The Hecate Cavendish Series (Volume 1)

The Haunting of Hecate Cavendish is book one in New York Times bestselling author Paula Brackston’s new, magic-infused series about Hecate Cavendish, an eccentric and feisty young woman who can see ghosts.

England, 1881. Hereford cathedral stands sentinel over the city, keeping its secrets, holding long forgotten souls in its stony embrace. Hecate Cavendish speeds through the cobbled streets on her bicycle, skirts hitched daringly high, heading for her new life as Assistant Librarian. But this is no ordinary collection of books. The cathedral houses an ancient chained library, wisdom guarded for centuries,

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The Haunting of Hecate Cavendish is book one in New York Times bestselling author Paula Brackston’s new, magic-infused series about Hecate Cavendish, an eccentric and feisty young woman who can see ghosts.

England, 1881. Hereford cathedral stands sentinel over the city, keeping its secrets, holding long forgotten souls in its stony embrace. Hecate Cavendish speeds through the cobbled streets on her bicycle, skirts hitched daringly high, heading for her new life as Assistant Librarian. But this is no ordinary collection of books. The cathedral houses an ancient chained library, wisdom guarded for centuries, mysteries and stories locked onto its worn, humble shelves. The most prized artifact, however, is the medieval world map which hangs next to Hecate’s desk. Little does she know how much the curious people and mythical creatures depicted on it will come to mean to her. Nor does she suspect that there are lost souls waiting for her in the haunted cathedral. Some will become her dearest friends. Some will seek her help in finding peace. Others will put her in great peril, and, as she quickly learns, threaten the lives of everyone she loves.

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  • Macmillan Audio
  • Audio
  • July 2024
  • 13 hours 18 minutes
  • 9781250346827

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About Paula Brackston & Marisa Calin (Narrator)

PAULA BRACKSTON is the New York Times bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter and The Little Shop of Found Things, among others. Paula lives with her family in the historical border city of Hereford in the beautiful Wye valley. When not at her desk in her writing room, she enjoys long walks with the dog in a sublime landscape filled with the imprints of past lives and ancient times.


Brackston seamlessly blends horror, fantasy, and mystery…readers with a penchant for gothic fantasy won’t want to miss this.” Publisher’s Weekly

Hecate Cavendish is a breath of fresh air – a young woman who knows her own mind and is prepared to swim against the tides of her time – and ours. Her capacity to explore the reaches of reality with courage and panache is a delight. This is a charming, uplifting, lyrical read, a perfect antidote to the roller-coaster angst of our times.” —Manda Scott, Author of The Boudica Dreaming Series





For more than three hundred years the ancient tomb had housed the remains of its occupant without threat of disturbance. Even the hungry rats and slithering worms had been deterred by its impenetrable walls, so that the cadaver within had, over the long, lonely centuries, quietly and gently turned to nothing more than dry bones. On the outer surface of the sarcophagus, generations of spiders had spun their webs, weaving away in the darkness, their layer of gossamer an external shroud for the long-deceased, long-forgotten person within. For so many years, all had been silent as a grave should be. Untroubled as a soul at peaceful slumber. Dark as the deepwater moment before dawn.

But then came that dawn, rising like a vengeful blaze, splitting the horizon, darkness from light, earth from sky, life from death. Sundering the structures that kept each in its place. Dragging souls from the deep. So that soon, with dreadful, unstoppable progress, the dead would rise.

* * *

Hecate had been up at daybreak, following the habit her father had instilled in her. She took after him in so many ways; her striking red hair, her restlessness, her hunger for knowledge, her fascination with things arcane and little understood. It was he who had insisted on her outlandish name, silencing his wife’s protestations that it was heathen and uncivilized.

“My dear,” he had told her quietly but firmly in a voice that would brook no argument, “while I favor the modern pronunciation Hék-atee, the origins of the name are both classical and ancient and all speak of a woman of great fortitude and significance. Would you wish to label your daughter insignificant?” And so it had been decided.

On this particular morning she had good reason to wake early, for this was to be the first day of her new life. The day she would leave the house merely a young woman, but arrive at the cathedral as its new assistant librarian. The thought that she would spend her time with regular access to the magnificent chained library thrilled her. The library was renowned for its collection of antique and obscure books, manuscripts, documents and maps, and it would fall to her to help care for, restore, and catalog them. As if that weren’t reason enough to delight in her appointment as helper to Reverend Thomas, Master of the Library, she would also have the opportunity to study the famous Mappa Mundi. This was the jewel in the collection; one of the oldest and largest medieval maps in existence, filled with mysterious symbols, legends, wonders, and secrets.

