Author Essay

WHERE I LIKE TO WRITE

Sarah Rayne

In the car, on the hoof, in the boardroom – for years I lived a double life, working in the world of property-selling by day, writing books by night.

It meant that when most people were heading for the TV or a wine bar after a day’s work, I was pounding an elderly typewriter on the end of the dining table, with Mozart on the stereo and a framed photograph of a Victorian actor-manager called Sir John Martin Harvey in direct sightline on the wall – one of those soulful young men with black hair that needs cutting and an alluring line in dishevelled Edwardian evening dress. (Think Laurence Llewelyn Bowen after a night on the tiles). Over the years Sir John has assumed quite a number of incarnations in my books, in fact my brother always has to identify him in the cast of characters as a sort of compass point of reference. It gives him his bearings, he says, and then he can relax and read on.

Anyway, what with writing books, and what with Sir John and Mozart, I used to arrive at the office each morning, pink-eyed from lack of sleep, consequently earning a (wholly undeserved) reputation for leading a rather colourful private life. The writing, you see, was something I kept firmly in the dark. For one thing, the Chairman required complete allegiance from his employees, to an almost Faustian degree. (“Here’s your contract of employment, my dear, you’ll see that Clause Two forbids you to have a life outside the company, not that you’ll have time for one anyway…”)

And for another thing, it’s not easy to win clients’ confidence – or inspect their woodworm – if they know you spend your evenings raising the undead or wreaking vengeance on vampires. (This was my dark horror period, you understand).

Then I discovered I could actually write quite an amount during the normal course of a conventional working day. If I was asked by a client to find a house of “around the 13th century, with ten bedrooms, five reception, an inglenook where Lady Hamilton was seduced, an oak tree where Charles 11 hid from Cromwell, and a master bedroom where Elizabeth 1 and William Shakespeare slept, (although not necessarily together),” it sparked off an historical saga. If somebody’s great-uncle flashed at me when I was inspecting the downstairs loo, there was a sub-plot for a steamy bodice-ripper.

I used to dive back into the car and record the ideas on a small dictaphone before I forgot them. It’s my belief that many a good plot has been lost because the author fell asleep/reached the check-out in the supermarket/had to drive on when the traffic lights turned green. So I always keep a dictaphone to hand. If nothing else it makes for a rather outré accessory and you can always stick a Louis Vuitton label on it.

After a while I mastered the art of keeping these tapes separate from the official ones describing three bed semis or desirable building plots, although there may have been one or two that slipped through the net.

But actually, during those years I suspect I could have written the best fiction of all in the boardroom. A surprising amount of work can be done while the finance director’s presenting the quarterly reports: whole chapters can be re-sequenced between one set of extrapolated figures and the next, and during the Chairman’s summing-up any notes made on how the current murderer gets away with the third killing, can appear to be diligent, if sycophantic, aides-mémoire, immortalising the old boy’s pearls of wisdom.

In fact, there’s a strange feeling of what I can only call connection in writing the old-fashioned way – pen to paper. As if the contact with the page and the words on it creates a link between the mind and the story. Characters fashioned in biro.

But clearly the double life couldn’t go on indefinitely. I was beginning to feel the strain, and by that time the books were becoming more widely read. Deadlines had to be met. Also, (this was more important), the dining table was starting to show signs of giving up the ghost. Entertaining was quite difficult, since it was necessary for guests to burrow under piles of heavily annotated manuscript in order to find the pepper mill when they came to dinner. To compound the felony, the typewriter, with the rebellious abandon of old age, developed an amiable habit of creating a fantasy world of its own by switching, unprompted, to its in-built foreign print wheel, so that at the end of a chapter I found I had typed six pages in Cyrillic script without realising it.

So I stole furtively into the nearest office suppliers to make polite enquiries about the purchase of a new machine, only to be greeted with hilarity. Nobody used typewriters any longer, it seemed. Everyone used word processors. Indeed, said the (extremely young) salesman, speaking in the indulgent tone of one contemplating a lost culture, he did not really know where a typewriter might be bought any longer.

I stomped crossly along the street and into a large electrical shop with an exuberant line in advertising, and ended in contributing to Sir Alan Sugar’s empire by investing in one of his ‘idiot-proof’ computers. You remember them, perhaps? An all-in-one machine, quite reasonably priced, with a black and white monitor, a neat little keyboard and a clattery printer. It was a good move, (thank you, Sir Alan, may your shadow never grow bulkier or your apprentices deceive you), although when the machine was unpacked and spread out it looked as if I would have to buy a new dining table of the size known to the furniture retail trade as ‘small banquet’. Eventually, though, the printer was housed in the kitchen, which made for a perfectly acceptable arrangement as long as people remembered the cable was there and didn’t trip over it on the way to the washing machine. Entertaining at that period, dwindled to buffet suppers, served from the kitchen.

The redundancy, when it came in the ‘bust’ part of the ‘boom and bust’ era, was rather a relief. No more furtively scribbled plots on the back of budget reports. No more listening with rapt attention to the saga of a client’s battle against dry rot, or how the floor joists collapsed under granny on Christmas Eve, and at the same time trying to work out how the hero was going to escape from the arch-villain in Chapter Five. No more discussing how best to market an over-priced decaying Victorian mansion, with rising damp, a leaking roof, and the plans for a four-lane motorway through the back garden, while simultaneously wondering if five murders in two chapters was overdoing it. (I should say here, that I love houses – all houses. I love their memories and their histories and their atmospheres and their quirks. I just couldn’t cope any longer with selling them by day and writing books by night).

On the first day of self-employment, I toured the flat to see if there were any unused corners I had overlooked – somewhere that might be turned into a real study. The attic seemed a good possibility and conjured up pleasing images of romantic eighteenth century poets starving in garrets. I was all set to buy a skull as a paperweight when a practical-minded friend pointed out that at its highest point the attic was exactly four and a half feet deep. He was right; I went up there and measured. I would, he said kindly, have to work lying down, or in one of those peculiar and painful positions reminiscent of medieval torture cages. And had I given any thought to the lack of electricity up there? Well, no, I had not.

So, all right, the attic was a wash-out. How about re-vamping the airing cupboard. It’s a surprisingly large and deep airing cupboard in my flat and the re-siting of the water tanks was surely a mere triviality. They could go somewhere else – the attic, perhaps? I was quite keen on this idea, which might even provide a bit of offbeat publicity. ‘This is the author who writes her books in the airing cupboard.’ But then the thought of all the pipes that would have to remain in there, chugging and glugging away to themselves, was too sinister to contemplate. Also, an extremely large spider had been sighted in a corner of the airing cupboard last summer and never been successfully routed. I am the original spider-phobic and I would spend most of the working day looking nervously into corners. So the airing cupboard was a wash-out as well.

