This night of all nights

12/09/2015 14:41

New prompt at Black Ship Books/ 3F. Here's my offering.


Why, on this night of all nights, must it begin again?

The whispering ran along the walls, just under Mitchell's level of hearing but not beyond his awareness. The hairs on the back of his neck felt it and bristled in response. He laid his hands against the wainscoting, his fingertips tingling from the contact. Silently, he begged for peace, just for this one night. Perhaps there was a response; at least, he felt that the tingling grew a little – a very little – less.

“Thank you,” he murmured.

Turning away from the wall, he took a last look around the Grand Drawing Room. And grand it was! Furniture carved from rare woods, gilded mirrors and candelabra, vases made of the finest porcelain, all regarded by the silent, painted eyes of his ancestors who stared benevolently from their portraits. 

It was almost two years since he had come into his inheritance and he had spent most of that time restoring the principle rooms of his home to the glory of former times. Tonight would see the grand reopening of Haddonbridge Lodge, with a suitably extravagant ball and supper. The guest list included the great and the good from across the county, people whose goodwill and good opinion would prove invaluable to any young man no matter how wealthy.

People who would not look favourably on... disturbances.

To distract himself from whatever lived behind the wainscoting, he decided to take a final tour of the rooms that would be on display tonight. The colours of the new carpet on the main staircase fairly sparkled and the marble floor of the entrance hall gleamed in the light of candles and fire. He breathed in the scent of the fresh flowers that added to the welcoming feel.

As he entered the Grand Ball Room, however, he felt that something was not right. Glancing around the room, nothing stood out and he mentally shook himself for being silly. He strolled across the room to the dais where the musicians would sit to play and picked up the score sitting on the nearest music stand. Rather than the lively dance music he was expecting, the tune was a dirge. He frowned, first at the pages in his hand, then at the carved panelling.

His mind was suddenly flooded by memories of this room. He was five years old, asking his nanny to explain the scenes depicted in the panels and only half understanding her explanation of Old Testament patriarchs. He was ten, now able to distinguish Abraham from Isaac, Jacob from Joseph, but now bewildered by the sensibility that thought these were suitable scenes for a ball room.

He was fifteen, preparing for his first ball – though under strict instructions to be in bed by eleven o'clock – and begging that screens be placed across the biblical images. But his father shook his head, giving a long and involved explanation of family pride and family honour that did nothing to assuage his feelings. That night had been the first time that he had felt that he and his family were not the only occupants of their house.

Or rather, it was the first time that he had put together the pieces of a mystery that he finally understood had lurked in the shadows all of his life. The candles in the Grand Ball Room cast flickering shadows across the carved figures on the walls, giving the impression that they were moving. At least, his practical, fifteen-year-old mind told him that it was only an impression; until the ram in Abraham's arms shook its horns at him. He was so startled that he spilled wine over his mother's gown. She had laughed and sent him to bed, where he had lain awake straining his ears for the whispers that he felt rather than heard.

He was twenty, returning home from university before the end of term to attend his mother's funeral. Her coffin lay in state in the Grand Ball Room and he knew without turning his head that all the carved heads were bowed in sorrow.

He was twenty-five, master of his estate, running his fingers lovingly across the panels as he gave instructions for their restoration.

As he tore the paper in his hands in half, it seemed that a quiet chuckle ran around the room but then all was quiet. The presence behind the walls had flexed what might be described as its muscles but only as a reminder that it was there. As if he could forget. But his restoration of the house, though still not complete, was definitely regarded with approval.

The height of the troubles at  Haddonbridge Lodge had occurred in the years following his mother's death, when his father had allowed the house to fall into disrepair and dismissed most of the servants, those that did not leave of their own accord. Mitchell had completed his education and returned home but it was not home any longer. It had always been the kind of house where things went missing and then turned up in unlikely places, where doors opened unexpectedly and where some corners were unaccountably cold. In that first year, however, the level of activity had risen to such a pitch that it could not be ignored.

Somehow, his father did manage to behave as if nothing was wrong. Mitchell took himself off on a Grand Tour of Europe, returning only when his father fell under his final illness.

Those final weeks were almost unbearable, the house creaking and grumbling to itself throughout every night and even, occasionally, during the day. His father's final night was marked not only by disturbances indoors but by a terrific thunderstorm that rattled the windows and uprooted the ancient oak that had stood longer than the present house. In the early hours, his father's spirit slipped silently away and the storm blew itself out. The sun rose warm and bright on a new master of Haddonbridge Lodge.

Even before the funeral, he began making plans – at least in his mind – for the restoration. The house was quiet but tense, the patriarchs frowning from their panels every time he had occasion to walk past them. He did his best to reassure them by imagining the ball room filled with light and music and dancers, the hall floor polished and shining, the drawing room dazzling the eyes with riches.

The whisperer was initially suspicious of his intentions and the first team employed to remove the panels from the ballroom, prior to them being stripped back and revarnished, were frightened away, spreading rumours of hauntings and apparitions. Another firm was engaged, not without some trouble, who agreed to do all the restoration on site. The house watched and waited. And gradually, it accepted that his intentions were honourable.

And tonight, he fulfilled his promises. The public areas of the house were better than new, the old glories could be relived. On this night of all nights, there would be nothing to disturb either master or guests.

This night of all nights

A truce

Date: 25/09/2015 | By: Mike

Lovely description - the whisperings, the tinglings. I liked the repetition of 'he was five...he was fifteen...he was twenty' to show the evolution of his relationship with the house. At the end, I have the feeling that there may be only a truce - the house is still reserving judgement.
Was his father's caused by the house, in retaliation for ignoring it?

Re: A truce

Date: 25/09/2015 | By: Rose Green

Yes, it is a truce. The house hasn't quite made up its mind about Mitchell, yet. Interesting question about his father's death. I'll have to think about that!

Peace at Last

Date: 23/09/2015 | By: Joyce Juzwik

Rose, I really enjoyed this. You took the road not traveled at all when you wrote this, and brava for that. Nothing stereotypical about this tale. Whoever, or whatever, had its hold on the Lodge knew it was time to 'live and let live'. It sensed Mitchell's true intent--to bring it all full circle into the present and finally begin to move forward. Very well done.

Re: Peace at Last

Date: 24/09/2015 | By: Rose Green

Joyce - thanks for taking the time to read and review. I really had no idea where this was going when I started but that is true of most of my writing!

Subtly haunting

Date: 20/09/2015 | By: Evan

I liked this one very much. Family history wrapped up in the faint hint of a literal haunting. Stories like this are easy to overdo, but I think you nailed it perfectly. Good work!

Re: Subtly haunting

Date: 24/09/2015 | By: Rose Green

Evan - thanks for taking the time to read and review. I rather like how this one turned out, too!

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