Tag: Christmas

The Christmas Horror II

Part II

XMAS 3The room that I was now given was a dim little triangular room in the west wing of the house. It could only be reached by crossing the ‘picture-gallery’, or by climbing a little flight of stairs which led directly upward from the low-browed arch of a door that opened into the garden area. There was one more room on the same landing, but it was used mainly to house broken furniture, old toys, and bits of timber that had accumulate over the years. As for the room in which I was to sleep for the next few nights there were tapestries on the wall, with old, faded green velvet curtains, , fresh clothes on the bed, which had been hurriedly made, and quite oddly a new carpet. The furniture in the room was half old and half new, and on the dressing-table stood a very old oval mirror, in a frame of black ebony. It is many years ago now, but my memory of that night is so good that I will never forget one detail of it.

“Every Christmas several local girls were hired to act as maids for the guests that had been invited to our home. That short winter’s day had drawn to a close and the maids busied themselves with the large number of guests, who were very much looking forward to a Christmas feast and party. A large variety of traditional yuletide foods was served to them and, after dinner, a large number of guests gathered together in the huge drawing-room, in which a great wood-fire blazed in the ornate marble hearth. Among the crowd were, of course, the old, hard-riding, hard-drinking men of the fox-hunting clique, mumbling to each other over their port in the dining-room, and father was obliged to remain with them. The ladies and all the younger gentlemen, in the meantime, were all together in the drawing-room. Some of these had been invited to spend the night at our house, while others would have to make their own way home in the early hours, navigating narrow, dark and lonely country roads.

“Roger was at the gathering, of course, and he sat by my side. It was well known by everyone that we were engaged and were only waiting until the spring came so we could marry. My sisters were not very far away, and they seemed to have found handsome men whose hearts were very responsive to them. I could see the eyes of those men sparkle and soften as they met these young, attractive women. They were full of the joys of youth, innocent and very loving young ladies to whom the young gentlemen wanted to converse.

“The drawing room was large and lofty, with an arched roof that had somewhat sombre character, caused by the polished black oak features. On the walls hung ornate mirrors and many beautiful paintings, and the room was filled with tasteful furniture, a marble chimney-piece, and a large, colourful carpet. Many lights were burning, but in a forlorn hope of brightening the dark walls and roof. But, the black oak just appeared to ingest the rays of light like the mouth of a huge cave. A searchlight might have had serious difficulty in giving that room a cheerful glow of a modern drawing room. The gloomy richness of the panels, however, matched well with the ruddy gleam from the enormous wood-fire in which, crackling and glowing, lay the mighty Yule log.

“There was a blood-red lustre from the fire, reflected off the walls and roof. I was with a large group of the young people gathered around the antique hearth in a wide circle. The light from the fire, candles, and bulbs fell upon each of our faces though not on all equally, for some preferred to stay in the shadow of another. I remember still how tall, manly and handsome Roger looked that night. He was at least a head taller than any other person in the drawing room, and full of high spirits and fun. I must admit that I too was in the highest of spirits, and the rest the rest of our company joined in our joyous mood. All, that is, except for one.

“Lady Hurst was dressed in grey silk and was wearing a quaint head-dress. She was sitting in a big, comfortable armchair, facing the fire, very quiet, with her hands and her sharp chin propped on a sort of ivory-handled stick that she used because she was lame. All the while the old woman was peering at me with half-closed eyes. She was a small, old, and had very delicate features. The grey silk dress, her spotless lace, old-fashioned jewellery, and her overall neatness in appearance, were well suited to the intelligent face, with its thin lips, and eyes of a piercing black that were undimmed by age. But, in spite of my high spirited mood, those eyes made me feel uncomfortable as they appeared to follow my every movement around the room. Still, I tried hard to be both merry and happy, even to the point where my own sisters began to wonder what come over me. my ever-ready mirth, which was almost wild in its excess. Nevertheless, Lady Hurst’s eyes did make a disagreeable impression upon me and others quickly began to notice her scrutinising, but they put it down to her eccentricity.