How about a corner of a bedroom? It would not be as romantic as a garret or as pleasantly eccentric as an airing cupboard, but it looked like a much better prospect. More comfortable and with electricity. And it was actually a very big corner indeed. With a lick of paint and the transferring of some bookshelves from the sitting room it might work rather well. The discarding of one or two wardrobes was of no account – people have too many clothes anyway. I bought a second stereo so that Mozart could be played, and knocked a few nails in the wall for Sir John to be within nodding distance. I even tracked down a couple more prints of him so he could be put on both sides of the computer. Stereophonic, so to speak. (In one photo, he’s portraying the all-time romantic anti-hero, Sydney Carton, in his own stage version of A Tale of Two Cities.)

But the real prize was when the same practical-minded friend who had vetoed the attic project, built a desk – actually a proper mahogany working desk, beautifully designed, deep enough to sprawl across during the agonies of Chapter Four block, and wide enough to strew floppy disks – later CDs and flash-drives – around. There are tailor-made slots for the computer tower and the printer, an inset green leather area which looks very posh indeed, (at least it did until red wine got spilt on it), and natty little drawers for pens and paper clips. He even had a little plaque made with the date and my name on it.

The Amstrad computer has long since been replaced, of course, and the dining table has been reclaimed for its proper purpose. People can come to dinner again without finding paper clips in the pudding or notes for Chapter Ten in the napkins.

The desk itself is strong enough to last for a couple of lifetimes and sturdy enough on which to write War and Peace ten times over. If I look to my left there’s a view of trees and fields through the window, and around dusk an owl emerges from the foliage of a large oak, surveys its realm in lordly fashion for a few moments, then silently glides across the sky. Lovely.

Best of all, I still have those twin inspirations at hand: Mozart on the stereo and Sir John Martin Harvey on the wall.

Sarah Rayne © 2007
THE MASQUERADE

Sarah Rayne

I seldom attend parties unless I think they might be of use in my career, so it was all the more remarkable to find myself attending this one. This is not due to shyness, you understand, nor to a lack of self-confidence – I value myself and my attainments rather highly. But I have always shunned larger gatherings – the chattering, lovely-to-see-you, how-are-you-my-dear, type of event. Loud music, brittle conversation, ladies air-kissing one another and then shredding each other’s reputations in corners. Not for me. My wife, however, has always enjoyed all and any parties with shrieking glee, telling people I am an old sobersides, and saying with a laugh that she makes up for my quietness.

But here I was, approaching the door of this house whose owners I did not know, and whose reasons for giving this party I could not, for the moment, recall.

It was rather a grand-looking house – there was an air of quiet elegance about it which pleased me. One is not a snob, but there are certain standards. I admit that my own house, bought a few years ago, is – well – modest, but I named it ‘Lodge House’ which I always felt conveyed an air of subdued grandeur. The edge of a former baronial estate, perhaps? That kind of thing, anyway. My wife, of course, never saw the point, and insisted on telling people that it was Number 78, halfway down the street, with a tube station just round the corner. I promise you, many is the time I have winced on hearing her say that.

This house did not appear to have a name or a number, or to need one. There was even a doorman who beckoned me in; he seemed so delighted to see me I felt it would be discourteous to retreat.

‘Dear me,’ I said, pausing on the threshold. I do not swear, and I do not approve of the modern habit of swearing, with teenagers effing and blinding as if it were a nervous tic, and even television programme-makers not deeming it necessary to use the censoring bleep. So I said, ‘Dear me, I hadn’t realised this was a fancy-dress party. I am not really dressed for it—’ You might think, you who read this, that someone could have mentioned that aspect to me, but no one had.

‘Oh, the costume isn’t important,’ said the doorman at once. ‘People come as they are. You’ll do very nicely.’

He was right, of course. Dressed as I was, I should have done very nicely anywhere. I am fastidious about my appearance although my wife says I am pernickety. Downright vain, she says: everyone laughs at you for your old-fashioned finicking. I was wearing evening clothes – one of the modern dress shirts the young men affect, with one of those narrow bow ties that give a rather 1920s look, and I was pleased with my appearance. Even the slightly thin patch on the top of my head would not be noticeable in this light.

Once inside, the house was far bigger than I had realised; huge rooms opened one out of another and the concept put me in mind of something, although I could not quite pin down the memory. Some literary allusion, perhaps? It would be nice to think I had some arcane poet or philosopher in mind, but actually I believe I was thinking of Dr Who’s Tardis. (Pretentious, that’s what you are, my wife always says. We all have a good laugh at your pretensions behind your back.)

There were drinks and a buffet, all excellent, and the service— Well! You have perhaps been to those exclusive, expensive restaurants in your time? Or to one of the palatial gentlemen’s clubs that can still be found in London if one knows where to look? Then you will have encountered that discreet deference. Food seemed almost to materialise at one’s hand. I was given a glass of wine and a plate of smoked salmon sandwiches straight away and I retired with them to a corner, in order to observe the guests, hoping to see someone I knew.

The term ‘fancy-dress’ was not quite accurate after all, although a more bizarre collection of outfits would be hard to find anywhere. There was every imaginable garb, and every creed, colour, race, ethnic mix – every walk of society, every profession and calling. Try as I might I could see no familiar faces, and this may have been why, at that stage, I was diffident about approaching anyone. It was not due to my inherent reticence, you understand: in the right surroundings I can be as convivial as the next man. This was more a feeling of exclusion. In the end, I moved to a bay window to observe, and to drink my wine – it was a vintage I should not have minded having in my own cellars. Well, I say cellars, but actually it’s an under-stairs cupboard containing several wine-racks bought at our local DIY centre. It is not necessary to tell people this, however, and I always remonstrated with my wife when she did.

By an odd coincidence, the wine seemed to be the one I had poured for my wife quite recently, although I have to say good wine was always a bit of a waste on her because she never had any discrimination; she enjoys sugary pink concoctions with paper umbrellas and frosted rims to the glass. Actually, she once even attended some sort of all-female party dressed as a Piña Colada: the memory of that still makes me shudder and I shall refrain from describing the outfit. (But I found out afterwards that Piña Colada translates, near enough, as strained pineapple, which seems to me very appropriate.)

