Let no one ever say I can’t write for nine hours straight. The following short story is for Jon Spencer’s English Eerie event. After much trial and great error, I think I have something I can be proud of. (And if it’s riddled with errors, don’t mind it now. I’ve made the deadline, and it’s good enough for show.)
I don’t have much experience writing from the POV of a sickly, upper-middle class woman on a trip away from home in 1907, but I’ve done my best. I also haven’t written 1st person POV fiction in what’s been probably seven years? I’ve NEVER written a complete mystery before (because this horror really spun itself in an unanticipated direction). I had fun with it, and did a thing I didn’t know that I could do. Twenty-six pages and 15-ish inconsecutive hours later, I’m tired. Soon, I will sleep. But I have to say, I’m so ridiculously proud I pulled this off. I don’t often feel that way.
Without further ado, I introduce Ileiana (Ellie-ah-nah) Ainsley, and a log of her time at the Cunningham Estate:
DAY 1 (October 20, 1907)
If he means to marry me off, I shan’t do it. There is nothing on this earth that would please me more than escaping an almost certain fate, but not like this. Father’s odd instance that I travel ahead of him would prove more grating if I wasn’t so pleased to be rid of London and the dreary penance of my rooms. Those chambers are a prison smelling of mentholated ointment and depression. Lord Cunningham’s estate can’t possibly be worse than the fog of such an existence.
I often wonder who and how badly I wronged in a previous life to be cursed with such ill health, but I don’t suppose I’m ever to know that, am I? That I am sent alone is another matter; although I am quite capable, Father has never allowed me far from our staff’s faithful care in the event I fall ill. Perhaps he can no longer stand the site of me after that last suitor ended up covered in pudding? Was it over the other, who’s arse I may or may not have had a hand in setting aflame? Regardless, I know what I want, and it is to live free, not end up under the thumb of another man deciding I’m too delicate to venture out into the world but not too delicate to bear his children. These things seem all too contrary to me.
If nothing else, this trip shall be an adventure. Alone at last if only for the moment, I feel the excitement of it in my bones.
Lord Cunningham is an older gentleman of most considerable means, a man who–like my father–trades in antiquities, but–unlike my father–side-lines this venture to his lucrative career in trade. As the carriage bounces along, I can’t help but feel I’m breathing easier than I ever have back home. There’s something sweet in the air, here. It smells divine.
I shall write again this evening after I’ve settled in at the manor.
That horrible witch! I’m still seething–as I am wont to do when wronged–at the audacity of that woman! To trip me coming out of my carriage would seem an accident and so excused as one, but I know better! The look she gave me as I gasped on the ground was telling. Oh, that Eliza Enfield has another thing coming if she means to make a mess out of me!
But I suppose I’m racing ahead of myself. The Enfield woman is shrewd, but I haven’t even mentioned Mrs. Bristle or how I came to meet her, yet. As the carriage arrived at Cunningham’s estate, I saw before me a manor of comfortable size with beds of flowers and ivy bordering an expanse of stone and mortar. There to greet me stood a plump, middle-aged woman of middling height and a motherly disposition. To her right stood a girl not much younger than myself with auburn hair and striking eyes; unfairly lovely, I noticed her eyes right away.
The coachman halted his horses and came around to open my door as the women approached. “So pleased to welcome you to the manor, Ms. Ainsley. I’m Helen Bristle, head of the household staff.”
I began my descent of the carriage steps, portfolio in hand, but before I could say anything, that woman–Eliza–had already darted to my left and grabbed the case from my grasp! “Oh, let me get that for you, Ms. Ainsley, ma’am!” she said as she pulled. At that same moment, I noticed a pressure against my leg and, looking down, saw that she’d pressed a knee against my skirts; before I knew it, I was sprawling!
Of course, for a woman of any disposition, landing chest down on the gravel is hardly ideal. This same fall knocked the wind from me soundly, and as I gasped in the dust like a dying fish, I could hear a commotion above.
I was turned on my side by the fussing Mrs. Bristle, and–unable to breathe–I could do little until my lungs resumed function. Slowly and then all at once, my chest compressed, expanded. As I am prone to fits of breathlessness, for what seemed like a long while thereafter, each wisp of wind passing against my lips felt hard won, dire. I gasped and wheezed before I felt able to rise. With the help of Mrs. Bristle and Father’s hired driver, I turned to face Eliza. Her lovely eyes were blown wide with what one might mistake for apprehension, her hands fluttering at her sides. Yet, those same eyes seemed oddly cold to me–her words said one thing, but they said another.
“I’m so sorry, Ms. Ainsley!” she gasped. “Forgive me, ma’am! I was terribly clumsy!”
“We’ll discuss this later, Eliza,” Mrs. Bristle said, still helping me to stand. “Please go see to the misses’ room.”
“Right away, Mrs. Bristle.” With a final glance in my direction, she headed toward the front door.
“Are you all right, dear?” Mrs. Bristle then asked. I confess I wasn’t necessarily “all right,” but I’ve had far enough coddling in my life. If the anger in my breast didn’t distract from the lingering tightness, what good was it for?
“Quite alright, Mrs. Bristle,” I said, patting the hand which held my arm. “Thank you very much.” I turned to the driver who had taken this opportunity to release his grip and step away. “Thank you, sir. I think we can manage from here.”
With a polite incline of his head, he moved to unload my trunk from atop the carriage as Mrs. Bristle continued to fuss. With a hand at my arm, she led me toward the house. “Let me show you to your room. I’m sure you could use a rest after that long journey.”
Inside the house, a grand staircase loomed and a balcony overhung the foyer. Mrs. Bristle led me up the stairs and down a hall done up in warm woods, peppered here and there with portraits of family and floral arrangements.
The room prepared for me is of reasonable size, decorated in elegant blues and greens with a lovely view of the moor. Mrs. Bristle has left me for now to rest and refresh myself before a pre-dinner tour of the grounds. As my anger bleeds into resignation, I feel exhausted. My recent attack of breathlessness only exasperated by a long day of travel, I long to skip dinner altogether and be left in solitude entirely.