“That disagreeable impression lasted only a few moments I was more pleasantly distracted. My aunt now began to take part in the conversation that was happening and we found ourselves listening to a weird legend. The old lady was a good teller of stories, and one tale would, naturally, lead to another.

“Everyone in the room was called upon to contribute to the entertainment, and each story contained some form of demonology and witchcraft. It was, after all, Christmas and the season for such tales to be told. The old drawing room, with its dusky walls was the perfect place to relate stories like these. The huge logs were crackling in the hearth and burned with a warm glow. The blood-red glare of the ‘Yule log’ reflected on the faces of storyteller and listeners alike, on paintings and the holly wreaths wrapped about their frames. It is no wonder, in the shimmering lustre of an ominously ruddy hue upon the oaken panels that the ghost and goblin stories took on a life of their own. As the tales unfolded the blood of the more timid grew chill and curdled. They felt their flesh creep while their hearts beat irregularly. The young ladies peeped fearfully over their shoulders and huddled close together like frightened sheep, believing that some impish and malignant face was cackling at them from the dark corners of the old room.

“By degrees my high spirits began to die out, and I started those childish tremors that I long thought I had left behind. I listened intently to each story as it was told, but I never asked myself if I believed in the authenticity of such dismal tales. A fear grew on me, like a child left alone in the nursery and menaced by variously shaped dark shadows. I am sure that most of ladies that were present in the room, both young and middle-aged, were affected in a variety of ways by the wild and fantastic characters in these tales.  Those fears and tremors would die out with the first light of a new day, when the bright sun would shine again on the frost covered grass and tree branches and was reflected by the rich red berries and glossy green spiked holly leaves. This form of entertainment soon ended, however, as my father and the older men returned into our midst. No one was courageous enough to relate such tales when these hard-headed, unimaginative men, returned, because they scorned such idle legends and superstitions.

“The previous quiet that had prevailed now disappeared, to make way for quite a bit of stir and bustle. There was tea, coffee, and other refreshments being served as some played piano and others sang. Roger and I sang a duet together. He had a very fine voice and good musical skills that carried me through the song. Surprisingly my singing was praised for its power and pathos. At the same time, I heard one lady say to another that I was by far the cleverest of my father’s daughters, as well as being the prettiest. Such compliments, however, did not make me vain since there was absolutely no competition between myself and my sisters. Roger whispered some soft, loving words in my ear as he put on his coat and got into the taxi to bring him home. It was now time for shawls, coats and other apparel to be called for as various vehicles rolled up to the porch of the house, and the guests gradually began to make their way home. At last there was no one left in the house but those who were staying the night there. Then I noticed my father, with a look of great annoyance evident on his face.

“”I have just been told a very strange story,” I heard him say, “One of the tenant farmers has just informed me that we have lost four of best ewes that we have been rearing on his land. It was that new flock that arrived at the end of October and the poor man says that they have been killed in a very strange way, with their carcasses having been torn to pieces and horribly mangled.”

“There was a collective sound of shock in the room when this news was revealed. Some of the younger men suggested that the culprit could very well have been a vicious dog. “It would seem so,” said father, “it would appear to be the work of a very vicious dog, and yet there is no dog fitting that description in this area. There are only sheepdogs and sporting dogs, all of which are well secured in yards. But, the sheep have been gnawed and bitten, because they show the marks of teeth distinctly. Some creature has done this thing, and torn those bodies apart like a wolf would. The mystery is that very little, or no, flesh has been taken from any of the bodies and that the attack was apparently made just to suck the blood from the sheep.”

“Heavens above!” was one excited cry when this news was revealed. Then one of the men recalled having heard that dogs could become addicted to sheep- killing and even wipe out an entire flock. “They say that the sight that is left to us is one of complete wantonness, scarcely waiting even a moment to taste a single morsel of flesh.”

