There was a certain foreboding that evening, a foretokening chill to the autumn wind which streamed across the empty plains. A large tree loomed over me, its golden leaves waxed and faded away with nothing but a few droplets of rain weighing it down. There was a stillness to the air too, a quiet desolation which struck me to the core.
Still, he said that he would come.
The sky once blue had turned a stormy grey, shadowy and temper driven as it steadily eclipsed the last of the sun. In this tumultuous weather, I found myself standing in the middle of Gothrow moors. It was only a five-minute walk from that brooding mansion, which has been my place of captivity for many years. It was there that I met Avery, a handsome stable boy with light almond-coloured eyes and a warm smile only for me. You see, we are lovers. It is absolute secrecy since I am ten years his senior, although in truth, that is the least of my worries.
Light specks of rain descended from the heavens above. Is it wrong for me to consider such a place? You see, I have fallen. There were many others before Avery. There was the master of the house, Calum Bryly, a most anxious man that wished to forget his wife, Elizabeth. Now that my master is old, withered, and wasted away, it is enough for me to forget those handsome features that once enticed me. There was also his son Brendan, a tall, strapping sort of man with a large, muscular build. They could never know my secret, or that Brendan’s sexual desires were very much like his father’s. They do say that blood is thicker than water. How very true in this case, and fortunately for me, both men happily discovered that I am unable to produce them a most unwanted bastard child.
The cold gale flapped my outer garments outwards, sending my tattered coat to the sides of me. My hands, not as soft and youthful as before, pushed down my bonnet. I could only pray that Avery would come soon. There was a myth about this place. Across the border upon the Highlands, there was a myth about a large cù, a gigantic wolf that stalks the expansive lands belonging to those Highlanders. If you were left alone, you could easily become its prey. We had no such superstitions here, although I would argue that our fears are much darker.
The Bryly’s have always lived an unhappy life. Some said there was a curse upon the land. I very well believed it. In this isolated part of England, this expansive moorland with nothing but large, grimy grey bricks hovering over it, lies my master’s house: Morton Hall.
The chill of the wind suddenly arrested my attention, as did the pursuing fog. I held my breath and ignored that worrisome feeling at the bottom of my stomach. The pale moon struck itself across the darkened sky, illuminating my figure and casting a long shadow behind me. I could hear a sound, faint and ever perceptible. My gaze abruptly shifted to the direction of Morton Hall, a place that can only be seen in my mind’s eye. Through the fog was a dim silhouette, a figure. I knew it was a man by the broad shoulders and slow-moving gait.
I stepped forward with some hesitation, wondering if it was my lover, Avery. I raised up a hand in welcome, and then waved it frantically to capture this man’s attention. To my horror, the tall, shadowy figure did not respond to my friendly wave, but continued to press forward at an alarming rate. It was only at that moment that I truly feared the sight of this tall, darkly figure.
My mind raced. Terror gripped me. In the moonlight I could see a silver-sheen blade dimly reflecting against the heavy fog which surrounded this stranger, an unknown being that was bent on pursuing me.
“Avery?” I called out, hoping against hope that it was him.
Had he found out the truth? The fact that there were other men before him. The fact that, even now, I had not been entirely faithful. Or that despite my promises that were uttered in vain, I could never bear him a child? Is it possible that Avery finally realized I never had any intention of ever leaving this place, because a mere servant girl such as myself feared the consequences of running away from those two accursed men that lived and breathed in the depths of Morton Hall?
I screamed out Avery’s name into the impenetrable fog, before vainly stretching out a hand in good faith that it was truly him. “Is that you?”
The man’s steps quickened, hastening towards me. The low, heavy drone that sounded behind him alarmed me the most, a low grating noise which cut against the bitterly high grass at every step, separating it with such fluid motion that I knew it would soon perform the same action against myself.
I was a fool, of course. Neither man nor woman could escape the grasp of the Bryly’s, try as they might. Anyone that dared to step across the large threshold of Morton Hall is inevitably fated to die upon their lands.
The silver blade lifted into the air, flickering in a matter of seconds until the axe was gripped heavily in front of the person’s chest. I shuddered at the sight of it, and found my feet moving backwards in utter fear.
