"Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence– whether much that is glorious– whether all that is profound– does not spring from disease of thought– from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.”—Edgar Allan Poe.
There are evils in this world of which we know by name only, whilst others remain surreptitiously embedded in the countless mysteries of death and superstitions foretold. The evil that is spoken of is an evil that corrupts and perverts men entirely, driving them to the brink of insanity or the chasm of their demise. It is not the devil himself that man should fear nor loathe, but the devil within him that makes him diabolical in nature, and that contrast is too undeniable. There are sundry ghosts that are existential and haunt men with a blind wrath, yet the worst of all of them is embodied in the past of men. The story that shall be told, is one that is shrouded with an abominable horror that no man should ever witness its unfathomable conclusion.
It was a damp day of spring in the year of 1828, when I had reached the southwest part of the country of Wales. A memorable day that I shall never dare to forget nor desire its recurrence, for it was the day I met the inimitable realm of the unknown and undead. Before me stood the impressive Gothic manor that was the home of a certain nobleman of prestige, whose name was Lord Broderick. His home was a three-storey structure manor made from wrought grey stones of masonry, with four daunting turrets and sloping roofs that had protruded, over the medieval parapets of the ancient architecture and design of the manor. There were surrounding courtyards as well, nearby the winding path that led to the endless forest of the rows of oak trees and shrubs. An unkindness of ravens had gathered upon the top of the turrets, piercing their ebony eyes each, with a wicked stare. My visit to the manor was due to the fact that I had been soldiering recently and had sought momentary refuge from the long tedious trip. The earl as he was known, had been an old friend of my late father, and had always invited me to pay him a visit of which I kindly accepted, with a token of my gratitude offered. My destination was Cardiff, then London. The days and nights upon horseback began to make me weary and had weakened my fortitude. Thus, I had boldly intuited that I could repose a night or a pair of days, until I had fully recovered from the trip and regained my vim and vigour afresh.
When I arrived at the front door, I was greeted by an old man by the name of Mr Gower, who I had assumed to be the butler of the manor. He was courteous enough to escort me to the main hall, where the earl was located at, seated upon an elegant oak chair, with its dentilled top rail, rectangular back pierced with a quatrefoil centred by a painted royal coat of arms, carved legs with engraved arcaded spandrels. I would discover shortly upon my stay at the manor the earl had a found predilection for anything Gothic in nature. He rose to his feet afterwards to greet me eagerly. He was dressed with a waistcoat wearing laces in the back covering his broad shoulders, a linen shirt with an elegant cravat, trousers, tall hat, curly hair and sideburns, a cape, flat shoes, and white stockings. He was not tall nor short, but of average stature and over fifty I had approximated.
I had proceeded to introduce myself, with a cordial handshake and words of deep appreciation. After all, he was a dear friend of my beloved father and was very reverential of his acquaintance.
'I am Robert Westbrook sir. It is a pleasure to finally visit you. I would have hope that my occasion for this visit was of more of conviviality or mere leisure, but my stay will be brief. I must reach London within the week'.
'Robert Westbrook...the son of George Westbrook?'
'Indeed so my lord!'
He quickly had recognised me. 'It has been a long time my boy, since I last saw you. You were a young lad back then, and you have grown considerably. I see that you are a soldier now, by judging from your distinguishable accoutrements'.
'I am an accomplished sergeant in the Royal Army of the king, George III sir'.
'You must be hungry, after travelling by horse. I shall have you fed and well rested, before you start your trip anew old boy'.
'I am thankful for your noble gesture and hospitality sir'.
We entered into the dining room, and along the way I had noticed the internal decorations and architecture of the vetustuary manor. The ceilings were panelled, with thick moulded beams and wreaths in the panels. There were winged cherubs in the corners above the ground floor. The entrance hall had columns below the ribbed ceiling, and there was a stairway of thick balusters and prominent finials with foliage patterns ingrained in the plasterwork of the handrail. The upper rooms had dados and lugged architraves, plaster ceilings and quaint wardrobes. There was a tea room, beside the exquisite paintings that were on display within the manor.
