Authors: Kate Danley
Tags: #mystery, #murder, #ghost story, #manor, #romance, #Victorian, #drawing room murder, #gothic, #seance, #ghosts, #medium, #spirit world
A Spirited Manor
by Kate Danley
he carriage rocked back and
forth. The sounds of the city and the gentle clip-clop of the horse's hooves
drifted into the small, black hansom cab. Clara looked down at her gloved
hands, the black leather encasing her fingers resting upon the black taffeta of
her skirt. The only color she wore came from her fiery-red hair, but she kept
it pulled back as tightly as she could, hiding it beneath her bonnet and hoping
the world would leave her alone. In a few moments, she knew the cab would
stop, and when it did, she would have to step out and begin the new life that awaited
It had been six months since her
husband passed away, six months of being haunted by the memories of their time
together in every brick and tile, expecting to see him in every corner—in every
room. She had to move. It was
home. Today, she was moving into
her own home. Hers, alone.
Thomas died without warning. He
went into the office one day, rested his head upon his desk, and when his
partner stopped to ask him if anything was the matter, Thomas was gone. His
heart just stopped, and when it did, it seemed to stop hers, too. She was left
with nothing but a terrible emptiness in her chest, the aching memory of what
once lived there. She sometimes thought perhaps it all happened because Thomas's
heart was so large, it was not strong enough to hold all the warmth it contained
For whatever reason it happened,
though, he left her to face the world on her own. Christmas... New Years... all
of the excitement that 1890 should have brought... It was darkness. She
received his pension as his widow, so she knew she would live in comfort until
the end of her days. It was a meager consolation, but it at least gave her the
confidence she’d survive. She was so grateful for the passage of the Women's
Property Act only eight years earlier. She would have been destitute and on
the street without it. She was able to sell their house and use the proceeds
to buy this new building. Thinking back to the years that she and Thomas
struggled with their finances, scrimped and saved every penny, this new luxury
should be something to fill her with excitement. Instead, it left her cold,
without any feelings at all. She felt like her heart beat had been replaced by
the sound of the horse's hooves, hollowly beating upon the echoing stones,
marching to somewhere in an endless loop, and never arriving anywhere by their
own free will.
The cab turned the corner into
the square. Her new home was at the far end of a pretty green park. She
thought perhaps gazing upon the seasons as trees bloomed and birds were born
might be something she could enjoy someday. But for now, it only reminded her
that she had no one to share these tiny miracles with. The miracles were
unwanted and now seemed only something that must be endured.
The cab drew up in front of the row
house and the driver stepped down to give her his hand. He took down her bags
and set them beside her. He was most likely not aiding her out of any
gentlemanly intent, but she was grateful for the kindness, and she tipped him
as such before he climbed back aboard and drove off, leaving her alone on the
The house could be described as a
charming two-story residence, matching smartly with its next door neighbors and
the other homes lining the square. Its bricked face and black shutters
harkened back to an earlier time. She’d purchased it for almost a song. Such
a home should have been well beyond her means, but the previous owner, a Lord
Horace Oroberg, had been just as anxious to get rid of it as she was to find a
new place to live. A young woman had been found dead there some years before,
some said murdered, others said suicide, but most certainly she died within its
walls which caused it to be very difficult to sell.
Perhaps Clara should have been
disturbed by the home's checkered past, but instead, she felt a kinship. Here
was a lovely house, ruined by something which happened due to no fault of its
own, and yet no longer could the world look upon it the same. Clara felt that
somehow, this home needed her almost as much as she needed it.
The door opened, revealing a tall
gentleman dressed impeccably in coat and tails. He was older, his peppered
hair slicked neatly across his balding pate. Behind him emerged an older woman,
almost his female twin, in a black dress and apron.
"Welcome, Mrs. O'Hare,"
the butler said, bowing politely. "We are so glad to see you have
arrived." He walked swiftly, helping before Clara could even respond.
"May I take your bags? Nan can get you settled and dressed for
"Quite kind of you,
Willard," Clara replied. "That would be lovely." She paused
for a moment, "Since we are to share a home from now on, I ask that you
would please call me Clara."
"I would be honored...
Clara, ma'am," he acquiesced.
