The Novel Approach welcomes Hayden Thorne today with an excerpt from her new Young Adult novel Ansel of Pryor House. Hayden’s also giving one reader the chance to win an e-copy of the book, so be sure to click on the Rafflecopter widget below to enter.
Blurb: Fifteen-year-old Ansel Tunnicliffe has lived a harsh life. Abandoned by his mother and his siblings to a drunk and abusive father, Ansel knows nothing more than hunger, fear, pain, and loneliness in his short life.
One evening, a wealthy stranger appears, challenges Mr. Tunnicliffe to a game of cards, and easily wins. The prize? Ansel. The terrified boy is whisked away to a remote and mysterious house, whose stern and aristocratic mistress takes Ansel in for a purpose that remains elusive to him.
Little by little, however, Ansel discovers additional secrets in every magical room of Pryor House — secrets that are somehow linked to him and Miss Peveler’s strange interest in his welfare. One of those secrets also turns out to be a young boy who haunts Ansel’s lonely hours and who may very well hold the key to Ansel’s future and the shadowy history of Pryor House.
Excerpt – From Chapter 4: Ansel was safely hidden in his assigned room, and he spent the next moment or so after being abandoned by Mrs. Finn crumbling under the aching mix of exhilaration and anxiety.
Mrs. Finn was nothing if not efficient as well as gruff in her displays of concern toward Ansel. After ushering him into his room, she proceeded to point out his bed, his wardrobe, his washstand, and even his windows. In his wardrobe a small collection of clean castoffs in excellent condition were neatly kept, and Ansel was nearly overcome with emotion at the thought that complete strangers had thought to spend money on him – a scruffy, half-starved, and illiterate nobody – with about a week’s worth of clothes. It was all he could do to nod, blink away the tears, and run a sleeve against his nose while avoiding Mrs. Finn’s grim, inquiring stare.
As per Mr. Farnham’s orders, he wasn’t expected to do much for the next two days beyond clean himself and appear before Miss Peveler if she demanded his presence.
“You’re free to explore the house, though you really shouldn’t expect to find much,” Mrs. Finn had said as she turned to march toward the door, her plump figure straight and stiff like a soldier, her steps measured and almost theatrical. She opened the door and stepped across the threshold, turning to face Ansel with her hand on the knob. “Mind that you don’t get lost, though. Most of the rooms aren’t used, but none of them are locked.”
Ansel thought he noted an air of melancholy regret in the housekeeper’s tone and expression. Perhaps in the distant past, Pryor House was a hive of activity, sound, and light. He could imagine it, anyway, as despite the great house’s somber, simple elegance, there was still that curious atmosphere of whimsy he’d felt upon entering the house earlier.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I’ll keep to the main rooms downstairs.”
Mrs. Finn nodded, a shadow of a smile briefly lighting her face before her usual stern mask returned. Once he was finally alone, Ansel’s brain went blank, and he sank onto his bed, gazing helplessly around the room – his room. It was a small one, but it was very cozy and a far, far cry from what he’d long been used to, living with his father. Even the furniture for servants was well made yet functional and worked beautifully with the house’s color scheme. Ansel almost felt filthy and was convinced he reeked of the gutter when his gaze swept down to rest on his soiled and threadbare rags. His shoes were a disgrace, even for someone as poor as he.
He noticed his sack of clothes on the floor near the foot of the bed, and so many reminders, so many memories, and so many feelings associated with them surged to the forefront of his mind, and with a shaky breath, Ansel stood up and walked to one of the windows flanking his bed. Fumbling with the latches, he managed to open the window, pushing the two narrow casements outward and inviting a blast of chill air inside. He tried to breathe it in, hoping the fresh air and the cold would purge the wild swirl of emotions that now wrapped around him like a bitter shroud. But as it turned out, confusion, shame, terror, and, yes, loneliness all coalesced into one awful, dark cloud that swallowed him. Ansel had no choice but to give in to grief he’d been suppressing for a few days now while in Mr. Farnham’s company.
For several minutes he stood by the open window, crying, using his faded shirt as a handkerchief, barely noticing the winter scenery stretching out before him. For the briefest moment, he wished he were back home, enduring his father’s abuses, because that offered him familiarity and predictability despite the terrible pain. At least he knew what to expect day in and day out, and he was surrounded by things and people – neighbors, that is – he’d always known. He almost convinced himself that curling up on the floor, begging for his father to stop hitting him with a stick or a belt, was worth it as a price for the sight and the feel of his old bed and pillow, even if both were practically rotting to pieces under him.
Now? He’d “changed hands” over cards – like property, livestock, or chattel – and had no idea what his future held for him. There’d been kindness and generosity, to be sure, and a great deal of pity. He needed to give himself and everyone else more time to get to know each other, but it didn’t change how he was now alone in so many ways, much more than before. He felt so helpless, so powerless.
The tears ran out in time, and after calming himself down till his hiccoughs had been reduced to shuddering gasps, Ansel pulled the casements and turned the latches. His room now felt too cold, but he didn’t care. Sniffling, he shuffled over to his bed, where he undid his shoelaces, kicked off his shoes, and crawled under the covers. He turned to his side, burrowing further under the thick, comfortable blankets, but not before muttering an apology to the nice, clean sheets and pillows for being subjected to his filth. He fell asleep before long.