Here we are on our next stop on the Haunted House Virtual Tour (by kind permisson of Gwen Perkins), to promote our ghost novellas Blind and Ungentle Sleep (by V.R.Christensen and B.Lloyd respectively), where we ‘visit’ one of the famous houses in ‘mock’ gothic literature: this time, you can try guessing the place from the anagram at the beginning, or wait until you have read to the end …
The Anagram: Cats rant foot to heel
Grunt, umph, ouch.
Scritch, scratch, rumph,umph.
‘Right lads,’ said Geremia, standing back and wiping the sweat from his brow, ‘I think that will do. The Master didn’t specify exactly which way it should be facing.’
‘Hideous great thing it is, too,’ puffed one of the workmen, bending over with hands on hips.
‘Ay, it is – what passes for taste among the gentry, so keep a civil tongue in your head and there’ll be food and drink in the kitchen for you.’
Geremia turned and led the way to well-earned refreshments, and they left the giant suit of armour in the hall. It squeaked a little as its components settled back into position …
Hooves clattered across cobbles, wheels squealed and coachmen cursed – guests had arrived at the castle and there was a deal of running about, shouting and expletives before normality was in any way regained. Late morning and half the rooms not made ready yet: servants rushed about with coal scuttles, jugs and brooms, colliding into the furniture while the new arrivals struggled up and downstairs in search of their allotted chambers.
Geremia had thought it prudent to stand on the upper landing with notice boards indicating the directions to be followed:
‘Lord Fontana, straight ahead, turn left at end of corridor’
‘Sir Montague and Lady Montague, turn right at top of stairs and proceed to the third door on the left’
‘Duke Saltimbocca, other wing, directly over the kitchens for your olefactory delight’
and so forth – yet despite this attention to detail, the guests still managed to lose their way and generally ended up wandering disconsolately along the winding corridors, coming upon each other in alcoves and balconies and apologising at the same time.
‘No,no, pray, after you,’
‘Not at all – after you …’
Come afternoon and confusion had given way to chaos as preparations were made for the dinner: ‘Who is the dinner for, again?’ asked Lady Montague of her spouse. ‘Blessed if I can remember,’ he replied, and hallooed Lord Fontana. ‘Any idea what the do is for?’
‘I believe there is a wedding in the offing,’ replied that gentleman, taking a pinch of snuff.
‘Ah of course it is – old whathisname’s daughter – or niece, was it? No, daughter, I think – to er, that, er, . . .thingummy . .’
‘I believe you are correct,’ replied the Lord, before sneezing into a huge handkerchief.
A gong was sounded as a reminder for the dinner and there was a general hasty rush to find best seats at table; after some scrambling and contesting over napkins and goblets, guests were seated, Duke Saltimbocca nearest to the roast beef, cutlery at the ready.
‘A toast ! A toast to the happy couple!’ cried out the host, raising a glass when he was interrupted by his butler, footmen and maids, who came running into the hall in a state of wild disarray.
‘Why, what has happened? Has there been an accident? Is the kitchen?’
‘Miscreants! Have you burned the dinner?!’ exclaimed Saltimbocca, much disturbed at the thought.
‘Nay, ‘tis a great deal worse –’
‘Worse?’ remonstrated Saltrimbocca.
‘Come, come,’ said their host, ‘explain please –’
‘Why sir,’ said the butler, ‘there is a mighty monstrous creature a clanging and a banging about the castle hall – we none of us dare approach it for fear it should crush us – look – and listen – it approacheth!’
Indeed, as everyone stopped to listen, there was an eery, metallic, rasping sound in the distance, magnified and distorted by the stone walls of the ancient castle, accompanied by mournful cries of an inhuman quality most chilling to the blood.
Closer and closer came the steps –
‘Mercy me, are we to be murdered as we eat?’ gasped Lady Montague.
There was a great din, a shouting and screaming and a knocking over of dishes and glasses – as all ran pell-mell from the hall to stand quavering in the courtyard, gasping and muffling their cries as the sound of the footsteps approached, nearer and nearer . . .
On and on they came, clamp, clump, clamp, accompanied by a mild squeaking of rusty metal; the armour had not been oiled these many years and added a certain tortured element to the general atmosphere of horror.
‘Oh my dear, I shall faint…’ murmured Lady Montague, and prepared to fall.
‘Eh?’ replied her Lord, and failed quite completely to catch her, for which she duly reprimanded him afterwards.
‘Hush! It will hear us!’