But on that evening we had been preparing to depart for my office Christmas dinner, so I was hoping there would be no jazzily-coloured skirts or ridiculous head-dresses. It’s a black tie affair, the office Christmas dinner, but when my wife came downstairs I was sorry to see that although she was more or less conventionally dressed, her outfit was cut extremely low and showed up the extra pounds she had accumulated. To be truthful, I would have preferred to go to the dinner without her, because she would drink too much and then flaunt herself at my colleagues all evening; they would leer and nudge one another and I should be curdled with anger and embarrassment. Those of you who have never actually walked through a big office and heard people whispering, ‘He’s the one with the slutty wife,’ can have no idea of the humiliation I have suffered. I remember attending a small cocktail party for the celebration of a colleague’s retirement. Forty-three years he had been with the firm and I had been asked to make the presentation. A silver serving dish had been bought for him – I had chosen it myself and it was really a very nice thing indeed and a change from the usual clock. I had written a few words, touching on the man’s long and honourable service, drawing subtle attention to my own involvement in his department.

You will perhaps understand my feelings when, on reaching the hotel, my wife removed her coat to display a scarlet dress that made her look – this is no exaggeration – like a Piccadilly tart. I was mortified, but there was nothing to be done other than make the best of things.

After my speech, I lost sight of her for a couple of hours, and when I next saw her, she was fawning (there is no other word for it), on the Chairman, her eyes glazed, her conversation gin-slurred. When she thanked him for the hospitality she had to make three attempts to pronounce the word, and by way of finale she recounted to four of the directors a joke in which the words cock and tail figured as part of the punch line.

The really infuriating thing is that until that night I had known – absolutely and surely known! – that I was in line to step up into the shoes of my retiring colleague. I had been passed over quite a number of times in the past, (I make this statement without the least shred of resentment, but people in offices can be very manipulative and the place was as full of intrigue as a Tudor court), but this time the word had definitely gone out that I was in line for his job. Departmental head, no less!

And what happened? After my wife’s shameless display at the retirement cocktail party they announced the vacancy was to be given to a jumped-up young upstart, a pipsqueak of a boy barely out of his twenties! I think I am entitled to have been upset about it. I think anyone would have been upset. Upset, did I say? Dammit, I was wracked with fury and a black and bitter bile scalded through my entire body. I thought – you lost that promotion for me, you bitch, but one day, my fine madam, one day…

Nevertheless, I still looked forward to that year’s Christmas party. I had always counted the evening as something of a special event, so before we left, I poured two glasses of the claret I kept for our modest festivities, setting hers down on the low table by her chair. She did not drink it at once – that was unusual in itself and it should have alerted me, but it did not. I remember she got up to find my woollen scarf at my request, and then, having brought it for me, asked me to go upstairs for her evening bag. She knows I hate entering her over-scented, pink-flounced bedroom, but she sometimes tries to tempt me into it. I have learned to foil her over the years: the room makes my skin crawl and her physical importunities on those occasions make me feel positively ill. It was not always so, you understand. I fancy I have been as gallant as any man in my time.

So, the evening bag collected as hastily as possible, I sat down with my wine although it was not as good as it should be. There was a slight bitter taste – it reminded me of the almond icing on the Christmas cake in its tin – and I remember thinking I must certainly complain to the wine shop. I set down the glass, and then there was confusion – a dreadful wrenching pain and the feeling of plummeting down in a fast-moving lift… Bright lights and a long tunnel…

And then, you see, I found myself here, outside the big elegant mansion with the doorman inviting me in…

It was instantly obvious what had happened. The sly bitch had switched the glasses while I was getting her evening bag. She realised what I was doing – perhaps she saw me stir the prussic acid into her glass while she pretended to find my scarf, or perhaps she had simply decided to be rid of me anyway. But whichever it was, I drank from her glass and I died instead. The cheating, double-faced vixen actually killed me!

It seems this house is some sort of judgement place, for the doorman came back into the room a few moments ago and said, ‘Murderers’ judgements,’ very loudly, exactly as if he was the lift-man at a department store saying, ‘Ladies’ underwear’.

Are these oddly-assorted people all murderers then? That saintly-looking old gentleman in the good suit, that kitten-faced girl who might have posed for a pre-Raphaelite painting? That middle-aged female who looks as if she would not have an interest beyond baking and knitting patterns…?

Having listened to fragments of their talk, I fear they are.

‘…and, do you know, if it had not been for the wretched office junior coming in at just that moment, I would have got away with it… But the stupid girl must go screaming off to Mr Bunstable in Accounts, and I ended in being convicted on the evidence of a seventeen-year-old child and the bought-ledger clerk… Twenty years I was given…’

‘Twenty years is nothing, old chap. I got Life – and that was in the days when Life meant Life…’

‘…entirely the auditor’s own fault to my way of thinking – if he hadn’t pried into that very small discrepancy in the clients’ account, I shouldn’t have needed to put the rat poison in his afternoon tea to shut him up…’

‘…I always made it a rule to use good old-fashioned Lysol or Jeyes’ Fluid to get all the blood off the knitting needle and they never got me, never even suspected… But that man over there by the door, he very stupidly cut costs: a cheap, supermarket-brand cleaner was what he used, and of course it simply wasn’t thorough enough and he ended his days in Wandsworth…’

‘…my dear, you should never have used your own kitchen knife, they were bound to trace it back to you... An axe, that’s what I always used, on the premise that you can put the killing down to a passing homicidal maniac – what? Oh, nonsense, there’s always a homicidal maniac somewhere – I’ve counted six of them here tonight as it happens – matter of fact I’ve just had a glass of wine with a couple of them… Charming fellows…’

Well, whatever they may be, these people, charming or not, I’m not one of them. I’m not a murderer. This is all a colossal mistake, and I have absolutely no business being here because I did not kill my wife. I suppose a purist might argue that I had the intention to kill her, but as far as I know, no one has yet been punished for that, although I believe the Roman Catholic Church regards the intention as almost tantamount to the actual deed—

And that’s another grievance! I may not actually have attended church service absolutely every Sunday, but I never missed Easter or Christmas. As a matter of fact, I rather enjoy the music one gets in a church. (Once I said this to my wife – hoping it might promote an interesting discussion, you know – but she only shrieked with laughter, asked if I was taking to religion, and recounted a coarse story about a vicar.)

But I have been a lifelong member of the Church of England and I should have thought as such I would have been taken to a more select division. However, there may be chance to point this out later. Presumably there will be some kind of overseer here.

It’s unfortunate that for the moment I seem to be shut up with these people – with whom I have absolutely nothing in common. And all the while that bitch is alive in the world, flaunting her body, drinking sickly pink rubbish from champagne flutes. Taking lovers by the dozen, I shouldn’t wonder, and living high on the hog from the insurance policies… Yes, that last one’s a very painful thorn in the flesh, although I hadn’t better use that expression when they come to talk to me, since any mention of thorns in the flesh may be considered something of a bêtise here. They’ll have long memories, I daresay.

But I shall explain it all presently, of course. There’s bound to be some kind of procedure for mistakes. I shall stand no nonsense from anyone, either. I did not kill my wife, and I’m damned if I’m going to be branded as a murderer.

