Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 2
- Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 1
- Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 2
- Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 3
- Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 4 – Finale
The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor: Part Two
As soon as I reached the bottom of the stairs, I stopped on the last step listening with racing heart. However, all I heard was the wind and rain lashing against the window panes, and the wild clanging of a metal gate down the hill. The knocking and loud scraping had not returned, and I convinced myself it had only been an errant door thrashing the side of a barn.
Still trembling, I turned the light on, setting the dining room ablaze. Since I had polished off the last of the good Cognac, I poured myself a dose of Triple Barrels Brandy. It was more stringent than the aged Cognac, but it was all I could afford. My husband had not left me much in way of savings.
I gulped the first pour and then sloshed another thick finger into the glass and carried it into the sitting room. Only a few embers still smoldered in the grate, so I put another log on top and wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.
I must have fallen asleep because I woke to a loud knocking coming from the backdoor. My hands and feet were numb, and the blanket had slipped from my shoulders to the floor. Apparently, there had been a power outage and not a single light shone. Except for the faint orange glow of dying embers, the house was shrouded in complete darkness.
Bleary-eyed and still woozy from the brandy, I stumbled out of the sitting room and followed the loud thumping to the backdoor.
Wind slashed rain against the windows, the thick storm blotting out any light from the moon and night sky entirely. I crept through the kitchen, shuffling warily, uncertain if I should go to door at all. But compelled by the thought of Hilary and Carey, or possibly one of the farmhands with some kind of emergency, I slipped a jacket on and unbolted the double doors and stepped down into the vestibule. I fumbled, feeling around for matches and the two small tapers I knew to mounted on the far wall.
The vestibule filled with an eerie glow, and I waited for my eyes to adjust to the low light.
It was pitch-black outside, and I gasped at the looming figure of a tall man standing outside the door, his head bowed under a hood. His clothing so dark, it was like seeing a shadow within a shadow, ink black on black. But the hunched slim figure was vaguely familiar, and I felt sure it to be the man I had seen earlier that morning.
Lightning flashed, and I glimpsed his ghastly sallow face. Thunder rumbled, as rain lashed his cheeks, and he held a hand over his eyes to shield them.
When our eyes met, he gave me a curt nod, and took a small step back from the door. His long arms hung loosely in front of him, and he crossed his hands, dutifully waiting for me to unlatch the door.
Hesitantly, I opened the door a crack. The wind and rain were fierce, and I had to hold the door to keep it from flying back and hitting me in the face. The light from the candles flickered sideways.
“Hello? Are you Ed? What are you doing out in this weather?” I asked, yelling into the wind, looking behind him trying to discern his car or other vehicle.
He smiled through thin apologetic lips. In a cracked voice, he said in a thick Scottish burr, “Aye, madam. Edward. My apologies. Terrible storm, it is.”
Relieved, I still was confused. “Did Hilary call you? Is something wrong? She said you might be stopping by but not until tomorrow.”
“Aye. The mare is a skittish girl. And tricky, too. The storm unsettles her, and she got loosed. I found her running wild down yonder in the east pasture like the devil himself was after her.”
Although I could not imagine how the horse escaped the stall, much less the barred doors of the barn, I took Edward at his word. Given the general dilapidation of the estate, I did not think this was particularly out of the ordinary.
A gust of wind knocked me back, and the candle light guttered wildly. It was after midnight, and I still was uncertain why Ed had knocked on the door to notify me.
“Is she all right? The mare?” I asked, regaining my composure.
“Aye, she’ll be fine. No worse for the wear. It’s happened before.”
We stood there a moment, increasingly feeling guilty for making Ed stand out in the wind and rain. The open door was letting in the wind and rain but I was still aware of my vulnerability and precariousness of chatting with a stranger in the middle of the night. I expected him to turn around and leave, but he seemed hesitant and I had the sense he wanted to ask me something.
“Well, that’s good,” I said, nodding, still uneasy. “Is there something else?”
“Sorry to bother you, but if I could trouble you to let me weather it out inside until daylight, I would be much obliged,” he said, gesturing behind me to the low wooden bench. “The footbridge is washed out, and it would be dangerous to go by the main road.”
Lightning flashed followed by a loud thunderclap. Edward’s narrow frame shuddered and the rain poured so, his skin seemed to be draining off his face. He was older and more wizened than he first appeared. “Did you come on foot?” I asked, somewhat incredulously, wondering where he lived.