“My father shook his head. “I also have heard of such cases,” he said, “but in this case I think that this might be the work of some unknown enemy. The teeth of a dog have been busy, of that there is no doubt, but these poor sheep have been mutilated in a very unusual manner that was as strange as it was horrible. The hearts of the animals have been torn out, and left several feet away from the carcasses, half- gnawed. The men, moreover, insist that they discovered the print of a naked human foot in the soft mud of the ditch. Near to it, this was found.” And he held up what appeared to be a broken link of a rusted iron chain.

“These revelations brought more exclamations of wonder and alarm, as well as many more suggestions, none of which appeared to have a bearing on the case. Then, when my father went on to say that two lambs of the same valuable breed had been killed in the same manner three days previously, there were further loud exclamations. All the while Lady Hurst had listened very calmly, but joined in none of our exclamations. Finally, she spoke to my father, “Try to remember if you have you any enemies among your neighbours?”

“My father gave her a puzzled look and frowned heavily at her. “Not one that I know of,” he replied, confident that he was a popular and kind man.

“Then, you are indeed a lucky man,” said the old woman, with one of her grim smiles.

“The hour was now very late, one-by-one we went off to our rooms to rest. Unfortunately, I was the family who was selected to escort old Lady Hurst to her room, the room I had vacated for her to use. It was not a task that I was fond of, because I did not like her much, godmother or not. My aunts, however, insisted that I should ingratiate myself with a woman who had as much money as she had, in case she might leave to a favourite such as might become. The old lady hobbled up the broad oaken stairs using both my arm her ivory crutch as props. When we reached the door to the room I opened it and led her into the brightly furnished room, which had a warm fire, glowing in the hearth. “This is a very nice room, dear,” she said as she looked around her new surroundings, “I should thank you, since I have been told that you have given it up to me.”

“All I could do was to smile at her compliment. “But, My dear,  I sure you’ll be sorry for your generosity to me, when you consider the strange bedchamber that you have been given, especially after all those ghost stories that were told. Yes?” the old lady added. I simply shrugged this off, telling her that I didn’t believe in such things.

“Where have they put you, child?” she asked, “in some little mouse-hole in the turrets, or in a glory hole somewhere else to sleep among the discarded things of the house. You need not try to be so brave, for I can hear your heart pounding with fear at this moment. I don’t think should be alone tonight.”

“Calling up every ounce of my pride, I tried to laugh off her doubts about my courage. Deep inside my own mind, however, I realised there was quite a lot of truth in what she had said. “Is there anything more that I can get for you, Lady Hurst?” I asked her, while trying to trying to pretend to yawn in the hope that she would see that I was already very sleepy.

“There was to be no such luck for me, because the old woman’s eyes stared directly at me. “You know my dear, I rather like you,” she said, “I also liked your mother well enough before she treated me so shamefully about the christening dinner. Now, dear, I know you are frightened and fearful, and if some bird should even flutter at your window to-night, it just might drive you into hysterics. There is a lovely little sofa-bed over there which can be quickly made up for you, and you can sleep there snugly, under the old witch’s protection. Rest assured no creature will harm you, and no one will be any bit the wiser, or mock you for being afraid.” It was my chance to accept her kind offer, and if I had only known what would happen I might have said “Yes”. Unfortunately, none of us can see into the future with any sense of certainty.XMAS 3

 

The Christmas Horror I

Part I

XMAS 1I would like to relate here a tale of horror that occurred over one hundred years ago to a family, for whom members of my family worked. Those directly affected by the events of that Christmas season openly spoke about them to my distant relations, who recorded them and their story is related here as a warning to us all.

“I was only nineteen years of age when an incident occurred that, unfortunately, has thrown a dark shadow across my life since that time. My days and my years have dragged by since that time, and I have been worn out by it all. In the years before the incident I was a young and happy teenager, and much loved by my parents. I was once very much complimented on possessing a fine complexion and very attractive features. Now, when I look at myself in a mirror, my eyes are filled with the reflection of an old, haggard woman, with ashen coloured lips and a face that has the look of death about it.