“Brendan?” I cried out.
It could only be him, since Brendan was the most possessive of all of my lovers. He had made it quite clear that he would never let me go.
“Please,” I begged, only to stumble on a high patch of grass and fall backwards. From the ground, I saw blood, thickly oozing off the tip of the blade.
“Please!” I screamed in absolute horror, as this man took his final steps with a great heaving axe at hand.
In the clear moonlight I recognized the slouchy grey cap and heavy overcoat at once, and knew the long black collar pointed upwards could only belong to my master.
“C-Calum? I asked with some distress, as my mind raked and raved with how a sickly old man could ever come out of his invalid fated bed.
The figure stopped. The large form hovered over me, and with their present advantage of stature and the brightness of the moon they could see all the world’s terror etched upon my face.
“Your master is dead,” replied the lone figure with a voice thickly riddled with something of hysterics, but I knew that aging voice all too well, for it belonged to none other but the Mistress of Morton Hall.
The ghastly grey walls of this derelict building were a stark juxtaposition to the clear blue skies overhead. A stiff leather portmanteau was pushed against my stomach, allowing my fingers to press firmly against the hardened material as I rested it over my lap. Nerves continued to consume me as the open carriage jostled back and forth, swaying me endlessly on this old country road.
Fearful of my bonnet blowing away in the wind, I used my left hand to push it downwards. The last thing I needed was to make a bad impression with the master of the house from day one. Listlessly, I glanced at the back of the carriage driver’s head. He was a man with a stout, roundish figure and an awkwardly shaped bowl hat placed over his matted grey curls. The driver was familiar with the land, hardly phased at all by the scenic routes or the idyllic sylvan groves that we had left far behind us.
My lot in life was about to take a much darker turn. Justice had been served, I was caught in the act, and not even my clever words or fervent apologies to my Mistress could save me from her condemnation.
The driver looked over his shoulder, ensuring that I was wide awake and alert enough to take in my surroundings.Once we made eye contact, he stated, “Another ten minutes, I reckon. Are you sure about this, ma’am?”
I nervously bit down on the corner of my lip. I can only hope that this is the right course of action for me. It would have been easier to give into this elderly man’s subtle suggestions. If only I could wind back the clock and change my past, but my own foolish mistakes have led me here.
“I am sure people are looking for a housemaid elsewhere,” advised the older gentleman. “We can turn back, you know.”
His subtle pleas were met with a determined silence from myself. The driver’s words were sound, but I had no other choice but to move forward.
“A cold, dreary place it is,” he mumbled faintly under his breath. “Morton Hall.”
I knew the gentleman was right, for Morton Hall was an infamous place for all the wrong reasons. A terrible scandal, a string of murders, and the neighbouring villagers whispering far and wide about ghosts haunting those very halls. There was the present owner too, Mr. Brendan Bryly, a man of mystery by all accounts.
“Miss Sterling,” yelled the driver. “I can turn back and place you in a nice, little hotel. Come Monday morning, you can leave an ad in the paper saying that you are in need of a position.”
In something of a sigh, I drearily replied, “You forget, sir, that I already have one.”
“Gah!” he sharply retorted.
The imposing edifice was both brooding and ill-suited to my tastes. A few decades ago, this squat grey building would have looked lovely when surrounded by verdurous farmland and colourful heath. In my line of sight was something far more sinister. Even from a distance, you could see that the house was in shambles. Over the last several years, unyielding soil created bad crops, which in turn brought out a famine upon the land. The servants of Morton Hall were in a long line of poor sufferers during those dry, unforgivable seasons, and they did not hesitate to remove themselves from that place in the hopes of a better future.
We passed the horse’s stable, a feeble construction with the main door unhinged and falling inwardly. Sadly, there were no horses about, and the men that used to care for the Bryly’s farm animals had abandoned the place. The neglected structure drew my attention for some minutes as we passed it by, but it was soon overtaken by the outstretch of the moors that were north of Morton Hall. Gothrow Moors was its infamous name, and it was rumoured that a young servant girl was butchered there alive by an axe-swinging murderer. I shivered at the sight of it, even more when I imagined an axe crashing down hard upon the poor woman’s frame. I can still recall that evening many years ago, when my father narrated that horrifying tale to me, half snickering when reading aloud the tiny news clipping by the fireside. Who would have imagined nine years later that I would be approaching this very house?
