Friday, 27 December 2013

A seasonal ghost story

At this time of year, we have a tradition that every evening of the festivities my guests and I draw our chairs up to the fireside in the Great Hall and each, in turn, tell tales of the supernatural, which go hand in glove with the season.

Last night, it was my turn.

You will all be aware that in a dark corner of my domain there is an enormous black bulk that looms over the surrounding environs - The Haunted Tower.

It is now run as a kind of hotel, but this has not always been the case. This is the story of how it came by its name, and my first encounter with the Badfort Crowd.

Shortly after I had purchased Homeward, from Wizard Blenkinsop, the Old Monkey put together a list of recalcitrant tenants who had failed to pay the rents due on the properties they occupied. Foremost of these was a character who you are all now familiar with - Mister Beaver Hateman, and this was to be my first meeting with the gentleman. "He owns that ramshackle castle across from Homeward, Sir, but he rents the Black Tower as his Homeward residence." declared the Old Monkey.

Despite it being Christmas Eve, I decided that the matter of the rent arrears was best dealt with sooner rather than later and so my traction engine was brought around to the front entrance ands we set off to the tower.

The snow lay thick on the ground, and gaunt trees stood up black and leafless out of the white expanse surrounding the Black Tower. The sky was of a frosty blue with sharp twinkling stars, and a hard-looking moon.

Mister Hateman welcomed us with much bonhomie. Although I found him a rather uncouth character, with a somewhat offensive manner, I was willing to give him the chance to redeem his failure to pay his dues. He gave me a tour of the property. It was a wonderful old barrack of a place, with broad passages, twisting interminably like a labyrinth, small bedrooms furnished in an old fashioned manner, and vast reception rooms with polished floors and painted ceilings. Around these were suits of tarnished armour and ancient tapestries embroidered with grim and ghastly legends of the past.

I raised the matter of the unpaid debts. Mister Hateman looked gloomy as I spoke. "Unc, mate, you don't understand, the place is uninhabitable - you can't expect me to pay rent on a haunted tower can you? I mean, really I am doing you a favour by looking after the place ain't I? Cos, believe me, no one else would put up with it!"

Thus speaking, he led me into a large room with a low ceiling, and a broad window looking out on the unkempt park surrounding the tower. The walls were hung with black cloth embroidered with grotesque figures. There was a large old fashioned bed and a quantity of cumbersome furniture. It was clear the the room had not been inhabited for many years and had a desolate and silent look - and to my mind looked gruesome enough to conjure up a battalion of ghosts.

"The Black Chamber!" declared Hateman "the original owner of the tower was a silent misanthropic man, until, that is, he married a beautiful young girl. She slept in this very room. But one day the he got into a right fury after seeing a strange man at the window kissing her hand. In his temper he challenged the man to a duel and killed him. Then he cut the offending hand from his wife. And she died too. But not before she had cursed all those who dared to sleep in her room - foredooming them to a ghastly death. The owner then discovered that the man at her window was in fact her outlaw brother, on the run, who had come one last time to say goodbye to his sister. Within a year the owner was found dead in this room with the mark of three fingers on his wrist. It was thought that in his remorse he had courted death by sleeping in the room cursed by his wife!"

"What errant nonsense!" I declared "And I shall prove it by spending the night here, myself!"

Mister Hateman did his best to persuade me against this course of action. "Look Unc, best you go home, this ain't the place for anyone of a nervous disposition - you leave me to look after the place - if you just pay me and my gang a fair wage we'll look after yer property for you - can't say fairer than that!"

But I would not be deterred. "I'm ready for ghosts or goblins - if any really exist. This is my tower now!"

I took up my quarters in the ghostly territory, with much curiosity, but - as I can aver - no fear. I slipped into bed and placed my large club under my pillow, ready to my hand in case of necessity.

I lay awake for a long time, staring at the queer figures on the draperies which seemed to come alive when the draught fluttered them. I did not feel very comfortable, sceptic as I was. When the candle has burned down pretty low I fell asleep. How long I slumbered I know not: but I woke with the impression that there was something in the room. I heard a soft step crossing the room, and as it drew near a sudden spurt of flame from the candle showed me a woman standing by the side of the bed. She was dressed in a floral brocade and I felt a deadly fear as I realised that this was the veritable phantom!

The next moment I felt my right wrist gripped and with a yell I rolled over, away from the ghost, wrenching my wrist from that horrible clasp. I seized the candle with one hand and in its illumination saw the ghost gliding back towards the tapestries. With the other hand I raised the club from under my pillow and threw it at the retreating figure.

There was a yelp, the fall of a heavy body on the floor, and the thing moaned in the darkness most horribly.

At that point my followers arrived with more candles and we lowered them to look at the ghosts face.

"Beaver Hateman!" I shouted.

"Ow!" he screamed "You miserable old tyrant! bashing me with a club like a bloomin' great bully!"

It did not take long to ascertain that behind the tapestries lay a secret passage which led to Hateman's apartments. The whole story of the previous owner murdering his wife and her brother had been an elaborate charade to persuade me to leave the tower and allow Mister Hateman and his gang to live rent free in it for evermore.

Unfortunately, before I had the chance to rent it out to new tenants, the Black Tower was soon filled with squatters again. Beaver Hateman had been successful in convincing people that it was haunted. News had travelled far and wide, amongst the ghostly fraternity, that it was a welcoming place for ghouls and spectres and it was soon infested with them.

That is the story of how the Black Tower became known as the Haunted Tower.

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