I’m damned if I am…

© 2007 Sarah Rayne
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY

Sarah Rayne



Messrs Cranston & Maltravers, Auctioneers of Fine Arts and Furniture, (est.1922), apologise for the somewhat unconventional provenance of Lot No 521 – the eighteenth-century long-case clock by Crutchley’s of Shropshire. (Mahogany inlaid with rosewood, made in 1860). In view of the eventual fate of Brooke Crutchley, last of the clock-making family, it is expected that this piece will realise an extremely high price which is reflected in the reserve.

However, it is felt that prospective bidders will wish to be aware of the particularly unusual history of this piece, and the relevant documents have been annotated and arranged in chronological order. Please note that the hand-written diaries are, of course, photo-copies and not originals – the originals can be viewed by special arrangement.

Details of Lot No 521 can also be viewed on our website, and telephone bids are accepted in accordance with our normal terms of business.



*



April 1860

I never expected to become entangled quite so violently with a lady. But anyone reading these pages may be familiar with that sudden lightning-sizzle of emotion that sears through your mind so that you are quite unable to think of anything else.

I must qualify that statement, because for some of the time I have certainly managed to think of other things, although that may be because I must. The poets talk about counting the world well lost for love which I daresay is all very well for poets who seem able to live on about half of nothing and appear to have no responsibilities, and think nothing of starving in garrets where they usually end up with a galloping consumption. I see no benefit in any of that, and certainly not in wasting away for love’s sake. I enjoy my food and think of myself as a robust figure of a man with a healthy appetite. (Only the unkindly-disposed would call me portly). Nor do I have any family responsibilities, (I do not count the distant cousin living in Staffordshire), but there are other responsibilities in life and mine are towards my customers who rely upon me. Clock-making is a very precise craft, and my father would have been proud of the way I had carried on the business I had inherited. ‘Brooke, my boy,’ he would have said, ‘you can be proud of what you have achieved,’ although he would have added, ‘not too proud, mind.’ He was strict on self-pride and the vanities, my father.

‘You need a son to carry on the business,’ he would have said. ‘A good steady boy who can continue Crutchley’s Clock-Makers. So take a wife, Brooke, and get a son and remember it’s better to marry than to burn.’

And I would certainly have taken a wife, if that stubborn, prideful bitch would have accorded me a second look!

Elizabeth Marston. The simple act writing the name on this page sends a spike of such fierce longing through me that—

But perhaps we shouldn’t go into that. Instead I’ll record that she’s daughter of the Honourable Edward Marston of Marston House. They’re landed gentry, the Marstons, padded against the world’s chills by old money, and there’s even said to be some kind of Court connection, although personally I’ve always doubted that.

And so what with their money and their land and their fabled link to Saxe-Coburg, no matter how much I might yearn for Elizabeth – and yearn I have done – no artisan clockmaker could aspire to such a marriage.

I did not exactly aspire, but I hoped. I hoped for many years and I wove dreams in which I rescued Elizabeth from assorted dangers, or in which I became heir to fabulous fortunes and titles making me an acceptable suitor. I know it’s absurd and even pitiful to recount a portly clock-maker visualising himself braving burning buildings or runaway carriages, but I did.

Today those dreams and hopes have died. They died between the eggs and bacon and the morning post, and they have died on a Spring morning, with the birds gossiping in the trees and the meadows just becoming spangled with yellow and gold.

There it was in my newspaper, in black hateful print. And here I am sitting at my little dining table, with my breakfast congealing on my plate.



“The betrothal has been announced between William Lee, second son of

Sir James and Lady Lee of Shropshire, and Elizabeth Alexandra Marston,

only daughter of the Honourable Edward Marston of Marston House.

The marriage will take place in June.”



I’ve cut it out, that detestable oblong of print, and pasted it into this diary. Every time I read it the words burn a little deeper into my soul.

William Lee. Thin, pale, a scholar’s stoop and a librarian’s arid soul. How much say did they give Elizabeth over the match, I wonder?

They never tell you, those poets and those lovers, that hatred and agony can take on solid substance on a green and gold Spring morning, or that it can smell of newly-fried bacon and eggs.



June 1860

The marriage has indeed taken place. I was not invited, of course – I daresay neither the aristocratic Marstons nor the patrician Lees are even aware of my existence, and if they were, they would hardly include a common clock-maker in the guests.

I was there, though, watching the ceremony from behind a pillar in the church. While they signed the register I slipped out through the chancel door, and stood in the concealment of the yew tree until they came out.

I don’t care for that Paul Pry image of myself, but it’s what I did. I stood there, in the baking heat of the afternoon, and I saw those two – my Elizabeth and that man – come out through the church doors, with bells ringing and choirs caterwauling and everyone laughing and throwing rice and rose petals, and my stomach rebelled and I had to turn away to be sick behind a wall, because I could not bear it – I simply could not bear seeing them together. Mr and Mrs William Lee. He’ll go to her bed with a book of sonnets or some metaphysical poet’s works, and I wouldn’t put it past him to forget to remove his spectacles from his nose when he turns back the sheets…

I think it was then, straightening up from the spasms of sickness, wiping my mouth on my handkerchief, that the black hating madness entered my heart.



September 1860

The arrogance of it! The sheer thick-skinned insensitivity of that stoop-shouldered, droop-necked bookworm! Here is the letter he has written me.

Charect House



‘Dear Mr Crutchley

You are recommended to me as a clock-maker of some repute…’



Repute, he calls it! I am quite simply the finest clock-maker he will ever find!



‘…and I should therefore like to commission a long-case clock from your

workshop. It is to be a gift for my wife at Christmas. Please call upon me

on Friday of this week at mid-day to discuss your terms.

Yours very sincerely

W. S. Lee Esq.’



It’s gall and wormwood to me to be summoned to Charect House as if I were no more than a common tradesman, but I shall go, of course, and he will find that my terms are very high indeed. (Will she be there when we talk? Shall I be able to stop myself from staring at her like a moonstruck idiot…?)

They say, in the village, that Charect House was named for the old word meaning charm or protection. I hope it does him some good, W.S. Lee Esq. while he grubs and scratches among his books in the coming months.



Later

I am glad to report that I did not like William Lee one jot! He is as dry and as arid as his books, and I hope he withers and desiccates like the old parchment of their covers.

(Yes, but he is in bed every night with her…)

She was not present at our meeting which was in the library – rows and rows of books, and he told me he likes to sit there of an evening. Does she sit with him?

When he showed me out, (through a side door, mark you!) I glimpsed a maid setting a table for luncheon in a room off the main hall, clearly waiting until the clock-maker, the tradesman, had left.