The driver glanced over his shoulder to look at me while wearing a fatherly countenance. His eyes soberly entreated me to stay in the carriage and not take a single step into that hallowed abode.
“A young thing like you don’t belong here,” he warned.
“I will need some assistance,” I coldly retorted. My luggage was pushed off my lap and placed next to the swinging door while retaining eye contact with him. “If you please.”
Rough, gnarled hands released the horse’s bridle. The driver flung off his old, tattered hat to dry off the nervous sweat from his brow. He was a man of superstition and knew the nightmarish tales that circulated throughout his village. In slow movements, he placed his hat upon his head and stared at the grey fortress with something akin to fear. He was delaying the inevitable, probably for my own good.
Sharp shrills struck the air, arising from black-winged crows that espied me from their high position. They were perched along the battlements, which provided them the perfect viewpoint to take in the latest visitor of Morton Hall.
“May God help you!” The driver dropped down from his high seat to land upon the rocky floor. His heavy boots pounded upon the stony pathway and soon enough he swung the door open for me. “Watch your step,” he advised. His large, withered hand was raised before my chest, a sly entreaty for me to take it. “I’ll help you down.”
“Thank you, sir.”
My right toe touched the floor first, and soon my left foot followed. The driver reached behind me to fetch my luggage. “That’s all you got?”
“I left in a hurry.”
“A hurry?” he echoed with some disbelief. The driver continued to carry my luggage as he made his way around the house. “I have no idea where to put them,” he grumbled. “With the horse’s stables in such a mess.”
“Shambles,” I conceded.
“Much like this house.”
He pulled on the horse’s bridle to steer the carriage closer to the back of the house. It would be imprudent for a mere servant girl to enter the house through the main front doors. My job was to be invisible, so I was behooved to take this route. I have no qualms to admit I did it willingly, the last thing I needed was attention.
“Take your luggage!” The small leather case of mahogany brown was brought closer to me. “These horses don’t like the look of this place. Look! They’re getting skittish.”
Absent-mindedly, I accepted the luggage, probably because I was too consumed with the daunting image of Morton Hall. Prickly brambles stretched along the sides of this brick building, all dusty and withered with age. Their sharp brown needles scraped across the hard surface, creating a sound that was most unpleasant to my ears. The grass that encircled the grounds of Morton Hall was a lifeless brown, severely burnt from the hot blast of the summer’s sun. I noticed that most of the windows were uncommonly dusty too, as if the rooms were seldom used by the family. The most striking scene was the swarthy grey bricks of Morton Hall, which had lost its original luster. This spectacle alone compelled me to believe that this ancient structure was forsaken by its owners and would be better off to crumble back onto the earth from whence it came.
Nonetheless, this haunted house intrigued me, as if an unseen force were drawing me forward. Soon I reached the back door, freshly painted over in black. I knocked on the door three times before I settled my luggage down on the slab of rounded stone beneath my feet.
“I’ll just linger here!” shouted out the driver. “In case you change your mind and want to go back home.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said with all the politeness I could muster while looking over my shoulder. “But this is my home now.”
The door abruptly opened, catching me off guard. A tall man with glossy golden hair stood underneath the doorway. His overcoat and blazer had been abandoned, leaving only a flowy white dress shirt with puffy sleeves and a white ascot entirely undone to rest over the front of his chest.
“What do we have here?” he exclaimed with far too much eagerness.
Immediately I became apprehensive of his presence, especially when he rested those large hands over the sides of his hips. A sharp bark sounded behind him, and then a lean greyhound darted past the gentleman to approach me. The dog sniffed me suspiciously, eager to determine whether I was a friend or foe.
