The funeral wasn’t much of a spectacle, but I guess that’s to be expected of such an event. Funerals aren’t meant to be spectacles. Even if people are always saying how it’s supposed to be a celebration of the life that has passed.
There wasn’t an open casket, something I was grateful for. I don’t think I would have been able to stomach that. There was, however, a formal procession to the burial site. Not to mention the traditional speeches from loved ones, dirt sprinkling, and the lowering of the casket. Overall it was an impressive size ceremony. The later reception was held outside under a massive pavilion. There must’ve been at least fifty people there. Most of the guests, I noticed, were unmistakably retirement-age or older. I couldn’t really distinguish any familiar faces, apart from my parents and my grandmother, of course.
The pavilion was elegantly decorated for the afternoon with orchids, crystal drinking glasses, fine laced table cloth, and uniformed waiters and waitresses floating around with refreshments. While the rest of my family politely mingled, I made a decisive effort to stay totally removed from it all. My strategy of avoidance included ducking behind a giant marble statue of a rearing stallion, and refusing to make eye contact with anyone.
I’ll admit that I didn’t feel much sadness for the deceased, despite that he was my grandfather. Really what I felt was guilty. Guilty because I couldn’t summon myself to cry over his death, like a normal granddaughter ought to have done. Guilty because instead of feeling any urge to mourn him whatsoever, my only urge right then was to keep out of sight of everyone. I shouldn’t have felt so guilty about that, though. It wasn’t my fault that I felt that way. I never had the chance to know the man. All I knew of him were the stories my gran would sometimes entertain me with. In the entire sixteen years I’d been alive, my grandfather had been estranged from my family. My dad constantly assured me that this was my grandfather’s choice, not ours. Grandfather chose to cut his ties with my dad a long time ago, after a roaring falling out between the two of them. Over what, exactly, I still don’t know.
Regardless of the allegedly cruel way he’d treated my dad, something about grandfather’s absence in our lives fascinated me. Whenever I’d ask, dad resolutely refused to talk about him. Because of that, I guess, the story of my grandfather became this epic mystery I longed to solve. But whenever I would question my father, his only response would be, “There is no point, Ariella! It will not change anything. Now for heaven’s sake stop hounding me with this!”
He didn’t understand, of course, that there was a point to it. I desperately needed to know, if only for my own peace of mind. The thing is: I absolutely hate not knowing things. I’m the type of girl with an excessive curiosity. My dad knew this quite well, but still he was happy to keep me in the dark.
It wasn’t until I was well into my teenage years that my gran finally crumbled under the pressure. Either that or she simply grew weary of my persistence.
According to gran, my grandfather had been a ridiculously wealthy and propertied Englishman. He mostly inherited his fortunes from a long prestigious bloodline of dukes, earls, viscounts and the like. He seemed, to any stranger, the essence of aristocracy and pomp. In the distinctive words of my gran: “he flaunted his wealth like it was a drop in the bucket to him.” Seriously. He hardly had to lift a finger for anything. It was only after he met my grandmother that he began to strip himself of his extreme superficial tendencies. Even so, my gran said, he remained a very vain man.
While attending Cambridge at the insistence of his parents, my grandfather became immediately obsessed with the beauty and charisma that was my grandmother. At the time gran was a fanatic of the liberal arts. She said she’d been studying modern English literature when she met grandfather, as well as classical music composition and theatre. My grandfather tried relentlessly to pursue her, but she resisted. She wasn’t a fan of entitled men.
Nonetheless my grandfather was determined. In fact, he was such a complete stranger to rejection—always confident in his charms and money, never having to rely on any other merits—that I guess my grandma had been a bit of a wakeup call for him. She was a challenge for once. I think my gran was probably embellishing this part, but apparently he chased her for two whole years before she let him take her on a date.
And so, after a wonderful romantic summer together, playing house in one of grandfather's many mansions in England, gran became pregnant with my dad. It was an illegitimate pregnancy, which at the time would have been severely scandalous, so they had a rushed wedding to accommodate the circumstances. Gran once confessed to me that she would have preferred a better incentive for marriage, but that she didn’t regret that it happened. The resulting years were truly happy for them both. They raised my dad in another grandiose estate of my grandfather’s, near a respectable school and community. Meanwhile gran immersed herself in the arts and culture of England, just as my grandfather continued to gather more of his property and investments. Everything was fairly harmonious among them until my dad went away to study at Oxford. After my dad left the fold...well, things were not far from falling apart.