It is one o’clock now, and they will be seated at that table, William Lee and my Elizabeth, and perhaps he will say to her that he has commissioned a clock as her Christmas gift, and perhaps he will add, ‘Polite man, Brooke Crutchley, I daresay he will do a good job. Pass the potatoes, please, my dear.’ And perhaps she will say, ‘I believe the Crutchley name is well regarded locally,’ and pass him the potatoes and inquire if he wants mustard on his ham.

I am very glad indeed that I insisted on a price of 150gns for the clock!



12th September 1860

Lee has approved my design, which is for a moon-phase clock, with the face of the moon in its own secondary arch-dial above the main dial. It’s an intricate job, fashioning that part of the workings and ensuring the moon’s silhouette really does move round to echo the moon’s phases, but I have done it before and I shall do it now. I will use blue enamel for the moon and brass for the figuring.

For the rest, there’s a bell strike on the hour and an 8-day mechanism. The case for the pendulum I shall make from mahogany, inlaid with rosewood and with a gimp of ebony.



30th September 1860

It’s a curious thing, but as I plane and smooth the mahogany, (it’s like silk, this piece of mahogany, and it’s the colour of her hair, rich and glossy and dark), I have the increasing feeling of being watched. People do wander into my workshop quite often, but when I turn to look there is never anyone to be seen.

This evening, while I was choosing the ebony for the edging of the clock’s door, I swear I felt something lean over my shoulder as if to look more closely at what I was doing: there was a whiff of foetid breath and the impression of a bony finger digging into my neck.

It’s all fancy of course, and I daresay the cheese I had for supper is to blame. It’s well known that roasted cheese can upset the digestion.

But I can’t get rid of the notion that this burning hatred I have for William Lee is somehow taking on substance. And isn’t there an old saying about hatred being one of the devil’s favourite guises?

I have just re-read that last sentence and I know it sounds like the ravings of a disordered mind. But there is something in my workshop that wasn’t there before, and whatever it is I don’t like it.

I shall leave a note for Mrs Flagg, telling her on no account to serve cheese with my supper in future.



Sunday

Today I sat three rows behind my Elizabeth in church, and feasted my eyes on the little tendrils escaping from her bonnet and clustering over the nape of her neck. And the whiteness of her neck as it emerges from the collar of her gown… Is she happy with him? Is he good to her? When he bends his head in prayer he looks exactly like a pale-brown vulture. I never before wished a man dead, but by God, I wish this one dead!



10th December 1860

Well, it is finished, and a beautiful piece of work it is. I never made a better clock.

And yet, and yet.

When I look at it I see that something has got into the making that I never intended. Is it the outline of the moon in the arch-dial? Has it a sly leering look as if something has given the serene features I fashioned a vicious tweak? And the pendulum case itself – if I look at it in a certain light, the grain seems to form itself into a writhing human creature. Does it resemble Hogarth’s images of Bedlam, with the poor lunatics trying to escape their bleak prison? Looking out at the world with despair and hatred?

Hatred. That word again.



*



14th December1860



My dear Crutchley

Pray accept my thanks for the mahogany clock which was delivered here yesterday by Carter Paterson. It is a fine piece of work, and will grace our library for many years to come. I shall regard it as an heirloom.

You will find enclosed with this letter a bank draft for your fee.

May I send as well, my best wishes to you for a happy

Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

I am yours very sincerely

W. S Lee Esq.



He may send me all the best wishes he likes; one day there will be a reckoning between us.

I wish that image of him, sapless and bleaching like a dead grasshopper on a too-hot window-ledge, would leave me.

Or do I? If he were dead would she finally turn to me?



*



May 1861

“Mr and Mrs William Lee (née Marston) of Charect House, Shropshire

are delighted to announce the birth of a daughter, Elvira Victoria, on 1st May.”



*



Of course I should have expected that! Or did I believe theirs would be a marriage of convenience, separate rooms, separate beds, separate bodies? Didn’t I know, deep down, that the grasshopper, the juiceless bookworm, would mate with the dragonfly?

Oh, Elizabeth.

The hatred walks through my workshop and my house every night now.







*







The second set of papers relating to Brooke Crutchley’s moon-phase clock, date from the early nineteen thirties. The ink is faded in places but those parts of the text have been enhanced by a professional calligrapher.



7th April 1935

This morning I received an extraordinary letter, from a solicitor in Shropshire.

It seems that a distant cousin, Elvira Lee, has died and in the absence of other descendants, her entire estate comes to me. There is no money to speak of, but there is a house on the Shropshire border – just where it crosses over into Wales. Charect House, it’s called.

I had not realised I was the sole representative of the family, although I can see how that might have come about. There were no children born to my mother’s generation, except me – the war took most of the men, leaving the ladies behind in a welter of jingoism and songs about it being a long way to Tipperary. It’s scaldingly sad that thousands of those men never came back, and that an incredibly large number of the girls never found anyone else to love but clung to fading letters and sepia photographs of heart-breakingly young men.

I didn’t lose a husband or a sweetheart in the war – there were one or two young men I might have become fond of, but somehow it never happened. There are times when it feels somehow incomplete never to have had anyone to lose.

Sentimentality! I have had a busy, useful life so far and it’s not over yet. I am still just what they call the right side of fifty! I daresay I should not have cared for the restrictions of marriage, anyway.

Mother always said Elvira was the family eccentric. Never married, lived alone in the Shropshire house for most of her adult life. ‘Orphaned young,’ I remember mother saying. ‘A tragedy for a child. She was passed around to relatives like a parcel, I believe: six months here, three months there, now let’s send her to those cousins in Norfolk, or great-aunt somebody in Scotland.’

Given that kind of childhood, it’s anybody’s guess what Elvira’s house will be like, but I have arranged to travel to Shropshire next week.





14th April

I’m staying at a nice old inn, and have asked the man at the reception desk for directions to Charect House. He’s been helpful and knowledgeable and even explained that charect is an obsolete word for a charm: a spell set down in writing – literally in characters – to ward off evil. I rather liked this until it occurred to me to wonder how the house has acquired such a name. What evil had to be warded off?

But he says the house is only five minutes’ walk from the main street, and added the obligatory remark. ‘You can’t miss it.’



Later

You certainly can’t miss it. I followed the directions – along the high street, down a side street, take the second left, and there it was.

It oughtn’t to have looked quite so forbidding, but with the scudding night clouds behind it, and its own slightly withdrawn situation from the rest of the village, it was somehow menacing.

Oh dear.

I’ve eaten the Black Boar’s dinner and retired to bed, and on balance I could have done without seeing Cousin Elvira’s legacy in the dark.

When I was fifteen, I sneaked out of the house to the cinema to see a film called The Devil’s Castle (it was early cinema, in fact it was silent cinema, but we all thought it very remarkable). Mother found out, of course. ‘Harriet,’ she said, ‘one day you’ll live to regret your peculiar taste in books and moving pictures.’

