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Return to Rhonan: Chapters 3 & 4

Mark your diary, because every Monday and Thursday, I will post two chapters of my exciting historical paranormal romance novel, Return to Rhonan (that’s four chapters each week). Set mainly in the Scottish Highlands, the reader will find much to enjoy on this mysterious well researched journey.

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here and at the end of each post.


Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved

Chapter 3

2010  August –  Rhonan,
North-West Scotland

‘Six million pounds?’  Douglas Mavebury felt sand churn in his stomach.  Within seconds, he’d gone from struggling to pay the mortgage on a flat in Bognor Regis, England, to a multi-millionaire with a Manor House and a ruined castle in the wilds of North-West Scotland.

His heart jumped into his throat as he watched the equally pink fingers of the Solicitor turn the page.  His plum tones brushed with the Scottish burr, informed Douglas that he also inherited the title Earl of Rhonan. Thie appeared to stem from a distant relative, a Lord Richard Mavebury, Earl of Rhonan.’

He turned to see his brother’s mouth drop open, saw Nathan’s fingers tremble as he flicked back a lock of dark blond hair.  ‘You’re a millionaire.’

Douglas’s voice grated like gravel falling on the tin. ‘Lord … Lord Richard Mavebury, Earl of Rhonan – distant relative?

He waited as the Solicitor Mr. Edward Pevensey, took a fresh linen handkerchief from his pocket and polished his glasses, holding them up to the light.  Perching them on the tip of his nose, he said, ‘Yes. Some of your family members are not long-lived or die childless, so the title is free. Happily, you have come forward.

Douglas raised his eyebrows, the sun painting his black hair an iridescent blue. ‘You know apart from a Welsh great grandmother; I thought the family was English. The Earl of Rhonan?  I’m shocked. How long is it since this Lord passed away?’  

‘Twelve years, Sir.  Since then, we’ve advertised in the newspapers, the Times, Guardian.’

‘I don’t usually read the Times … sheer fluke – needed it for a class exercise. I’m an art teacher.’ he finished lamely wondering why he was almost apologizing.

The Solicitor smiled, showing a smooth set of veneers as he leaned forward from the leather button back chair.   ‘Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty, the Entailment.’

‘Entailment?  I thought they didn’t exist anymore.’

‘This does.  The Manor House was originally limited to male lineal descendants. However, just before his death, Lord Duncan Mavebury, Earl of Rhonan, changed the ruling of the Entailment, so that the heir could be either male or female. Also, the descendent did not need to be directly descended from the deceased Earl.’

Douglas raised his eyebrows. ‘In those times that was stretching the rules then?’

Pevensey nodded.  ‘Yes, very rare. So, you are not a direct descendant of the Lord Duncan Mavebury, Earl of Rhonan, but you are the descendant of his brother, Lord Guy, who took the title and demesne.  Lord Guy was the third son of the Earl.  The second son Maximillian died in some duel, I believe.’ He paused while he picked out his handkerchief and rubbed the gleaming pink skin of his pate, followed by his glasses.

Douglas realized it was a nervous habit. ‘That’s quite a history – a bit macabre.  You know there was some rumor of a lord in the family, but that’s all it was.’ 

Pevensey looked at the two younger men, ‘Can I offer you a drink?  Whiskey – Gin – Sherry?’

Seeing Nathan’s nod, Douglas said, ‘Make those two whiskeys please.’ 

‘Ginger? Ice?’

‘No – no.  Straight thanks.’    

Pouring the whiskey into crystal tumblers, Pevensey continued.  ‘Now Lord Duncan also added a codicil.   Unfortunately, it’s not good news.’    Pevensey put the glasses in front of them with a generous measure for himself. Adjusting his maroon brocade waistcoat, he sat down.

Douglas shrugged back his shoulders, feeling uncomfortable in a navy suit he kept for weddings and funerals. Nathan, as usual, was relaxed in a padded jacket, frayed jeans, and trainers.  At least the trainers were new, not the scruffy, lace trailing ones he usually wore.

Pevensey continued.  ‘The codicil stipulates that if a true direct descendent of Lord Duncan appears, then the demesne together with all monies would immediately be transferred to him or her.  Now there are only another eighteen months left before it becomes null and void.   At which time, you will have no further worries.’

Douglas drank some of the whiskey, enjoying the fire in his gullet.  ‘So has anyone come forward yet?’

Pevensey looked up, the sun catching on his rimless spectacles. ‘There have been some inquiries, but they turned out to be frauds.  They’re still coming out of the woodwork. Now I have to warn you; there’ll be others.’

His blue eyes now ice cold, Douglas pulled on a lock of black hair.  ‘So we could kiss the Manor and land goodbye then.’

