have gladly taken an O’Leary for a bride and subsequently ensured their eternal rest as a free soul in Paradise. As it was they were too late. They were stuck and there was nothing they could do about it except rant at him for having built the castle on O’Leary land in the first place.

Now Barton turned his jaded eyes onto the eerie little girl whose face had turned red with indignation, as if it were somehow his fault that her plain friend was unable to see him. He folded his arms and sighed. He wasn’t in the mood for conversation. The fact that she sought him out from time to time did not make her his friend and did not give her permission to show him off like an exotic animal in a menagerie.

Kitty watched him stand up and walk through the wall.

“He’s gone,” she said, dropping her shoulders in defeat.


“I don’t know. He’s quite bad-tempered, but so would I be if I were stuck between worlds.”

“Shall we leave now?” Bridie’s teeth were chattering.

Kitty sighed. “I suppose we must.” They made their way back down the spiral staircase. “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

“I cross my heart and hope to die,” Bridie replied solemnly, wondering suddenly whether her friend wasn’t a little overimaginative. In the bowels of the castle Mrs. Doyle was expertly making butterballs between two ridged wooden paddles, while the scrawny kitchen maids were busy beating eggs and plucking fowl for that evening’s dinner party, to which Lady Deverill had invited her two spinster sisters, Laurel and Hazel, known affectionately as the Shrubs; Kitty’s parents, Bertie and Maud; and the Rector and his wife. Once a month Lady Deverill invited the Rector for dinner, which was an obligation and a great trial because he was greedy and pompous and prone to spouting unsolicited sermons from his seat at her table. Lady Deverill didn’t think much of him, but it was her duty as

Doyenne of Ballinakelly and a member of the Church of Ireland, so she instructed the cook, brought in flowers from the greenhouses and somewhat mischievously invited her sisters to divert him with their tedious and incessant chatter.

When Mrs. Doyle saw Bridie she pursed her lips. “Bridie, what are you doing loitering in the corridor when I have a banquet to cook? Come and make yourself useful and pluck this partridge.” She held up the bird by its neck. Bridie pulled a face at Kitty and went to join the kitchen maids at the long oak table. Mrs. Doyle glanced at Kitty, who was standing in the doorway with her long white face and secretive mouth that always curled at the corners, and wondered what she was thinking. There was something in that child’s eyes that put the heart crossways in her. She couldn’t explain what it was and she didn’t resent the girls playing together, but Bridie’s mother didn’t think any good would come of their friendship. As they grew older, their lives would inevitably take them down different paths and Bridie would be left feeling the coldness and anguish of Kitty’s rejection. She went back to her butter. When she looked up again Kitty had gone.

The Girl in the Castle
by by Santa Montefiore

  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062456857
  • ISBN-13: 9780062456854