The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 640 KB
A debut novel for fans of Sarah Perry and Kate Morton: when a young woman is tasked with safeguarding a natural history collection as it is spirited out of London during World War II, she discovers her new manor home is a place of secrets and terror instead of protection.
In August 1939, thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright arrives at Lockwood Manor to oversee a natural history museum collection, whose contents have been taken out of London for safekeeping. She is unprepared for the scale of protecting her charges from party guests, wild animals, the elements, the tyrannical Major Lockwood and Luftwaffe bombs. Most of all, she is unprepared for the beautiful and haunted Lucy Lockwood.
For Lucy, who has spent much of her life cloistered at Lockwood suffering from bad nerves, the arrival of the museum brings with it new freedoms. But it also resurfaces memories of her late mother, and nightmares in which Lucy roams Lockwood hunting for something she has lost.
When the animals appear to move of their own accord, and exhibits go missing, they begin to wonder what exactly it is that they might need protection from. And as the disasters mount up, it is not only Hetty’s future employment that is in danger, but her own sanity too. There’s something, or someone, in the house. Someone stalking her through its darkened corridors . .
The mammals were being evacuated. The foxes went first, in their cabinet with dust underneath so thick it was almost fur; next the jaguar with his toothy snarl; the collection of stoats, their bodies lovingly twisted into rictus shapes by the original taxidermist; the platypus in his box, who was first believed a hoax because of the strangeness of his features; the mastodon skull with the nasal hollow that once caused it to be mistaken for the Cyclops; and then the inky black panther, the melanistic Javan leopard, that had been my favourite since I first saw him as a child visiting the museum. I had taken great care tying him up in sacking and rope so that he would not be disturbed on the trip north, stroked his broad nose as if to reassure us both.
The animals and the fossils, the specimens of this fine natural history museum, were being dispersed across the country, each department bound for a different location, to save them from the threat of German bombs in London. The mammals were being evacuated to Lockwood Manor and I was accompanying them as assistant keeper, a position I had reached after a rapid series of promotions due to two senior male members of staff enlisting. I would be in charge there, the de facto director of my own small museum.
It was a position I might have thought forever beyond me only a year ago, when I had made one of those stupid human mistakes that threaten to undo everything you have ever worked towards in one fell swoop. I had been in one of the workrooms under the museum galleries late one afternoon, copying some faded labels for a collection of rodents that had been amassed during the journeys of an eminent evolutionary theorist and which thus had historical as well as scientific importance. I also had the only fossil of an extinct horse species out next to them, ready to clean after I had finished the labels. I had skipped lunch that day, but then that was not out of the ordinary – I was often so fixated on my work that I forgot to eat the sandwiches I brought with me – and I was wearing an older, tired pair of shoes because my usual pair was being reheeled.
I had slipped as I returned from retrieving more ink, my leg buckling and my shoe skidding on a wooden floor polished by many years of footsteps, and I had knocked both the fossil and the two trays of rodents onto the floor and bashed my forehead on the table edge. But I cared not a jot for any injury I might have sustained as I stared in utter horror at the mess of specimens and labels – I had unpinned the latter from the box so that I could look more closely at them, and now that they were separated from their specimens, the collection had been rendered almost useless. And then there was the shattered fossil. The other occupant of the room, a fellow mammal worker named John Vaughan who was the very last person I would wish as an audience for such an embarrassment because he was forever fond of making snide comments with prurient undertones about my being female, watched with a dark kind of smirk on his face.
What made my accident worse, as I was reminded during my interview the next day – and the particular tone used by Dr Farthing, the head of the department, when he said accident made it seem anything but – was that an American visitor was due to arrive any day to study the very fossil I had broken, a scientist who was as rich as those gentlemanly Victorian scientists of old and who the museum had been hoping to woo as a donor.