 ‘If a true heir appeared, yes. I’m afraid so.  But now, let’s talk about your inheritance. Tapping his fingers on the papers, Pevensey said, ‘It’s a Palladian Manor built by Lord Duncan’s grandfather. Is father added two more wikngs His father added two wings and another floor.  However, it is sadly in need of renovation.  It is possible to renovate if there are sufficient funds.’ 

 Nathan, who had kept quiet, now, asked, ‘so when did Lord Duncan die?’

‘In 1811 – a sad passing.’

Finishing his whiskey, Douglas muttered, ‘Sad?”

Pevensey took a handkerchief from his top pocket and wiped his bald pate.  ‘Suicide. There is a rumor he fell in love with his father’s ward. A young woman named Muriall Mondell – she disappeared or died.  I think he was in London when she disappeared. They were both caught up in the Scottish Clearances of 1810 – terrible times.’

Douglas nodded. ‘It was quite shocking, many thousands of people died, others were forced to emigrate.’

Pevensey repeated his words, ‘Hmm – terrible times – terrible times. However, I will add that there is a mystery here; some do say that the body pulled from the lake was a victim of the Clearances. So many starved to death in their cottages when the Earl cleared the land for sheep grazing. Rumors have it that Lord Duncan went searching for Muriall and never came back.’

‘Really?’

‘It seems after her disappearance, he was distraught – so either he did indeed commit suicide in the lake or went after her.’

Nathan gave a surreptitious glance at Douglas to see his reaction.  His brother had a morbid fear of lakes.

Pevensey said, ‘There’s an old rumor in the village that Muriall may have had his child. However, there’s no sign of a marriage or birth certificate – nothing in the family bible, no letters. As you know, they were prolific letter writers in those days, just like today, only now it’s emails and texting.  But, there is no sign of any letter. However, he also added a second codicil, which could point to Muriall having borne his child.’

He lifted another page of heavy parchment.  ‘Lord Duncan built a Mausoleum on an island in the lake.  In it are two coffins. One for him, of course, and the other was to remain empty.  I’ll read you this bit, “The marble coffin is to remain empty until Muriall returns, either in her physical form or that of her spirit. These instructions also apply to her child should he or she ever return. It says here, “In death, we are reunited.”  Strange, I know.  The mausoleum must remain unlocked.  Therefore, the rumors could be correct, but Muriall was the ward of the Earl, so she and Duncan grew up together. It might well be that he loved her as a sister. A strange case, you know.’

Douglas broke the silence feeling the skin crawl on his arms. ‘That’s a bit eerie.’

Pevensey took off his glasses and started polishing them again. Douglas frowned, the man got on his nerves, polishing his pate, then his glasses, even his nose. He seemed to be on the move all the time.

Putting the glasses back on, Pevensey said, ‘So, you have to be aware that there could be a direct descendant.’

Douglas bit his lip ‘It’s the stuff of gothic romance – tragic.”

Nathan interrupted, ‘It’s bloody tragic for you too.  You’ve inherited all this, and it could be taken away – just like that.’  He turned his head to Pevensey.’ What if my brother did the renovations? What then?’

‘Oh, it would still revert to the true heir. You may be able to claim some of the money back for the time and effort spent on the work done, but I can’t advise?’

Nathan swung around to Douglas, who sat silently, his eyes narrowed, brows almost meeting. ‘What are you going to do?’

‘I just can’t walk away, can I?’ He looked at Pevensey, ‘What d’you think?’

The solicitor blustered, getting out the dratted handkerchief again and buffing his pate. ‘I can hardly advise you, Sir. There are only eighteen months left. It’s not likely a direct heir or heiress would turn up now. It’s up to you.  However, remember the Manor is in desperate need of renovation, let alone the castle.’

‘So I’d need a few million to do it up then?’

‘Quite.’

‘If there’s all that money, why haven’t they been kept up?’

‘Err … people don’t stay very long.  The last one stayed a week, I think, and then went off to Majorca.

‘So he was allowed to keep the money?’

‘Oh, he did return now and then to put in a half-hearted effort to renovate – just enough to stay in the rules of the Will.  

‘Why don’t they stay?  Surely someone would be interested enough to renovate the Manor. The money’s there?’ 

‘I can’t say …  you know how rumors escalate.’   

Douglas felt irritated. The Solicitor was hedging. ‘Look if there’s anything wrong I need to know?’

‘It’s only hearsay, but some of the villagers believe the place is haunted.’

‘Haunted?’  Douglas laughed. ‘Well, that’s the least of our worries.’

Pevensey got the handkerchief out, rubbing the pate in earnest.  It was amazing he hadn’t rubbed a hole in his scalp.  ‘Err …  it’s something to consider.  I hear that it’s difficult to get workers to stay there.’

Nathan frowned.  ‘Haunted by what?’

