I have asked those Happy Few who contribute to the Monday Morning Post to help me write a gothic novel.
Here is the beginning:
“The castle of Howdedoo”, said Frederick, “is said to be cursed.”
“Oh!” trilled his fiancee Penelope, “How so?”
“Count Howdedo,” continued Frederick," murdered his beautiful young wife when he learned of her infidelity."
“How?” asked Penelope, “Where?”
“Why, in the master bed chamber, of course. No one has slept there for years.”
“Oh!” She was trilling again.
“The maids cleaning the chamber saw her in her night gown, with her beautiful throat slit, walking up and down in front of the window. My uncle will not speak of why he does not sleep there, only grumbles about ‘superstitious servants’ and speaks of other things.”
“Oh! I must sleep there tonight!”
What was with this trilling thing? He hoped it was not contagious.
“I do not believe that would be wise, my Beloved.”
“Why?” asked Penelope. “Do you think a mere girl would be afraid of silly folktales and ghosts?”
She could be shrill as well. Frederick reconsidered his position. “Of course not, Dear, but the servants would talk. Very well. I shall be two doors down the hall, should you be af…in need, and I shall have the maid, Agnes, sleep in your ante chamber to quell any gossip about your virtue.”
Penelope could giggle as well. “Frederick, I have no fear for my virtue from you!”
Frederick was somewhat taken aback. He certainly had do designs upon his fiancee, but he did wish that she consider his masculinity to be more…masculine.
“Very well, my Dear, but I shall have Agnes sleep in the ante-chamber still. Servants will gossip, and I have no desire for your father to have a bad report of our time here at my uncle’s castle.”
Ah, her father, that incredibly wealthy, nasty, cheap, old infirm, sick man with months to live.
It was only at the urging of his wife Elizabeth that Reginald Harrington grudgingly allowed his daughter Penelope to travel with her fiancé and a mere two servants. He knew his daughter had a curiosity for the macabre and bizarre, although how she came by that he will never understand. He finds no solace in his brandy that evening, nor in the light snoring of his faithful Labrador Marcus at his feet. There would be no respite until Penelope is home and safe.
“Ah, Marcus,” Reginald muttered, “do not father children. They are a constant worry.” The dog awoke, and sat at Reginald’s feet as another wave of pain engulfed him.
Penelope entered the master bed chamber. Richard and Agnes followed her to the doorway, which after many fond remarks from Richard, she shut. She flung her bag upon the bed, extracted her night gown, a flask, a package of forbidden (to women) cigarettes, and matches. She quickly downed her gown, took an eager swig of brandy, and lit a cigarette. She had hoped that Richard would come in an assault her virtue, which she would give up after a very slight resistance, but all was quiet. There was an ashtray in the abandoned room, but she but her cigarette out, she found another there. It smelled of fresh tobacco. What was afoot?
“Don’t worry, my dear, I often come in here to sneak a smoke”, said a mysterious man whom Penelope did not know was in the room.
“Who are you?”, Penelope stammered while also tremoring in anticipation at the thought of a total stranger assaulting her virtue. This would be the virtue Penelope liked to pretend she has, of course.
“I am Frederick Richard’s (since he seems to go by either name) slightly deranged, but more handsome not quite evil twin brother Richard Frederick,” replied the man with a slightly deranged, yet handsome, look on his face.
Penelope studies the man’s face, and realized that he must be lying, as he did not look even the slightest bit like her fiancé.
“Who are you, really?” the fear now gone from her voice, and her stance more assured and confident. Defending her virtue against this stranger could be infinitely more enjoyable than with her beloved.
“Madame?” Called Agnes from the doorway, “Is all well? I thought I heard voices.”
Penelope rapidly began forming such an excuse as she could construct at a moments notice, and turned towards her visitor for help, but the Stranger was gone as suddenly as he appeared.
“I probably called out in my sleep,” responded our heroine, “it has been such an exciting day.”
Penelope sighed and said to herself, “Alas, shall I never be able to defend my virtue!”
Thinking maybe the shot of brandy had caused her to imagine things, she lit another cigarette to calm her nerves and reclined upon the chaise lounge to collect herself.
She closed her eyes and heard a sudden rustling sound, as if someone were walking across the room in a taffeta gown. She looked up and gasped as she saw a young woman in her night gown, with her beautiful throat slit, walking up and down in front of the window.
Our Heroine, startled, dropped her cigarette upon the chaise lounge which began to smoulder.
Penelope was startled when the Stranger flung her from her seat. He threw the window open, and she could not but admire how he picked up the piece of furniture and flung it out the window. Breathless, she turned to him just as Frederick burst into the room.
“Why Uncle Bernie! What are you doing here?”
“Flinging my furniture out the window,” replied his uncle, “After your fiancee set it afire.”
“Penelope!” exclaimed Frederick, “Are you quite alright!”