I don’t know whe The hardest th My hands
Oh, on with it then! I have to calm down! Mrs. Bristle indeed came to fetch me just shy of an hour before dinner. Rested, I felt at least able to present myself as–according to my father–a respectable lady should. My traveling clothes forsaken for more formal attire, I felt very much in-control of my faculties and more than ready to meet Lord Cunningham for dinner. (My very favorite blouse with the ruffled, lace collar has magical powers. I always feel quite powerful wearing it, and I won’t hear otherwise.) Without any idea as to why else Father would send me on ahead, I can only assume this is a last-ditch effort to marry me well if only for propriety’s sake. I was ready to stifle any such inclinations my host may have. I felt calm, ready to make great mischief if necessary, and perfectly content to let Father talk his way out of any social transgressions I commit in the name of freedom.
Mrs. Bristle ushered me into the hallway kindly and with a great deal of chatter. I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what my own mother would have been like had she not died in childbed. I put the thought away quickly, however. It does not do to dwell on what cannot be changed.
As we moved toward the stairs, a sudden shout rang out from behind–a man’s voice, I was certain. Spinning around, we heard from down the hall a cry of “Dear God! What is that!?” and the sound of shattering glass.
Mrs. Bristle surged forward–I in her wake–and as we approached, she wrenched open the door only for a young man to tumble backward from the room. “Daniel!” she exclaimed. The fellow was large, muscled for manual labor with shoulders straining the confines of his suit. (Yes, even then I noticed it? And what of that? Can a woman not have eyes?)
Regretfully, further contemplation fled me as I promptly lost consciousness. The last thing I saw was a broken window and Lord Cunningham crumpled on the floor of his private study, covered in blood and looking as though ravaged by a beast.
I can only imagine it’s quite late now. I awoke in bed, a flickering candle and tea setting nearby, with my luggage still piled in one corner of the room. Exhausted as I am, I must take the time to write it all down.
What did I witness? What is happening here, and why has father sent me alone? For once I wish he were able to take charge of this situation! I am left to wonder at my own capacity to maneuver in such circumstance!
At home, I am a delicate and wilting flower left to the care of others. Here–at least until Father arrives–what began as a journey shockingly unaccompanied and delightfully unhindered has quickly left me unmoored in the worst way. My hands are shaking, and I only wonder at the legibility of this missive.
DAY 2 (October 21, 1907)
The unease of breakfast, a lonely affair, was easily trumped by the utter embarrassment of being seen as a Nosey Nessie by Mrs. Bristle and
Daniel Mr. Douglas as I attempted to investigate last night’s incident. Why investigate, one might inquire? Each attempt at uncovering anything of substance has been waved away by a teary-eyed Mrs. Bristle as unnecessarily troubling myself with things not fit for my constitution! In all fairness, she didn’t say as much, but I can tell the whole staff has been briefed on my “delicate disposition.” It is thoroughly infuriating!
At least I know my suffering host is alive! That’s something, certainly. A physician scampered away early this morning, and I’m unashamed to say I eavesdropped on the following conversation:
Daniel Mr. Douglas: I’m tellin’ you, I saw it, Helen. Bigger than a wolf, darker, like a shadow–
Mrs. Bristle: For the last time, this is nonsense–!
Mr. Douglas: It ain’t nonsense! Sure, I thought so too at first, but–
Mrs. Bristle: She’s filled your head with rubbish! That girl–
Mr. Douglas: I saw it, Helen! I saw it with my own two eyes, so don’t you go tellin’ me that–
“Ms. Ainsley!” came a voice from my right. I exclaimed in shock and whirled around to see Eliza–Ms. Enfield, rather. She looked at me with a put-upon innocence. (I know that look! I’ve perfected that look!) As my heart regained its rhythm, I noticed Mrs. Bristle and Mr. Douglas had rounded the corner at my exclamation! How humiliating…
“I was on my way to wake you for breakfast, Ms. Ainsley. Is everything alright, ma’am?”
Ms. Enfield knew just how compromising of a position it was in which she’d exposed me! To my left, Mrs. Bristle looked startled, and Mr. Douglas… Well, Mr. Douglas had averted his eyes as was proper and quickly excused himself to some task or another.
After being discovered eavesdropping in my negligee, I had no choice but to scamper back to my room with my tail between my legs like a cowed dog. Having learned hardly anything, I was determined to investigate more discreetly in the future.
I sat alone at breakfast, watching as birds fluttered by the large conservatory windows beside which I’d been arranged. Ms. Enfield stood in attention at the door, but I paid her no mind. Listening to their delightful chirping and the soothing sounds of mid-morning, I reflected on the light reprimand and overarching concern in Mrs. Bristle’s attempt at conversation after our disastrous confrontation.
“Wandering about these halls without slippers is the surest way to catch a chill,” she’d chidded. “This isn’t something you need deal with, my dear, and your father is on his way. Lord Cunningham’s had a bit of an accident, but he’ll be right as rain, soon. Please don’t let it trouble you any further. We staff have things well in hand.”
If the staff has things well in hand, why did Mrs. Bristle seem so flustered? Why was Mr. Douglas arguing with her? I had thought the beast some figment of my over-tired imagination, but he clearly saw it, too!
Mrs. Bristle entered before too long and offered me a tour of the grounds as Ms. Enfield removed my place setting. I acquiesced, of course, hoping not only to see more of the grounds, but to gather additional information. If only Ms. Enfield hadn’t exposed me as she did!
I’ve returned to my room to retrieve my cloak and will write more as time allows. I’m sore all over from yesterday’s escapades and hope this walkabout proves useful to me.
The manor grounds are lovely. I am told that the moor is partially reserved for geese and other wildfowl and has been used as a hunting ground by Lord Cunningham’s family for generations. The sun had burned away any lingering morning mist by the time Mrs. Bristle and I set out on our stroll. As we walked, she pointed out the family chapel and various statuaries which have existed on the manor grounds for over 100 years.
At some point in our conversation, I turned the topic to Ms. Enfield. I’ll say right now she seems quite young for her live-in position. After last night and again this morning, I also contend that she’s unequipped to work in the house of such a lofty man as does appear my host (not that I’d say as much to Mrs. Bristle). Am I angry with her? Yes. Does it change the facts? Maybe, but I don’t care.
