Posted on 2014-10-31
Much has been written of late concerning the noble House of F__, and certain events which have lately taken place within their ancestral walls. Various theories have been uttered, attempting to find an explanation for the unexplainable; yet none of them has offered an acceptable one. That I should add to their number has only one reason. Unlike others, I witnessed most of the aforementioned events, for I was at F__ Hall in Derbyshire when they occurred, and my position in the household had given me the opportunity to study some papers which may throw some light on the matter. The conclusions I have drawn for myself are highly unsatisfactory to the scholarly mind and excessively disturbing, but they may be of use to anyone wishing to know what occurred and why. So I shall write down my observations and what I and others thought of them at the time, leaving it to my readers to agree with me or dismiss my opinions as those of a lunatic. I shall not blame them if they do, for the tale I am going to relate is a strange and horrifying one.
I thought myself extremely fortunate when I was offered employment in the Earl of M__'s household. After having left university, I had earned my bread by tutoring the sons of genteel families - a profession to which, I must confess, I am not suited. I had just left my latest employer's home and was on my way to London, where I hoped to find a new position of some kind, preferably one that did not involve tutoring, when I came across Lord M__'s eldest son and heir in a Hertfordshire inn. He knew me; for although I was much younger than he, he had been a university friend of my late brother's.
"Why, if that isn't Paul Richardson! How do you do, sir?"
I felt honoured being recognised by so important a personage, replied to his cordial greeting and, upon being asked what had brought me to the wilds of Hertfordshire, I gave him a brief account of why I was travelling to London.
"London, eh?" said his lordship. "I have a better idea than that - I can offer you something that will suit you better than tutoring - has there ever been a worse profession? I remember how we made our tutor's life a misery when we were boys! Anyway, my father is looking for a secretary, and if you care to give it a try I'll put in a good word for you. What do you say?"
I was not entirely certain whether such a position of trust in a great man's household - honourable as it was - was the right thing for me. On the other hand, the offer was tempting.
"What would my duties include?" I inquired.
"Taking care of my father's appointments and correspondence, of course," he replied. "Copying out his speeches for the House of Lords - the old man has such a damnable scrawl that nine times out of ten not even he himself can decipher it. It is a good thing you have spent so much time poring over ancient manuscripts, eh? It will come in useful." He uttered a good-natured laugh. "Speaking of manuscripts, there are a few interesting ones in our library. Looking after those would also be part of your duties. Those, and all the other books in my father's possession. They need cataloguing, and none of us can be bothered to do it."
The offer became more tempting by the minute. "Will his lordship not object to the fact that I have no experience?" I asked.
"I do not think he will," was Lord B__'s reply. "He will judge you not by what you have done, but by what you will do."
"Well," I said hesitatingly. "If Lord M__ is willing to take me on, I will be honoured to work for him."
"Excellent!" cried his lordship and took his leave. Two weeks later, I took up my position at F___ Hall.
Lord M__ was just as amiable as his son, and the kind of employer every man would be lucky to find. I was treated with great civility; the Family allowed me into their midst almost as if I was a guest in their house and not an employee. I was permitted to dine at the family table whenever there were no guests; for, as his
lordship observed, it was unthinkable that a gentleman of breeding and education should dine in the servants' hall, and dining on one's own was such a dismal affair.
My duties were not onerous. That is to say I did not find them burdensome, since they included the cataloguing of the library as well as writing a family chronicle, which was something Lord M__ had long wanted done and something that matched my main interests. I spent about an hour or two every day writing his lordship's letters, and then retired to the library. Considering that there must have been some ten thousand volumes I had a truly Herculean task before me; however I was keen to get it done. Such treasures as there were to be found!
As for the family chronicles, there were papers in my lord's possession which he handed to me, telling me to make some sense of them. Some of them must have dated back to the Middle Ages; and I set about my task at once.
The history of the noble House of F__ need not be repeated here; it must be common knowledge. However there is one fact which may be of interest to my readers; especially in view of the misfortune that has befallen the family.
Although they came to England with the Conqueror - a fact that Lord M__ was very proud of - they were not a very powerful or remarkable family at first. It was not until the Wars of the Roses that they rose to fame and fortune. During the reign of King Edward IV, whose loyal supporters they had been, Sir Henry F__ was the head of the family. He had three sons, all of whom showed great promise if one is to believe the chronicles.