“Look what’s dropped from the sky.” The tall man raised his hand to greet the driver behind me. “Come Dagger!” yelled out the gentleman with an authoritarian air. The greyhound immediately retreated from my presence to return to his master. “Wait until Bren has a look at you,” he chuckled after revealing a vulpine smile. “But I forgot my manners. My name is Mr. Ajax Anderson. I am the family’s doctor.”
“And your position is…”
“Such a high turnover of maids,” he mused aloud while stroking the side of the greyhound’s ear. “Never a good sign, I think.” He looked over his shoulder to address someone in the room. “I dare say, Henry, how many is that in a year?” He averted his gaze back to me. “I lost count. Come in, sweetheart. Nothing to be afraid of here. Although I am sure you’ve heard many famous ghost stories already.”
Doctor Anderson was doing his best to be friendly and gregarious, but I still did not trust him. It was clear he had been drinking, and since it was the middle of the day, I thought this act to be degrading. Nevertheless, this was to be my new home, so I reluctantly stepped over the threshold. The driver was encouraged to come inside as well, but the offer was politely declined before he hastily sped away.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped through the open doorway was the sheer size of the dinner table. It could have easily fit twenty people or more. The second thing was the sharp sable eyes of the greyhound that stared at me, as though I had become his prey. Unnerved, I took a step backwards to bump into the family’s doctor.
“Careful now,” he advised. “Have a seat, sweetheart.”
Timidly I looked in his direction, only to see a raised hand that directed me to an appropriate seat. Across from my assigned chair was an old man, large in frame with fat fingers resting over the groove of his cane. Unruly eyebrows incredibly thick in size and burly in nature captivated my attention. The colour of his eyes was a light brown, soft enough for me to feel at ease with him. The older gentleman leaned back into his chair and sniffled the air tiredly. “Sterling, is it?”
“Mr. Colvin,” he introduced himself. “Ajax! Get yourself properly dressed. There is a lady in our presence. Apologies, madam! The man had too much to drink. He will walk it off and, in another hour or so, Ajax will be himself again.” I noticed that Mr. Colvin’s voice was incredibly deep and easily lent him authority. The enormity of his person added to his intimidating presence. There was no warmth in his face, however, or sympathy that I could secretly cling too. It was clear he was a man of business and had little time to indulge in my sorrows. “I am the butler of Morton Hall.”
“Oh?” I mouthed out with surprise.
“Off-duty right now, hence the drink with an old friend. I knew Ajax’s father! A good strong lad, ol’ Paul was to me. When it came to tug of war at the Bryly’s family’s picnic, I always elected to have the doctor on my side. Now he is gone, God rest his soul.” Mr. Colvin reached out his hand to embrace the smooth head of the greyhound. Dagger was exceptionally affectionate towards him, compelling me to believe that Mr. Colvin was the rightful owner. “But Ajax serves the family well, just like his father did. Something this family dearly needs. I swear the Bryly family must be cursed.” Mr. Colvin pushed the dog away from him, which sent the large creature to the other side of the table. “You like dogs?”
My voice was soft as I replied, “A little.”
“Can tell you aren’t around them much,” he observed. The greyhound brought its head against the side of my left knee, obviously craving my attention. Reluctantly, I began to stroke the top of Dagger’s head with the tips of my fingers.
Mr. Colvin softly stated, “You will get used to him. Dagger is the friendly one in the family.”
“There are more?”
“Yes, three in total.” He turned his gaze to the left, observing the way Doctor Anderson was slouching upon his chair with his eyes tightly shut. “Ajax can’t hold a drink. I am ashamed to admit it, but I corrupted the poor man. Aye, I have my own share of self-reproach!” He let out a deep howl of laughter that echoed across the room. “Miss Sterling,” he piped up. “You have quite a glow to you. Pity! I fear the house will change all that soon enough.” Mr. Colvin paused to let out a dreadful sigh full of remorse. “I suppose you will want to stay here. Well, we need a maid ‘round here believe it or not. Matter of fact, a good cook and eventually a new stable boy. We can’t afford such luxuries anymore. The master’s lost his fortune in the East Indies. A slavery uprising and then the plantation he partly owned burnt down.” He paused for a moment to look over his shoulder. “And then, of course, the master lost his baby.”