Regretfully, Mrs. Bristle does not lack discretion, and so I got from her only a wrinkle of her brow and a, “Ms. Enfield was personally invited back to the manor by Lord Cunningham on his last trip to London. She has a good deal to yet learn about how and what things are done within a manor house.”
Regarding Daniel, I fared no better.
Daniel–I must stop that! Mr. Douglas has worked at the manor for five years now, and his family is from nearby Derbyshire. Mrs. Bristle has apparently known his family–a local butcher for a father and the youngest of four children–since he was but a boy (a good boy, she says, who grew up helping his father before his oldest brother took over with the intent to pass it on to his own son). Mr. Douglas came to work for Lord Cunningham intending to make his own way in the world from there.
I think that I should envy anyone–lacking means or of them–who can say they’ve done something to foster independence on their own.
When I asked about Lord Cunningham, Mrs. Bristle’s face took on a wistful quality. “He’s a good man,” she said, “reserved, quiet, traditional, but a good man all the same. Dreadfully lonely, I’d imagine, with no family to bolster these great many halls.”
She looked at me then, and I had to look away.
On our way inside, I noticed something strange. Four long, rather brutal-looking claw marks marred the door’s exterior, scraping stain from wood. Mrs. Bristle noticed them, too, and blanched. “Oh,” she said, rather faintly I thought. “I’ll have to let Mr. Douglas know there’s a dog running ‘round again. We’ll need to get that fixed.”
Now, after a light nosh and given time of my own until dinner, I relay everything I know in the hopes of some clarity. Regrettably, it isn’t much.
I shall endeavor more thorough investigations, but for now, I long to explore the library Mrs. Bristle presented yesterday.
Day 3 (October 22, 1907)
There are eyes over the moor. They are red, haunting eyes with a sheen like fire and the presence of smoke. I couldn’t sleep, given everything that’s gone wrong, and so left my bed in the wake of restless dreams to gaze out over the moor. Starlight speckled the ink of night–so unlike home in that way–and my breath fogged the window panes as I fought for clarity.
Sitting on the window seat with my cheek pressed against the frigid glass, I first saw it from the corner of my eye–a glare catching light from the moon.
When I turned, I saw them. Eyes, I’m sure of it. Not lantern flames, fireflies, or a trick of the night, but eyes that glowed with an otherworldly presence and locked in the face of…of something…in underbrush across the way. An animal, I thought at first–even with their strange intensity, but no. For between one blink and then next, they’d vanished and reappeared, still gazing toward the house, on the other side of the field and partially obscured by the fog. A blink more, and they were gone.
I believe I know the truth of it; there is a creature on the moor, and it was this creature which accosted Lord Cunningham so severely. Mr. Douglas has seen it. Now, I have seen it. I do wonder how it entered the house. I so regret my eavesdropping was cut short.
I will confront Mr. Douglas and get to the heart of this matter. Make no mistake about that!
Mr. Douglas has very intense eyes. They’re dark eyes, a brown so deep one might get lost within them. I write this only in the confidence of my journal; he is a very handsome man.
Handsome or no, I was determined to hear everything he knew or believed he knew about this violent thing, and so I bid my time.
Mrs. Bristle seemed restless today, but I couldn’t get anything from her. Ms. Enfield avoided me, which I’m happy to say suited my tastes just fine. It wasn’t until late in the evening that I was able to approach Mr. Douglas as he left Lord Cunningham’s chambers with a tea setting. (Why was he bringing a tea setting to an unconscious man? I can only assume my host is awake, which, given the amount of blood I saw that first night may indicate a superficial head injury.)
When Mr. Douglas saw me, he gave a shallow bow. “Ms. Ainsley,” he said, moving as though to step aside and let me pass.
“Mr. Douglas,” I returned, standing my ground. “I have reason to speak with you, if you’ve the time.”
Mr. Douglas hesitated. “Of course,” he finally relented with a backward glance toward his master’s rooms. “What can I do for you, ma’am?”
“You must tell me what you know about what’s happened here, Mr. Douglas. I shan’t be dissuaded. Something is happening, and I want to know what you’ve seen.”
“I don’t think I’m the right person to be asking, Ms. Ainsley,” he said with a nervous look around. His gaze landed somewhere above my head, and I was struck by the oddly humorous realization that this man–this large, well-built lad–was afraid of me. “I don’t know much beyond what you’ve seen yourself.”
I got a bit heated at that and stamped my foot quite forcefully. “You were in the room when it happened!” (Everyone thinks they can put me off this case, but far from cowed, now I’m a dog with a bone.) “I will know the truth, Mr. Douglas. I won’t be dissuaded, and far better for me to hear it from you than to go searching on my own.”
“You have to understand,” he continued, lightly startled. “I didn’t see anything, I–”
“I’ve seen it, too, Mr. Douglas.”
His body stilled. “What did you say?”
“I’ve seen it, too–last night, out over the moor. There were eyes, bright and shining like those of an animal, but impossibly so, and housed in something deep and black.”
Dani Mr. Douglas inhaled a shaking breath and, transferring his tea tray to one hand, grasped my wrist with the other. “Come on,” he said, tugging me down the hall.
A few twists and turns later found us quite deserted in a suite of unused guest rooms with sheeting covering the furniture and dust motes floating on the air. He set the tea tray down on a nearby table and looked me dead in the eye.
“I don’t think you’re in much of a position to make demands, Mr. Douglas,” I countered, “given your reluctance to help me.” I folded my arms across my chest, and Daniel ran his fingers through his hair.
“This isn’t something for you,” he said, his polite facade like mist dissipating from the surface of water. “Ms. Ainsley–”
“Ileiana, then,” he continued. “We’ve been well-briefed on your constitution and are under strict orders not to let you run about as you please.”
“I wasn’t asking for your permission, Daniel,” I announced, testing the waters. When no rebuke came, I continued. “I think you’ll find I’m quite capable of making my own decisions in this regard and in any other.”
“And what do you think your father will say if he’s arrived and you’ve taken ill?”
“I don’t think that should be any of your business. In any case, you have information that I want, and I may be of some help to you. Let’s pool our resources and get to the bottom of this strangeness.”
“It is my business if it comes down on our heads!”
I huffed. “My father is quite accustomed to my behavior and will not possibly think to hold you or your fellow staff accountable.”