So far, that’s all I know.
My gran would not say anything more on the subject, stubbornly claiming that if I wanted to know the rest of the story, I’d have to wait until my dad was ready to reveal it himself.
Which I guess I could respect, but it was infuriating not knowing! All my life I’d been trained to feel a certain disgust for my grandfather, when in actuality, what if he’d been simply misunderstood this whole time? What if I was deprived of knowing him—and him of knowing me—all because of something silly and irrelevant in the grand scheme of things? Just thinking about it made me want to grit my teeth.
“Oh, for goodness sake, Ariella,” my gran scolded when she eventually figured out what I’d been up to hiding behind my horse statue, which was texting. Very naughty of me, I know. As a reflex, I flinched. Looking up from my phone, I felt immediately horrible, and hastily stuffed it back into my bag. Gran continued to look reproachful. “I understand how this might be an uncomfortable situation for you, but this? I thought my granddaughter was raised to practice more civility than that.”
I gave a sheepish look. “Sorry, gran.”
“It’s no harm.” She waved it off dismissively. My gran wasn’t the type to tyrannically instill manners and politeness, but she did believe in common decency. Especially at things like funerals. “But now that I’ve found you, I’d like for you to meet someone.”
Gran was wearing her best black dress with a scalloped neckline, long sleeves, and a trim of lace at the hem. Her long graying hair was coiled in a tight bun for the occasion, exposing her high cheekbones and soft rosy complexion. She looked very regal and intimidating in that moment, but also kind and maternal like a grandmother should look. But maybe that was just my own bias. To other people she was probably the picture of sophistication. I know I’ve personally always thought of my gran as a worldly woman.
We approached, arm in arm, an old woman of similar caliber to my gran, if the way she was dressed counted. She seemed friendly based on the nature of her smile, which reached her eyes. You can always tell the sincerity of a smile by the person’s eyes. I learned this from my mom. She’s the master at reading people’s facial expressions and body language. Which has always kind of sucked for me because she can usually tell when I’m lying.
“This is Ariella?” the short old lady inquired, smiling warmly. My gran nodded, looking proud of something. I held back the urge to correct the lady, and tell her that I preferred people to call me Aria. That’s what almost everyone likes to call me anyway—the exception, of course, being my parents and my gran. The name Ariella has always sounded too dainty to me. Like a name better suited for another century. You know, pretty and everything, but obsolete.
“Ariella, this is your great aunt, Ruby Strafford-Haysfield,” my gran introduced. “Your grandfather Henry’s sister.”
I blinked. This was my great-aunt? No one had ever mentioned this to me! Was depriving me of my grandfather not enough? No, let’s just throw in a few great aunts and great uncles for fun. Aria won’t miss them.
Choking down my disbelief, I took the lady’s extended hand and shook it a little feebly, unsure of what my gran expected me to say to this woman.
I went with the ever popular: “Hi, um...nice to meet you.”
She smiled again, her eyes crinkling at the corners in delight. “Oh, what a sweet child! You are quite the vision, Ariella. You must have all the young men kissing your feet.”
I laughed airily at that. True, there was a boyfriend in the picture, but he wasn’t exactly kissing my feet. Our relationship had been more of the on-again-off-again type. In fact, I had broken up with Finn just a few weeks before, after I found out he’d been secretly smoking pot with all his friends. I’m sorry, but I did not want a boyfriend that did lame, juvenile things like getting high to have a good time. More than that, I didn’t want a boyfriend who would lie about it to me.
I had a feeling Finn and I would not be getting back together this time.
“Oh, sure,” I said, humorously. She didn’t have to know about my dysfunctional relationship issues. “All the time.”
My great aunt Ruby looked pleased. “Well, don’t ever settle, Ariella. You are too much of a diamond to be handing yourself to just any dull boy.”
My gran and I both smirked at that one.
It’s true, I did feel like a diamond sometimes.
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said, still smirking. “I’ll make sure he’s deserving.”
Ruby switched her focus on gran. “So what is this I hear about your son wanting to take over Northwood Manor?”
Gran looked appalled. “Where did you hear that rumor?”
