Silent Steps in Hedrothe Manor
Silent Steps in Hedrothe Manor
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
The taper was at its end as the last candle came to life. Eloise stood at the bottom of the stairs and peered up to the first landing. Shards of moonlight crept through the stained glass panel high up on the wall and carved a path through the blackness giving the stairs an eerie soft luminescent glow. The candles each creating a ball of yellow light, dotted the halls and empty rooms, giving what little warmth they could within the cold emptiness of the manor.
With the master still in London, it was a pointless exercise, but Eloise often felt consumed by the darkness and couldn’t bear to go through another night. Mr Jacobs, the caretaker kept to himself at night and after dinner seemed to just disappear in the halls of the manor. The few times that she’d sort his assistance proved futile as he was never in his room, nor it appeared anywhere else.
She shuffled back to the kitchen to finish with the dishes and couldn’t help but look over her shoulder now and then, the feeling of being watched forever disrupting her thoughts. More than a year in the master’s employ and still she wasn’t comfortable in this vast cave of a house. So many noises and unexplained movements plagued her mind with one thing after another. When she’d ask old Jacobs he’d just give her a knowing grin, with what teeth remained in his head. She’d shudder and walk away unappeased.
Eloise lay in bed listening to the creaking sounds of wood shrinking in the cold, like a symphony around her, as if everything were alive and moving. There was a gale outside and it whistled through the gabbles making a most unnerving howling sound. She pulled up the eiderdown and tried to separate herself from the nightly chorus, but each distinct sound like moaning, brought her back. Sleeping had become this impossible task. When the master was in residence all seemed calmer somehow, in order. But when he was away, this husk of a manor appeared to take on a life of its own, and there was nothing she could do about it.
She tried to think of what she had to do tomorrow, imagined the silver all laid out and ready to polish; dusting the sitting room and writing a shopping list for the pantry, but all ended with some sound of crying, some bump or howl. Outside the moon struggled to remain in the sky, dark brooding clouds, thick and ominous swept in. Only a candle sat on the side table giving a poor and oppressed life to a black lifeless space.
About three in the morning, having drifted in and out of sleep for hours, Eloise sat bolt upright; her mind slightly behind, found consciousness and the room slowly came into focus. By the closed door a dark shadow of a figure stood motionless. The realisation hit Eloise with a slap and her heart recoiled in her chest, her body unable to move.
“Who’s there?’ she said meekly, just able to verbalise. The figure remained motionless.
Her mind was in panic, thoughts crashing into each other and creating a scramble of intent.
She closed her eyes pointedly to test if this vision was imagined, but on opening them the vision remained. Edging back against the carved wooden bed head, she trembled.
“What do you want?”she shouted, feeling anger rise amid her fear.
The figure stepped forward into the extremities of the candlelight. It was Jacobs. He smiled slightly, in control.
“I heard a noise,” he replied, without expression.
Eloise leapt out of bed and stormed over to him. “You scared the hell out of me,” she snapped, pushing him toward the door. “For God’s sake!” she followed, slamming the huge door. The sound echoed in the chamber and out into the empty halls. She jumped back into bed and angrily pulled up the covers, mumbling to herself.
Eventually Eloise found sleep, and this time it was a sound surrendering sleep, her fear being cancelled out. The howling had subsided outside and the clouds parted enough for the moonlight to dust the clutter of old French furniture in her room.
At four-thirty she became restless and moments later opened her eyes. The door remained closed but she heard footsteps out in the hall. This time she’d had enough and got straight up, found her slippers under the bed and stomped over to the door. “I’m going to brain that old fool,” she mumbled, opening the door and stepping out into the hallway.
Eloise felt an icy chill sweep over her body, like a numbing cloud, forcing her body into a pre-emptive rigor mortis. Her mind was frantic, uncontrollable. Before her were two figures, both in ghostly white night attire, with nightcaps and each holding a candle. Their eyes were expressionless and their bodies translucent. “Good evening,” they said in bland voices, in unnerving unison. Then, without another word they walked off down the hall. When Eloise turned her head to see where they were going, they had disappeared.
As the numbing subsided, the fear engulfed her and she quickly retired to her room, slamming the door and locking it. She rushed into bed and buried herself in the layers of bedcovers, her mind alive with confusion. This was to be her last day at Hedrothe, that was certain.