Hecate wasted as little time as possible pinning her hair into an acceptable bun and buttoning up her blue woolen dress. The fine floral print and modest lace details on the cuffs stirred in her a mixture of irritation (at the girlish style) and guilt (at being ungrateful for a gown of good quality). The frills and folderols that were a woman’s lot were irksome to her, for she had always considered there were so many more interesting things to be doing than attending to one’s own appearance. She barely glanced in the looking glass, doing so only to confirm that her mother would not complain at her efforts, before descending the wide wooden staircase to the dining room.

The handsome redbrick house she shared with her parents and younger brother, Charlie, was first and foremost a family home, ruled firmly by her mother, Beatrice, but sustained by the gentle benevolence of her father, Edward. While the rooms were well furnished, and carefully chosen paintings and vases left no space undecorated, the priority was for practicality and comfort over elegance and show. Or at least, that was the aim of Mrs. Cavendish. Mr. Cavendish’s fondness for collecting curious objects from his travels over a lifetime as an archeologist fought against this somewhat, so that a bronze Egyptian goddess might find herself sharing a shelf with a Staffordshire china poodle, a desiccated scarab beetle, and a plain wooden box containing fire tapers.

Hecate made straight for the sideboard and helped herself to kedgeree.

On seeing his daughter, her father put down his newspaper.

“Ah, how fares my little Hecate this morning? Are you prepared for your first day of employment?”

“Indeed I am, Father,” she said, taking her seat at the table and tucking into her breakfast.

“I am pleased to see your appetite has not suffered in the excitement,” he said.

Hecate grinned. “I need to keep my strength up. Did you know there are fifty-four steps up the stone spiral staircase to the muniments room?”

“I did not. I shall imagine you springing up them each morning. Of course, you know why it is called such, don’t you?” he asked, testing her gently.

“Because, up until this point, it was used to keep all the title deeds and legal documents relating to the cathedral and the diocese, which are collectively known as muniments.”

“Up until this point.”

“Yes, because now that it houses the collection, it is simply known as the library.”

Her father smiled at her indulgently.

Hecate’s mother made a small, tutting sound, unable to completely suppress the disapproval she felt toward her daughter’s employment. She would never entirely forgive her husband for having secured a position in the cathedral library for her.

“Why you would wish to shut yourself away among dusty books, I cannot imagine,” she said.

“Truly, Mother? You only have to look to Father to see where I get my interest from.”

“Your father has more than that to answer for. Had he not spoken to the dean on your behalf you would never have been considered for the position.”

Mr. Cavendish smiled brightly. “One does what one can.”

“Really, Edward!” His wife was losing patience. “It is enough that you have encouraged Hecate in this direction; kindly resist gloating.”

Hecate reached over to pat her father’s hand. “Gloating is harsh,” she said. “But you know Mother would rather me fill my days with visits and social events.”

“Am I to be criticized for doing what any sensible mother would do?” Beatrice demanded. “That is to say, assisting my daughter in the search for a suitable husband.” Seeing the disparaging look exchanged between the other two across the table, she added, “A happy and prosperous marriage is not to be sneered at.”

Mr. Cavendish looked shocked. “We would never sneer at such a thing, would we, Hecate?”

“Absolutely no sneering,” she agreed. “Oh, Mother, could you set aside your ambition for me just today and share my happiness? I am so thrilled to have been given this opportunity. I would enjoy it even more if I knew you approved.”

Her mother said nothing but sipped her tea. Hecate let the hopeful silence stretch as far as it could without snapping before giving up and changing the subject.

“Where is Charlie?”

“Your brother is indisposed.”

“He has a head cold,” her father explained.

“Another one?” Hecate feared her twelve-year-old sibling’s health might never improve. Indeed, more and more it seemed he was in bed rather than out of it. She saw the concern etched on her mother’s face, and noticed the determined way her father went back to his newspaper. Not one of them wanted to face the possibility that Charlie might never be fully well again. It hurt her heart to see her parents so worried. “If he’s feeling a little stronger later today, shall we take him out in the trap? Perhaps a ride to the farm to see the cows?”

Edward smiled. “He is certainly fond of the things.”

Her mother would not hear of it. “Hecate, you know full well the weather is not yet sufficiently settled for him to venture out. No. He must rest. Dr. Francis will visit tomorrow and I’m sure he will have better news for us after he has seen him.”