“Your son,” Ruby explained, taking an innocent sip of white wine from her crystal glass. “Earlier he asked my opinion of whether I thought it would be a smart action. Naturally I said yes, of course he should! Northwood Manor is the most precious estate in our family, as I imagine you already know. It’s been in the Strafford name for more than a century.”
For a minute, I was confused. Northwood Manor? Precious family estate? What was great aunt Ruby rambling on about?
“Gran, what is she talking about?” I questioned, feeling trembly.
“It’s nothing to worry over, Ariella,” gran said dismissively.
Too late. I was already skipping to conclusions.
I looked intently at my great aunt Ruby. “Is my dad thinking of moving us to one of grandpa’s houses?”
“Oh, well I—” Ruby must’ve discovered the warning glare gran was directing at her, because she suddenly gave me a very nervous look. “I might have misunderstood him...”
I shook my head incredulously. “Where is this place? How come I’ve never heard of it?”
Gran sighed, looking pale. “Ariella, it’s...the home we raised your father.”
There was a brief moment of silence as I let that information set in.
“You’re saying my dad wants us to uproot everything so we can go live in some castle?”
Gran sighed some more, pressing her fingers to her temples like she always does when she’s stressed. Stressed and fed up with people.
“Ariella, no one is saying that. Ruby misunderstood, I’m sure. Also, it is not a castle. It is a manor.”
Same difference! I wanted to shout. Although, truthfully, I don’t think I knew the difference.
I sensed two people stroll up from behind then. They flanked me on either side, and I recognized them easily. My parents.
Just the two people I needed to speak with.
“Ruby,” my dad said amiably, resting a big hand on my shoulder. “I can see you’ve met my daughter.”
“I have.” Ruby was peering at me admiringly. “She’s a true diamond, Harry.”
He gave my shoulder a proud squeeze and then pat it a few times for extra emphasis.
“I agree,” is what he said.
I glanced up at him sharply.
“Dad, we’re not moving are we?” I asked in a rush.
At first his eyebrows scrunched together like he didn’t understand. But as the comprehension dawned on him, he blanched.
“Well, honey, I was hoping to save this conversation for later...” he stalled.
“Wait.” I gaped. “You’re serious? This is crazy!”
I spared a glance for my mother. She wasn’t looking so clam herself. She was biting her thumbnail, her eyes taking on the quality of a cornered animal.
Great aunt Ruby, bless her elderly heart, attempted to salvage the situation. “Don’t worry yourself, Ariella! The manor is a divine estate! Plenty of magnificent gardens! Very beautiful! Oh, and the library! You will absolutely love the library!”
I tuned her out.
I stared up at my father imploringly. “Dad, I don’t want to live in a castle.”
“Err, Ariella, it isn’t a castle it’s—”
Gran suddenly exploded with a very dramatic, exasperated sigh. Hissing, she said, “Ariella, would you please not cause a scene. This is your grandfather’s funeral, you know.”
I will admit that shut me up fast. Much as it killed me, she was right. People were beginning to stare. Poor grandpa. I was ruining his funeral. No wonder they never let me meet him.
And so that's how after an hour more of tense mingling on my part, my dad announced it was time to leave, and ushered us along to where he parked his car. Gran strode alongside me as we crossed the perfectly manicured green lawn from the pavilion, but didn’t say anything. Her silence only reminded me of the dreaded conversation that loomed ahead of us.
While my dad fumbled for his keys, I gazed at the people walking to their cars, and had a fleeting thought about how they all knew my grandfather in some way. I wondered what they must have thought of the guy; what version of him they were fortunate to have seen. All of these people, these strangers, were acquainted with a man I never even got so much as a Christmas card from. All of these people, who’s condolences were completely wasted on me, had known my grandfather better than I had. Had they seen what my dad and my grandmother saw? A selfish, superficial man with a temper? Or did they see a man who was given everything on a silver platter, but was still in search of something deeply essential? Like maybe, perhaps, a chance to have known his only granddaughter?
My dad cleared his throat at me: my signal that I needed to get in the car.
I would have ripped my gaze away if I hadn’t spotted something very weird in the corner of my eye.
