My sister weds on the morrow. By dusk, Victoria will be a wife and I shall have gained a brother, although he is, in honesty, old enough to be our father. I do not understand her. He is DEUCED old, and his countenance is…unattractive. If I were less charitable, I would even say he is ugly. Who ever heard of a blue beard? He must dye it. When he looks at me, I feel myself shudder, and I frequently find myself uneasy in his DAMNABLE presence.
I have expressed my concerns to Victoria, but she just laughs and shows me her ruby-encrusted betrothal ring. “Anne,” she says, “he is to be my husband. And you shall stay with us! His estate has over two hundred rooms and we must find some way to fill them! Try to get along with him?”
How can I refuse my sister anything?
Even if her betrothed is DEUCED old.
My sister is wed. Our mother is ecstatic. She thinks that now we are related by marriage to a Marquis, the debt collectors will extend our credit once again. She has already ordered the fashioning of six new gowns, three ball, one walking and two day-dresses. I am sure she believes she will once again be elevated to the social level she gave up when she wed our father.
I have lost my sister.
I have been visiting with Clarissa Bentham and her family, as I will not be able to visit her as often once I leave for my sister’s new estate. Victoria is sending her new private carriage for me in two days. I shall arrive in time for our birthday. Victoria has organised some horrendously expensive extravagance, which I am sure I shall hate.
Victoria has also written that I am to have an entire new wardrobe and a whole suite of rooms for myself. Clarissa is quite impressed with my sister’s advantageous marriage. She wishes she had a sister who could marry and provide her with what my sister has given me. I informed her I would much prefer being related to her family than the DAMNABLE Marquis. Clarissa quickly changed the subject. I do not believe she wished to talk of her brother’s failure.
I feel such empathy for Mr Bentham. I wish I could say something to lessen the grief the marriage of my sister has left in his heart. He avoided me studiously while I was at Westenham and on the occasions we did meet, he would not look at me. I can understand his pain but I sorely miss his friendship.
Clarissa and I spent much time discussing her upcoming Season and, consequently, her presentation to the King. She is most excited. I must say I am glad Clarissa is the one going through this nonsense and not I. I am quite sure a Season is a useless endeavour and even if I did attract a suitor, I am sure he would reconsider his attentions as soon as he discovered my lack of dowry.
Although…I would not mind attending just one ball. Only to see what all the fuss is about. Maybe I will next Season. Victoria seems to believe the Marquis will finance my Debut.
Susan just arrived to dress me for dinner. I shall have to go downstairs and face Mother. I am immensely glad to be living apart from her, at the very least. Sometimes, Mother can be so obtuse!
I arrived at the Marquis’ estate today. It is quite large. My sister appears in good health.
I have tried to be silent as long as I can, but this place is too strange. I do not know how Victoria can live here. She seems quite happy, lording her newfound wealth and position over the houseguests. She had invited every person of our acquaintance to this…monstrosity for our birthday. The amount she has spent on entertainment for people we barely know would have kept us in food and clothing at Pruitt House for at least two years!
Also, Victoria has invited Mother.
Nobody else seems to notice the strangeness that surrounds Ravanborough, the Marquis’ estate. Even Clarissa thinks it a marvellous place. She thinks the way the wind howls at night and the constant sound of thunderous waves crashing against the cliffs is ‘ever so romantic’. That is just how she said it. As if our lives have suddenly been placed within the pages of one of Mrs Radcliffe’s novels. She does not feel the way Ravanborough looms, making one feel ever so insignificant and…overwhelmed. Every night, I hear screaming from the north-west turret and I am convinced it is haunted. Victoria can laugh at me all she wants. I know that this place is, somehow, evil.
The villagers surrounding the estate seem very afraid of the Marquis. It must be because he is so grotesquely ugly. His countenance is even worse than I remembered it. He is so old! Susan tells me the servants whisper he has been married four times. She does not know what happened to his other wives, however. It is most frustrating that she will not find out everything there is to know!
At least Mr Bentham agrees with me. He can see that something is not right here. We have been investigating! It is so good that he is, once again, my old friend. He seems to have put his disappointment behind him and is bravely moving forward with his life. He is such an admirable man.