Tonight, I have the feeling she may have been right, but I’m sending up a quick prayer that the house will look better by daylight.



15th April

It doesn’t look better. It looks worse.

I collected the keys from the solicitor’s office as arranged, and then I tramped through the house and my heart sank lower with each room. The place is stuffed with boxes and crates and trunks, every one over-flowing with stacks upon stacks of papers. The accumulated rubbish of a magpie eccentric. And it will all have to be sorted out before I decide what I’m going to do with the place – sell it, live in it, or even burn it down for the insurance. I’m cheering myself up by hoping Elvira squirreled a few Holbein sketches, or first-folio Shakespearean manuscripts among the rubbish, but I know she didn’t. She undoubtedly destroyed anything of any value, and assiduously preserved every scrap of boring minutiae… But I shall have to go through everything to be sure.

I wish I didn’t have the feeling that someone was watching me in that house. It’s strongest of all in the library – that’s a rather grand term for a house of this size, but the room is lined with books: rows upon rows of them, floor to ceiling. There’s a big leather-topped table and several deep chairs, and a long-case clock in a corner. It had long since stopped, of course, so winding it and setting the time is another task for me.



Mid-day

I have identified the uneasiness in the library as being centred on the clock. Clocks seem to have a secret life of their own – clocks and cats and mountains and looking glasses. This one has one of those vaguely macabre faces over the main dial – a swollen moonface which I suppose marks the passing of the moon’s cycle. The sphere representing the moon had been lightly marked to indicate features – like children’s books with the Man in the Moon smiling benignly down from the night sky. The face was half visible which I suppose means it was midway between moons when it stopped, and it’s not story-book benign. It looks exactly like a full-faced man peering over a wall, and whatever he was seeing was filling him with burning hatred. I was very glad indeed not to be the recipient of that malevolent stare.

But the library is the most practical place in which to sort through Elvira’s belongings so I have arranged for a small delivery of logs, (my helpful friend at the Black Boar again), and I shall build a fire in the hearth and set to work.



17th April

This is a very difficult diary entry for me to make, and I’m not at all sure I shan’t tear the pages out and burn them when I’ve finished writing it.

I’d been working in the library, sifting through boxes of papers, finding them quite interesting. There were old household accounts, and letters; a vituperative exchange between Elvira and the fishmonger over some herring that appeared to have been dubious, and one or two theatre and concert programmes. There had been a performance in Ludlow of the old melodrama The Bells which Elvira had attended: she had made a note on the programme that it was quite enjoyable and she regretted never seeing Henry Irving in the piece. Absorbing stuff, and what with Sir Henry and the herring I rather lost track of time.

Before starting work I’d opened the door of the clock. The old hinges protested like a soul in torment, but they were not rusted and there was the pendulum with its weight. When I touched it, it moved at once, and (I know how fantastical this sounds), but it was as if a heart was struggling into life after a long stillness. And then the rhythmic ticking began, and I reached up to move the hands to the correct time and closed the door.

There’s something soporific about a firelit room and a ticking clock, and the only explanation I have is that I drifted into a half-sleep and dreamed.

The library became more vivid, as if I had been seeing it through a cobwebby window-pane until then and as if someone had wiped away the cobwebs and the dust.

The gold lettering on the book spines was brighter and the furniture shone as if newly polished. The curtains, which had been a dingy mustard, were suddenly deep golden brocade.

A man and woman sat on each side on the fire. They wore very outmoded clothes – I’m no expert on these things, but they looked to be mid-nineteenth century. He was thin and rather donnish looking; she was small and dark with that faintly complacent look of someone who has never had to grapple with life’s tragedies or hardships. It’s a look I’ve sometimes seen on the faces of children of very rich people. She had it unmistakably, and I thought: aha, madam, whoever you are, you’ve been pampered and protected all your life and you’ve had, or been given, everything you’ve ever wanted! She was perhaps twenty two or three; he must have been in the early thirties. He was reading a nicely-bound book in green calf with gold lettering. I could even see the title: Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. When he lowered the book for a moment, I even made out an inscription on the flyleaf. To William, for the hours when he wishes to enjoy a little frivolity in his reading. From E, with fondest love at Christmas.

It ought to have been a pleasant, peacefully domestic scene but it was not. Even the clock ticking in that other room sounded wrong. I don’t mean it sounded faulty – it sounded menacing. And there was the swollen sly face of the moon in its own little brass frame, watching.

There was time to take all this in, then there was a furtive movement outside the window – it was early evening, that queer half-light and the curtains had not yet been drawn – and quite suddenly there was a face looking in, macabrely echoing the watching face of the clock.

Whoever he was, he stood there for some minutes, with neither of the room’s occupants aware of him. Then the woman looked up as if aware of being watched and saw him and gasped.

Instead of dodging down or running away, he smiled and brought up a hand to tap against the window, and the sound of that tapping – Let-me-in, let-me-in – made me feel as if icy fingers had dug into my stomach, and I wanted to cry out to them not to let him in, at all costs not to do so, because he intended such dreadful harm…

Foolishly I tried to call out a warning but of course they could not hear me. Or could they? When the man walked across the room to open the door to the hall, did he stop suddenly and half-turn his head to where I was seated? Did he frown, and put up a hand as if to brush away something from his eyes?

A log broke apart in the fire – whether it was that long-ago fire or the fire I had lit for myself I have no idea – but it sent out showers of sparks and I gasped and sat bolt upright. The room was once more the dusty and faded place it had been when I arrived.

Instinctively I looked across at the window, but of course there was nothing there, although I certainly went briskly across to close the curtains. Then I found the keys and put on my coat and hat and prepared to leave Charect House for the friendly Black Boar. But I did one last thing before I came away, and it’s that which is jabbing at my peace of mind.

The books were arranged in an orderly fashion – I had already noticed that. The learned works of philosophy and religion and so on, were each in their own section. Biographies – which were numerous – were together and poetry was on the left of the window. Works of fiction – Dickens and Austen and Thackeray and the rest – were on the right.

I found what I was looking for almost at once. It was alongside a set of Emily Bronte’s books. Green calf binding, gold lettering. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White. I wish I hadn’t found it, really. I wish, even more, I hadn’t opened it.

But I did open it – I defy anyone not to have done so! – and the scents of age and foxed pages came up to me at once.

And there it was.

To William, for the hours when he wishes to enjoy a little frivolity in his reading. From E, with fondest love at Christmas.