‘Well … seems to be the ghost of Muriall – appears.  She returned but as an earthbound spirit. But, they say there’s a darker current there – nothing to do with her, although she’s reported to be terrifying enough.’

‘Darker current?’

‘Yes – there was a Hell Fire Club – quite notorious in its time – held in the caves underneath the castle ruins – conjuring up demons. Sir Aleister Crowley was to fashion his foul brand of Satanism from them.  Also, rumor has it that Lord Maximillian, the Earl’s second son, played an important part.’

Douglas frowned, ‘Ghosts?  Hell Fire Club? A load of rubbish.  Just a group of perverts.’

Pevensey interrupted, ‘Hardly Sir, but I won’t go into details.’ He added quietly, ‘You should be careful what you say. ‘Ghosts can be quite evil when crossed and as for demons?’  He shrugged his shoulders as he continued, ‘There have been a few people drowned in the lake in quite horrific circumstances, let alone the ones we don’t know of.’


Chapter 4

THE MANOR

 Douglas felt his stomach tighten as they neared Rhonan Town.  Six million was a serious amount of money, but would it cover the cost of renovation?

Nathan broke through his thoughts.  ‘Cheer up.  You’re lord of all you survey and a multi-millionaire.’ 

 ‘Yeah, but the Manor is in a hell of a state.  Pevensey said the surveyors estimate it’s going to cost at least two million to renovate it. Make a good hotel. We’ll have to live in a caravan, though.’    

 ‘We?’

Douglas looked over, smiling. ‘Yeah – you and me.  Partners – we share everything. I’m going to draw up papers so that your name is on everything.   What about it?’

Nathan whooped, throwing a fist in the air.  ‘Yeah – I could kiss you, bro.’

‘Don’t – don’t even try.’ 

Nathan frowned, ‘What about Cilla?  She’s damn sure to come after your money.’

‘She blew it when she divorced me.  Now some bastard is looking after my daughter.’

 ‘Yeah, well now you’ve got enough money to fight for Marnie in the courts.  You’ll get the kid back.’

Douglas’s teeth clenched. “The best lawyers – she won’t have a leg to stand on.’

Rhonan was a Regency town with broad streets and wide pavements.  The shops huddled together behind mullioned windows and arched wooden doorways.  Jars of brightly colored sweets beckoned, alongside the tempting smell of freshly baked bread and pastries.  Wooden mannequins stared with painted eyes beside leather saddles, riding hats and whips.  The  teenagers looked from another era, the schoolgirls in standard knee-length skirts of scarlet tartan and navy jackets. The only contemporary touch being the coca-cola cans held by the boys lounging against lampposts, ignoring the girls’ flirtatious glances.

‘There’s the sign over there.’  Nathan pointed to a sign indicating Rhonan Manor was the third turning to the right off the roundabout.

 Douglas swallowed as he looked up at the entrance to the estate, consisting of three Gothic arches, complete with gargoyles.  The ornate wrought iron gates covered in ivy listed to one side. 

Nathan got out with the key.  As he pushed the gates back against ivy banks, Douglas drove slowly forward, the car wheels almost stalling over holes and ruts covered in rotting branches. 

Rhododendrons hung precariously over the drive. Further on, hydrangeas flowered in wild abundance.  Douglas strove to avoid the wreckage, stopping to gaze at the purple splendor of copper beech trees contrasting with the bright yellow of larch. He caught his breath as he espied something watching them from the small clearing in the trees. “He said quietly.  “Nat, look; see him?”

Time stood still as a majestic stag with antlers at least three feet high surveyed them from the safety of the wood. 

Nathan whispered, “God, what a sight. But, look over there, the castle.’

 Douglas muttered, ‘Well, it’s certainly a ruin.  I can’t see us doing that up for a few years.  But it will be a good draw.’

‘Yeah, I can just see it now, ‘The Haunted Caverns of the original Hell Fire Club’  We could mock up some scenes, put in dummies of hooded monks,  a virgin lying across the stone altar, the high priest raising his dagger−’

 ‘You missed your vocation, with that imagination you should have been a scene setter or a graphic artist.’

Nathan laughed, ‘Can’t draw two straight lines, the best I can do are stick men.’ 

 The drive curved again, bringing them in sight of the Manor, sparkling white, rising from a hill before them. Nathan pointed to the lake, “Look, there’s a heron over there, awkward-looking fella. And there’s the island – must be over forty feet wide.”  He glanced over to see how Douglas was taking it, being so near to the still water of the lake.  He saw the color drain from his face, saw him catch a breath. He said quietly, pull over Doug’; relax.’

Douglas felt his stomach grind, the panic rising. His knuckles whitened on the steering wheel.  He had to try to breathe his way through this. ‘Damn – damn.’

Nat put his hand on Douglas’s shoulder, ‘You’re doing fine … just take your time now.’ To pull him through the panic attack, he kept talking, ‘We’re going to have to drain the lake.’