After my meal, I was escorted to my chamber upstairs, in one of the ample rooms that were afforded to guests, such as myself. It was apparent after thorough glances at the chamber that it had been quite a while, since the earl had a guest visit him. Despite the Gothic appeal of the manor, that particular detail did not elude me. Indeed, there was also an encompassing murk that was strangely pervasive over the estate of the earl, with an unwelcomed cloud of secrecy. I was aware that he was a man of privacy that my father had known, but my memory of him was extremely vague and insufficient to judge his character. That night I slept well and had reposed sufficiently, to be able to resume the trip once I had departed.
I was awakened abruptly in the morning betimes, by the creepy caws of the ravens that were gathered above the angled turrets. The shutters of my window began to flap back and forth, with sheer force. When I rose to my feet to observe the ravens, the earl was standing behind me. Unbeknownst to me, he had entered without my detection of him. Naturally, he had startled me, but I was still mesmerised by the eeriness of the presence of the ravens.
'I see that the ravens have stirred your curiosity. I hope that they did not interrupt your sleep Mr Westbrook?'
'Not at all! I must admit that they awoke me, and I was merely startled. If you must know sir, I am very much acquainted to the irksome sound of ravens in London, not in the countryside'.
'I have been to London myself Mr Westbrook, and I must agree with you. The ravens from the countryside are much more active. I suppose it is due to their unique attachment to this area and to the manor. My beloved Lucille,' he had paused.
'You were saying sir?' I said.
He quickly finished his sentence, 'My beloved Lucille used to feed them and sing to them so enchantingly. She said, they were like a choir of nature'.
'My late wife'.
'My condolences to you sir. I hope I was not inopportune with this conversation', I stated.
'No, but I much prefer that we spend our conversation on things that merit our attention or time in discussing for that matter than the unfortunate woes of my predicament in my personal life. Let us go downstairs and have breakfast. Surely, you must be still hungry after your travelling'.
I nodded my head in compliance and had accepted his invitation. I could not help but be drawn to the allurement of the manor. There was something peculiar about the earl that had intrigued me. I had sensed that whatever was behind the mystery, it had to be related to his late wife, the Lady Lucille and her passing. There was no doubt in me that he did not want to speak much about her, and it was clearly a topic that had unnerved him. To what extent? That was the question I had pondered somewhat and the question that I wanted to be answered.
At the breakfast table, we had discussed a broad range of subjects, from my service as a soldier to his days of recollection of my deceased father. There were discreet things mentioned to me that I was unaware of their relevance, when discussing my father at length. The earl was a man of the utmost discretion and respect, yet I did notice in his manner of speech, a troubled man with a troubled soul. At first, I did not suspect this. It was after he had acknowledged how much he missed my father and inadvertently, he had referred to his wife that I then realised this peculiarity afterwards with my perception.
The day was spent amongst his company and my keen observation of his estate. We walked in the courtyards and had discussed more my time as a soldier. He was eager to know more about the manifold places I had ventured to and the people that I met along my numerous travels. I, on the other hand was curious to know more about the estate and the circumjacent area. As I had mentioned previously, there was something distinctive about the mystery of the manor, the forest, the ravens and above all, the reason he did not wish to address the issue of his deceased wife. From afar, I could see what had appeared to be the construction of a stone marbled mausoleum that was incomplete and covered with the ebony ravens. The question that I had in my mind was, who was to be buried in that mausoleum? His dearest wife, the Lady Lucille? When I had interjected with my enquiries, he simply responded to each by showing disinterest in his expression. It was as if he was too occupied in thought and entertained with knowing things about me than answering my questions. He had made it clear to me in his reluctance to talk about his wife before, but I decided to ask at least, one question about her. I had asked him, did she ever want to leave this place? At first, the question had caused him to pause in a manner in which, he did not expect the question.
Then, he proceeded to answer with an indirect reply that I had understood, as he grabbed a flower from the garden and plucked the petals, 'Perhaps she did, but it was futile if she did'.