Someone stood out to me in the crowd then. A man. He seemed displaced somehow. Maybe it was his age that called my attention. Most of the guests in attendance had been retirement-age, high society old people. I didn’t remember noticing anyone there as young as this man struck me as. He looked like he could’ve been twenty. What was more strange, I decided, was style of his clothes. It was almost as if he’d stepped straight out of a Jane Austen novel or something. He was wearing these beige, tight looking horse-riding pants, black riding boots, and navy blue waistcoat...
I squinted at his faraway shape. His tall image was unfocused in the summer afternoon sun—even sort of shimmery-like—but he was unmistakably there. As I squinted I could definitely make out the color of his eyes, which were blue, and his hair, which was dark and long.
And he was staring at me, I realized with a little alarm.
My dad honked his horn, impatient for me to get in the car. Mom even rolled down her window, asking me worriedly what I was looking at.
I was about to point him out to her, but then I blinked, and the strange man was gone.
“Aria, I don’t see what is so awful about this,” my dad reasoned, his expression stern from where he sat at the opposite chair of the dinner table. My mother and gran filled in the other chairs, serving their roles as the impartial observers. Gran looked miffed, probably because she wasn’t allowed to be a vocal part of the argument. Mom just looked outright uncomfortable. But neither of them, thankfully, chimed in. “You will still be fairly close to all your friends, and visit them on weekends. I know that it isn’t the best timing to be moving, but if you only keep an open mind, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, Aria.”
Dad had been going on like that for what felt like a millennium. He kept rattling on and on about the advantages of moving, and I kept firing back with all the bitter disadvantages. Ever since we’d stepped through the door after grandpa's funeral, dad and I had been locked in what could only have been described as a battle of wits. I’ll admit it was becoming excruciatingly difficult to stand my ground on the matter, since Dad wasn’t budging either.
“But what’s so wrong with this house?” I gestured with my arms, my tone whiny. I couldn’t help it, I was frantic. “Why do we even need to move?”
Dad shook his head stubbornly.
“I’ve told you,” he explained patiently, even though inwardly I knew he was frustrated. “The manor is a very valuable estate, meant to be managed by someone of the family. Your grandfather managed it while he was alive, but now that he is gone, we are the best suited for the responsibility. I may not have agreed with my father on many things, but I do not intend to throw any of his inheritance away. I’m sorry, Aria, but I can’t sell it with the right conscience."
When I didn’t respond right way, my dad interpreted that as encouragement to go on.
“I don’t know if you’ve caught on, but our family has a very intriguing history. This house happens to be the at the center of it. It is an important part of your heritage that you could benefit to learn about.”
On that note, he seemed satisfied. He knew he’d made a compelling argument for his case.
It was a moving speech, I will admit. My dad deserved some credit for it. I could really hear the passion and inflection in his voice. And okay, I didn’t want us to sell our most precious family estate anymore than the next relative of mine, but I also had the right to be apprehensive. I mean, how does one even live in a place that gargantuan, with only her parents and her grandmother for company? Maybe most girls would’ve pounced at the chance to live like a princess, but I was more than content with our current four bedroom home. That was plenty big enough for me, thank you.
I slumped in my chair, feeling defeated.
“So basically what you’re saying is that I don’t have a choice?”
My dad sighed. “I’m sorry, Aria.”
To his credit, he truly did look sympathetic.
Gran, on the other hand, couldn’t contain herself any longer. She had to interject.
“Oh, Ariella, don’t look so grouchy. I know how much you like to fuss about change, but this is what is best for everyone. It would be absolutely unthinkable to sell that manor. I want you to look to the bright side, my dear. None of this ugly negativity.”
Astoundingly, gran’s words made sense.
“Okay.” I turned to dad. “Okay, fine. If this is what we really have to do, I won’t make a big deal out of it anymore.”
Everyone seemed very relieved to hear this.
Dad gave gran a baffled grin. “Wow, mother. I should have had you say something to Aria sooner.”
“Obviously Ariella listens to me.” Gran sniffed, seeming pleased.
Gran was right, though. I was focusing too hard on the negatives. Dwelling on what I’d be leaving behind, instead of what I’d be gaining.
Northwood manor was only an hour drive from where we lived currently. I’d still be able to see my friends, even if it would mostly have to be on the weekends. And I could make new friends, I guess. It wouldn’t be a total loss.