And now I’m sitting in my bedroom in the Black Boar, and I have no idea what I’m going to do, because I don’t believe in ghosts – I don’t! – but I simply can’t think of any other explanation. I could have seen the book and its title earlier and fallen asleep and dreamed about it. But I certainly couldn’t have known about the inscription. From E…

Was it E I saw in the dream? Who was she? It can’t have been Elvira, because Elvira wasn’t born until 1861 – they sent me her death certificate so I know the dates. Did those two let in the man who watched them through the window? I hope not, for if ever there was hatred and murder in human eyes… And isn’t murder the classic reason for haunting?

So I’ll put Charect House in the hands of local estate agents. They can clear the contents on my behalf, or sell the place lock, stock and barrel, and send me a cheque for whatever’s due. Because I really don’t think I can go back there.



18th April

I spent most of the night in mental tussle. I am a modern and practical female. I marched several times with the Women’s Suffrage Movement and was perfectly prepared to risk imprisonment for it. (I never was imprisoned, but I was prepared to be). Therefore I ought not to be frightened of a vague ghostly presence. In any case, ghosts hardly ever appear in broad daylight (do they?). So this morning I went back to Charect House.

It was very nearly an anticlimax when nothing happened – no, I’ll revise that. Something did happen, but it wasn’t ghosts.

I had started on yet another of Elvira’s boxes and tucked inside a large envelope I found a thick wodge of invoices. The date of the earliest was November 1865. The latest was June 1925.

The writing changed over the years: it started off with elegant copperplate, with the accounting in guineas. Between 1914 and 1918 the paper was thin and crumbly – it brought back all the memories of that dreadful quality of wartime-issue writing paper, and all the letters we wrote for the Women’s Suffrage Movement when the ink soaked into the surface as if it was blotting paper!

After 1918 the accounts were not hand-written, but typewritten, and the guineas gave way to ordinary £.s.d. The amounts increased, as well.

But in one respect the invoices were exactly the same. They all came from a place called Thornacre House in the County of Shropshire, and they all submitted a quarterly rendering of their account for the housing of Mrs Elizabeth Lee.

At the foot of each invoice, in discreet lettering, were the words, Thornacre Asylum for the Incurably Insane.

Elizabeth. I stared at the topmost invoice. Was Elizabeth Lee the ‘E’ of the book? The dates would fit. Was she William’s wife? Shut away inside an asylum all those years. But why? And what happened to William?



*



10th June 1935



Dear Miss Lee

We are pleased to learn from our Legal Department that you have accepted our offer of £4,000 (four thousand pounds only) subject to contract, for Charect House and all its contents, and once a satisfactory survey has been obtained and searches received, we will be in a position to sign and exchange contracts.

You may like to know that it is the Council’s intention to use Charect House for the architects’ department of the local authority. Much of the furniture will be sold, although we will keep the large dining table and set of ten chairs which will be useful for meetings; also the long-case clock in the library.

Yours sincerely

M B Halston, Secretary to District Council



*

Internal Memorandum to Architects’ Department, Charect House.

10th November 1937

Your request for a suite of offices in the new Council Buildings has been approved, and you will be housed on the third floor from January 1938.



*



Memorandum from Division of War Office

To: District Council.

15th January 1940



This is to confirm the requisitioning of Charect House for the duration of the war, for use as an officers’ social club.

Signed: Major G Delaney.



*



The third set of papers all bear dates from the early nineteen sixties.



Letter from: Joseph Lloyd, Planning & Development Department.

To: Dr Alice Wilson, Special Investigator for Psychic Research.

Dear Dr Wilson

I am in receipt of your letter dated 10th ult.

However, I must tell you that I have strongly opposed any involvement from your organisation and I shall continue to oppose it. The evidence all indicates that the problem with Charect House is from one of the following causes:-

1. Settlement in the foundations.

2. A fault in the plumbing, which admittedly dates to around the time of World War II.

3. A fault in the electrical wiring, which dates to the Abdication of Edward VIII.

As a Grade II listed building, Charect House cannot be demolished, but in the light of the Council’s failure to sell it, and its growing reputation as the local ‘haunted house’, a decision must be made about its future. It is in a poor state of repair and so my committee is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to quench the persistent rumours that surround it, and to find a buyer.



Yours sincerely

J Lloyd





From: Dr Alice Wilson

To: J Lloyd.

Dear Mr Lloyd

In 20 years of scientific research into the paranormal, I have never heard of settlement, plumbing, or electrical wiring that caused psychic disturbances of the kind being reported to your council.

Please let me have copies of the reports of all sightings, and advise whether the culprit house is actually empty. Of living people, that is.

Yours

Alice Wilson.





Dear Dr Wilson

Charect House is unoccupied. It came into the ownership of the District Council shortly after the war, and for some years was used by various small professional concerns – solicitors and architects. However, none of these companies ever renewed their lease, and for the last ten years the house has been empty.

I am enclosing copies of reports on what you term ‘sightings’, but do not feel any credence can be placed on these. I would draw to your attention the fact that most come from:-

a) Teenagers, who might be thought to have taken illegal substances.

b) Three typists who are known to be devotées of late-night television horror films.

c) Revellers, whose testimony cannot be trusted, since they are known to frequent the Black Boar’s real-ale bar.

d) A character known locally as Arthur the Quaffer, whose predilection for methylated spirits causes him to regularly see all manner of things best not

specified.

Accommodation will be arranged for you at the Black Boar.

With good wishes

J Lloyd



Dear Mr Lloyd

Please don’t tell me how to do my job; your council is paying my organisation very handsomely to investigate this house and I would prefer to earn that payment.

I will arrive on the 18th.

Good wishes to you as well.

Alice Wilson.





Extracts from Dr Alice Wilson’s working diary

Tuesday

Arrived this afternoon and took preliminary look at subject house. Shocking state of dereliction and dilapidation, but tonight I shall set up the cameras and the tape recorders.



Tuesday 10 p.m.

Cameras in place and I’ve rigged up a desk in what clearly was once a library. There are Victorian cobwebs in the corners and under one window ledge is an anonymous insect that looks as if it reached the chrysalis stage, died, and became petrified. I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s as cold as a fridge in here and I’m likely to end up petrified myself.

There’s mould growth around the windows and the walls are cheesy with age and crusted with the grime of decades. The graffiti, on the other hand, looks quite modern although the spelling is disgraceful.

There’s a surprising lot of furniture in the house – I hadn’t expected that, so at least I can make myself reasonably comfortable. I’ve even wound up a very beautiful grandfather clock that stands in the corner, so if I look up I can see the time. As I write this I can hear it ticking. Rather a companionable sound.

I’ve done some research on Charect House’s past, of course, but all I’ve been able to turn up is that some people called Lee lived here in the mid-Victorian age, and the husband died young and the wife was committed to a nearby asylum and spent the rest of her life shut away there. Very tragic, but not usually the stuff hauntings are made of.