As we know, King Edward's early death caused unrest in the country. It also caused conflict in the House of F__. Among the papers I have seen there were several letters from family members now long dead and gone, and they tell this story:
The eldest brother, named Henry after his father, had early in his life befriended the Duke of Gloucester - the man who became King Richard III. The younger, whose name was Edmund, had no love for his new sovereign. He supported the cause of Henry Tudor. Their mother urged them to keep the peace within the family and not to let their opposing opinions sow enmity between them. However, the inevitable happened.
Both brothers took part in the Battle of Bosworth Field - one fighting for the cause of King Richard III, the other for Henry Tudor, and it appears that in the heat of the battle Edmund, not recognising whom he was facing, slew his brother. There are reports that their mother, upon being told the news, went insane; although in the letters she wrote in those last months of her life there is no evidence that she did.
There is one document which I came across that would have puzzled me, had I not been acquainted with these particular events in the family history. It must have been written by Lady Ann F__; at least I think it must have been since I found it in a 15th century psalter which is known to have been her property. The note was not written on paper, which was already available at the time, but on the finest vellum, in the tidiest handwriting imaginable. This indicates that whoever wrote it must have felt they were conveying an important message. In fact they were making certain their voice would be heard and taken seriously; even more seriously for the words that had been chosen. They had all been taken from the Old Testament.
The message read:
Benedictio patris firmat domos filiorum, maledictio autem matris eradicat fundamenta.
Visitans iniquitatem patrum in filiis in tertiam et quartam generationem."
"Tertiam et quartam" had been carefully crossed out. An X in red ink covered these words.
I showed the note to Lord B__, who was visiting his parents at that time.
"That's odd," he said as he read it. "Looks like someone had been practising their Latin, doesn't it? Children copying something out of a Bible, maybe."
"Can you imagine any child writing as neatly as that, my lord?"
He laughed. "Touché! I certainly didn't when I was a boy! I still don't!"
"Also, I do not feel that these verses would be the ones chosen for children to copy."
"Hmmmm.... That first line is from Genesis, isn't it? The story of Cain and Abel, if I remember correctly. It must be; there is talk of the murdered brother's blood crying out to the Lord."
"Where have you found this?"
"In Lady Ann's psalter, my lord."
"Lady Ann, eh? That fills me with a sense of foreboding. There is a family legend, though it is no more than that, mind you, that she cursed her son Edmund for killing his brother at Bosworth Field."
"That would explain the second line," I mused. "A father's blessing strengthens the houses of the children, but a mother's curse uproots their foundations."
"And the third is from the Ten Commandments," Lord B__ said. "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation."
"If you say that Lady Ann cursed her son for killing his brother," I suggested, "do you think that what you are holding in your hand at the moment is the actual curse?"
Lord B__ dropped the vellum as if it were a live coal, but he laughed. "Nonsense," he said. "There is no curse. Nothing bad ever happened to Edmund or any of his descendants. As you can see. I do not consider myself particularly cursed."
"Supposing that Lady Ann did not really want her son to die," I said. "Did she want to delay the effects of her curse on some later generation, some generation she was not even certain would ever exist?"
"Why would she do that? She must have known it was no fault of theirs! Anyway, nothing untoward happened to any of the third or fourth generation following those brothers."
"The third and the fourth have been crossed out," I pointed out.
"Maybe she took it back?" Lord B__ suggested.
"But a parent's curse can never be taken back, according to medieval folklore," I pointed out. "Just as a parent's blessing is the strongest blessing one can receive, a parent's curse is the deadliest of all."
"Can't have been as deadly as that," Lord B____ muttered and left me to my cogitations. If the message was meant as a curse - and I was quite certain that it was - who had been the target?
"You and your talk of curses, Richardson," Lord B__ said to me the next morning. "I couldn't sleep a wink all night!"
"Indeed, my lord? Why? I got the impression you did not take it all that seriously," I replied.
"It is one thing not to believe in the power of maledictions," he said. "But holding one in my hand is quite another."
"You do believe it was a curse, then?"
"It must have been meant as one, at any rate," said his lordship. "Lady Ann must have been truly insane."
"The evidence does not suggest it," I said.
"If writing down a spell is not sufficient evidence for insanity I don't know what is."
"I believe that written curse suggests that she knew exactly what she was about," I said. "An insane person does not."