A pensive silence fell upon the family, disturbed only by the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hallway, and the occasional rumble of Mr. Cavendish’s stomach. Hecate tipped back her head to drain her cup of tea, earning a hard stare from her mother, and rose to her feet.

“I shall be late,” she said, even though everyone knew she had never been, nor ever would be, one minute late anywhere for anything that she loved. She was known for the frenetic pace at which she traveled, whether on foot or pedalling her beloved bicycle. She considered lateness lost time that could never be recalled, and the very idea of that bothered her enormously. She kissed her mother’s cheek, snatched a slice of toast, and paused to hug her father, who patted her hand.

“Off you go, little worker bee,” he told her, ignoring his wife’s admonishing glare at the pairing of work and their daughter in the same sentence.

In the hallway, Hecate plucked her favorite workaday hat from the stand, and her coat from the cupboard. She shrugged it on as she chomped her toast, her mother’s entreaty not to leave the house while eating echoing in her ears as she closed the back door behind her. Outside the day was awash with spring sunshine, though a refreshing breeze served as a reminder that it was but the beginning of the season. As she took the path that skirted the lawns of the walled garden, breathing in the sweet scent of the cherry blossom, she experienced a pang of guilt at leaving Charlie upstairs to face another dreary day indoors alone. She decided she would work with her father to take him out upon her return, regardless of her mother’s protestations, certain the air and blossom could only be beneficial to a person’s health. The door of the old stable creaked as she opened it. It had been many years since the Cavendishes had kept more than a single pony for their modest trap. Hecate broke her stride to feed the remnants of her toast to Peggy, the plump chestnut mare that was staring forlornly at her empty hay manger. The second stall was now occupied by a set of harness and Hecate’s bicycle. She took a moment to reposition her hatpin. Her enthusiastic pedalling and the morning breeze would combine to remove any headwear if it were not securely anchored to her hair. She wheeled the heavy iron bicycle out into the sunshine. It was a source of great pride to her, and not a little consternation to her mother. No other young lady would be seen riding such a thing, either for decorum’s sake or for fear of injury. Hecate had researched bicycles, as she researched anything that was to become important to her, and had discovered an innovative design being made in America. She had used the small bequest from a departed aunt to purchase it and have it shipped over for the express purpose of using it to ride to and from the cathedral each day. That it was called a safety bicycle had gone some way to appeasing her mother. Safe as it might be, it was still of considerable weight, and required some skill, which Hecate had acquired over a matter of several somewhat bruise-strewn days. She stepped through the frame, hitching herself up onto the seat in one practiced movement. Not for the first time she muttered beneath her breath at the silliness of not being permitted to shorten her skirts a little. The matter of her cycling attire was yet another continuing battle she fought with her mother.

Hecate revelled in the speed and freedom she found while riding through the streets of the small city. Avoiding the carriages that vied for space along the main thoroughfares, she wove her way through the crisscrossing narrow streets and avenues that ran like the veins of a leaf, all ultimately heading in one direction: to the cathedral. As she pedalled she raised a hand in greeting or shouted out a hello. The greengrocer was setting up the striped awning above his display of produce and paused to sing out a good morning. The newspaperboy ran alongside her for a moment, both of them laughing as he ultimately failed to keep up. A gaggle of young girls on their way to start a shift at the bottling factory squealed as she steered her bike through the center of the group, Hecate throwing “sorry” and “beg your pardon” over her shoulder as she went.

After an exhilarating five minutes, she steered down Church Street, juddering over the cobbles, resisting the wonderful aromas drifting out from the pie shop, and at last reaching the edge of the Cathedral Green. As always, Hecate’s heart lifted at the sight of the magnificent building. Its pink-tinged stone softened the grand, masculine lines of its high tower and soaring roofs. The gothic arches that formed the entrances, echoed throughout the building, gave it such a powerful connection to the past, and its stately proportions spoke so clearly of the enormous, sustained effort involved in its construction. She could never fail to be moved by it. Out of respect for the fact that the Green had once been a graveyard, she dismounted and walked as sedately as she could bear (which was to say not sedately at all), wheeling her bicycle past the main entrance, along the north wall, around the splendid east facade, circling right to the south door. Here there was a narrow space at the start of the cloisters where she had been given permission to leave her bicycle. On the threshold, she hesitated. This was not a visit to admire the fine carvings and statuary, nor a day for attending a service or concert. This was the start of her working life. Once she stepped through the doorway and entered the building she became a part of the family of clergy and laypeople who loved and tended the ancient place.

