To Miss E— Notingham
Henrow House, —shire
1st October 18—
MY Dearest Sister E—,
I thank you for your kind letter, which reached me in good time. The post is slow here, but that is not, I confess, the reason for my delay in replying to your letter. Though I do not wish to alarm you, I must explain my long silence which surely caused you much anxiety. Not long after despatching my last letter to you, I was taken to bed with a fever, and for many days lay unconscious of time and human presence. I surely felt that I had come near to the end, and in my fevered lamentations was greatly sorry that I could not write to you even once to bid you adieu. I spent the better part of September unwell here at this unsavoury inn, with nobody to attend me but a lady I will later dwell upon at length, Miss Jane, who is an uncommonly hard-working and kindly girl. She offered many a time to pen a letter to you but I did not wish to alarm you by sending tidings in another’s hand, which I was convinced would only serve to distress you more. But let that matter rest – I am now strong enough to hold my pen again, and Miss Jane has been clever in fashioning, with the help of the local blacksmith, a kind of writing-table which I may use from the comfort of my bed, thereby eliminating the need to spend many hours in the draughty room, sitting up rather than remaining in my current position.
But I have now done with myself – You are no doubt anxious to hear the continuation of my story, which you showed so much enthusiasm for in your letter. I believe I left off with the unveiling of the beautiful lady with whom I was dancing. And indeed she was a Lady, for she had the most Angelic face I had ever seen, with dark curling hair and a long and elegant nose. She was a born Aristocrat if I have ever seen one in my life. But as she whispered that fatal word – “Murder!” – my breath caught in my body as all at once I found myself alone in a dark and musty room, my arm entwined with thin air. I had danced right into a cobweb, and as I did so tripped over an End Table which was covered with all manner of dusty Things, a frame and a small box which toppled to the ground. I bent to retrieve it but a harsh voice cried out, “Leave it!” I looked about, and demanded aloud to know who had spoken. At the top of a moulding staircase stood a woman dressed in a drab grey dress which might once have been very pretty indeed. But the woman was as faded and wrinkled as the dress itself, and so covered in dust besides that she looked like a part of the house’s peeling wallpaper.
She demanded my name, which I reluctantly provided, and as I looked up at her in her magnificent position I wondered if this was indeed what one might call a Relic. Her beetle-eyes stared down at me and I felt as though my skin were crawling with thousands of the little black animals. My breath left me, and I felt chilled to the bone. Terror pulsed through the Heart of me.
“I have come to seek shelter,” I told her haltingly, as if I was being examined. She certainly did examine me with her gaze, as her withered bonnet flopped on her grey head. I begged the favour of a dry room for the night, and after gazing at me piercingly for a moment she slowly turned and called up the staircase,
“Come here, Child!” A voice replied, and I turned around trying to ascertain from which direction it came. The woman pointed up the staircase to where a shadowy figure lurked. “There,” she said. “There is your room, Mr Notingham, much good may it do you!” She said my name with a kind of contempt in her harsh voice which would have sent a shudder down my Spine had I been less in control of myself. Unaware what to do but go whither I was sent, I began to mount the creaking stairs. The rotting wood at every moment threatened to collapse and take me with it to the dark damp earth below, and I trod as lightly as I was able to. At length I mounted the top stair and drew eye-level with the woman. She glared at me and, when I enquired as to her name, she replied,
“I am Mrs Forbeson, young man, and I am the housekeeper here. If you wish to remain here tonight, you will follow young Jane to your chamber.” As she said this she pointed to the shadowed figure, likewise that of a woman. From what I could see, however, she appeared to be better dressed than Mrs Forbeson. I was unwilling to turn my back on the old woman, but it was necessary to climb the second flight of stairs and reach this Jane. I could feel the cold stare of Mrs Forbeson on the back of my neck as I climbed. At last I drew level with Jane, and turned around to find that Mrs Forbeson had disappeared, without a sound, from the creaking staircase. Jane then held up a lighted candle and I saw for the first time her simple, sweet, and honest face in the dull yellow candlelight.
“This way, if you please, Sir,” she said, and led on.
And now I am growing weary again, Dearest E—, for which you must forgive me. I will write again tomorrow but I am anxious to get this reply to you soon that it may ease your Concerns for my Welfare.
Believe me, &c., &c.,