A sharp snore from Doctor Anderson managed to wake himself up. “What?” he cried out in utter confusion. “What happened?” In slow movements he drew the back of his hand against the sockets of his eyeballs. A low moan sounded from his closed mouth, which assured me he was fully awake. “Why do I drink with you, Henry?” he bemoaned. “I just can’t take it…”
“She will snap out of it.”
“Patricia has become hysterical,” muttered the sleepy doctor. “None of the drugs are helping her. I need—I need…” Doctor Anderson pushed himself out of the chair with stiff movements. “To take her away.”
“To an asylum?”
“No, a place that will help her forget whatever happened here. There is still a chance for Patricia to recover and produce another child with Bren.”
“The odds of them consummating after this!” jeered Mr. Colvin with a certain menace to his voice. “Enough gossiping for one day. Miss Sterling, you must be tired. I will show you to your room. We are short staffed, so I will take you there myself.”
Dagger was easily startled by my sudden movements. A low whimper escaped him before he scampered over to Mr. Colvin. The butler uttered a small goodbye to his half-asleep friend, before he retreated from the kitchen. We soon entered a narrow hallway. The wallpaper was a vertically striped design of dark burgundy and bronze, which corresponded with many of the adjoining hallways that led to the main living area. Unconsciously, I followed the slow, jerky movements of Mr. Colvin as he leaned heavily on his cane.
Dagger slowly trotted beside him, his tail wagging wildly from side to side. In time we approached an open area where the front door was to my left and a long staircase at my right. The staircase was draped in a heavy crimson red carpeting which accented the polished bronze railings. A magnificent chandelier hovered over our heads, though it was blighted by the sight of dust and silver-stringed cobwebs.
Dagger’s paws pounded up the staircase at a brisk pace, which left Mr. Colvin slowly hobbling behind him. Sympathetic towards the poor man, I took it upon myself to speed up the steps until I could join his side. My eyes eagerly scanned the upper landing, keenly aware of the countless rooms on the upper level. Sadly, all the doors were closed, except one that was partially opened; low sobs echoed from that room. Mr. Colvin ignored the mournful sound and let out a low whistle to make Dagger perk up his ears. The dog bolted his way to his downstairs to eagerly lick at Mr. Colvin’s hand. I was surprised to find another dog suddenly appear at the top of the staircase. It was muscular in form and was far more intimidating than Dagger. The fur of his coat was a slightly darker shade of grey, and its ears were flat upon its head while his sable eyes stared me down with willful intent.
“Arrowian,” piped up Mr. Colvin. “Or Arrow. He answers to both names thankfully.”
“He is much larger,” I observed with some sense of fear.
“Surly creature,” jeered Mr. Colvin with some good humour. “Watch out for that one! He’s just as fierce as his master.” The two dogs greeted Mr. Colvin like an old friend, which provoked him to bend down slightly to pet both creatures. Occasionally Arrowian would turn those sharp black eyes in my direction, but he made no effort to intimidate me further. “We ought to go to the servant’s quarters.” Mr. Colvin pushed most of his weight upon his cane with a slight grimace. “It’s on the left side of the hallway. Follow me.” He outstretched his legs to move forward, walking at a gentle pace to keep the dogs thoroughly entertained. Dagger circled around him playfully, while Arrowian’s larger form protectively trotted beside Mr. Colvin. Eventually we reached the very end of the hall and stopped at a closed door. “Here we are!”
“Thank you, sir.” Mr. Colvin patted the top of Arrowian’s head with some affection. “Will you not open it?”
“Forgive me, but it’s the female’s quarters.”
“Now I begin to understand.”
“Best to leave you here. Get yourself settled, Miss Sterling. In another hour, I want you to meet me back in the kitchen. I will have a uniform pressed and ready for you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“We will go over your expectations as a servant afterwards. I understand you have experience in this kind of thing.”
“I have previously been a housemaid, as I had stated in my last letter.”