'What do you mean sir?' I had insisted.
'You would not completely understand Mr Westbrook'.
'Did she die a terrible death of a natural cause?'
He gave me the flower without the petals and said a queer response, 'As you can observe the flower has no more petals. Thus, it will wilt and be no more. In life, there are such cases, such as with my beloved Lucille, where beauty can easily be plucked away in an instant, like with this flower I hold in my hand to never return again'.
It had been the last thing he had uttered, before he tossed it into the pond beside the lush garden. We had resumed our prior discussions and returned inside the manor thereafter. I had concluded that his beloved wife the Lady Lucille had succumbed to a certain death, one perhaps that he was not prepared for its abrupt finality. Since he did not reveal to me the manner in which she had passed away eventually, I instinctively surmised that direful possibility, amongst others. Little would I know what dreadful consequence would her death impose, upon the psyche of the earl and his rationality.
During the night, as we were both dining and conversing, an odd occurrence had betided, one that would begin to unsettle me and make me more pensive than I was before. Something unnatural was becoming evident by the passing hour. As I was seated, I began to hear the sudden murmurs of what I had thought were the murmurs of a female voice that had a dulcet tone of a morbid nature. Naturally, it stirred my immediate reaction, and the earl had noticed.
'Is there something wrong Mr Westbrook? You seem occupied in your thoughts old boy'.
'I believe I heard the strange sound of a woman's voice speaking in soft whispers. The intonation of the words was too unclear for me to accurately tell you what they were or what was expressed'.
The earl's response was not what confounded me, but it was instead, the utterance of his words that were accompanied by the calmness in his voice, 'It was most likely, the wind blowing. In these parts of the country Mr Westbrook, the wind rapidly quickens the dead from their nightly slumber'.
'Are you referring to ghosts or wandering spirits sir?' I had asked.
Once more, he had returned to his display of secrecy and reserve. Forsooth, he was a selcouth man of eccentricity and had an incisive astuteness, 'Perhaps, but I would not want to disturb them if I was you'. He then chuckled and ejaculated, 'Cheer up old boy, it was nothing more than the wind as I have stated to you'.
I looked at him and had replied, 'I am not certain what it was I heard exactly sir, but it did sound like a woman's voice'.
The conversation had changed to another topic, and we discussed things that were much more pleasant to disclose; yet I could not restrain this uneasiness that was consuming me, during my stay at the manor. It was as if I was yielding to the effects of the manor's ambiguity. Perhaps, I was overreacting and due to the fact that I had been travelling, my mental faculties were starting to be drained. I had attempted to concentrate on the continuation of my trip, but I would be forced to postpone it, because of the inclement weather that would cause me to alter my plan for my departure from the manor, in the following morning. I was yearnful to resume my trip, but not under this unsteady condition. There was a storm that midnight that would last mostly throughout the next day. It woke me up in the early morning, before the arrival of dawn. The shutters had flapped back and forth forcibly. Oddly enough, one of the ravens that was gathered upon the turrets had somehow entered my chamber uninvitedly. The mere sight of the raven had sprung me from my bed and made me grab my sword at once. It stared at me with its beady eyes, but I had managed to chase it from the chamber and back from where it entered. When I had returned to my bed, I saw the fainting image of a hoary woman dighted in a dress stained with blood and mire. I was totally aghast, as I had stared directly into her harrowing eyes. I felt in that moment that she had not come to frighten me, but to warn me. The question was, what was she attempting to warn me of? Unfortunately, I would not have my answer. She had disappeared into the darkness from whence she originated. It was the first time and not the last time that I would encounter this wandering ghost of the manor.