“Aye, madame. I did,” he said. “I live across the boggy meadows, just past those trees.” He pointed a grizzled bare finger in the vague direction over his left shoulder. “Came along the footpath. ‘Tis quicker.”
A tough ol’ bird, I thought. Despite my hesitation, I felt mean-spirited and somewhat foolish. This was Hilary and Carey’s farmhand, after all. I did not think I should ask him to weather the storm out in the barn like livestock. At the time, I had not thought to ask how he arrived if the footbridge was washed out.
“Of course, you must be cold and soaking wet.” I opened the door wider and stepped aside. A gust of wind rose and the garbage bins clattered across the courtyard.
“Much obliged, madame,” he said, bowing his head. Water poured from his rain hood and pooled on the bricked floor.
“It’s Caroline,” I said.
“Well, Caroline, I am grateful to ye, I am.” He stamped the thick soles of his boots, as if trying to tamp the numbness from his feet.
I closed and latched the door behind him, and when I turned around, he stood expectantly, and held his hood in front of him clasped in both hands. His overcoat and trousers were so black, they seemed to absorb the light. The coat hung limply, dripping from the hem onto his boots, which were scuffed and muddied. A thick shock of white hair clung to his head and dripped mercilessly onto his shoulders.
Sopping wet and shivering, he was a pitiful sight.
A fusty smell of decay filled the vestibule, and even in the dim candlelight I must have disguised my revulsion poorly.
Edward chuckled. An unsettling, gurgling noise. “Not used to the smell of horses and the outdoors, are ye, eh?” He said frankly, easing himself down onto the bench. He undid his coat with shaky fingers, and set about wrestling his boots and socks off. His eyes caught the flickering light of the candles, and for a moment gleamed red.
“No, I… sorry. Where are my manners? Let me get you a towel to dry off.”
Embarrassed, my initial reluctance to shelter a stranger seemed needless and almost irresponsible. Edward was older and more frail than my initial impression. I was humbled to think I considered leaving him out in the storm.
He nodded, leaning back on the bench with a sigh. I could feel his eyes follow me as I scurried into the kitchen to grab a fresh towel atop the dryer.
“I’d offer a cup of hot tea, but the power is out, I’m afraid,” I said, uncertain what else I could do for him.
Another gust of wind whipped rain against the windows, and the candle flames suddenly dimmed in the draft.
Edward took the towel, dabbing his face with trembling hands. I had to resist the urge to dry him off like some wet dog.
“I’ll be alright. You don’t need to fuss over me,” he said, seemingly amused at my discomfort.
He dropped the wet towel next to his muddy boots, and it puddled into a heap on the floor. He folded his arms on top of his chest, and stretched out his bare feet, crossing them at the ankles. “At first light, I’ll be on my way.”
I waffled uncertainly at the threshold. My plan had been to close and bolt the double doors from the kitchen, leaving Ed to wait out the night on the bench. But now, to shut the doors on the old man seemed unnecessary, unfriendly at the very least.
Edward leaned his head back and peered intently at me under heavy-lidded eyes as if he suspected my quandary.
A damp chill pervaded the house, and I mumbled that I would be back to check on him soon. After a moment’s hesitation, I left the doors open to the kitchen, and I made my way gingerly through the house into the drawing room, careful not catch my crutches on the throw rugs or uneven wood planks. There was but one glowing ember left, so I threw kindling and two pieces of choice oak into the fire, stoking them heartily.
Remembering Edward’s bare feet, I grabbed several throws from the back of the couch. When I reached the kitchen, the overhead lights suddenly came on, almost blinding me. I must have been more anxious than I let on, because I could have whooped for joy.
“Oh, good! The power is back on. What a relief!” I exclaimed.
When I looked toward the vestibule, I was taken back by the sight of Edward. His face was slack, and so pale, it almost glowed. And when I looked at his bare feet, they were almost blue. In the dim light of the candles, I must have completely underestimated the dire state he was in.
“Ed!” I exclaimed. “You look absolutely done in. Come with me, let’s get you to the drawing room next to the fire.”
He opened his eyes, roused at the sound of my voice. “Eh? What’s that?”
“Come. You need to warm up. I won’t take no for an answer,” I said, and hobbled next to him, laying a hand on his shoulder, shaking him. The cloth of his overshirt was damp and was so cold, I instinctively withdrew my hand. At this point, I was truly worried he was suffering from hypothermia and could have kicked myself for being so stubborn and selfish.