For a few moments, he said nothing. He paced the room to and fro like an angry little boy before settling with a sigh.
“Very well,” he said. “I’ll tell you what I know.”
So began a tale of the Cunningham estate and the men who’ve lived there. I’ll summarize what I know:
Christopher Cunningham is the last of his line. Like his father before him, he had a raucous youth and dishonorable disposition at that time. Supposedly, all that changed some sixteen years past when the late Lord Cunningham unexpectedly met his end in a hunting accident and the current Lord Cunningham stepped forward to take his place. (It was around this same time that he began to supplement the business of trade with his dealership of antiquities.)
Daniel’s father had a great deal to say about the man, and while Daniel didn’t know all the stories, he’s adamant that the man he works for isn’t as upright nor of as great a moral character as high society now assumes. “Money,” he said, “can outshine a great many sins, but they’re still there, lurking in the shadows.”
On the subject of this beast–for that’s what Daniel called it–I am told that there have always been rumors of a creature on the moor–of eyes that watch at night and a terrible fate awaiting unlucky innocents who cross its path. “In all my life I’ve never seen it,” Daniel said, “but my Dad knew something of every local legend. That thing I saw attacking Cunningham couldn’t be anything but. Great big, it was, like a wolf, with the blackest fur and jowls dripping atop him like it saw him as a stuffed goose!”
I have convinced Daniel to join me tonight for a trip into the wold, seeing as I have already sworn to undertake the adventure with or without his company. We are to meet at the carriage house doors four hours hence. I will rest and gather my wits about me for this affair.
At half-past nine, I snuck from my room, down the hall, out the foyer and across the manor grounds. The air was chill and damp with expectation. Daniel, ever reluctant, met me by the carriage house as designed, and together we made our way into the fields and toward the forests beyond.
“Are you sure I can’t talk you out of this?” he inquired. “I wouldn’t take a woman on the moor at night even if a beast wasn’t raging.”
“Rest assured I have no plans to sully your reputation.”
He sighed and shook his head. “It isn’t reputation I’m worried about…”
The fog grew as we walked, deeper and denser until it felt like wading through clotted cream for all the distance we could see. Still, the light of Daniel’s lantern glowed with a hazy, cheery sort of warmth until suddenly, it didn’t.
“Daniel!” I called for him, but heard nothing in response. “Daniel?” I could see no more than a few feet from my face. No stars shown through the clouds overhead, and my heart began to beat harder and faster than perhaps considered healthy. My vision shrank to pin-pricks, my body numbing before I heard it.
My breath returned in one sharp gasp.
Just as suddenly, the light returned, the fog cleared, and a panicked looking Daniel stood ten inches from my face.
“Daniel!” I wheezed. Lightheaded, I sank to my knees. “Daniel, what was that?”
“I don’t know,” he said, grasping my shoulders with both hands. “You were gone and then–” He looked me up and down in the light of the lamp. “You’re alright?”
“Yes,” I managed, “and you?”
“Fine,” he said, clearly disheveled. “Fine. Did you see anything?”
When I felt able to walk again, we headed toward the house. Entering the grounds, we passed statuary which–cheerful in the daylight–now felt sinister.
At the doors, we parted. I saw myself back to my room as Daniel headed toward his rooms above the carriage house.
DAY 4 (October 23, 1907)
The covers were ripped from my person, and I startled out of sleep. “You’ve been sent here to marry the old man! Don’t think you can steal Daniel out from under me as well!”
Cold and vaguely disoriented, I saw Ms. Enfield standing above me with a look of fury upon her delicate features.
“Excuse me!” I gasped, tugging the blankets from her hands and holding them against my chest in some instinctual attempt at preservation. As my faculties returned, I grew angry. “Who gave you the right to storm in here and speak to me like this?”
“Don’t play innocent,” she seethed. “I saw you last night. I saw you leave with him. Don’t think me so stupid as to not know what’s going on!”
“And what, pray tell, do you think is going on?”
It was then that Eliza Enfield ripped into me about my lack of propriety in stealing out with a man at odd hours and sneaking back in the middle of the night. She ran me through the ringer for my absolute gaul, questioned my morals and those of all polite society, and by the time she was finished, the sun had fully risen and Mrs. Bristle proven noticeably late in waking me.
“Are you quite finished?” I inquired as she stopped to take a breath. Before she could continue, I soldiered on. “Or–if you deny me the chance to get a word in edgewise–do you plan to berate me until Mrs. Bristle arrives?”
“Mrs. Bristle has been sitting with the old man since he woke. Her duties fall to me!”
“Well,” I added, “you’re doing a pretty poor job of them thus far. Do you always wake up guests by reading them the Riot Act for things of which they have no intention?”
“You can’t deny stealing away with him last night! I saw you!”
“Yes!” I finally shouted, “You did! But if you’d control your frothing for half a second and let me explain, you’d know I had a perfectly good reason for that!”
“Enlighten me, then” she spit with disdain. “Go on.”
I explained to her my motives, about how it was a beast that attacked Lord Cunningham, and of our adventures the night prior.
It seemed like my explanation did little to appease her anger. “I’ve seen the beast, too,” she sneered, “and I couldn’t care less if it tears the old man to pieces, but you cannot have Daniel, and if I catch you with him again, it won’t be a beast you’ve got to worry about!”
With that, she spun on her heel and left, slamming the door behind her.
Her anger toward me is unwarranted, but not irrational. It seems that she, too, is none too fond of the man whose home she keeps. Why is Mrs. Bristle the only one with any sort of sense in this regard?
I’m going back to bed.
I am furious! Daniel must have let slip to Ms. Enfield–either that or she assumed–that we’d be investigating the matter further this evening! As I returned to my chambers at the end of an uneventful day, I heard a clack within my door and tugged at the knob only to discover that it had been locked!
I have been locked in!
How dare she! How dare she! How dare that horrible woman lock me up like some sort of animal out of petty jealousy! There is so much more at stake here than her romantic infatuations!
I am livid, and it is times like these I truly wish I knew how to pick locks!
Eliza Enfield is going to regret making an enemy out of me.