The butler Mr Gower had awakened me in the morning. He had knocked on the chamber door to announce breakfast was ready to be served. Once at the breakfast table, I was anxious to inform the earl of what had transpired the night before with the apparent apparition, but I chose to keep quiet. I had felt that he would attempt to dismiss my account of the story, as he had dismissed the haunting breath I felt the prior night. Instead, I decided to discuss the raging storm with him, since as I had alluded too, it was pointless to convince him of anything otherwise. Or so I was led to believe. There was a lingering uncertainty in me that wanted to know, what was the earl conceiving that was beyond any normalcy. I would not have to tarry for long. When I had mentioned to him that storms were known to arouse the dead from their sleep, he responded in the most disturbing manner with his familiar chuckle.
'I am certain Mr Westbrook that whatever wraiths awaken from their slumber male or female from a storm, are most likely to indulge themselves, with more entertainment than we do alive'.
'I am afraid that I don't quite understand', I had replied.
'It is easy my boy. You see, the dead never leave us. They are always amongst us, even now'.
'Are you saying that there are ghosts present in this manor, sir?'
His words had seemed daunting to me, but what he uttered next would send the shivers down my spine, 'Ghosts...if they were, they would be watching us now Mr Westbrook. Believe me!'
As he made that last utterance, a huge bolt of lightning had flashed, and thunder had begun to roar its unsettling rage upon us. Who was the earl I had pondered truly behind his persona and demeanour? The man that had known my beloved father or a man of the madness of untold and unspoken secrets yet to be revealed? When I asked about the mausoleum and who was it erected for his expressive guise had shifted suddenly from being extremely witty to deeply impassioned.
'The mausoleum is of no concern to you Mr Westbrook. If you must know, it is being prepared for my beloved late wife Lucille. It was the last kind gesture I could bestow upon her, with such a befitting reverence that was befitting of her stature and beauty'.
'Pardon my intrusive nature, did you not buried her? Where is she presently laid to rest sir?'
He had seemed out of his intuitive behaviour to react with an unusual pause, before he would reply. When he did, his words were chilling and forewarning, 'The Lady Lucille, my deceased wife is where she deserves to be, six feet under, where she lays within the soil of this property'.
'Am I too assume you mean in a grave sir?'
Once more his vague answers were nothing more than empty riddles and conundrums to be solved, 'Do not worry Mr Westbrook, there is no grave nor better place to rest forever than the mausoleum I have prepared for her safe journey on to the afterworld'.
He had invited me next to see his fine collection of swords he had collected throughout the years. Each was magnificent in appearance and priceless in worth. Along with the paintings in the manor, the swords were clearly the most decorative objects that had fascinated me. There was a distinct coat of arms that hung above the mantelpiece of the fireplace, with the motto of, "Death befalls upon the fool that dares to defy its clutch". Indeed, the motto had an ominous presage attached to these words of direful imposition. The earl was definitely, an eccentric man with a sharp wit. He realised that I was drawn to the motto and had proceeded to explain to me its signification. I had sensed that he reveled in entertaining me, with his ingenuity and instances of his perspicacity.
'I see that your stare is fixated on the motto, and you are wondering what do the words mean. Is that not so, Mr Westbrook?'
I was quick to reply, 'Are they to be taken literally and if so, who are those words addressed to in particular, if I may ask sir?'
He smiled then responded, 'You are an intelligent fellow Mr Westbrook. Go ahead, and grab the sword that is under the coat of arms. You will find your response'.
For a moment I had remained still, not certain if he was daring me to grab the sword or was only amusing himself with my tentative reaction. I had felt compelled to grab the sword, but before I could he suddenly grabbed it and pointed it to my neck saying, 'As a soldier, you have met death at every corner of the battlefield Mr Westbrook, but I shall not be the one to lead you to its vaward, whilst you have many battles to be fought yet'. He then lowered the sword.
'Good god sir. For a moment I actually saw an intense look of rage in your eyes'.
'Rage you say my boy, I would rather call it astuteness. Enough of this and let us continue the entertainment elsewhere. Mr Gower has told me that you are a chess player. Is that not true?'
I was forced to instantly regain my composture after the incident with the sword and had uttered, 'Yes, that is true. I am an avid chess player; although I must admit that I have been too occupied lately and it has been a while, since I last played sir'.