I’d be enrolled in the same private school that my dad had gone to, back when he’d been my age. He had assured me it was an excellent school, and that I’d have a better education if I went there. If I went to this school, I knew, I’d have a much higher probability of getting into Oxford.
No doubt there would always be something to explore there. Living in an enormous place like that had to be at least a little adventurous, didn’t it? And who isn’t a fan of adventure?
Not to mention the type of parties I could trow in a house that size... I mean, assuming I'd be allowed.
And when dad had mentioned the part about the horse stables on the property, how I’d be able to bring in my horse, Willow, I’ll admit I felt a spark of unbridled glee. How could I argue with stables? I would get to see and ride Willow whenever I wanted. How could I refuse that?
It was about then that I surrendered to the fantasy of a new life, the one which I lived in a lavish manor with plenty of space. Space, perhaps, for an ultimate game of hide and seek. So what if I was almost seventeen? You are never too old for hide and seek unless you want to be. I, for one, did not want to be. I’ll never be too old for kid games.
So I’ll confess, I was sold.
It seemed that all the disadvantages melted away with each advantage I discovered.
But of course, just as I was warming to the idea, I had go and be curious: “So when would we move then? The end of summer?”
My dad looked pained.
“Oh, soon,” he said.
“Within a week,” he admitted.
The words did not register with me at first.
“Oh my God. You’re kidding me, right?”
My dad glanced to gran for support.
“Ariella,” gran spoke my name warningly.
I felt horribly overwhelmed for the second time that day.
“A week?” I shrieked. Then sarcastically, “Gee, thanks for the notice!”
“Here we go again,” mom muttered.
It necessitated another hour to resolve our discussion about moving. Even then, it ended on shaky grounds. After which, I stomped up to my room and flopped on my bed, feeling utterly blindsided.
Now I was relaxed on top my bed covers, my laptop poised on the tops of my thighs, typing in the Google search box. I figured I needed to do a bit of research on my future home. If I wanted to be mentally prepared for the real thing, that is.
When my search results popped up on the screen, I clicked on the first result, which was a Wikipedia page.
There was a picture of the manor in the right corner of the screen, with a caption that said: South (Garden) Face of Northwood Manor House.
Well. I couldn’t deny that it awed me.
Peeling my gaze from the picture, I skimmed the section of the article entitled “Early History.”
Most of the trivia was about how the manor was built, and who had owned it at what time. It apparently began construction in 1767 and took 100 years to finish. There was another picture off to the side, but this was just a black and white sketching of the manor as it would have appeared in 1867.
I kept skimming until I saw where the article went into detail about a murder that occurred in the house. Naturally chills prickled along my spine as I chewed on that disturbing bit of information. It didn't take long for me to realize the gravity of what the article was saying. Once the realization hit me, I shot out of my bed and barreled down the hall for gran's room.
Gran’s door was conveniently open. I flopped onto the side of her bed in a rush, causing her to drop the book she’d been reading. She picked it back up calmly and closed the pages over her thumb to hold her place.
“You didn’t tell me the manor was haunted!” I practically wailed.
Gran blinked at me above the rims of her reading glasses.
“Who told you that?” gran wanted to know.
I glared at her. “Wikipedia told me.”
Gran actually had the nerve to chuckle. Then she lifted her glasses from her nose, primly folding them and setting them on her nightstand. I watched her do this resentfully.
How could she not have mentioned this to me? This was critical information.
“Oh, I forgot how superstitious you are,” gran remembered, unfazed by my hostility. “Ariella, this is ludicrous. You really choose to believe in a silly ghost?”
I gritted my teeth. “A man was murdered there, am I wrong?”
Gran pressed her lips into a fine line, like she does when she thinks I’m giving her too much sass.
“Yes, a man was murdered,” gran sighed, casting a faraway look. “I believe his name was Andrew Beckett, also known as the Duke of Northwood.”
I was already aware of that fact, thanks to Wikipedia, but I decided to let her continue with whatever long-winded story she was prepared to spew. Not that I didn’t trust the internet, but I wanted to trust my grandmother’s rendition more. Besides which, she’s a fantastic storyteller.
“To my knowledge, the Duke of Northwood was not part of your grandfather Henry’s ancestry. The duke’s family were the original lords of the household, before it was passed to the Strafford name. He was quite a powerful duke at the time, and his family were well respected among the nobility.”