“I saw her!” cried our heroine, “I saw the dead Countess, as plain as day!”
“It’s not day,” replied Frederick, “It’s the middle of the night.”
Penelope gave an angry glance towards her beloved. “I saw the dead Countess!”
Uncle Bernard sniffed Penelope’s flask. “There wasn’t enough brandy in this to make even a small dog see ghosts. Perhaps I should check the decanters downstairs.” He arched an amusing eyebrow.
Penelope turned her less than generous glance towards Uncle Bertie.
“I saw the countess.” She insisted.
“I am sure you some something,” replied Bernard, “but we do not know what.”
“Agnes,” called Frederick, “Please tidy up the room. A terrible…”
There was no reply. Frederick glanced at Bernard, who turned to the ante chamber, and quickly strode out of the room.
Penelope and Frederick followed after a moment. Bernard was bent over Agnes the maid. Her throat had been cut. “She is quite dead.” Announced Bernard.
“You can’t be quite dead,” replied Frederick. It’s one of those either-or things, like being a little pregnant."
“Good Lord, this is the eighteen century,” injected Bernard. “We speak of pregnancy in front of women, and go about defenestrating our favorite furniture.”
Elizabeth Harrington walked quietly into the parlor, carrying a tray on which sat a small vial and a spoon, to check on her husband. She put the tray she carried on the little side table next to Reginald’s chair.
“Time for your tonic, my dear,” she said as she poured from the vial onto the spoon.
Reginald turned to look up at her and smiled despite the agony he felt. He took the spoon from her hand, inserted it into his mouth, and swallowed the liquid. He shuddered slightly at the bitter, unappetizing taste, and returned the spoon to the tray.
“Thank you, dearheart” he told her, and closed his eyes to await the morphine stupor that was to follow.
Elizabeth Harrington then carried the tray back to the kitchen. She was startled when the door in the back hall just off the kitchen was suddenly flung open. She looked to see who could be doing such a thing at this late hour and saw her son Armand, looking quite dissheveled, standing in the back hall.
“My gracious goodness,” swore Elizabeth (this is cursing in the eighteenth century), “Why ever are you coming in at this late hour looking so dissheveled Armand! Is that blood I see upon your hands? Why, you look as if you’ve recently slit the throat of a chambermaid!”
“I’m so very sorry to have startled you Mumsy,” replied Armand. “You see, I stopped off at Ye Olde Towne Tavern for a flagon of ale and a local roustabout began causing a disturbance. I assisted Mr. Flaghorn, the tavern owner, in throwing the ruffian out into the street. Afterward he gave me a raspberry tart. So, you see, this is not blood upon my hands, but raspberry jam.”
“Oh very well then,” said Elizabeth. “I do know how you so much enjoy a flagon of ale and a raspberry tart. I should have known you would not do anything so horrible as to slit the throat of a chambermaid. My sincerest apologies dearest boy.” Elizabeth was in deep denial of what a scalawag and ne’er do well her son was known to be throughout the shire.
“We don’t speak of pregnancy in front of women in the eighteenth century.” Argued Frederick.
“This is the nineteenth century, nephew.” Corrected Bernard.
“But you said eighteenth, Uncle.” Said Frederick.
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did,” said Frederick, flipping back a few pages, “See? Everyone is saying eighteenth.”
“Crap”, muttered Bernard.
The doorbell rang.
“Doorbell!”, smirked Bernard, “Sounds nineteenth to me!”
The Butler came to the door, “Sir, there is a police inspector arrived, and there is a dead body on the floor.”
“Yes, Desmond, we know there is a dead body on the floor. Show the inspector to my study. We shall be down in a few moments.”
The confused trio entered the study, where an overweight Police Inspector awaited them. “I am Inspector Nero Wolfe,” he announced, “and I have come to investigate the murder of you maid.”
“I thought you never left your home.” Mentioned Penelope.
“It is the nineteenth century,” responded Wolfe, “there are no damned telephones. I must leave my home to investigate.”
Bernard smirked at his nephew. “How may we help you, Inspector?”
“Have either of you been eating strawberry tarts?” asked Wolfe.
The three shook their heads.
“Damn.” Muttered Wolfe, “I’ll have to work.”
“I had an apple tart yesterday”, volunteered Penelope.
“That is egregious, and does not help me solve the case.” Pronounced Wolfe.
“Did people say ‘egregious’ in the eighteenth century?” asked Bernard.
“Oh sod off!!” muttered Frederick.
“I know Sir Bernard Aubrey, the popular Royal Navy Captain, but who are you two?” asked Inspector Wolfe.
“My Nephew Frederick Aubrey, and his fiancé Penelope Peabody.”, responded Bernard. “They are spending a week at my castle before their marriage. Sort of a pre-honey moon, if you will. This is, after all the nineteenth century.”
“Eighteenth.” Muttered Frederick.
“Suspects appear to not know what century it is.” Wrote Wolfe in his notebook.