We decided to start with the Restoration wing of the house. The place is liberally covered with dust and cobwebs, the dust-sheets doing little to protect the furniture and paintings, though someone quite obviously at some stage thought they would. Mr Bentham and I investigate each room carefully, searching for some example of the Marquis’ duplicity. We have told no one of our midnight campaigns, as we do not want to alert the Marquis of our suspicions. I must admit I am quite enjoying the attentions of Mr Bentham. A year ago this never would have happened…but then, a year ago Victoria was not wed. How envious I was of Victoria then! I do worry sometimes, that he is with me only as I remind him of her…
We have just returned from such an investigation! Tomorrow, we shall investigate the northern side of the house. I am sure we will find something there! We have been looking in the-
The screaming has started again. It gave me such a fright! Somehow, it seems a lot closer tonight. Maybe the ghosts are travelling. However shall I get to sleep?
The Marquis has left Ravanborough on business and Victoria has taken his departure as meaning she can increase her guest list exponentially. I say, there are not enough rooms in her mausoleum of an estate. I will be forced to share a room with Elizabeth Milton, I just know it. She is being so DEUCED difficult. Just because Victoria has married money and a title, she thinks she can order me around and force me into a room with Elizabeth Milton. I am the elder by seven minutes! Surely that warrants some kind of respect. She is so DAMNABLY vexatious.
Mr Bentham and I have been continuing our midnight searches. We have not found anything truly incriminating yet, but it is a matter of time, I am sure of it! The Marquis is so grotesque, any other possibility is unthinkable.
I am writing this entry as Mr Bentham and I conduct our latest search. I suggested we draw a map of the house, marking off each room as we eliminated it. Mr Bentham declared it a capital idea. That is just what he said. Capital! Dare I hope he-
Mr Bentham has found something! It is a locked strongbox. Something dastardly must surely be inside.
Mr Bentham will smash the lock. I advised him the Marquis may notice a smashed lock, but Mr Bentham smiled at me, quite wickedly, and said there are ways around being detected. Oh, he must have done this before! He is so worldly. He has spent at least six months in London, and-
There is nothing in the box! DAMNATION! Dastardly, evil, damnably clever Marquis! He must know we have suspicions. He has hidden all the incriminating items. A…a pox on Victoria for marrying the damnable man!
27th May (continued)
Mr Bentham has asked permission to call me Anne! And he insists that I address him as Henry! This has been the most TREMENDOUS night of my life!
Today, Henry and I went on a walk around Ravanborough. Unchaperoned. I still do not like this place, but as it is where Henry first noticed that I am a woman, I feel a most reluctant attachment to Ravanborough.
Henry. Is it not the most romantic name one could imagine? He is such an admirable man. And he says I do not remind him of Victoria at all! It was quite wicked of me, but I could not stand the uncertainty a moment longer. I asked him if I reminded him of Victoria, if he saw her when he looked at me. That particular time, he looked back at me quite blankly, and I felt ever so ridiculous. I stumbled to explain my concerns and he simply frown. “But you wear your hair differently,” he said.
I do not know why that comforted me. I know it makes no sense-
30th May (continued)
Victoria has discovered the most horrific thing about her husband. I told her he was unsettling, but did she listen to me? Of course not. She went about in her usual arrogant way, convinced she was right and now she has discovered she was not and-
I am babbling.
How could anyone have imagined this? It is too terrible. Maybe it will not look as bad on paper.
The Marquis gave Victoria a set of keys before he left on business, telling her she could not use them. Her curiosity aroused, Victoria spent the rest of the day trying to determine what the keys unlocked. After testing them on the locks in the frequented sections of Ravanborough, she turned her attention to the disused Restoration wing of the house. The wing Henry and I have been searching.
I knew the Marquis was hiding something in there.
Discovering the keys opened a suite of rooms, and though disconcerted, Victoria undertook an exploration. It must have been very late by then, as Victoria said the shadows had grown, looking like long, spindly figures reaching out with gnarled hands to snare her in their clutches. She came across a room that appeared even less used than the others and, of course, opened the door.
If only she hadn’t opened the door.
Dried blood painted the walls, broken only by iron manacles and other torturous instruments bolted to the rough hewn walls. The floor was strewn with uneven clumps of blackened red. Lumps that had once been people.
It appeared the Marquis had rid himself of his previous wives in a most creative manner.
Victoria came straight to me with her discovery. I do not know what I am supposed to do. As I am the elder, she believes I should know what to do. How can I? Who has ever been confronted with this? Maybe we should tell Mother.
I was wrong. It looks worse on paper.
It has been just over two years since those terrible days at Ravanborough. I have not written in this journal since those last days. This entry shall be my last, a confession if you will, and then I shall burn this record of my girlhood.
After Victoria told me what she had discovered, we determined we should tell Mother. However, when we did so, she immediately became angry with us. Even now, I can not forgive her reaction. She chose her newfound wealth over the protection of her daughters. She dismissed us as silly girls, desperate to discredit the Marquis in some way.