“Despite what you might think, I am not complaining or lamenting the fact that I have grown old. But, it was not simply the passing of years that has brought me to such a sorrowful condition, a wreck of my former self. If it had been this alone, in fact, I could have accepted the result more cheerfully, in the knowledge that we all must grow older. In my case, however, it was not the natural progress of passing years that actually robbed me of my bloom of youth, of the hopes and joys of my life, and causing the heartbreak that would leave me doomed to suffer a lonely old age. Although I try hard to be patient with my lot, the concerns and worries of life are like a heavy weight, bearing me down. My heart is completely shattered, empty of any emotion, and so weary of life that I now long for the peace of a death that comes so slowly to those who pray for it.

“Your appetite has probably been whetted now to discover what terrible event has brought me to this condition. The time has come for me, then, to try and relate that terrible event in my life, exactly as it happened. Even though the event which blighted my life occurred many years ago, I cannot forget even the smallest detail of that time.  That incident in my life has been placed into my brain and my heart as if seared there by the heat of a red-hot branding iron. Every millisecond of that time I can see in the wrinkles that cover my brow, and in the whiteness of my dying hair. In my youth that same hair was a glossy brown once, and it shone brightly with the life that was in it and within me.  But my hair did not gradually change from brown to grey, or from grey to white in any natural manner. It was not at all like the hair of my friends whose later years are comforted by the love of their children and grandchildren. You must wonder if I envy them and, in many ways, I do. But, I admit this only as a means to point out to you the difficulty that I have in telling my story is due entirely to the fact that I remember the event too well. Even as I begin to write these things down, however, my hand begins to trembles, and my head begins to swim with faintness. There is a great sense of true horror that takes a grip of my being, pulling me back into a long-remembered terror. Despite all of these things I have been persuaded to grit my teeth and complete this record of that horror, which I have been through.

“At the time when my story begins, I was the young heiress to my family’s substantial fortune. My father was a wise and clever businessman, who had used his talents to gather a large amount of wealth about him. But, although he never showed any disappointment to us, there was very little doubt that he did not have a son to inherit what he had built. Instead, my parents had given life to three daughters, of whom I was the youngest, and we would each share equally in the wealth that our father would pass on to us.

“Being a youthful nineteen years old girl, I spent no time at all on my future inheritance because all my needs were so well taken care of. I was healthy at that time, young and in love, all of which made me feel quite indifferent toward other things. Of course, we three sisters knew that we were heiresses, but I do not think Lucy and Minnie were made any happier or prouder because of that fact. We all had everything that we needed, and life was good.

“Roger, who was the love of my life, did not take an interest in me only because of the money that I would inherit. This was sorely proven to me when, after the terrible event that overcame me, he abandoned me. It is, perhaps, the one thing that I can be truly thankful for, even in my lonely old age. He didn’t stay with me for the money unlike so many ‘gold-digging’ men would have. Now, in lonely old age, I can be happy in the knowledge that I was loved, and that in itself has prevented me from going mad through all the many weary days and nights.

“The house in which we lived was an old Tudor-style mansion, and my father was the type of person who would not tolerate any change in the structure. Like an old castle, the house had numerous turrets, battlements and gable walls remained. The old fashioned windows with their quaint lozenge-shaped panes of glass set in lead were as they had been three hundred years previously.

“Attached to the house there was a large area of deep, thick coniferous woodland, bordered by a slow flowing stream. All this land stretching from the house was owned almost entirely by my father, and was inhabited by good-hearted and hard-working tenant farmers. These countryfolk were steeped in ancient ideas and traditions, and it was within this superstitious atmosphere that we were reared as children. We constantly heard tales of horror, fables and legends of dark deeds done in olden times. We were fascinated by such stories, and we marvelled at the descriptions of creatures and spirits that were said to inhabit our world.

“Our mother had died when we were young, leaving our father a widower with three girls to care for. He was kind and loving to us in his own way, but he was very much absorbed in the day to day affairs of his business enterprises. I effect, there was no person who could control the flow and content of the traditions and superstitions that we were exposed to, and like sponges our innocent soaked them all up. But, all children eventually grow up and there came a time when ghostly tales gave way to dances, dresses and potential life partners. It was at a large ball held by a neighbouring judge that I first met Roger, who was destined to be the love of my young life. As I have said, I am sure that he loved me with every beat of his heart and, even in the times of my grief and anger, I have never doubted this fact. We also blessed by the fact that his father and mine approved of our growing attachment. Today, I can look back upon those happy days as being something of a beautiful dream that I have experienced. But, change was to come to me, and bright and happy days of youth came to an end as blight and sorrow took a grip of my life.