'No problem. Now is a perfect time to indulge our minds, with wise strategy and intellectual amusement'.
He had instructed the butler Mr Gower, to bring and set up the pieces for the chess match. We sat at one of the tables that were in the parlour and began to play the game. I would soon learn that the earl was not only a masterful swordsman, but a masterful chess player as well. I had learnt on the battlefield not to underestimate any foe, even one that was only a presumed foe for a chess match. An hour had elapsed before I finally had succumbed to checkmate and was unable to match the earl's prowess in chess. After the match, he had congratulated me and said with a bit of sarcasm, 'You were an excellent challenger Mr Westbrook. I must commend you and admit, you were a worthy adversary. Then again, I must remember that you are a soldier'.
I was never affronted by his sarcasm and eccentric behaviour. Instead, I was more baffled and intrigued to know the mystery that had surrounded the death of his beloved wife the Lady Lucille. There was an interval in the storm, when the rain had been reduced to a light sprinkle and thunder. The earl had stepped away. He went outside during that time. I had noticed from one of the windows of the manor that he had headed to the mausoleum to speak to who appeared to be several men that were labourers. I could not distinguish much, except for the fact that they were being instructed by the earl. My mind began to think about the Lady Lucille and where was her body at or buried? If she was not yet buried in the mausoleum, then where did the earl bury her in the meanwhile? At the time, I had no inkling nor a clue to where her body was laid to rest. I had reckoned that if there was one person beside the earl that knew, it would be most certainly, the butler. Thus, I had searched for him, until I found him in the corridor near the stairway. I knew that the earl was occupied with the men at the mausoleum and that I had at least, some time to enquire.
'Mr Gower, forgive me for interrupting your duties of diligence, but I must know one thing'.
'Yes, what can I do for you sir? I don't know, if I can answer your question. I'll try my best!'
'You knew the wife of the earl?'
'By that you mean, the Lady Lucille?
'Is there something that you wish to know in particular sir, since I am a servant of the manor?'
'I shall not take much of your time believe me. I just want to know, where is she buried at? The earl has told me that he is building a mausoleum for her, in her memory, but surely she was buried somewhere for the nonce'.
At first, I had perceived a certain reluctance in Mr Gower to respond to that question. After a pause he then replied with a measure of ambiguity, 'She was buried somewhere in the estate'.
I had insisted, 'Where? I have not seen any marked graves, since my arrival'.
He was about to offer me an explanation, when the earl had entered the manor and saw us conversing. He was not aware of what exactly we were discussing, but had intuited that it must have been important.
'I see you two were talking. About what, I don't quite know. Perhaps, one of you could be kind enough to tell me?'
'Mr Gower was just telling me, about how much your beloved wife had enjoyed painting. Naturally, as an admirer of painting myself, I am fascinated to know more about her'.
I do not know if I had convinced the earl of my version or was his suspicion of my intent more reflected in his tarriance to act on that suspicion. Nathless, his mind was occupied on something else. Little would I ever suspect that the night would abate, in the most abominable terror ever fathomed or agnised by common rationality. For some reason unbeknownst to me, any mention of his deceased wife had stirred a deep emotion and passion that was exceedingly visible to be seen in his dramatic expressions and comportment.
'Lucille was a fascinating woman and inspiration Mr Westbrook. I can see, why you would be fascinated by her. She painted many wonderful things and had many other admirable talents to her name. Her patronage to art was enviable. Her essence was a breath of a fresh spring, the wings of a morning butterfly, the scent of an intoxicating perfume, and above all, the beauty of a blossoming bloom. This and much more was she. The woman that I had loved...but love can be prickly as the thorns of that beauty. No woman is impeccable in the eyes of the Devil'.
'What did she die from sir? I had asked.
I thought he would eschew the question, but he did not, 'She died from an unnatural cause'.
'Unnatural cause sir? Such as?'