All three shook their heads at Inspector Wolfe’s question concerning strawberry tarts, but knew, deep inside their souls, they had all, plus Penelope’s brother Armand, eaten raspberry tarts which, if gotten upon their hands can look suspiciously like the blood of a chambermaid.
As it was New Year’s eve 1800, no wonder everyone was confused as to whether or not it was the eighteenth or nineteenth century. Especially since the castle was suspiciously devoid of clocks.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Harrington llying n bed listening to the morphine induced slumber of her husband Reginald was quite puzzled. As she pondered her son Armand’s remark that he had eaten a raspberry tart earlier that evening she couldn’t help but think that the usual Saturday fare at Ye Olde Towne pub included apple tarts, not raspberry tarts. She mused to herself, “Raspberry tarts are always served on Thursday nights at Ye Olde Towne Pub. Why on earth would Armand eat a two day old tart? Then again,” she recalled, “Armand has been known to eat three day old Yorkshire pudding, so I suppose that might be possible.”
Back at the castle, Frederick made sure to hide the knife with which he had stabbed Agnes earlier. “Odds Bodkins” (again late eightenth/early ninetenth century cursing), cursed Frederick. “I made the dreadful mistake of stabbing the chambermaid instead of Penelope! Everyone is used to a throat slitted young woman roaming about the master chamber, but a slit throated chambermaid in the antechamber is quite suspicious indeed! Mayhaps I should plant the knife in the trunk in which Penelope packed those god awful voluminous taffeta and chiffon gowns of which she is so fond.”
Inspector Wolfe had called everyone to the dining room at Howdedo Castle.
“I realize this a great inconvenience for you, Mr. Harrington, and I apologize, given your condition.”
“Oh God, the rush!” muttered Harrington.
“Nonetheless,” continued Wolfe, my minions have reported to me that the only person to eat a Strawberry, Raspberry or even a frigging cherry tart yesterday was Armand Harrington. Again, I apologize, Mr. Harrington."
“I never did like the little bastard.” muttered Reginald.
“How did you know?” asked Elizabeth. “I mean, what the hell are you talking about, Inspector Wolfe?”
“We are at war with France,” began Wolfe.
Bernard nudged his elbow into his nephew’s side, “Nineteenth!”
“Why would you name your child after a Frenchman, Mrs. Harrington?” continued Wolfe.
“Why, why…why are you asking me these things?”
“Only one thing,” insisted Wolfe. “You are a French spy, sent here to discover naval information from Captain Aubrey! You arranged for your daughter to marry Captain Aubrey’s nephew, God help her, so that you might gain more information, as daughters always confide in their mothers in gothic novels. I mean, murder mysteries.”
“This is outrageous!” cried Elizabeth. “Moi?”
“What more proff do we need?” asked Wolfe rhetorically. “When your daughter proved to be no longer useful, you sent your French son to kill her!”
“Then why would I ask him about the jam?” asked Elizabeth.
“Oh, crap.” muttered Wolfe.
Penelope awakened. Her digital clock was blinking “12:00”.
“Crap,” she said, eyeing the two men in the bed with her, “That was some really bad dope.”
Then she saw the raspberry jam on their hands…
Mr. Whiskers, Penelope’s cat, jumped up on the bed, and began to lick the jam off of Manny’s and Fred’s hands. Manny slept through this assault, but Fred awoke and slapped the cat away. After landing on the floor Mr. Whiskers hissed at Fred, sat back, and raised his right rear leg to clean his anterior region at the offender.
“I hate that cat, Henny-Penny” Fred complained to the lady next to him.
“I hate being called Henny-Penny, Fred-Er-Rick!” she snapped back, emphasizing each syllable of his full name.
Somewhat miffed, Penelope rolled over. She certainly knew who she would kick out of bed when she had to pee.
“You take great liberties, Sir.” said Henny-Pen…Penelope as Frederick helped her to her chair.
“But My Dear, I am you fiancee!” protested Frederick.
“Oh. Yes, I forgot.” murmured Penelope.
Bernard took his nephew aside. “I say, are you absolutely sure about this marriage thing, Old Chap?”
“That is all for now,” inspector Wolfe announced. “Please notify us if you leave the area.”
After the customary pleasantries, he left the castle.
There was a great crash, and the Butler shuffled in as rapidly as he could manage. “Sir,” he addressed Bernard, “There as been a great crash. Inspector Wolfe tripped over a smoldering chaise, and broke his neck. He is quite dead.”
Bernard glared at his Nephew before the Butler’s English could be criticized.
The trio hurried outside.
“We have a murdered maid, a ghost, and a dead Police Inspector. What on earth has caused all this?” asked Bernard rhetorically.
Penelope shrieked, and pointed wordlessly to the parapet high above them.
There stood a woman in a white night gown, with her throat cut.
“Crap.” said Bernard.