DAY 5 (October 24, 1907)
Early this morning, I saw Daniel returning from the forest with a brown bag slung over his shoulder. He stumbled a bit, but ultimately headed back toward the carriage house looking no worse for the wear. I will have to ask about the lateness (earliness?) of his return and inquire after anything he’s discovered at a later time. As it is now, I’ve tested the door and discovered it opens easily this morning. Eliza (who doesn’t deserve the consideration of her last name) must have unlocked it in the middle of the night.
Calmer now, I debate the intelligence of confronting Eliza about her audacity yesterday (on both accounts!), but I am at loss as to the proper course of action.
Perhaps I will speak about this, too, with Daniel. First, I head to breakfast, which I know Mrs. Bristle would not think to deny me even if she leaves her other duties to Eliza.
Daniel hasn’t emerged from the carriage house. I waited through lunch to see if he’d resume his duties, but he hasn’t returned. I do have some sense of propriety, and so to be seen entering his quarters simply can’t be done, but I plan to walk about the grounds now, properly, in the daylight, and see if I can’t discover where he’d gone.
The days are growing brisker, so I’ll bundle well in hopes of staving off the chill, and perhaps my fortitude in these hours will be rewarded by some sort of clue.
I am soaked (currently freezing), Mrs. Bristle is beside herself, and Lord Cunningham is gone. All this occurred within the last three hours, so any whiplash in my tone or shakiness of my hand is warranted.
Following the path I saw Daniel tread this morning, I crossed the fields and headed toward the woods. In daylight, the grounds seem more peaceful than one might imagine, and the fresh air does wonders for my constitution. My boots are caked in mud, but I can’t bring myself to mind. It does make me wonder if last night saw rain; yet, why would Daniel stay out all night in such conditions? Did he appear damp upon his return?
The woods themselves were charming, bright, alive with bird song and bisected by a wide, glimmering creek. I followed the creek for a while, but finding nothing unusual, I decided I’d cross toward a cliff face in the distance.
Rocks peppered the stream, so I chose the narrowest path to hopscotch across. Regrettably, my foot slid on a water-polished stone and sent me sprawling into the stream. I didn’t hit my head or twist my ankle (small miracle, as I commonly roll the joint), but I was left completely soaked in frigid conditions with no better recourse than going back the way I came.
By the time I managed to return, my fingers were stiff as a board and my core very nearly frozen through. To make matters worse, Mrs. Bristle had taken leave of Lord Cunningham’s bedside just in time to intercept me at the door with a concerned gasp and harried exclamations over my state. Daniel came running at the sound of her cries (yes, because by then he’d shown up, apparently) and echoed her sentiments exactly (if with a bit less refrain):
“What happened to you?”
“What were you doing?”
“You’re absolutely frozen!”
“Let me draw you a bath!”
At this exact moment, Eliza skidded onto the balcony and gasped over the foyer, “He’s gone!”
In the ensuing madness, we discovered that Lord Cunningham had disappeared from his bed some time between when Mrs. Bristle took leave and Eliza arrived to stoke the hearth. No signs of a struggle were had, but Daniel noticed that the window–while still shut–had been unlocked from the inside.
“Oh, he’s gone! He’s gone, again!” Mrs. Bristle cried, throwing herself upon the duvet.
“Again?” I asked. “What ‘again?’ You mean he’s done this before?”
Daniel looked away sheepishly, and Mrs. Bristle turned on Eliza with a look of pure contempt. “It’s your fault!” she cried, pointing at the younger maid. “If you hadn’t been filling his head with such stories, none of this would be happening now!”
“Me?” Eliza asked, eyes wide and lip quivering. “You can’t possibly mean his disappearance is my fault, Mrs. Bristle!”
“You’ve been feeding his imagination since you arrived here! Always going on about ghostly dogs, or beasts, encouraging his flights of fancy! You knew he wasn’t well, but you encouraged him! And now look at what’s happened! He’s hurt himself, and he’s gone!” Mrs. Bristle whaled, burying her head in her hands.
Daniel stepped in front of Eliza. “Mrs. Bristle, I know you’re upset, but Eliza’s got nothing to do with this! I saw the creature myself.”
“She’s got you wound around her little finger, too!” Mrs. Bristle’s voice shook, but she raised her tear-stained face and stood, pointing at Eliza again. “That girl will be the death of Lord Cunningham, and what will you do then?”
Eliza firmly planted behind him, Daniel took two steps closer to the matron and placed a gentle but firm hand on her shoulder. “Helen, I know you’ve had a bit of a shock. We all have, but you’re being hysterical. Cunningham will return as he always does. He’ll trapes in from the woods in the morning. You know this.”
His consolatory tone was gentle, but firm. Bitterly, I couldn’t help but feel he defended the girl too adamantly, but that’s neither here nor there.
Silence lingered. I stood shaking with only a fresh cloak thrown over my wet things. Eliza kept her big, bright eyes locked on Mrs. Bristle, and Daniel patted the woman’s back placatingly. I sneezed, and it seemed that it broke some spell.
“Eliza, please draw a bath for Ms. Ainsley. I’m taking Mrs. Bristle to have a lie down.”
“Of course,” Eliza said immediately, nodding. We watched as Daniel escorted Mrs. Bristle down the hall.
For a few moments, neither Eliza nor I said anything. Then, she turned to me. “I’m sure you can manage your own abulitions, or is that something they don’t teach upper class girls, nowadays?” She spun and left the room.
Back in my chambers, I’ve decided to write of these events before heading to the lavatory. I want a long, warm soak more than anything, but I must consider the new information presented to me.
- Lord Cunningham has been going missing for some time now, disappearing, it seems, into the woods and returning the following morning, assumedly no worse for the wear?
- Mrs. Bristle is furious with Eliza and blames her for Lord Cunningham’s condition. She seems to believe the girl has both him and Daniel taken by the story of a demon canine, but I know the story to be true, having seen the creature myself.
I have before me an inconclusive picture. A demon canine is haunting the moor and has targeted Lord Cunningham, who may or not be a terrible person and may or may not also be unwell. Eliza thinks I want to marry the man and keep Daniel as…what? My lover? And what business of her’s is it if I did have designs on Daniel? Is there something going on between the two?
So many questions for which I have no answers.
I will write more, soon.