Gran paused for a moment, thoughtful. Meanwhile I was picking at the tassels on one of Gran’s red throw pillows as an attempt to channel some of my nervous energy.
“Andrew Beckett later married the attractive daughter of a well-to-do earl. Her name was Caroline Tate. They had an arranged betrothal, but that detail did not ever bother the duke. He was completely enchanted by Caroline, and loved her fiercely. He spoiled her to her heart’s content and for a short time they enjoyed a period of wedded happiness. But just for a short time, because unfortunately for Mr. Beckett, Caroline did not fully return his ardor.”
I sat up straighter. Wikipedia had not mentioned that part.
“Unbeknownst to her husband, Caroline was in love with another man, and someone very close to the duke. This was Andrew’s best friend, Richard Strafford. Richard and Caroline carried on their love affair right under Andrew’s nose.”
Poor Andrew, I thought pityingly. He’d surrounded himself with a couple of backstabbing lowlifes. And then he had to die at such a young age. Everything had been stolen from him. His wife. His house. His life. Talk about not catching a break.
“As it turns out, Richard and Caroline needn't have worried about concealing their affections for each other much longer. On eve of their first anniversary, Caroline asked that they host a grand masquerade ball to celebrate the occasion. Andrew agreed willingly and made all the necessary arrangements.
“So you know, in a traditional masquerade, at midnight all the guests would toss their masks in the air, kiss their spouse, and drink to the health of their hosts. They all had done exactly that, only at midnight Andrew had fallen dead to the floor. It was said that it had been poison that killed him. The killer was never discovered.”
“So what happened to Caroline and the other guy?” I prompted her.
Gran nodded. “It was a predicable end, really. Andrew had entrusted practically all of his assets to dear Caroline, so she stayed at the manor with Richard. She grieved Andrew’s death for about a year or so before marrying Richard. She was pregnant shortly after the wedding. Thus, Caroline and Richard lived happily ever after with their five children.”
I wrinkled my nose. “I can’t believe that I share a family tree with them. That was really cheap, what they did to Andrew.”
Gran simply nodded in agreement.
Moki, gran’s Yorkshire Terrier, suddenly lifted her head from where she’d been relaxed by gran’s feet. Moki’s ears pricked, like they do when she’s on alert. A hesitant growl resonated in her throat, while her eyes seemed to be fixated on something in the corner of gran’s room. The corner where there was a sitting area with a cushioned armchair and a table with an old-fashioned touch lamp. I couldn’t understand what Moki was so interested in. The only thing out of the ordinary was that gran’s lamp started to flicker a little. But that couldn’t have been why she was growling.
Moki’s quiet growling became anxious whimpering as she stared at the armchair.
I threw gran a perplexed look. “What’s with Moki?”
Before I could reach out to scoop Moki up, gran was already doing that herself.
“Calm down, Moki,” gran hushed her dog in a soothing voice. “Don’t be so neurotic.”
With a shrug, I slid off gran’s bed and stood, a wave of drowsiness hitting me.
“I don’t get it.” I yawned, my eyelids heavy. “How do you know all this stuff about what happened to Andrew? How do you know that Caroline was having an affair?”
Gran was still petting her trembling dog, but lifted her head sort of dazedly at my question.
“Caroline Tate left a journal,” she explained.
Hey guys! Wow. It's been forever since I've posted. I guess I really felt like it was time to get back in the saddle. I've missed sharing stuff on here.
This story is obviously going to be something I'm only writing for fun, but still I'm always looking to improve my writing, so any kind of feedback would be awesome.
I shouldn't take much credit for this either, since this story is actually inspired by another story on here. I loved the idea behind it and loved it so much that I decided that I wanted to write my own version of it. So I guess it's, in a way, like a fan-fiction almost. I want to stress that I'll be writing my own personal take of the story with different characters and everything, but there will be a many parts here and there that I've completely stolen from the other story. Here is the link to it in case you want to read that too! It's really, really good.
Another disclaimer: I did a bit of research on the historical aspects of this story, but not enough to make me an expert. Please keep in mind that I'm still an amateur writer here and I'm not going to be 100% historically accurate on things... That being said, if you notice anything that needs fixing, I'll be happy for the criticism!
I hope y'all like this. This has been the most fun I've ever had writing so I hope you have fun reading.