'Her death Mr Westbrook was due to an act of suicide. It is unfortunate that you must learn the truth about her death, but now that you know, you will understand my indisposition to continue this conversation. I rather speak about the living. It is not good to prate about the dead. Why trouble their souls in rue unnecessarily?'
'I agree sir and forgive me for my intrusion. I shall not enquire about her any longer'.
He nodded his head and said, 'Good'.
That was the end of the conversation about her, and in the evening we had dinner and once more our talk was centred around things that pleased him more than displeased him. I had tried to ignore the intuitive need to pry any deeper into the subject of his late wife, with my assimilation and appeasement of his knowledge and parlance. He was ever so perceptive of my answers and questions, as if he knew what was troubling my mind or at least, he gave me that firm impression. He had to tend to another pressing matter, and I had decided to return to my chamber above. Whilst I was walking, I heard what sounded like a loose board creaking from one of the planks of the wooden floor of the corridor I was upon. The sound had caught my immediate attention. I stopped for a moment to hear closely and more attentively. Whatever was beneath the planks was causing the wood to erode. I could see drops of soil through the cracks of the board. What was more riveting was the scratching noise that was heard below my feet and the sobbing of a woman. My instant reaction, did I hear what I thought I had heard or did I mistake the sobbing and scratching, for something else entirely plausible? Regardless of what it was that I had interpreted, the question still remained, what was I to do next? Was I to inform the earl or the butler? I was becoming more convinced that something evil had occurred in the manor. The more that I pondered at length, the more my thoughts had assumed this foregone conclusion.
Along the way up the stairway, there had appeared to be dried blood stains and long flowing locks of black hair. The blood stains were recent and still intact. I had calculated they were at least two weeks in duration. I knew this well, from my days of soldiering and seeing blood on the battlefields up front. I gathered the locks of hair and had observed them in the privacy of my chamber. After meticulously examining the hair, I had proof that something atrocious and shocking had transpired in the manor. Upon further consideration, I knew inside of me that a tragic secret was being silenced and disguised. Little would I know, the worse was yet to befall.
The ravens had congregated upon the roof as usually as they did. The storm had at last subsided during the late evening, despite the casual drops of rain that formed with the damping dew. It was at night, when I ultimately discovered the haunting truth of the manor and the secret that the earl had been masking with his imposture. He had dropped from his waistcoat a note that I had found in the corridor downstairs, next to the gallery. It was a specific letter written in the ink of his deceased wife the Lady Lucille. It was addressed to her sister, a Catherine Gaynor. The letter was authentic, but I was cautious as I perused then read the letter. I hid in one of the nooks of the manor, knowing that the earl and butler were both distracted in the dining hall. As I read, the contents in the letter were the undeniable evidence I had needed to presume of the earl's involvement in the death of his wife; even though I knew that it was not enough to proof his absolute guilt. The following is the contents of the letter in the words of the Lady Lucille.
18th of May 1828
I am writing you with the hope that if I shall perish at the hands of my husband, then I take great comfort in knowing that you will know that my death was at his merciless hands. I can see the vile look in his piercing eyes and the penetrating madness in his soul so plainly. They are consumed with wrath and vengeance. I know he is planning something horrific and diabolical in nature. I do not know how long I can bear with this unbearable situation and morosity any longer my sister. He has imposed sheer fright upon me and treated me with disdain, every passing day of a fortnight.
He tells me that he loves me, but his love is corrupted and hollow. He is not fain nor winsome. He blames me still for the death of our son Caden and thinks I have been having an affair, with a certain gentleman from the local area. He knows that it is absolutely false, yet his ego cannot allow him to accept that veracity. Sometimes, I sense that he is out of touch with our present reality. Please do not reveal the intimate contents of this letter to anyone, including our beloved parents; for they would be horrified to know what is occurring in the manor consequentially. He has threatened me before in numerous occasions sister, with his pointed swords and rigid pistol. Thankfully, he has yet to pierce my heart nor slice my neck. I am afraid that it is only a matter of time I perceive, before he commits the ultimate sin of killing me. I must go now, but I do with the utmost urgency to leave the manor and leave Evan forever.