Day 6 (October 25, 1907)
I am sick. I’ve got chills and a fever–tough my breathing is fine–and the doctor’s been in and out already with strict instruction to stay in bed and recover. With Mrs. Bristle out of commission for now, it was Daniel’s job to look in on me when I didn’t turn up to breakfast. (Eliza decided not to wake me this morning. Shame.) When the physician left, Daniel shook his head. “I shouldn’t have taken you out. I knew I shouldn’t have.” He waved a hand in my general direction. “Now look at you.”
Okay, so I’m not exactly coming up roses, but if he thinks this is a noteworthy illness, he hasn’t seen anything. Honestly, my dip in the stream had a lot more to do with it than our trip onto the moor. I opened my mouth to tell him exactly that, but he shook his head again and ran a hand down his face. In all honesty, he looked exhausted.
“Just… stay in bed. Try to rest. I’ll send Eliza up with your breakfast in about an hour.”
Then, he was gone.
Well, Eliza never did come with my breakfast, and now I’m starving! Regardless of her feelings, isn’t it said to feed a fever, starve a cold? It also occurs to me that I’ve yet to speak with Daniel about his trip into the woods two nights ago. Doctor’s orders be damned, I’m not going to lie here like an invalid when there are so many things to do.
Instead of finding Daniel, I stumbled into the study. I haven’t seen it since the brief glimpse I caught on the day of Lord Cunningham’s attack (That seems like a lifetime ago!), and I couldn’t help but snoop.
The study greatly resembled that of my father, with maps and antiques arranged in such a way as makes sense only to their owner. The window had been boarded up, but it looked as though the bloodstains remained–too difficult to remove from the carpet.
On the desk, Lord Cunningham’s correspondence was as he left it: apparently, a mess. One letter among the rest caught my attention for its overstuffed and aged appearance. The name Laura appeared in scrolling font atop its envelope.
Within I found–of all things–love letters. They wove a tale of longing so extreme I knew I must be blushing. Embarrassed at my own lack of shame, I went to stuff the missives back within their proper confines when I noticed a scrap of paper fallen from their pages. If the letters were yellowed with age, this scrap appeared absolutely ancient, and the words written upon it were strange to me. Even if I knew their language, I could not read them.
I heard the clicking of a knob and dropped the letter, my heart in my throat. Mrs. Bristle (now recovered, I see) entered the room. She gasped in surprise and gently scolded me.
Now I’m back in bed again, regretting ever leaving. The pounding behind my eyes grows with every character I write.
Perhaps I will rest. Perhaps.
The trees are whispering. The trees. I must go. I must discover what they say.
DAY 7 (October 27, 1907)
Eliza caught me wandering. I have no memory of desiring to explore last night nor any idea as to why I was out of my room, but it seems to me I would have risen for one purpose only; clearly, I meant to investigate. Now that I’m returned, I can see that I must have set off to examine, what was it?Trees? The trees.
Unless I had been dreaming (which, given the state in which she found me seems possible), there was something very important about the trees.
I do know that, when she caught me, I came to my senses well enough to realize going out alone was folly. Eliza was convinced I’d been sneaking out to meet with Daniel, and no amount of assurance otherwise silence her whispered belligerence.
Eliza, for all her faults, would not dream to lay hands on me, if only due to the consequences thereof, so she certainly couldn’t stop me without shouting for Mrs. Bristle and being likewise scolded for being out of bed. What she could do, she decided, was follow me, and so we ventured into the woods together. Eliza Enfield, my fellow explorer of the great unknown.
As we approached the woods, the fog began to thicken and blur our surroundings. Naturally apprehensive after my last encounter with fog, I shouted for Eliza to mind herself lest we be parted.
I heard her scoff, but as we carried on, her footsteps beside mine faded.
This, I could tell, was not the supernatural fog I experienced with Daniel, but it was dense fog none-the-less. I bumbled along for several hours until dawn saw a lessening of the mist. On my way back toward the manor, I nearly found myself the recipient of an unintended amputation as I tripped beside what appeared to be a bear trap hidden in the underbrush of the field!
When I returned, Eliza stood by the manor wall, waiting for me. “Did you have a good time?” she snickered.
If I’d had access to a pudding, an open flame, or a bowler hat, Eliza Enfield would have seen exactly why the suitors run from Ileiana Aisnley. As it was, I stumbled straight upstairs to sleep.
DAY 8 (October 28, 1907)
I am slightly recovered today. The solid 15 hours of sleep I experienced after the catastrophe of yesterday morning deeply concerned an already frazzled Mrs. Bristle, but it seems to have helped me. The physician has now indicated that I am allowed to wander around the house so long as I rest often and refrain from going outside.
I see this as a perfectly powerful excuse to linger in my housecoat without worrying about a lack of propriety. I spent much time in the library–regularly checked on of course–so investigation took a sideline today.
Lord Cunningham has not returned. Rather than concerned, I reflect on how strange it is to have not yet properly greeted my own host. Since arriving at the manor, my existence has been altered in the most existential way. That I am involved at all in such lunacy is startling.
I have found an old newspaper clipping buried between the pages of a book on waterfowl. The clipping reads of mysterious lights over a place called Golden Wood. The people here are superstitious, but everything I’ve experienced in my stay thus far makes me wonder at the reality of magic. If the beast is real, who’s to say that forest sprites are not also? Who am I to mock a light hearted story for lacking journalistic validity?
Doesn’t there deserve to be a little good in the world, for all its horror?
Daniel has been hurt.
The bear trap I stumbled upon was one of many. Daniel placed them when he stayed out the other night, and a mishap when checking them has left him gravely injured. I do not know the full extent of its severity, but bear traps can be lethal. Moans from his chambers can be heard from my position in the hallway.
Eliza is in fits at not being allowed in the room as the doctor works. Mrs. Bristle has been bustling hot water back and forth for what seems like half an hour. I sit with this journal on my knees and write because there is nothing else to do.
There is real pain on Eliza’s face as she stares at the door. I cannot stand her, but we share a mutual concern.
“I’m sure he’ll be just fine,” I say to break the silence. She scowls at me, but doesn’t say anything. She hiccups and flops onto the floor at my left, still stubbornly glaring at the door as if it will open if she does but will it so.
