A Wintery Tale, of a Ghostly Night, a short story by D T Lofthouse at Spillwords.com

A Wintery Tale, of a Ghostly Night

A Wintery Tale, of a Ghostly Night

written by: D T Lofthouse

 

Christmas Eve 1843, a cold wind howled across the chimney pots, blowing air into the large country mansion below.

In the drawing room, at the front of the mansion, the lights flickered intermittently as a low branch of the oak tree, tapped eerily, against the window pane, occasionally scratching against the glass, like nails on a chalk board.

“Pepare the candles Mrs Jenkins,” came a croaky voice from the shadow of the leather Chesterfield chair, placed in the corner, addressing the house keeper.

“Right away madame,” replied Mrs Jenkins, hurriedly leaving the drawing room, the old oak door, creaking behind her.
Upon her return, Mrs Jenkins was holding a small, silver, candelabra, one of thirty, scattered around the house.

Suddenly, the lights went out, Mrs Jenkins letting out a slight squeak of surprise, whilst quickly trying to light the candles, in the draughty room.

“Come on girl,” croaked the voice, “it’s not difficult!”

As Mrs Jenkins lit the third and final candle, the face of the croaky voiced, elderly Lady, loomed out of the darkness, reflecting in the light of the flames.

It was Abigail Fanshaw, the lady of the Manor, which many think, belonged to Henry Fanshaw, her late husband.

In fact, Henry had taken Abigail’s family name, along with all the trappings it had to offer.

“Now, Mrs Jenkins, would you kindly light the fire, before our guests arrive?” enquired Abigail.

Mrs Jenkins placed the candelabra on a small table, adjacent to Abigail, proceeding to ready the tinderbox and kindling, for the rather, grand, somewhat majestic, fire.

As she struck steel on flint, the sparks cascaded down the metal rod, in a dance of light, bouncing off the slightly dampened wood.

Another strike of the steel, and another, finally, the flames ushered into life, slowly caressing the kindling, into an orange glow of flames.

“Will you sit with me a moment Mrs Jenkins?” asked Abigail, pointing to the second Chesterfield chair, to her left.

That’s where Henry used to sit, sipping his sherry, before slowly nodding off, which was most evenings.

Mrs Jenkins sat besides Abigail, too afraid to say anything, even though, Abigail wasn’t quite the ogre she appeared to be.

They sat, silently, watching the flames of the fresh fire, as it grew, evermore consuming, eating through logs, like an avaricious, flaming, beast.

As they sat, staring into the flames, the grandfather clock in the hall, seemed to grow louder and louder, with each passing second, until the hourly, Westminster chime struck, followed by the hourly chimes.

The chiming often made Mrs Jenkins jump and shiver, unnervingly so.

“One more hour Mrs Jenkins, and the guests will arrive,” said Abigail, “is everything in place?”

“Yes Madame, everything is as you requested, including name cards and place settings for all the guests,” replied Mrs Jenkins.

Mrs Jenkins grew up in and around the Fanshaw residence, on account of her father, Tom, being their gamekeeper, until his demise 10 previous.

It was a freak accident, during pheasant beating, of the glorious 12th, Emily was only 17 then.

The Fanshaws felt obliged to take her in, giving her a job, playing second fiddle to the cook, fetching and carrying for her.

Over the years, Emily Jenkins learned many things within the household, finally progressing to the role of house keeper, a person, whom, Abigail could not live without.

“Mrs Jenkins, can you smell burning?” asked Abigail.

“That will, most likely, be the logs on the fire Mrs Fanshaw,” responded Emily.

“Oh, you could be right,” Abigail conceded, “What is the time now?”

Looking at the grandfather clock, in the hall, through the, slightly ajar, drawing room door.

“It’s 6:15pm Mrs Fanshaw, it won’t be long now, I do hope they can get through the snow, it will be so nice to hear talking and laughter again won’t it?” replied Emily.

Abigail’s expression barely changed, almost grimacing at the thought of others having fun.

The snow, which had just started to come down, seemed to be getting heavier, as the odd snowflake could be heard, hissing on the fire, like a demonic serpent.

“It’s an horrendous night,” Emily pondered aloud, falling on deaf ears.

Again, Abigail asked, “What is the time now Mrs Jenkins?”

“6:30pm Mrs Jenkins, don’t worry, it will soon be 7pm, when the guests are expected to arrived” said Emily.

Abigail was clearly getting more agitated and anxious, as the time for the guests to arrive, grew ever nearer.

“Shall we play a game Mrs Fanshaw?” said Emily, with excitement in her words, “Eye spy…..”

“Stop!” blasted Abigail, “I will not have such nonsense girl!”

Embarrassed, Emily, stopped immediately, realising what she had done.

Truth be told, Henry and Abigail used to play Eye Spy with their only son, Bertie.

He had died, tragically, many years ago, when he was 5yrs years old.

Venturing into the ornate gardens, falling headlong into the, now covered, fountain, banging his head and falling unconscious, as he drown.

Henry and Abigail never recovered, emotionally, from this horrible misfortune.

“It’s almost 6:45pm Mrs Fanshaw,” said Emily, “almost time, are you excited Mrs Fanshaw?”

“I’m more apprehensive than not,” said Abigail, “I haven’t seen them in such a long time, are you sure you can’t smell burning?”

“Don’t worry Mrs Fanshaw, I’m sure everything will go smoothly,” replied Emily, reassuringly, “but no, I can’t smell burning.”

The whirring of the grandfather clock grew louder as the hour approached, with only a second or two before 7pm.

Westminster chimes, it was 7pm, the guests, should they be prompt, will be arriving momentarily.

“It’s time Mrs Jenkins,” ushered Abigail.

No guests came, No more Christmas cards, No presents under the tree, No more laughter or voices to be heard, in fact, dear reader, No guests will ever come again!

The once grand Manor was, and had been, for over a century, burned to the ground, with the last remaining souls, fast asleep, in the armchairs of the drawing room, destined to repeat the last hours of their lives, for all eternity.

 

THE END…..or is it?

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