As the attack eased, Douglas put his head on the wheel. Thank God it hadn‘t taken hold.  ‘It’s okay – it’s just that I can’t get my breath.   I keep seeing Marnie – the water….’

‘Nat said, ‘She’s okay Doug’ – nothing happened. She’s fine.’

Douglas tried to black out the vision, blackout the sight of his little daughter drowning, attempted to banish the image of the paramedics fighting to save her life.   She’d survived, but since then, he’d developed a crippling phobia of lakes, of any still water.  He’d had therapy, but it had only taken off the surface of the dread. The damn thing still haunted him.

Nat said quietly, ‘Take some deep breaths now. Take your time.’

Deliberately breathing deep into the diaphragm, the panic attack receded.  Thank God it was mild this time.  Within minutes, he felt fine.

‘D’you want me to take over?’

‘No. I’m okay now.’

 As they drew nearer the Manor, Douglas muttered, ’Pevensey was right, it is Palladian style, late eighteenth century. The classical Roman or Greek styles were all the rage.  It has a lot of history here.  It will draw people in as well as the castle.’

***

 On the first floor of the Manor, dust motes spiraled slowly around the transparent form of a young woman, a few clumps of red hair clinging to a putrefying scalp.  Her hand lifted the ragged edge of the curtain, the light shining through flesh hanging in moldering strips from delicate bones. As she hugged a bundle to her breast, the corner of the tattered shawl fell away to reveal the ivory skull of a tiny baby. Softly she sang, ‘Bye Baby bunting daddy’s gone a hunting….’

Parking at the front of the building, Douglas’s heart sank as he saw the crumbling pillared front stone porch, the colonnade of columns lining the terraces and patio, chipped and cracked.   He said, ‘Some of the windows are open to the elements. God knows what it’s like inside.’ 

Nathan glanced up at the second window on the left on the first floor. ‘Did you see that flash of red?  Looks like someone moving up there – look there on the first floor?’

Douglas squinted. ‘No – nothing there.  Must have been the light catching the glass, or what’s left of it.’

‘Huh, might be the ghost of Muriall.’

 ‘A ghost is the least of our worries.  The manor is a damn ruin, let alone the castle.’  He caught his breath as they stepped into the central hall, although again sadly in need of repair. It must have been magnificent, as it soared up the full height of the Manor into a dome with pillars decorated in trompe l’oeil. ‘Pevensey did say the paintings are stored in the attics along with some antiques furniture and chandeliers.’    Far above them, the figure moved to the door listening, softly sighing, ‘Stay….’

Looking up, Nathan whispered, ‘Did you hear that?  D’you think it’s her?’

 Douglas grinned, ‘You’d love it, wouldn’t you?  But, sorry, bro’ it’s the wind. It’s an old draughty place. That imagination of yours.’

 As Nathan pushed the door open into what appeared to be a sitting room, at least sixty feet long by thirty feet wide. He was unaware of a woman’s skeletal hand closing the door behind him while cradling the tiny skeleton in the other.  ‘Wow, this would make a fantastic restaurant.’

The dining room appeared vast.  The darker spaces on the burgundy wall showed traces of paintings taken down, while dustsheets covered the chairs. A magnificent oak dresser with lead-lined glass, grey with grime and dust, stood to one wall.  Douglas muttered,  ‘this would seat quite a few people – just right.’  He looked at his reflection in a huge gilt-framed mirror with aging black patches, jumping back as the surface appeared to ripple. Blinking his eyes, he tried to readjust his sight.  The mirror must be ancient. It would have to be re-silvered.

 Another door led into what must have been the ballroom with bay windows overlooking the lawns. Another led into a long rectangular dining room, the vibrant red brocade wallpaper peeling, again darker patches showed where paintings once hung. The oak table was over twenty-foot long, the velvet upholstery of the chairs frayed and dull.

Nat said, ‘Make a good bar, you know.’  He shivered as they entered a long stone corridor, which led to a galleried wood kitchen. Looking up at the carved gallery some sixteen feet high stretching along the whole length of one stone wall, Nat said, ‘What’s the gallery for then?’

Magnificent, isn’t it?  Every morning the lady of the house would enter through the door to stand on the gallery and throw down the day’s menu to the kitchen servants. She didn’t want any contact with them.  In those days, they were afraid of lice jumping on them. You can catch cholera or typhus from fleas.’

‘That’s sickening, and they did the cooking. Yuck.’

‘The servants would have been clean, but lice lived in the seams and hems of clothes.’    

Nat gazed up at the gallery, picturing the lady of the house or the maid throwing down the day’s menu.  ‘Life was risky in those days.’ 


Copyright.

No part of this book may be stored, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express permission of the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters

All rights reserved


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