A soft meow alerted her to the presence of Solomon, the cathedral cat.

“Good morning, pussycat.” She smiled, unable to resist stooping to stroke his bright orange fur. She had met him on her previous visits and heard the story of how he had appeared one day, a tiny shivering kitten, and purred his way into the hearts of everyone. Dean Chalmers had taken some convincing that he should be permitted to stay permanently, but finding an altar cloth nibbled by mice had decided him. Happily, Solomon had proved to be an excellent mouser.

As the tower bell struck the hour, Hecate skipped through the doorway and into the cathedral itself. Immediately as she entered, she experienced the familiar but nonetheless striking changes in the atmosphere. First there was the temperature. The stone walls were several feet thick and did a far better job of keeping the heat out than in. The fragile warmth of the spring day stood little chance of penetrating such defenses. The only warm points in the whole cathedral at this time of year—between winter stoves and summer sun—were the jewel-colored pools of light that fell through the stained-glass windows. She stood in the transept—the square area immediately inside the south door—where she had been instructed to wait for the dean. This being one of the less grand entrances, there was nothing spectacular about the space save for the lofty vaulted ceiling, the intricate tiles, and a tomb set into the right corner on which was carved in stone an effigy of a sixteenth-century dean.

The second atmospheric change was that of sound. Sounds of the world—birdsong, carriage wheels, train whistles, barking dogs—were rendered muffled and distant, or in many cases completely silenced. Sounds within the cathedral walls, however, were amplified, acquiring blurring echoes, which rebounded off the interior masonry or ricocheted off the gleaming brass-work. Hecate did her best to move quietly as she paced up and down, too excited to keep still, but the leather of her boots slapping upon the tiles sounded horribly loud to her ears.

“Ah, Hecate, my dear!” The dean approached down the south aisle, his long, dark purple robes of office skimming the floor as he walked, hands outstretched in welcome. Dean Chalmers was the perfect example of someone who had found their ideal place in life. Kind, thoughtful, and dedicated to his faith and to the cathedral he had been in charge of for over a decade. He was known as a man of sound sense and abundant patience who had the knack of being likeable without losing any of his authority. He clasped both of Hecate’s hands. “Welcome!”

“Thank you, Dean. I am so happy to be here.”

“You will be an asset to Reverend Thomas and make your father very proud, I have not the slightest doubt. Come, I will take you to the library, though of course you already know where it is to be found.”

“Yes, Dean. Father took me to see the collection for the first time last year, and then I returned for my interview. I promise I shall do my best to reward the trust in me the master of the library has shown by accepting me for the post.”

Together they turned, walking along the transept where colored tiles underfoot gave way to older flagstones.

“Reverend Thomas is a man of … quiet passions. He has a preference for silence, which makes him ideally suited for his role,” said the dean, shedding a positive light on the librarian’s well-known dislike of unnecessary social interaction or indeed conversation in general. “Keep in mind,” he went on to assure her, “he is a font of knowledge regarding the collection. It would be a wise person who listened attentively on the occasions he chooses to share that knowledge.”

Hecate nodded as they turned left down the north aisle. She glanced across at the spectacular altarpiece and the intricately carved choir stalls, smiling at the thought from that morning, this wondrous place was to be where she would spend so much of her time. They reached a low door set into the wall. Dean Chalmers opened it and then stood back to allow her to enter the stairwell.

The library had, over centuries, both grown and moved, making way for improvements to the cathedral or escaping damage in areas of dilapidation and disrepair. Now the collection resided on the first floor, so that to reach it Hecate was required to trot up the worn treads of the narrow, twisting stone staircase which was housed in a turret. The steps turned in a tight spiral, lining the slender tower that ran up the side of the building. The only light was that from the small arched windows placed at intervals throughout the climb. Hecate counted as she went, breathless not from effort but excitement by the time she reached the second door. The dean tried the latch but it was locked.

“Ah. It appears we are ahead of Reverend Thomas. It is the habit of Mr. Gould, our verger, to unlock the door on the ground floor, but the master of the library is responsible for opening this one. Have you met Mr. Gould?” When Hecate shook her head he went on. “His is an invisible but vital role in the functioning of the cathedral. No church, big or small, can do without its caretaker. I am sure you will meet him later today, not least because he inhabits the vestry, and that is where you will find the stove, kettle, and biscuit tin.”

Copyright © 2024 by Paula Brackston