“To the master of the house,” he clarified. “Brendan would take anybody since he’s so desperate. I wish he would leave the hiring to me. Anyways…rest up for now, Miss Sterling, and I will see you in an hour.” A low whistle sounded from this giant of man, and then he was off with the dogs closely nipping at his heels.
A dejected sigh escaped me as I reached for the bronze-coloured doorknob. The sobs of that unknown woman continued to echo down the hallway, even after a lowly servant shut the door to retain some peace and quiet about the house. Morton Hall felt eternally gloomy. Not even the natural sunlight from the windows down below could cheer up the place. Why did I ever slip that jeweled necklace in my pocket? And why did I have to covet my Mistresses belongings? It was my jealousy, I knew, and pure hatred for her that brought me here. Desperate, afraid, and fearful of receiving further threats from Mrs. Hannock, it was my lot in life to wind up at Morton Hall.
Once I stepped into my new bedroom, the room was brightly lit and impeccably clean. There were four beds in total, two on each side of the wall with a single window to reveal the south side of this estate. There was nothing but flat barren land in my view, but I imagined at one point in time it was fertile farmland, enough to keep the Bryly family from falling into poverty.
Three beds had plain night dresses and slippers at the foot of the beds, so it was easy to pinpoint the bed that was intended for me. I pulled off my bonnet and flung it onto my bed. My fingers pinned down the small wisps of dark brown hair that verged on the shade of black away from my face, the colour was a sharp contrast to my pale, almost translucent skin. I plopped down on my bed and shot up my feet to examine my shabby shoes. Dissatisfied with my appearance, I shut my eyes and imagined myself at a ball with a highly expensive muslin dress, but the dream quickly shattered once I spotted those tempting sapphire gems dangling down my neckline.
“Father always said I had sticky fingers,” I sadly mused aloud. “Only because he was the same.” Stealing was an addiction, a momentary high for me, especially when you don’t get caught. Except this time, I did.
If it wasn’t for me being a blood-relation to Mrs. Hannock, she would have sent word to the legal authorities to have me locked up in prison for all the rest of my days. To avoid a scandal and not defame the memory of my dead mother, Mrs. Hannock released me from her establishment and gave me a single hour to depart from her household forever.
Desperate and living in fear, I was forced to reply to the newspaper’s advertising and apply for a job at Morton Hall.
To my surprise the bedroom door suddenly opened, a rather brash looking woman stormed inside of the room with heavy footsteps. She was entirely ignorant of my presence as she made her way to her bed, it was clear that her thoughts were elsewhere. The young maid was a medium-sized woman, and significantly younger in age than me. Her large, roundish figure convinced me that the servants must eat well at this establishment.
The flimsy cotton hat was torn off her head, revealing a thick cluster of raven curls that elegantly fell down her shoulders. Her stained white apron was the next thing to be removed with sharp movements, she rather enjoyed the action of scrunching up the fabric and flinging it into the laundry bin next to her bed. As she tiredly combed her fingers through her curly hair, a violent scratching noise shrilled through the air, coming from the other side of the door.
“Heavens!” she cried. “I won’t get a wink of sleep tonight.”
The young lady opened the door and encouraged the dog to enter her room.
“Yes, Arrow?” she demanded, as though the poor creature could speak. “Is the master looking for me?” She poked her head around the corner of the door, hoping to find her master on the other side. “Yes, Arrow,” she grumbled, once she realized the dog had come on his own accord. “What do you want from me?”
Clumsily, she plopped down on her bed, which sent a low creak throughout the room. Arrow silently jumped on top of her bed and made it a point to bury his head into the side of her inner arm and chest. She giggled relentlessly, loud and shrill-like as the dog demanded more of her attention.
“You can’t get enough of me,” she knowingly stated, before she rolled over the bed to lay on her chest. She blinked curiously at the sight of me, not as alarmed as she should have been, but perhaps the astonishment was only experienced inwardly. “Why aren’t you a sweet thing?” she hollered in a mocking way. “Pretty on the eyes.”
Arrow plopped himself downwards to lay over her back. She appeared undaunted by the additional weight of the greyhound and simply used her fingers to brush back a few stray bangs. “You must have done something wrong,” she calmly stated. “To end up here.”