Edward rose slowly from the bench, his wretched dripping frame unfolding like a jig doll. “Aye, a warm fire does sound nice. And maybe some hot tea to warm these old bones.”
I led him to the fire, and gestured to the leathered wingback. I wrapped a throw around his feet and shoulders, color already returning to his cheeks. I stoked the fire once more and placed another, larger oak log on top.
I excused myself and returned to the kitchen to heat water in the kettle. I took the opportunity to get his heavy overcoat and stockings from the bench, heavy with stench and water. I stuffed them inside the dryer and added a few sheets of softener to help freshen the scent, although they needed a thorough dry cleaning. I scaped the mud off his boots and wiped the outside with a damp cloth, as best I could.
By the time I returned to the sitting room with a tray of tea and a pack of Digestives teetering precariously on one forearm, my ankle was aching and I hopped to the armchair on one crutch. Edward was sitting up straight and took the tray from my arms, whisking it expertly onto the small table between us. He rubbed his hands together at the sight of the tea and cookies.
“You outdid yourself,” he said, but he had a gleam in his eye and I detected a note of playfulness in his voice.
“You’ve perked up quickly,” I said, relieved to see a healthy color in his cheeks, and concluded he was out of immediate danger. “I wiped your boots down, and put your coat and socks in the dryer. It will at least wring most of the water out.”
“Aye, thank you kindly. You remind me of Bess, you know,” he said with a faraway look in his eyes.
“Who was she?” I asked. I had heard stories of various families and other people of bygone years linked to Lanark Manor, but the name Bess was unfamiliar.
“She was the caretaker here many years ago. Took care of me, she did. A real peach, that Bess,” he said, dunking his Digestive into his cup of steaming tea.
By the way he spoke, I intuited there had been more to their relationship. “Was she your sweetheart?”
Edward shrugged, staring into the fire. “Aye, I wanted her to be, I did. She stole from me,” he said, tapping his chest over his heart.
“What happened?” I asked, touched by his sincerity.
“She wouldn’t come with me. That’s what,” he said wistfully, his cup rattling in the saucer.
“Marry you, you mean?” I asked, first intuiting this as a local colloquialism.
Edward gave me a knowing look, but did not answer. And warmed by the fire and hot tea, we gradually slipped into conversation about the area, and eventually books and poetry. I grew accustomed to his stilted speech and extravagant brogue, and he impressed me as knowledgeable and amiable. He spoke no more of Bess and I did not ask.
The wind and rain continued to batter the roof and windows, but chatting next to a warm crackling fire, I felt unusually safe and content. The next few hours passed like a strange dream, and any lingering reservations left me entirely.
I woke stiff and cold, sun streaming in through the windows. Clouds scurried across a blue autumn sky, sending wavery shadows dancing across the room. The air was frigid, the fire was cold, nothing but a heap of white-gray ash in the grate.
I remembered Edward with a start, but the wingback was empty. The only evidence of his visit was a dark patch of water pooled on the hearth and a lingering moldering smell.
“Hello?” I called, and hobbled jerkily on my crutches into the kitchen. “Edward?”
The double doors leading from the kitchen into the vestibule were open, but the backdoor was closed. Edwards boots were nowhere to be seen, and his coat and socks gone from the dryer.
True to his word, he must have slipped out at first light.
I was surprised that I had slept through the noise of his leaving, but more surprised at the pang of disappointment. I had wound up enjoying Edward’s company, as unexpected and peculiar as the circumstances had been. It had been a long time since I enjoyed companionship with someone. Edward was much too old for me, but there had been a connection, nonetheless. One I cannot quite explain except to say he felt like an old friend. And I found myself hoping I would run into him again before I left.
Later, I called Chris to drive me to Biggar so I could pick up a few grocery items and more Paracetamol. Yesterday’s activities, especially all the hobbling back and forth worrying over Edward had strained my ankle. I tossed my crutches in the back seat, and heaved myself into the front of his cab with an umph.
Last night’s rain had flushed the air and the hills across the valley formed a distinct blue-brown ridge against a glaring blue sky. There was still a chill in the air, but the sun felt warm on my face. Chris and I commiserated about the ferocity of last night’s storm and I soon was telling him about Edward’s visit.
“You did what?” Chris asked, incredulously. He swerved, narrowly avoiding a small herd of sheep. “Bloody hell,” he muttered.