Upon finishing reading the letter, I was determined to finally resolve the mystery behind the death of the Lady Lucille; even if that meant confronting the earl and at the peril of my own harm. What I did not expect was the revelation that the earl had been planning on killing his own wife for some time it would seem to me, and he had effectively executed his dastardly plan. The immediate question on my mind was, if he did commit murder and killed his wife, then where did he bury her or what did he do with her body? The notion of that sickening reality was the grue that would agrise any person that had espoused any belief of morality. It was not the moment to dwell on this aspect of deeming judgement of his flawed character. Instead, I had to compose myself and act in accordance to the situation that had drastically changed the course of the events. I could not permit any suspicion on my part of his criminal deed. Thus, I had approached the earl and the butler, in the manner that he was accustomed to seeing me.
After dinner, he had asked me if I was leaving in the morning, to which I had answered that I was. It seemed that he was pensive about something. I was not certain if it dealt with me, or it was something entirely different that only he knew. I also knew that the butler Mr Gower knew more than what he was revealing about the death of the wife of the earl. To what extent did he partake in the concealment of her untimely death, and how much obedient was he to the earl? A crime I felt had been perpetrated, and I could not let this crime go unsolved nor unpunished for that matter. That night, I had remained in my chamber cogitating how to proceed in exposing the truth, pacing back and forth. I could not fully understand if the earl was a heartless murderer, how could he retain his innocence and not be racked with unyielding guilt? Perhaps, I was fooling myself to believe that men were above the decorum of morality and could not be guilty of any despicable crime of this nature. The mask that he bore was exceedingly perfect to conceal his act of depravity.
I had slept little and was awakened in the morning with anxiety and anticipation of what was to happen upon this day. It was destined for my day of departure from the manor and to wend upon the lonesome tracts of land anew, but this day would not be any ordinary departure I had ever experienced erstwhile. The obstreperous ravens had gathered anon upon the turrets above me, like a faithful legion of martyrs. The morning was void of any token sign of rain; although the courtyards were still drenched in dew from yester's storm. The storm had damaged the mausoleum infuriating the earl that with immediacy, he had ordered the labourers that were erecting the mausoleum to repair the structure at once. He had requested that I not leave, until he returned to the manor after speaking to the men. It was the moment that I had been waiting for to uncover the mystery behind the death of the Lady Lucille. In his distraction, I could remove the planks and at last, discover her dead body. The butler Mr Gower was away that morning on an errand.
Time was of the essence, since I knew I had to do what I had planned, with the utmost celerity afforded to me. I could not utilise any tool available to me, so I pounded on the planks with my musket. Since the mausoleum was near the forest and outskirts of the estate, I tried to not be heard. I knew if I was, the noise would most definitely alert the earl to my actions. Fortunately, for me he did not hear me or so I thought. I pounded and pounded until I had removed the plank and reached something unearthed. It was then that I saw the ineffable guise of the Lady Lucille covered in a hideous shroud, beneath the soot and grime of the earth poured over her deceased and pallid corpse. When I had unwrapped her, her face bore the evident marks of strangulation and punctured wounds. It was a ghastly sight to witness, but one that I had seen several times with my fallen comrades. I knew that she had been strangled to death. There was no doubt whatsoever in me then, that she did not die of any unnatural cause such as suicide like the earl had stipulated before, instead, she was murdered by him!
With the body of the Lady Lucille uncovered, I knew then that I had to confront the earl and inform the authorities of this shocking revelation and discovery. His unthinkable act could not go unpunished nor forgotten. There was no impunity that could efface the actions that were taken on that horrendous day. I could have chosen to leave as I had originally planned upon my arrival to the estate and resume my steady course, indifferent to the reality of the crime committed, but I chose to stay. I waited for his entrance into the manor, before I would act. When he had entered, he saw for the first time, my soldier eyes staring deep into his and I would see for the first time afterwards, the eyes of a madman like no other witnessed.