I blinked at her in utter confusion, quite taken back by her statement.
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you that it’s next to impossible to leave this place? You can’t find another job after this one. No one will have you! The last maid that slept in your bed got lucky. A distant cousin of hers wound up getting married and offered her a job as a milkmaid. I suppose that is a step down, but she was mighty happy to get out of here.” Arrow let out a low moan while sleepily closing his eyes. “I don’t think I can ever leave here. My name is Camilla, by the way.”
“A beautiful name.”
“Too fine for this place,” she snickered. “Are you engaged?” She watched me shake my head slowly in response. “A special someone?”
“No, I don’t have anyone yet.”
“I do,” she merrily exclaimed. “He’s handsome, tall, and blonde-haired.”
“In that case, I believe I met him downstairs.” The girl’s eyes widened at my exclamation. “And he had way too much to drink.”
“Oh, you mean the doctor!” she laughed aloud, it was enough to startle Arrow out of his light slumbers. Camilla outstretched an arm to pull the greyhound closer to her chest. She nuzzled her nose into the dark fur, almost breathing in his essence with complacent ease.
“Indeed,” I coolly stated to express my grievances towards the man. “Mr. Anderson.”
“Henry was just trying to lighten his spirits! The man cares too much for the Mistress.”
“You believe so?”
“I’ve seen it!” she proclaimed. “But she knew better than to marry her cousin. They both did, but Bren was so desperate to have an heir.”
“Are they not in love?”
“Infatuation on her side.” Camilla released her tight hold over Arrowian since he grew restless. I watched him push himself off her body to sit proudly on his hind legs on the other side of the bed. “And duty on Bren’s.”
“So, another loveless marriage.”
“And an empty bed,” she mischievously giggled. “What’s your name?”
“Heather.” I blinked nervously as I added: “Heather Sterling.”
“Nice to meet you, Miss Sterling,” she quipped in a voice that was not her own. In dramatic movements she pushed herself off her bed until she was sitting upright.
Camilla had her back to me as she uttered, “I hope you stay longer than the last one.”
“I hope so too.”
“You aren’t assigned to take care of the mistress, are you?”
“To be her nurse?” I contemplated aloud. “I should hope not! I’m not qualified for the job.”
“Oh, don’t say that! The last person that said those words was that stupid wetnurse, and we all know what happened to her.” Camilla tsked under her breath, while her back was to me. “And the child.” She stretched out her arms tiredly. “I am on my lunch break. I should be heading downstairs.” Camilla looked over her shoulder to make eye contact with me. “I am sure I will see you again before the night is through. Goodbye, Miss. Sterling.”
It was not until she reached the door that I yelled out, “What is your name again?”
“Camilla Pratt,” she mumbled. The door was flung open in an overly dramatic way, and then she shooed the dog forward with a wave of her hand. The door shut behind her with a loud bang, leaving me with a disquieting feeling about that young girl and her high-spirited ways.
Five minutes later, I heard shots being fired from a hunting rifle, convincing me that the master of the house was home. I took my time freshening up my appearance in the small mirror placed inside of the shared bathroom. The gunshots continued to reign in the background. Sharply aggressive barks quickly followed it to show the master was not hunting alone this afternoon. Curious, I made my way to the partially opened window to stare outside, but I could see nothing from this part of the house. “Arrow!” bellowed from the master of Morton Hall in an angry rage. The shots ceased to fire, and then all I could hear was a few distant barks from the lone greyhound. Tired of the ruckus, I shut my window with a bang, and took it upon myself to empty my small suitcase.
Resolved to make the most of my situation, I abandoned this small apartment space and ventured into the darkened hallway. The sobs had dissipated, leaving only an eerie silence throughout the house. Lightly I walked down the halls on the very tips of my toes, highly alert of every sound that pierced through the air.
Once I reached the bottom floor, I was free to explore the area, though I did it cautiously so I would not run into the master or mistress of the house. The rooms were moderately bland in taste, lacking the luster that I imagined for such a large estate. The designs were very much the same as a few decades ago. It was neither modern nor captivating to the eyes.
