Written for the LordPeter list’s fanfic month, and also for Kiwi (who goes by Lady Susan on that list) as thanks for good advice. Thanks also to Gillian NoLJ (as far as I know) for proofreading on both editorial and cultural fronts.

This is set during the War period (WWII, that is) when a boys’ school occupied Bredon Hall.

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What bothered him wasn’t that they told ghost stories. In a place like this, ghosts seemed perfectly reasonable. No, what bothered him was the kind of stories they told. He’d seen the family pictures on the wall and read as much about their history as he could find, on the days when the boys were allowed into the grand library, and he was fairly sure that there had not been many murderous pirates or unspeakable monstrous hags here. A violent duke or two, perhaps, or a younger daughter who’d died of disappointment and moaned through the halls. Maybe (he perked up a bit at the thought) a cavalier still loyal to his King, guarding the location of a fabulous treasure buried against an anticipated restoration and then lost to history. But monsters, Red Indians, giant squids in the moat – no, probably not.

He sighed. It wasn’t bad, having the school here at Denver, though he did worry a bit about his parents back in London, with the bombs falling. It was a bit lonely here, maybe, but he was used to that. Small for his age and towheaded, his long fingers were clever at making models in idle hours but he’d none of the sporting skills that were the key to popularity at school. He had too slight a build for football and too much imagination to compensate for by a willingness to risk injury.

He sighed again. It was a half-day, and he had nowhere really to go. So he mooched around the Hall, avoiding the masters and the yard where he knew Simmons Major was lying in wait for smaller boys. In search of some sort of entertainment, he peeped into the library. They weren’t supposed to be there today, but no one was likely to be there or to notice him. Unfortunately, there were two people already in there, an elderly man and a beautiful woman. Oddly enough, the woman appeared to be in fancy dress. He tried to slip away again, but they’d seen him. The woman beckoned, as the man said, “Come here, boy,” in a much kinder voice than he’d expected.

The woman seemed to be looking at him oddly, and he hated to speak, hated the contrast his own London voice would make against the man’s well-bred tones. But he couldn’t stand there like a half-wit, either.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would be here – I know we’re not supposed to be in here without a master, but – ”

“But you like to read, is that it? What’s your name, boy?”

He gained some courage under that kind gaze. “Yes, sir. My name is Mortimer Wincey, sir. My people call me Merry.”

The gentleman – actually, he looked more like a professor – cast a startled look sideways at the lady, who smiled as if he’d worked out something she’d already known. Oddly, he took a long look at Merry’s hands, then, as if they had something to tell him, and nodded as if they had.

“I don’t suppose you know who your great-great-grandfather was, do you?”

Merry looked at him, considerably surprised and wondering if one needed a pedigree to read the books in here. “Sir? Er, no, sir. I think he might have been in the Army, as my grandfather was, but I don’t know anything about him. My family have lived in London since my grandfather left the Army.”

The old man waved the question away. “Never mind, never mind. It was terribly rude of me to ask – I’m a genealogist, you see, spend all my time studying family histories, and I forget that not everyone shares my interests. But why are you here instead of out with the other boys?”

“Well – ” It was a difficult thing to explain to a stranger. “I’m no good at rugby, you see – and I don’t like fighting, unless there’s a real reason – and I do like books -”

“And you don’t quite seem to fit in anywhere. I quite understand,” and he looked so kindly that Merry felt he really did understand. “You are welcome to read in here, young Merry, whenever I’m here,” Here the lady seemed as if she were finally about to speak, though she only made a welcoming gesture. “No, very kind of you, Lady Susan, but I’d better be here. I don’t doubt that you can keep an eye on him, not that he seems the sort to need watching. But you know how Gerald is about preserving Denver and its contents. Anyway, I’m in here most of the time, so it makes no odds.”

He paused to think a minute. “Yes, you’re welcome in here, boy. Still – take a friend’s advice, will you? I understand that his Grace plans to set up a cricket pitch for your school, and to form a few teams. Just you try out for it. You may be surprised to find that you have talents you don’t suspect yourself.”

Merry nodded, grateful enough for the offered friendship that he resolved to take the man’s advice, though he felt certain of making a fool of himself. Among the old leather bindings found an unexpected shelf of children’s books and settled himself in a corner with Harding’s Luck, for the first of many happy afternoons.