“Christmas was always a joyful and a hospitable time in our home, and among the neighbours that surrounded us. In our house we played all the traditional games and maintained all the old family customs and frolics that were so much a part of celebrating this great feast. The manor, as usual, was filled to capacity with a variety of guests, for whom there was just about enough sleeping accommodation. There were several narrow, dark rooms available in the turrets of the house. We were once told that they had provided, at one time, good shelter to many noble gentlemen in days gone by. But, to us they were nothing more than mere pigeon coops. This Christmas, however, they were to be allotted to those visitors who were bachelors, after having been empty for over a hundred years.

“Every spare room in the house and its wings of the hall were occupied that night, and those who had brought servants were lodged at the gate-house and the farm. But, the unexpected arrival of an elderly relative immediately caused an awful commotion and the drawing up of new accommodation plans. Months before Christmas, this elderly relative had been invited to the celebrations, but she had never announced her intention to accept the invitation. When she arrived, therefore, may aunts, who were the chief organisers, panicked and went about the house wringing their hands and wondering what they could do.

“Lady Hurst was a woman of some note and some consequence within our family. She was a distant cousin of ours, but had been very cold toward us for quite a number of years, because of some affront or slight that she alleged was shown to her on the last occasion that she visited our home. At seventy years old, Lady Hurst somewhat infirm, quite rich, and very testy. Her last visit to us was at the time of my christening and I was given the honour of having her as my godmother. Although, in the last number of years you would never have thought that she held such a position in my life and, as a result, I did not expect any kind of an inheritance from her if and when she passed away

“My Aunt Margaret had begun to panic when she saw Lady Hurst arrive unexpectedly.  “We have no room! No room!” she said excitedly. “Isn’t this just our luck? The turret rooms are certainly not suitable, but where can we put her. She is Rose’s godmother, and she’s as rich as Croesus. After all these years of staying away from here, she comes back today and not a room available to her. What can we do?”

“My aunts could not surrender their rooms for the comfort of Lady Hurst, because they had already given them over to some of the invited married guests, who had already arrived. They could not approach my father and ask him to give up his room to the old woman. My father was, I can assure you the most hospitable of men, but he suffered greatly from rheumatoid arthritis to the extent that he was virtually incapable of walking normally. My aunts would not dared ask him to move rooms for they knew the man would have rather have lain on broken glass than sleep in a bed other than his own. Finally, it was I who settled the problem by giving up my room, though I was not exactly happy at having to do so. In fact, I surprised myself by feeling so selfish and especially when a trifling sacrifice on my part would make an old and infirm lady comfortable.

“My momentary selfishness annoyed me somewhat, because I was young, healthy and strong. The weather was not cold for the time of the year and, even though it was Christmas, there was no snow on the ground and the dark moist clouds overhead did not appear to be ready to unload any. But, I did do the generous thing and surrendered my room to Lady Hurst. My sisters laughed, and made fun of me for trying to wake his impression on my godmother.

“”Maybe she’s a fairy godmother, Rose,” said Mary, “and you know she felt slightly insulted at the time of your christening, and she had left the house swearing that one day she would have her revenge. Now, here she is! She is coming back to see you and I hope she brings some golden gifts with her.”

“In all honesty I thought little of Lady Hurst, or even her golden gifts. In fact, I cared very little for the fortune gathered by this elderly woman, which my aunts talked about all the time. But, since that time, I have wondered if I had shown some obstinacy and refused to give up my room to Lady Hurst, would my life have been much different. If I had not surrendered the room then Lucy or Mary would have had to offer and then suffered the horror that I met. My heart is still torn when I asked myself, “Would it have been better if the horror did fall on someone else rather than me?”