Willard let it slip when she
first came to look at the house that they had been left behind by Lord Oroberg and
were in need of employment. Though Clara truly only needed a housekeeper, she
felt it would be a great unkindness to part these two, Willard and Nan, and to send
one out onto the street after so many years of loyal service. So upon transfer
of ownership, Clara engaged them both. It would take some getting used to,
living in such a large home with just the three of them, but the warmth in
which Nan smiled, welcoming her in... well, their company would be welcome.
Clara stepped through the door
with Willard behind her. She stood for a moment, allowing him to pass and take
her things to her room. She removed her hat and passed it to Nan. "I
shall be upstairs in just a moment. I would like a few minutes by
Nan gave a nod and followed
Willard to Clara's room.
Clara stood in the foyer, upon
the white and black octagon tile, and let the place sink into her. Home. This
strange building with all its secrets was to be her home. To the left was a
paneled study, its library shelves empty. She thought of how Thomas would have
delighted in filling them with books of mathematics and poetry. She could
almost envision him sitting at the desk, but she stopped herself. She did not
need to fill this home with ghosts. To her right was the parlor. Its sliding
doors were open. The walls were painted a light green instead of the dark, busy
wallpaper which was so popular nowadays. At the end of the hall would be the
lonely dining room, where she would have to sit by herself tonight, served by
strangers, as kind as they might be, and assume the role and duties of a lady
of the house. She could almost weep.
She walked up the carpeted,
walnut staircase to the room where Nan waited. The staircase wall would be a
perfect place to hang portraits of old family members or pastorals painted by
some river during a happy holiday. Clara had gotten rid of all those things. Instead,
she had brought only the objects which held memories before Thomas came into
her life — ancient furniture owned by her grandparents, the tables and chairs
she bought while attending school. Anything that bore only his touch was
gone. She hoped that, somehow, by getting rid of the things which brought on
the memories, she could send away some of the pain, too. She did not yet know
if it was of aid.
The staircase emptied into a
windowless hallway. Gas lamps lit the way for her, their flickering light
dancing with the darkness. The door to her room stood open at the end, ready
to welcome her in. She had chosen a room in the back, in the quiet farthest
from the street. There were several rooms on this floor. She would keep them
for the guests that would never come and pretend that someday, they would be
filled with revelers and party-goers.
She stepped inside and was
pleased that it seemed like staying in a hotel, into someone else's life. Lord
Oroberg left the furnishings and she bought them with the house. There was a
large clothes cupboard, a four poster bed, several chairs for perching upon, a
full length mirror, and a dressing table. Nothing of her own beyond the
clothes in her bags, which had been chosen new since the funeral. She did not
know if she would ever need anything other than their black shapes.
"Can I help you change for
dinner, ma'am?" asked Nan in her soft, motherly voice. "Get you out
of those dusty clothes and get you into something nice and fresh?"
"That would be lovely.
Thank you, Nan," she replied.
She stood like a child as Nan's
wrinkled old fingers expertly made their way over the buttons which ran down
the back of her gown. The dress fell stiffly to the floor and Clara stepped
out of it.
"We're so pleased to be
having you as our new mistress," said Nan. "Would you like to sit
down with me tomorrow and we can go through the week's menu and schedule?"
Clara tried to smile, to return
this woman's kindness instead of retreating into the detachment where she more
comfortably lived. "I trust your household knowledge to be far superior
to mine. Whatever you did for the family before will be far better than
anything I can devise."
"Such a dear family,"
Nan said. She clucked her tongue as she hung up Clara's dress. "Such a
Clara felt her interest raise
its head, and for once, the words were not mechanical. "I heard that
someone died in this house. Do you know what happened?"
Nan raised Clara's other gown and
helped her climb inside. "Aye, I know well enough. 'Twas a member of the
house staff, too. I knew her since she was a wee little child. Found dead in
her rooms. Some say she turned her hand upon herself, but I never heard of
such nonsense. It was murder, plain and clear. And the police not even
batting an eye! So happy to walk away and declare the case was closed. We'll
never know who did it. We'll never know of what evil infiltrated our
walls." Nan began fastening the buttons around Clara's neck. "Such
a young thing. So much of life cut short. She never even knew love."
"Perhaps she was the lucky
one," said Clara, buttoning the sleeves of her gown as Nan continued her
work down the back.