"What have you done with the document?" he wanted to know.
"I filed it. For future family members to see. I thought they might find it interesting."
Lord B___ shrugged. "As long as I don't have to look at it again you may keep it," he said. "It's a nasty piece of work; that's what it is."
"True; but it is a piece of family history as well," I argued. "Shall we destroy it simply because it does not suit us?"
"Don't turn all Historian in my presence, I beg you," Lord B__ sighed. "You know I cannot stomach it."
As I left the room, I heard him inquire of his mother whether one of the maids had the toothache, for there had been "a sobbing and wailing all night which had quite robbed him of his sleep".
Lord B__ was not the only member of the family suffering from sleepless nights. Colonel F___, his lordship's younger brother, complained as well. Like his eldest brother, Colonel F__ felt that someone - the servants, maybe - were up and about all night, moving around the corridors whispering or even crying. But he did not only blame the servants. The windows of the Colonel's room overlooked the stable yard, and he swore that he had heard the dogs in the kennels snarl and fight among themselves all night. Those animal noises had made it impossible for him to go to sleep and they had made him feel quite apprehensive too, though he was not, he said, a timid man.
"Haven't you heard anything?" he asked me, since my room was just above his.
"No, sir, I had a quiet night," I replied.
"Lucky you," said the Colonel. "Another night like this and I shall be glad to go back to Spain!"
"Does nothing ever disturb your night's rest in Spain, sir?" I wanted to know.
"Often, but I usually know where the noises come from," was his reply. "I know who or what makes them, and why. Not knowing is what makes me nervous."
"It all started when Richardson found that note that he thinks came from Lady Ann," Lord B__ said with an uncertain laugh. He, too, was looking pale and anxious by now, having been unable to sleep for over a week.
"What message?" asked the Colonel.
I told him what message his brother was alluding to, and he expressed his wish to see it. So I showed it to him. Unlike Lord B__, the Colonel seemed to believe that there was something to it.
"It does not matter whether one believes in curses or not," he said. "I would say that the thought of someone looking up these quotes in their family Bible and copying them as neatly as this in order to do harm speaks of an amount of malice which is quite disturbing."
I had to agree with his reasoning.
"And while I am not superstitious," the Colonel continued, "I have encountered odd things during my campaigns that cannot be easily explained. The peasants in Spain, for example, do believe in curses. They fear the Evil Eye."
"It is a common belief among Southerners, I think."
"I don't know about that," the Colonel said. "I find it interesting, however, that someone took words from the Bible to use them for an unholy purpose. Do you think Lady Ann actually gave this to her son, or did she just put it away to be found by his descendants?"
"As far as I know," I said, "people in the Middle Ages did not think it was necessary for the victims of a curse to know about it. It only needed to be spoken - or written down - to have an effect. They thought written words had power, and words from Holy Scripture were the most powerful of all. Using them to do harm was a common practice."
The nightly disturbances continued; or so Lord B__ and the Colonel told me. I never noticed anything wrong; my night's repose was never interrupted. Lord B__ and the Colonel talked of whispering in the passages, sounds of someone moving about in their rooms at night and the uncomfortable sensation of being watched at all times, coldness pervading their bedrooms in spite of fires being lit, and nightmares of the most terrifying kind. Colonel F__ cut his furlough short and left for Spain earlier than he had planned. He preferred sleeping in a Spanish peasant's hovel to lying awake in an English mansion, and known horrors were to be preferred to unknown ones, he said.
Lady M__, who was planning a house party at that time, was quite worried. What if those disturbances were not only restricted to her own family, but began to trouble her house guests as well? A search was made all over F__ Hall to eliminate any possible causes, but to no avail. In the meantime, I was making an effort to discover why "the third and fourth" had been crossed out. In spite of my scholarly training which had taught me to dismiss the power of supernatural forces, I was beginning to believe that what we were referring to as "Lady Ann's Curse" was behind these mysterious goings-on. But why had it not done any harm before? Was it because it had not been found? Was I instrumental in bringing misfortune to the family? Was there anything I could do to prevent it?