We lean against the wall; I think this night will be long.
DAY 9 (October 29, 1907)
Apparently, staying up all night is not conducive to a doctor’s order to rest. I am back in bed again, but Daniel will be well, and if a renewed fever is the price I pay for it, it seems more than a decent trade.
Not that I think my vigil changed anything, but I tell myself that Eliza needed the company. I do not dwell on any other compulsions I may have had.
Father has arrived, and as glad as I am of it, I regret that it had to happen while I’m laid up in bed.
Checking on me must have been his first priority upon arrival, for not two hours ago, the bedroom door creaked open to reveal my father in all his travel-worn glory. I sat up in bed and wrapped my arms around myself. “Hello, Father.”
Shutting the door firmly behind him, he turned around and scolded, “Ileiana Edith Anisley!” (My name is the only thing my mother ever gave me, and I hate when he hisses it like that.) His mustache quivered in indignation as he strode into the room. “What is the meaning of this! Am I meant to believe you’ve been running about the moor like some kind of heathen child? Where’s your sense of decency?”
The vein in his temple was throbbing again. Father gets very cross when he is worried, so I knew I best make amends.
“I’m sorry, Father,” I said in my most pathetic whinge. “I’m sorry! Things have been so strange, and I’ve been so scared! I felt like I had to do something…” Those last bits were true; events of late have left me: curious, afraid, sodden, and terrified (in that order), and I knew I needed to do something about it.
“And what lot of nonsense is this, a–a what? Some demon wolf? A beastly dog attacking Lord Cunningham and spiriting him away in the middle of the night?” He waves a hand and snorts. “Poppycock! And look at you! It’s gotten you so upset…”
He sat on the edge of the bed and fussed over my blankets for a moment. “I’m sorry you’ve been here alone, Ileiana. Nevertheless, I’m none-too-happy with your behavior, young lady. You’ve gone and gotten yourself sick again and for no good reason. Mrs. Bristle’s told me what you’ve been up to! You know you’re too delicate to go traipsing around the grounds, and further, it isn’t ladylike.”
“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you, Father, and I’m sorry I’ve fallen sick, but I had to do something. No one would tell me of anything going on. I had little choice but to take up the investigation on my own.”
Father sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Investigation,” he mumbled. “You’re staying in this bed until the physician clears you to leave. No exceptions.”
I nodded my begrudging acceptance. He tucked me in like a child and left the room.
DAY 10 (October 30, 1907)
I finally met Lord Cunningham today. That’s right! After over a week’s stay at his residence, I’ll say it again: I finally met Lord Cunningham.
I expected him worse for the wear, but his wounds of only a few days past paled in comparison to the bloodshed I remember. Perhaps it was the shock of it which made his injuries seem much more grievous, but head wounds do tend to bleed, and Lord Cunningham’s head was wrapped quite snuggly indeed.
He returned some time early this morning with little memory of his wanderings. He met with Father over breakfast and apologized for being unable to greet us properly.
“And this must be your lovely daughter,” he had said.
Lord Cunningham seems to be around fathers age–perhaps 50 or so–with graying blonde hair and a distinguished profile. His nose is the slightest bit crooked, and he walks with a limp (though it’s hard to say if this came before his accident or due to it).
“I say, Christopher, what has been going on here?,” Father asked between sips of coffee and bites of egg. “When I sent my daughter on ahead, I never dreamed I’d be sending her into this sort of lunacy!”
I bit my tongue like a good girl, but I couldn’t help but think that, no, Father had sent me on ahead in hopes I’d become well acquainted with my host.
“Frederick,” Lord Cunningham said, this time with a warble in his voice. “Dear friend, even I couldn’t have anticipate the sort of madness of these past several days.”
Father glanced toward the door, just behind which stood Mrs. Bristle in attendance. “You’ve been unwell, your housekeeper tells me…”
“Oh, no, it’s not that I’ve been unwell, Fred. Well, I suppose that isn’t true; I’ve been out of sorts for a while now, but it isn’t an illness that’s taken me. You see…” He glanced around. “Something’s been watching me from the moor…”
My head snapped up at this, and it was if the sudden action reminded the men that I was more than just an ornament.
“Ah, well, perhaps we might discuss it in my study after our nosh?”
Breakfast flowed quietly after that, the scrape of utensils on plates echoing against the conservatory walls. I was dismissed after breakfast to my own devices, so clearly I had to snoop.
Giving my Father and Lord Cunningham a gracious head start, I eventually found myself with an ear pressed to the study door. The following conversation ensued:
Father: Now tell me, Christopher, what is this all about?
Lord Cunningham: Fred, you know in my day I was a wild youth.
Father: Ah, but weren’t we all. (There was a smile in his voice.)
Lord Cunningham: Yes, but you see… I was rather more inclined to frivolity than one might imagine…
There was some mumbling here, and I couldn’t make out anything until my Father’s exclamation.
Father: Christopher! A child?
Lord Cunningham: I had no idea, no idea, Fred! Laura was removed from service ages ago, and I didn’t care. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care! She was the strangest woman, beautiful but strange–always raving about legends and myths, a country sort–you know what it’s like with the help…
Father: So this child of yours?
Lord Cunningham: A daughter. I brought her to the manor when she presented me with my letters.
Father: So you think you’ve, what, been besieged by a beast for siring a child out of wedlock?
Lord Cunningham: I do not think it, Frederick, I know! I know because since the moment she arrived, I’ve seen it! It’s as though the universe has decided to punish me for my freewheeling youth and the hounds of hell escaped from flames!
Footsteps echoed within the chamber.
Father: That is madness, Chris. Hell hounds and hell fire exist only in your guilty conscience…
I scampered away at that, determined to learn more. If anyone had the answers now, it was Eliza, and I would not leave her in peace until I had them.
I found Eliza just outside the kitchen, collecting the herbs that grow along the sill. Her eyes were red as though she hadn’t been sleeping. (Understandable. What with Daniel injured the way he is–quite substantial damage to his arm, if I haven’t said it–even I’ve been rather anxious as of late.)
“What do you want?” She scowled at me and sprinkled another few leaves into her basket.
It didn’t occur to me that I should have some tact in this. So close to answers, I wasn’t about to be deterred by the edicts of convention.