'You could not leave before I had returned Mr Westbrook. I do apologise for the unwarranted distraction, but I was forced to tend to the personal matter of the mausoleum'.
'And I to another personal matter that must be tended to'.
'I am afraid I don't quite understand what you mean.'
'The death of your beloved wife sir, the Lady Lucille!'
'What about her death? I have told you that she took her own life.
'We both know that is a lie.'
'Are you insinuating something that you know very little about, Mr Westbrook?'
'Then whose body did I discover laying beneath the planks in the corridor near the gallery?'
'I see now what you mean. You should have never removed the planks. Since you have, then allow me to tell you that it is only a temporary place, until I place her body in the mausoleum'.
'For god's sake, why did you not bury her in a grave with a proper Christian interment? Why did you have to kill her?'
'Kill her? Lucille my beloved wife, was becoming a wretched whore Mr Westbrook. What you fail to understand is, I had to kill her. There was no other course of action to be taken. She was about to ruin and tarnish my name. I am a reputable Welshman. I regret that your stay here shall be your last, and that you will have to face your death sooner than later'.
He had instructed Mr Gower who had arrived, to bring him a sword and he did. I grabbed mine nearby and had taken his words to be a clear threat, 'Let us see how good of a swordsman you really are, Mr Westbrook.'
He lunged at me amain with his sword pointed, as we had dueled. I could see an intense rage increasing then in his eyes as he had struggled to defeat me, 'You are indeed, a worthy swordsman, but your unwelcomed death will be one that I shall welcome with my sword!'
Back and forth we had dueled fiercely, until I finally was able to pierce his impenetrable heart and cause a mortal wound that he was not able to recover from regrettably. I was not a man that enjoyed killing, but I had no other option but to defend myself and I did. Before he had succumbed to his bleeding death, he made one last profound utterance that was a dire warning to me to be heeded, 'Know that the savage instinct that wields our behaviour and causes us men to be wayward in our deviation, is due to the fact that men can never destroy the envy within them. No penitence can deliver us from this evil. One day Mr Westbrook, you will succumb to this evil as I have unwillingly. I loved Lucille with all my heart, but that love could not overcome my madness. I had to silence her muffled screams forever!'
Thereafter, I had informed the local authorities about the crime and the dead body of the Lady Lucille, before I left the area. Mr Gower was ultimately charge for covering up the murder and knowing about it. He was sent to a Welsh prison and later released after it was revealed that he did not partake in the murder, nor was present at the time. As for the earl Lord Broderick, his body was buried in the local cemetery, next to the other members of his distinguishable kindred. In order to save the family's lineage from the scandal of the perpetuation of his disgrace, the details of his death were omitted and altered to a self-inflicted wound. There was a strange irony that was left incomplete and that was the mausoleum that he had dedicated to his wife. Since there was no will nor anyone of the family present to decide where to bury the corpse of the Lady Lucille, I made the conscious decision to lay her corpse inside the mausoleum. Why the mausoleum? I felt it was the only place that her body could be preserved in her state of purity. I could not depart from the estate, before I had entered the mausoleum to see her one last time. Few women were as beautiful as the Lady Lucille, and few men could ever deserve such a beautiful woman as her. I placed a trinket around her neck I had found in one of the chambers of the manor. Where you might ask, inside the chamber of the earl, Lord Broderick. At that precise moment I had placed the trinket on her, her immortal ghost had materialised before me for a brief moment, then disappearing into the gust of the wind that had entered the front door of the mausoleum that was left open by me. When I stepped outside, I had looked up at the turrets to see for a final time as well, the unkindness of ravens that were observing me with such a daunting stare. I had left the estate knowing that I would never return again. Eventually, I effectuated my grandeur in soldiering and had retired to the quaint abode of my home in England for decades. Often, during the span of my life, I thought of the Lady Lucille, and the one thing that had entered my thoughts constantly was what would her life had been, if she had continued to live? I shall never know, but I suppose that her terrible fate was sealed already, from the first day that she had met Lord Broderick.
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