The house guests arrived one afternoon in late October and included Lord M__'s sister, Lady Catherine de B__, her daughter, Miss de B__; as well as Lord M__'s nephew and niece, Mr D__ and Miss D__. Mr D__ also brought his young wife. He was particularly interested in my work as a family chronicler, and was so kind as to spend a few hours in the library with me discussing my progress. He, too, wanted to look at that fateful document although by now I was reluctant to show it to any member of the family. Lord B__, after not having had a good night's sleep for weeks, was looking very ill by then.
Mr D__ did not believe the document was a curse; instead he made the sensible suggestion that Lady Ann had written down these Bible verses in an attempt to document her grief and unburden herself. I was only too happy to consider this; indeed I thought it likely. However I must say that subsequent events have proved that theory wrong.
"My uncle has told me," said Mr D__, "that you are working on a family tree. How far back does it go by now?"
"I have been able to trace your uncle's family until the Middle Ages," I replied. "Though not further than the fourteenth century so far. I have asked for copies of some tomes from Oxford which, I hope, will assist me in finding some earlier family members."
"May I see what you have got so far?" Mr D__ asked.
"Certainly, sir," I said and produced my notebook.
Mr D__ studied it for maybe five minutes and then observed, "I believe I know why Lady Ann has crossed out the third and the fourth generation."
"She meant the tenth."
"The tenth what?"
"The tenth generation; not the third or fourth. X means ten. Whatever misfortune should befall the family would not happen to the third or fourth generation. It would happen to the tenth. If I believed in that kind of thing I would be worried."
He then pointed out what had not occurred to me before - Lord B__, the Colonel, himself and his sister as well as Miss de B___ were the tenth generation following the fateful pair of brothers. They were the last descendants of Edmund's line as far as I knew.
I now felt it was my duty to discover some means of saving the family. That some evil was imminent, and that I had in some way been the means of bringing it about, was quite clear to me. I spent several evenings reading my notebooks - one of my lecturers at university had been an expert on medieval beliefs, religious and otherwise, and I hoped I would find something among my notes that would tell me what to do. There was nothing, however. People in the Middle Ages thought that a parent's curse was the deadliest of all and could not be taken back. I had known as much. If it could not be taken back, it could not be averted either. Whatever Lady Ann had wished for would happen - and if Mr D__ was right it would happen to the tenth generation.
Colonel F__ was the first to go, although we did not know it at the time. According to his batman, with whom I have had the opportunity to speak, he left his lodgings on All Hallow's Eve and did not return. When his men set out to search the area the next morning, they found him dead not far from his cottage, with his throat torn out. Apparently, before he had left his men he had said he wanted to "put an end to it". What he had wanted to put an end to remains unknown up to this day. However his batman swears that no human being would have been able to cause such injuries as the Colonel's. He thinks he must have been attacked by wolves or some other wild animals, although none had been seen anywhere near that area at the time.
Meanwhile at F__ Hall, Lady Catherine was feeling anxious on her daughter's behalf. Miss de B__, whose health had always been delicate, had caught a cold and had remained in bed all day. Since her condition showed no sign of improving, Lady Catherine demanded that someone ought to ride to Buxton for a physician. Lord M__ offered to send one of the grooms, but Lady Catherine declined the offer. An uneducated stable boy, she said, would not be able to deliver the message as it ought to be delivered. He would not be able to convey the importance of the case to the doctor. In the end, Lord B__ offered to go, and Lady Catherine was quick to accept his offer. So, after dinner, Lord B__ went, never to be seen alive again. What exactly happened to him nobody knows - he was an excellent horseman; yet he was thrown off his horse and broke his neck. Miss de B___'s condition worsened, and she passed away that very night. The doctor never came; for Lord B__ had never reached him.
Mr D__ and his family remained at F__ Hall to assist the stricken parents; however they were not spared. They had a carriage accident some days later on their way back to P__, Mr D__'s family home. Mr and Miss D__ were killed; Mrs D__ survived although she was seriously injured. In consequence of the accident, she lost the child she had been carrying. Lady Ann's curse had been effective. Within a few days, the tenth generation of Edmund's descendants was no more.
I have put Lady Ann's note back into her psalter, and have hidden them both in Lord M__'s library. Lord M__ wanted to burn them, but I cannot allow him to destroy historical evidence. Once he and his sister die, Edmund's bloodline will be extinct.
The heir presumptive now is a descendant of Henry and Edmund's youngest brother, Richard. But after so much speculation going on in certain newspapers his name is common knowledge and need not be stated here.The End