I pleaded with Victoria to allow me to tell Henry. She resisted the notion at first, but in the end she relented and I half-dragged her to the rose garden, where I had arranged to meet Henry. He was awaiting my arrival, a look of pleasure spreading across his handsome features when he saw me. His face fell, however, when he saw Victoria. I am ashamed to confess that his reaction to Victoria gladdened me. I had been so afraid Henry still had lingering feelings for Victoria, but it was obvious from his reaction he felt nothing greater than friendship.
We told Henry of the room Victoria had discovered. At first, he was as disbelieving as Mother, but when he saw the identical solemn expressions on our faces, he knew we told the truth. He still needed confirmation of the Marquis’ treachery, so Victoria led us to the…the room.
Henry was inside the room a bare second before he lurched out again, his face twisted in horror. I refused to even look. The image in my mind did not need confirmation.
After Henry had finished retching, we went back to the garden to attempt to formulate a plan. We were sitting mostly in silence, still trying to comprehend the horror with which we had been confronted, when a servant came to fetch Victoria.
The Marquis had returned.
I rose silently from my seat next to Henry and grasped her hands. We shared a long look and, trembling, I let go of her hands, letting her go to face her husband. I hoped the Marquis would not notice his room had been disturbed. I hoped Victoria would be able to control her horror when she faced him.
Henry and I stayed in the garden, clutching each other’s hands. I leaned my head against Henry’s shoulder, taking comfort from his presence. It seemed we had stayed there forever, minutes stretching impossibly long, when an enormous sense of dread fell upon me. For a moment, I saw the Marquis, his face twisted grotesquely, shouting manically and shoving a gown with a blood-stained hem in my face. I blinked and the Marquis was gone.
I was not sure what had happened. Had I imagined it? Then I remembered when Victoria had broken her arm when we were one and ten, and the pain I had felt in my own arm.
I ran from the garden for Victoria’s suite, barely hearing Henry’s startled shout. I rushed through the house, a thousand terrible thoughts circulating through my mind. Has he killed Victoria? Has she been added to his terrible room?
The door to Victoria’s suite loomed at the end of the hall. I rushed through Victoria’s dressing room and wrenched open her bedchamber door, certain I would find Victoria dead and the Marquis gloating over her prone figure.
Victoria was in the centre of the room, her profile to the door, the poker from the fireplace clasped loosely in her hand. She was staring at the floor, her features cast in a strange expression. I wondered what she was staring at, the bed obscuring my view.
I will always remember the following conversation. “Victoria,” I said, going to her. “You are well. I was so afraid. I saw something-” The words dried in my throat.
I had seen what Victoria was staring at.
The Marquis lay on the floor, a thin trail of blood snaking it’s way from his nose down the side of his cheek. His dead eyes stared sightlessly at the ceiling, a pool of red forming under his head.
“I moved him,” Victoria said, her voice flat. “He was lying on his back and I moved him. I had to check whether he was dead. So I moved him.” Her eyes held a strange look and she seemed stiff, wooden.
“Oh my God.” I turned. Henry had followed me from the garden. He looked at Victoria in horror.
“He tried to hit me, Anne. He tried to hit me. I couldn’t…” Victoria slowly sank to the floor, still clutching the poker. Her hand was stained with blood, the rubies on her betrothal ring glinting coldly. I stood in shock for a moment before I had the most horrible idea, a way out of this predicament for Victoria. The resulting scandal would be detrimental, but I had to consider what was best for Victoria.
The Marquis was found in his secret room, his body emphasising the horrific nature of the room to gruesome effect. Society was scandalised when the terrible nature of his crimes were exposed, distraught families learning the true nature of their daughters deaths.
No one seemed to question how the Marquis had died. Most believed the Marquis had tried to practice his grotesque perversions on an unwilling party and that person had gotten the better of him. The authorities did not seem too eager to find the Marquis’ murderer. The local magistrate’s sister had been the Marquis’ second wife.
Victoria inherited a generous portion on the Marquis’ death, as well as a small estate in Yorkshire, while the Marquis’ title went into abeyance and his estates to the crown. Victoria is now one of the richest widows in London, swanning it about town with her new friends. We are not as close as we once were.
Henry and I were wed just over a year ago.
I look back on that time at Ravanborough as if it were a dream. I do not want it to be real, for then I would have to explain the faint look of triumph on Victoria’s face as she stared down at the Marquis body.
©2009 Cassandra Dean