Letter the Sixth
To Mrs Kirk
E—ton House, —shire
31st October 18—
My Dearest Sister,
I have at last removed to a more comfortable lodging than that which I had hitherto remained in. Being, at last, deemed strong enough to remove myself, Miss Jane was most helpful in the moving and re-establishing of my personage in a smaller but infinitely more comfortable abode. I am now quite settled here and determined to regain my full strength before any continuation of my journey. Your letter much cheered my spirits, and your eagerness to hear the end of my tale prompts me to once again take up Miss Jane’s Tale. I last told you of the machinations of the Knight with respect to the person of Mrs Forbeson. In continuation;
“The Knight went out onto the moor in search of this plant, but could not find it. It grew rarely, and so he was forced to wander across unfamiliar land. With no lamp to guide him as night fell, he tumbled into a bog, breaking both his legs and fracturing his neck, and there he drowned. Thus the household was dissolved, but Mrs Forbeson, loyal to the last, was cursed with remaining in this house. For, unknown to the Knight (who was blinded by ambition and by jealousy, and who had never, I believe, looked at his wife properly above twice since their marriage) the Countess had in secrecy given birth to a child by the Nephew, a little girl. Mrs Forbeson was charged with raising this girl, and the Countess had forced her to swear never to remove the child from the house.”
I quickly perceived how it was; “And you, Miss Jane – you are this child?”
Miss Jane nodded her assent. “I have been cursed to remain in this house forevermore, with Mrs Forbeson as both my mother and my jailer. I love the woman as a mother and despise her as a jailer.”
I reflected at length on the shame it was that Miss Jane had never seen anything of the world; and how hard it was upon a young lady to be imprisoned in such a run-down manor, with all manner of evil things surrounding her. Miss Jane was imprisoned by the moor most thoroughly, for she did not know the way out of it. As she was leaving the room with the only source of light she added, not to add to my terror, of course, that no traveller had yet survived a night in the dreadful house. She looked sad as she departed, and gave me a long glance which seemed to put fire in my veins, and a determination in my heart. I swore I would live out the long night, at whatever cost, and furthermore if I could, free Miss Jane from her prison.
With this determination I retired. No sooner, however, had my eyes closed in sleep than began what I can only describe as a nervous fever; for I drifted in and out of consciousness in a state I had never before experienced. I dreamt many terrible and ghastly things. I dreamt I wore a crimson red Lady’s dress; and a man with a pinched and snake-like face was pursuing me – wanting to marry me. And as I lay in the bed ghostly hands crept over the covers to grasp at my wrist. The dancing Lady returned, her face once more veiled, and her beautiful hands withered before my eyes, and when I lifted the veil with trembling fingers I beheld the skeletal form of Mrs Forbeson.
As I awoke with a cry I thought I should never live through the night; but I arose to find daylight peeking through the grimy window. Shuddering, I dressed with alacrity, though I could not be rid of the smell of musty sheets. I ran down the stairs and nearly collided with Mrs Forbeson, who was standing still on the landing. As I drew more into the light I perceived that it was in fact nothing more than a skeleton, propped up against the wall. Mrs Forbeson was clearly long dead. With a beating heart and terror in my throat, I descended the stairs where there stood a petite female form, the hair covered with a bonnet, and with its back turned to me, pulling on a pair of leather gloves. As I approached I called out, for I recognised it as Miss Jane. She turned to face me, and I saw that her cheeks were sunken and hollow, and, though she was alive, looked to me as if she was more than a hundred years old. Tears filled the once-beautiful eyes. Illusions, I thought to myself. At first I was disgusted by the sight of the once-young woman and determined to escape from the house forthwith; but then recalling how I had sworn upon my honour the night before to free her, I took her hand gently and led her to the door. As I drew closer to the door, however, it creaked upon its hinges and fell to the floor with a crash and a great disturbance of the dust. Bright sunlight filtered through into the shadowy house and as I stepped out to breathe the clean air, Miss Jane followed me timidly, blinking furiously against the light. I now regarded the moor before me, wondering how I was ever to find my way through it. On the horizon, however, I quickly perceived a small fire dancing, and knew at once it was my coachman. By straining my eyes I could just make out the dark form of the carriage in the morning mist, and so set my course for him. As we passed the rusted gate it, too, fell from its hinges and as we descended the hill we could hear the crashing of masonry as the old house collapsed upon itself, and as I led its last living inhabitant far from it.
As we made our way further and further away from the house, across the misty moor, I soon began to see a change in Miss Jane. The further we walked, the quicker our pace became, for her back was beginning to straighten, the lines in her face to unfold, and her hair to lighten. A new kind of joy filled my heart and as the years began to melt from the face of the lovely Miss Jane, I took the lady’s hand and began to trot, then canter, then we were flying across the moor, and it sounds strange, my dearest E—, but I do not believe our feet touched the ground once, until we alighted beside the carriage where the coachman looked very much put out at having to spend a whole night on the fringes of the accursed moor. But Miss Jane and I laughed at it all, and would not hear another word.
And that, my dearest E—, is almost the whole story.
Your Ever Devoted,