“You’re Lord Cunningham’s daughter, and you hate me because you think I’m here to marry your old man.”
Her basket tumbled to the ground. “Who–” She swallowed hard. “You– I-I don’t know what sort of nonsense you’re spouting. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I think I do,” I said, “and I think you know exactly what I mean. You’re Laura’s daughter, aren’t you? You’re Laura’s daughter, and you read the letters you gave to your father–”
“I didn’t read them!” she hissed. Her face was a blotchy red, but her lovely eyes were shining. “I never read them! Mother made me promise never to read them.”
She wrapped her arms around herself and looked away. Although I’d long suspected Eliza not much younger than myself–she seemed so incredibly little at this moment.
She laughed, and it was a wet, bitter sound.
“Mother hated him after he cast us out, hated him! Even so, she made me promise that one day I’d find him and show him the letters. She made me promise! I think she hoped for better for me than being someone’s dolly mop…”
Her breathing hitched. “But here you are! I’ll never inherit anything! He’ll bed you, and you’ll birth his whelps, and I’ll be waiting on his new family when everything you have should have been mine, should have been my mother’s!”
Her voice echoed in the silence that followed, and I didn’t know what to say.
DAY 10 (October 30, 1907)
I have suspicions about Eliza’s letters. Laura, I should say, Laura’s letters. I wonder at that strange writing I saw flutter from the papers’ folds, and I wonder why Eliza was warned never to read her father’s words. Perhaps embarrassment played a role, but I can’t help but see a connection between the beast on the moor, Laura’s letters, and Lord Cunningham’s situation.
I’ve decided to bring what I know to Daniel. Daniel has been kind to me, and–by and largely–spoken to me as a person rather than just a lady. He’s recovering now, but I think he’d be willing to let me disturb him if I can avoid Mrs. Bristle’s eyes while doing so.
He is also very handsome. I cannot stop thinking about just how
Very early this morning, I heard howling echo across the grounds, an otherworldly sound I’m confident rang throughout the estate. It was a sound of misery, of terror. Subsequently, Lord Cunningham was quite subdued at breakfast.
Now that my thoughts are in order, I’m off to see Daniel. We will come up with a solution for this madness, I’m sure, once we can establish its cause.
If he agrees with my suppositions, we’ll have to call the house to order and finish this once and for all.
DAY 11 (October 31, 1907)
“Ms. Enfield, I need you to read this,” I said, holding a small, yellowed scrap of paper in her direction. It was morning, and the household had been gathered (Daniel’s doing) in the downstairs parlor where we planned to make our case. Sitting amongst the finery were Eliza, Mrs. Bristle, Lord Cunningham, Daniel, my father, and I.
“What is this?” Mrs. Bristle asked, stern in a way she usually wasn’t. Her arms were folded, expression cross, and I could tell Lord Cunningham was nervous. My Father looked nonplussed, and kept casting Eliza glances from the corner of his eye.
“Eliza,” said Daniel, still heavily bandaged with his arm slung against his chest. “Please.”
Eliza took the paper at his entreaty and squinted at the illegible scrawl. For a moment, I thought our plan for naught, but then she parted her lips. “You will know the anguish of your folly,” Eliza read, “unless…unless you make amends in good faith, be pursued by the hounds of hell.” She looked at Daniel oddly. “What is this?”
Daniel and I exchanged glances. I cleared my throat. “Eliza is Lord Cunningham’s daughter, born out of wedlock to a household maid some twenty years ago.”
As one might expect, chaos errupted.
From Mrs. Bristle, launching to her feat: “What–what is this? What do you mean by such accusations?”
From Eliza, in tears: “I trusted you! I trusted you never to tell!”
My father, furious: “Ileiana Edith Ainsley!”
From Lord Cunningham, silence.
“My father told me all the local legends. The beast on the moor is a well-known story,” Daniel said. He turned to Lord Cunningham, “You said Eliza’s mother was common. She would have known that, too. We think she put a curse on the paper. When you touched the paper, her curse attached itself to you.”
“You thought you were cursed, Lord Cunningham,” I added. “We think you’re right.”
Eliza’s face is very pale. “I swear, I didn’t know!”
“Of course you didn’t know,” I said. “You listened when your mother told you those letters were never to be opened by anyone other than your father, right?”
“I still think this is madness!” my own father cried, but he was quickly silenced by Lord Cunningham who held an outstretched palm in his direction.
“If this is true, why can this girl read the missive. It appeared as gibberish to me.”
“Wha-what?” Mrs. Bristle rasped. “You–that’s what you—”
“It’s true, Mrs. Bristle,” Lord Cunningham said. “I’ve known since my return from London six months ago. Eliza is my…relation.”
“Your daughter,” I supplied. Lord Cunningham grimaced.
Mrs. Bristle sat hard in her seat.
“Curses leave traces,” Daniel said. “Witchy-magic like this, my dad would say, means that she could read it because her mother cast it, and the blood will tell.”
More silence for a moment, and then:
“So… What do I do?”
“You do what the note says, sir,” supplied Daniel. “You, what was it? Make amends in good faith.”
“But–but how, I…?”
I broke in then. “I think that’s something that needs be considered between you and Eliza.”
Father and I are headed home. With everything that’s happened, Father has decided that talk of any business can wait. As we ride along in the bouncing carriage (hence my atrocious writing), I can’t help but notice he looks rather pale behind his billowing mustache. I myself feel drained–and something like accomplished–as I look back on my time at Cunningham’s estate.
Poor Mrs. Bristle will perhaps never see Lord Cunningham the same way again–and I think it a shame, for she seemed rather smitten if my eyes didn’t deceive me. Yet, perhaps this is for the better. Lord Cunningham might be a better man now–I cannot be quite certain–but perhaps he will grow from sharing his history with another. Perhaps Mrs. Bristle will grow to understand him, then.
Daniel says that he will write, and if my father turned a blind eye to that promise, well, I shan’t be one to remind him of my post.
Lastly, I have hope that Eliza and Lord Cunningham can work out some sort of arrangement. Mrs. Bristle says that the man is lonely, but whether or not he realizes it, he has the makings of a family right there within this home.
I’ll end my entry here before the jostling of the carriage lulls me to sleep.