The old clock is showing just on midnight and I have the feeling that something’s starting to happen. A few minutes ago I heard what sounded like soft footsteps crossing the hall outside this room. It could have been the timbers contracting in the cold night air – it could even be an ordinary intruder, but I don’t think it’s either of those. In any case I locked all the doors and checked all the windows as soon as I got here. Unless it’s the classic case of having locked an intruder in with me…?

I’m going to take a look round. It means draping myself with cameras and recorders which is a nuisance, but part of the job. I’m taking the heavy metal torch which will be effective for lighting up shadowy corners and defence against a flesh and blood prowler.

It’s my private belief that all but a tiny percentage of so-called ghosts are due to one of three causes. The first and most common is man-made: spoofs done for money or malice or to gain a rather shallow fame. The second is self-delusion or self-mesmerism – not necessarily conscious and often infectious. ‘I see a white figure,’ cries someone, with such conviction that everyone else in the room instantly sees a white figure as well.

My third belief is contentious, but put simply I think strong emotions can leave an imprint on a place. Like entering a room and knowing quite definitely that despite the polite manner of the occupants, minutes earlier a vicious, cat-spitting row was in progress. Taking that a stage further, they say that in Hiroshima the white-hot radiation of the atom bomb pasted the shapes of men’s shadows onto walls, so that you could still see those shapes in the ruins years afterwards.

(When I think about that, I think about the young army captain with the slow smile who was stationed there when it happened, and how, if he had come back, I might have married him. Is his shadow imprinted on some shattered wall, I wonder? It’s absurdly sentimental to think that, but I do.)

What I do not believe is all that stuff about the fabric of time wearing thin, and it being possible to sometimes look through to other ages.

Two a.m.

I’m back in the library with the clock still ticking away to itself, and in the privacy of these pages I admit that what I’ve just seen has shaken me. I’ve had a little nip of whisky, well, actually I’ve had a couple. I’ll write a proper, dry-as-dust report for J Lloyd and his Council tomorrow of course, but this is my own account.

I went out to the hall – it’s a big hall with rooms opening off and stairs to the upper floors. Narrow windows flank the door and a cold moonlight trickled in and lay across the dusty oak floor like flecks of silver.

As I paused, considering which room to check first, the light seemed to slither and thicken, creating the illusion that I was seeing the house through rippling greenish water.

Aha! I thought – I was still quite rational at that point – aha, here we go. I even had the presence of mind to check the camera and recorder were running.

I had been right about hearing someone creep across the hall earlier – he was standing at the foot of the stairs, looking about him. A stockily-built man, rather full of face, but with such angry despair in his eyes I almost wanted to put out a hand to comfort him.

A second man came out of a room upstairs and looked down, and the stocky man started up the stairs towards him, his hands reaching out and it did not take a ghost or a chink in Time’s fabric to know his intention was murder.

The scene shivered and became indistinct, as if someone had rippled the surface of water, and the last thing I heard was a child’s voice calling out – a little girl’s voice it was – and then a door opening upstairs. There was the sound of the child’s voice again – angry and unchildlike, shouting, ‘You tried to hurt my daddy – I’ll kill you for that!’ Then there was a whirling impression of someone falling helplessly down the stairs and landing in a dreadful broken heap barely three feet from where I stood. Dead? Oh God, yes, of course he was dead, you had only to see the way his body lay – the head lying at a grotesquely wrong angle to the body…

The last thing I heard before it all vanished was a woman screaming – terrible screaming, on and on, spiralling into hysteria. And then it shut off and I was again seeing the dusty emptiness of Charect House.





I have no idea yet if the camera recorded what I saw – presently I’ll check.

Who were they, those people? What were they? Shadows pasted on the wall? Lingering emotions, so strong they sometimes take on substance?

This library that I found so safe-feeling earlier on, feels safe no longer. There’s something in here with me – I can feel that there is, and anyone reading this entry can scoff as much as they like.

The clock’s still ticking, but it sounds different now – more like the tapping of thin fingers on cold glass. As if there’s someone trying to get in and as if that someone has been trying to get in for a very long time. It’s a dreadful sound, lonely and desolate and I’m afraid it will stay with me.

I think it was a murder I almost witnessed earlier on and I think it was the child who pushed the man downstairs. But is it the child’s spirit that’s trapped inside Charect House, or is it the spirit of her victim? Or even the spirit of the woman who screamed over and over again, so dementedly? Was she the one who was committed to the asylum?



Wednesday

There’s nothing on the cameras or tape recorder, so J Lloyd’s Council probably won’t believe what I saw. They want reassurances, so my report merely says I consider Charect House to be the site of disturbed influences (always a useful nothing-phrase), and that the atmosphere would probably benefit from renovation.

But I shall tuck this report inside the old clock – it’s probably the only time in my life I’m likely to do anything the least bit whimsical, but it seems somehow right to do it.

This time tomorrow I shall be on my way back to London, and I can forget Charect House and its history.



*











Messrs Cranston & Maltravers can give no guarantee that the final set of papers has any actual relevance to the rest, but at some time in the past they were clipped firmly to the other papers.



Thornacre House. Asylum for the Incurably Insane. County of Shropshire

Patient’s record.

Name: Mrs Elizabeth Lee.

Address: Charect House, Shropshire.

Date of Birth: 10th November 1838

Date of admission: 3rd April 1864

Next of kin: Elvira Lee (daughter) minor.

Diagnosis: Delusional and strongly hysterical.



*



Declaration of Sheriff of the County

________________

We the undersigned hereby declare that Judgement of Death was this Day executed on William Lee in His Majesty’s Prison of Shrewsbury in our presence, for the wilful murder of Brooke Crutchley, master clock-maker of Shropshire.

Dated this fourth day of August 1864.

…………………………………… Justice of the Peace

…………………………………… Governor of Shrewsbury Gaol

………………………………….. Chaplain of the said prison.



______________________________



*









Letter from Miss E Lee to Messrs Cranston & Maltravers, Auctioneers of Fine Arts and Furniture..



Maryland

October 2006



Dear Sirs

I’m truly thrilled to have bought the Crutchley long-case clock and thank you for your telephone bidding service which is really great.

I’m glad you explained how you halted the mechanism before air-freighting it to us. There is a guy right here in Maryland who understands clocks, and he has set it going quite easily.

I haven’t yet opened the package of papers you sent but I’m sure they will be very interesting. My brother’s family are certainly pleased about the clock: the girls say it’s a bit of their English heritage come back to them, and since we got it ticking the two youngest have started playing games with an imaginary friend – a little English girl they insist is called Elvira.

Best regards

Elizabeth Lee

© Sarah Rayne 2006

Explore

CONNECT WITH US

Get a FREE eBook
when you join our mailing list!