Nan turned Clara around to face
her. She took a moment, as if trying to decide whether to speak or not. Finally,
motherly, she took Clara's hands in her own and grasped them tight. "I
know from all this black you swath yourself in, dear, that you lost someone
close to your heart. I know it must feel like the world should end. But in
the years to come, I promise the sun will rise upon a day where you are happy
to have known him, grateful for the time you had together. I promise you."
Clara could not help it. The
tears rose in her eyes. Her throat tightened and she feared that her sadness
would spill out before she could wrest it back in and hide it away.
But Nan just smoothed back a
loosened tendril of Clara's curly red hair and said, "Never feel like you
need to hide those tears from me, duck. I've known my share of love and loss,
and I know. I know..."
The two women stood there for a
moment, feeling the kinship of those who understood.
Nan brushed back a tear from her
own eye. "Now... Willard should have the dinner on, if you're ready."
Clara nodded and followed after
Nan. She hoped that someday she would be grateful for her time with Thomas. She
hoped someday that the housekeeper's words would come true. But right now, she
would have given up knowing him at all if it meant she did not have to live
with this broken heart.
inner was quiet. Willard
served Clara with the polite deference of his station. She wished there was
not a wall between their stations almost as much as she was glad she had
societal excuses not to make idle chat. Navigating the world of the living
with its niceties and inane ramblings left her exhausted, when once upon a time
it was what she lived for. Before Thomas's passing, she was gladly the center
of attention at any get together. He had reveled in her spirit, watched her
admiringly from across the room as her wit caused peals of laughter. He spoke
often and proudly of the way she made others feel welcome with just a word and
a touch. Now she felt old and useless, and nothing but hollow sounds left her
mouth. She just did not have the strength anymore.
She could tell that Nan had
worked hard to make the meal, and she ate as much as she could to seem grateful
for the effort, but was only too happy when she could excuse herself from the
table and make her way upstairs to her bedchambers where she could say goodbye
to another day. She supposed that if anyone were to listen to her thoughts,
they would seem morbid, they would probably throw her in an asylum and toss
away the key, but she looked forward to the night. She looked forward to
placing her head upon her pillow and closing her eyes, knowing that as soon as
she fell asleep, she had one less day to live, and was one day closer to being
reunited with Thomas. The only thing that got her through living was knowing
the day would come when she would not have to do it anymore. She would suffer
through until the end and welcome it with open arms when it arrived. Her only
prayer now consisted of four words: Let it be soon.
Nan helped her into her white
cotton gown and extinguished the gas lamps in the room. Clara put her head
upon her pillow, and as soon as the door closed, let the tears fall as they had
every night for six months. Sometimes she felt as if Thomas were so close, he
was almost in the room with her. But he was not here. She had made sure to
chase every shadow of him away. And yet, as she lay there in the darkness, she
could not help the memories of him which filled her mind. She could not keep
away the pain. So, instead, she closed her eyes and let herself drift into
dreams. She hoped tonight, her dreams would be ones of reunion, of warmth and
comfort. Too many nights passed with darkness, with confusing images of
chasing something down a dark hallway and never being able to find it, whatever
But tonight, as she dreamt of
running down that same dark hallway, she thought she heard someone softly
whispering her name, someone calling out, "Clara."
She opened her eyes and sat up
in bed. The room was frigid cold, so cold that Clara could see her breath
before her face. She shivered and clutched the bedcover to her chin. She was
not sure what was real and what was not. She could see the glowing embers in
the grate, and yet, the room felt like February. The curtains blew gently and
the moon bathed everything in an unearthly blue light. She leapt out of bed,
sure that somehow one of the windows must have come open. But they were all
closed and locked.
And then the moonlight
disappeared, and with it, the heat returned. Clara looked around, becoming
more and more aware of her surroundings. She pinched herself and was reassured
of her reality. It had all been a dream, some strange night terror. Sleep
walking was almost a nightly occurrence in the weeks after Thomas's death, but
she thought she had moved on. She tried to comfort herself with the fact she
was now awake and everything was fine, but she was filled with a strange sense
of foreboding. She looked over to the window and touched it, as if to convince
herself that it never was open. The dream felt so real.
She walked back over to the bed
and climbed beneath the covers. There were no strong arms there to soothe her,
to tell her she was safe and all she needed to do was close her eyes and the
morning would come. Though she tried to seek out sleep, it seemed to have
decided that she would not get a second visit. Instead, Clara was left staring
at the ceiling all night, sadly realizing that despite all her efforts, nothing