‘It’s coming! It’s coming!’
A monstrous suit of armour clanked on into the courtyard, waving its arms in a most threatening manner, emitting awful, chilling moans and groans, barely audible under the wave of terrified cries emitted by the crowd.
‘Pshaw!’ finally said Duke Saltimbocca, who had only consumed barely half his dinner and was still peckish – he stood forward and drew his sword.
‘Speak, phantom!’ he addressed the suit of armour. ‘Tell us your business with us mortals!’
The suit of armour stood still, and waved its arms weakly about, letting out another foreboding ululation.
‘Speak the language of mortals, dammit!’ shouted the choleric Saltimbocca, impatient to return indoors to finish his dinner; he stamped forward and brandished his sword at the monstrous apparition – which appeared to be taken somewhat aback, indeed, staggered a little, then pointed upwards – to its own helmeted head.
‘Muffuffle whuffle phummple,’ came the dolorous tones.
‘Incoherent apparition – what would you have of us?’
‘Whiumple grumble flooble,’ continued the apparition, still moving its arms in windmill action.
‘Hah!’ responded the Duke, now thoroughly incandescent, and swiped at the creature’s helmet with his sword, admidst shrieks and shouts from the rest of the gathering. He managed only to topple the helmet from its moorings atop the breastplate, revealing . . . revealing . . .
‘Oh my dear sir, I am much obliged.’ A longish, pale, narrowish face, with wavy hair somewhat untidily held by a black ribbon, managed barely to peer out from the depths of the armour. ‘And now, if you will assist me with the removal of these gauntlets – and the greaves – most kind …’
‘But – but – but – ’ Lord Montague began.
‘You sir! Who are you ?’ demanded the Duke,
‘And how did you come to be inside that wretched thing?’
‘Ah, now, as to that . . . curiosity must take the blame – curiosity in the name of research; I have often wondered how the knights of old managed to move in combat in these harnesses, and on espying the prime example placed on display in the hall, I endeavoured to try it on; only, once tested, I found it less easy to divest, and my valet, less studied in these matters than even I, was unable to let me out again – so I have been obliged to wander these walls in search of someone to assist me.’
‘Pah!’ went the Duke, and stormed off in direction of the dining hall – ‘the roast beef will be cold by now!’ and he growled as he went.
‘Dear, dear,’ said the gentleman, now half out of the armour, ‘I fear I may have interrupted your dinner – my apologies.’
‘Not at all – it is, after all, in the name of scientific research: but might we have the pleasure of your acquaintance?’ Once the initial shock had dispersed, Lord Fontana regained his normal aplomb and was intrigued to know more.
‘Ah – my pardon, sir; -’ The gentleman whisked out a card and presented it to the Lord. Across it was emblazoned the name: Walpole, H. 4th Earl of Orford.
‘Ah – the man of letters – and on the Tour?’
‘Indeed yes, so my curiosity is even more boundless. This castle, for instance – such a very magnificent building – so very atmospheric – it has quite taken my fancy… I think I might write of my experiences about it . . although not, perhaps in such an undignified manner as being stuck in a suit of armour . . let me see . . .’
‘What shall you call it, dear sir?’
‘Why, I might as well call it after the name of this place . . .where are we, by the by?’
‘Allow me to call my servant – Grenouille? Grenouille!’
‘Where are we? ‘
‘Zis place – vot name?’
‘Allow me, I shall call mine – Mitraille!’
‘At once, milord!’
‘What is the name of this chateau, Mitraille?’
‘This chateau, milord? Why, it is the chateau d’Otranto, milord.’
‘Capital! That will do! I shall call it The Castle of Otranto . . .’
They continued to chatter amiably as they wandered indoors to the tune of forks and knives already being plied on well-laden plates as the dinner, finally, and to the Duke Saltimbocca’s delight, continued.
Out in the courtyard, the helmet lay in the moonlight, its visor open, for all the world like a monstrous mouth laughing at the night sky. It rolled a little from side to side, caught in a whisper of wind that scurried around, chasing the odd leaf out of corners.
This was one ‘visit’ to a gothic place from literature; we hope you enjoyed it – and that you will think about your favourite gothic place in literature; what it would be like to visit, meeting the inhabitants …
And now, two new places on the gothic lit scene await you in Ungentle Sleep by B.Lloyd and Blind by V.R. Christensen –
Blind : US
Blind : UK
Ungentle Sleep UK
Ungentle Sleep US