It lacked personality, or at least a feminine touch that could convince me that this mistress had a major role to play in the decoration of her house. I noticed that the rooms were kept clean, however, and a few glances of busy servants assured me that they were obliged to keep things in order. Satisfied with my findings, I ventured over to the kitchen to find Mr. Colvin resting in his normal chair. Heavy brogues were placed upon his lap, while a towel rested over the side of his left shoulder. The usual set of equipment to clean the master’s shoes were placed at the edge of the table, while a long line of riding boots and fancy brogues were lined up along the wall.
“Hello there,” Mr. Colvin quietly murmured. “It hasn’t been an hour yet.”
“Forgive me, Sir, but I am hungry.”
“And bored, no doubt.” A tiny chuckle escaped the side of his mouth. “That’s country life for you. There’s some stew over the oven. Take off the lid, and you will find it nice and hot for you. There’s some bread too! Cut yourself a few slices and don’t be shabby with the butter. We can afford that at least.”
“I am happy to hear that.”
“Yes, those terrible years of bad crops are far behind us,” he muttered. “But it looks like we won’t see another flourishing harvest in my day. No, not in my day, to be sure.” Mr. Colvin watched me settle down on a chair across from him with a bowl of stew in hand. “How old are you?”
“Twenty years old, sir.”
“Not entirely.” I sheepishly blinked at him as I added, “Not like Camilla.”
“Oh, you met her already,” he exclaimed with weariness. “Noxious thing! A little flirt, she is.”
“Aren’t most girls at that age?”
“I’ve never met anyone quite like her. Well…there was one…” He shook his head grievously, which piqued my interest greatly. “Camilla’s coquetry will get her into trouble. Mark my words! We need a strong woman to run the house and keep the female servants in line.” He paused to watch me dip my spoon into the thick beef stew. “I can’t do this all alone.”
“Isn’t that the mistress’s job as well?” I softly inquired, for fear of overstepping some unseen boundary.
“If she was in the right state of mind,” grumbled Mr. Colvin. “Patricia has been unhinged lately. So much pressure for her to produce an heir. And then Patty’s been angering her husband about her seeing ghosts. Doesn’t the poor woman know that’s what kept him away from this place all those years ago? He’s finally back, and she is determined to drive him away again.” Mr. Colvin let out a sharp exhale full of distress. “We all know the place is haunted, but to bring it up is a sort of taboo.”
“So, it is true then? There are ghosts here!”
“If you can believe it.”
“Have you seen one?”
“Miss Sterling,” he coldly replied. “Do you intend to stay here long?” He watched me nod my head in quiet ascension. “Take my advice. Don’t ever talk about ghosts here. It angers the master. You see, they are his parents, and they…” He stopped himself short, unwilling to speak any further. “You know the story.”
“Bits and pieces.”
“Eat your food,” he instructed. “You will hear it all soon enough.” Mr. Colvin returned to his shoe shining, leaving me with unsettling thoughts.
“Would they hurt me?” I nervously inquired.
“A servant girl like you,” he cackled, as if this idea greatly amused him. “No, you won’t pique their interest.” A strange act of vagary was exposed by him, for he suddenly glared into my eyes in a startling way. “Whatever you do, don’t go outside at night, especially upon the moors.”
“It’s where that servant died,” I nervously recollected. “Brutally murdered by the former mistress of this very house.”
“You knew her?”
“Aye, I knew her,” he whispered with a hint of fear. “She was mad like anything.” Mr. Colvin’s deep voice dropped to a lower tenor as he muttered, “And to think she flung herself down from that very balcony upstairs.” An audible gulp sounded through the air, heavy and thick with the growing tension of the room. “Suffering her last few moments with a paralyzed spine! God awful pain Eliza must have been until the very end, or so I’ve been told.”
“Why did she fall?”
“She lost her mind! A raving lunatic, and to think she might still be walking these very halls.” His voice grew fainter as hesitantly whispered, “Those are the kind of thoughts that keep you up at night.”
Peter Gray is a self-published author with novels spanning from Gothic horror, paranormal romance and Historical fiction.