Somewhere in the distance, a church bell rang the hour. Freddie, roused from his slumber, turned on his side and pulled the duvet over his head. Trying to relax back into sleep that wouldn’t come, his ears picked up the quarter hour chimes of the grandfather clock along the corridor outside his room.
Moments later, another sound invaded his ears.
THUD, thud, THUD, thud.
The sound of uneven footsteps…and it was coming from the corner of his room.
Freddie’s eyes shot open.
Sitting bolt upright, he reached for the bedside light and winced at the sudden change in illumination.
The sound ceased as suddenly as it had started.
Blinking, Freddie looked around. Everything appeared to be the same as when he’d gone to sleep two hours earlier. Had he just imagined it?
Blaming an overactive imagination and thinking that he might as well use the bathroom now that he was awake, Freddie swung his legs out of bed. The wooden floorboards were uncomfortably cold beneath his feet as he padded towards the door; it was certainly very chilly all of a sudden. He tried to remember what time the heating went off. Was it colder because he was on the top floor under the eaves? This was his first night sleeping up here – a temporary measure until his old room was ready – and it took him a couple of seconds to get his bearings and figure out the way to the bathroom. That was one of the problems of living in a large and rambling stately home. Still, things could be worse, he told himself as he opened the bathroom door.
Mission accomplished, Freddie tiptoed back along the narrow corridor whose only illumination was the eerie glow of moonlight coming in through the skylight windows. He’d been too sleepy to bother searching out the light switch.
Freddie halted. That was strange. He was sure he’d left the light on in his room and closed the door behind him when he’d set off, but now it stood wide open, and the room lay in darkness.
“Hello. Anybody there?” He felt foolish for asking, but perhaps he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t sleep.
There was a crash inside the room as if something heavy had landed on the floor.
“Xander, is that…?” Freddie started to speak, but suddenly the breath left his lungs as something cold shot through him. It was impossible to breathe, never mind speak. A second later, his lungs started to function again. Still gulping for air, Freddie’s fumbling fingers found the light switch at last and flicked it on. His jaw dropped open.
The bed he’d been in just a short time ago looked as if someone had been engaged in a pillow fight. The duvet was across the room, beneath the window, and feathers were fluttering and swirling in the air where the pillows had been scattered over the floor. But that wasn’t the worst thing as far as Freddie was concerned. The gentleman’s dressing case – a prized new possession – had somehow moved from its place on the chest of drawers and now lay on the rug in front of the fireplace, its contents scattered about.
Jaw clenched, Freddie stalked over to check the case for damage. He’d only purchased it that morning and it hadn’t been cheap. Sliding his fingers softly over the polished rosewood, Freddie breathed a sigh of relief when he saw there were no scratches or dents marring its surface. The brass corners appeared to have taken the brunt of the fall. Retrieving the ivory handled tweezers lying on the floor, he placed them carefully back in their specially designed slot in the red leather interior. These were swiftly followed by the ivory handled corkscrew. Fortunately, the polished steel scissors had not been dislodged. Tenderly lifting each of the four cut glass jars from their individual compartments, Freddie scrutinised them, thinking it a miracle that they too were all intact.
Satisfied with the results of his inspection, he breathed a sigh of relief and was about to lean back on his heels, when his ears pricked at the sound of footsteps in the corridor. A voice Freddie recognised as his father’s called out.
“Freddie! Is everything OK?”
A head peeped round the door. “What’s going on? Good Lord!”
Freddie shrugged and pulled a face. “Must have been sleepwalking… Either that, or we’ve got a
Dad sent him a curious look for a moment before running a hand through his hair. “Ghosts? What nonsense, no such thing.”
Freddie yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He’d spent the remainder of the night curled up on a sofa in the drawing room as he’d not fancied trying to clean up all the feathers before getting back to sleep. His dad hadn’t been happy, but eventually Mum, who’d also come to find out what was going on, had persuaded her husband to let their son do what he wanted.
“He can tidy up in the morning. Let the boy get some sleep, Charles.”
Charles Lanyon, Earl of Batheaston, grunted. Freddie smiled. Mum always could wrap her husband round her little finger.
Freddie made his way back upstairs to his room. He stopped outside the door and listened.
“Quiet as the grave,” he muttered to himself. Stepping inside, he glanced around. Everything seemed normal. The weak winter sun coming through the casement window highlighted the dust motes hanging in the air. A feather drifted down from the old-fashioned light shade suspended from the ceiling to land next to its brethren on the rug in front of the empty fireplace. Freddie went to the chest of drawers and grabbed some clothes before heading off for a shower.
The hot water did its job, and he was soon feeling more alert, despite his interrupted night’s sleep. He got the Hoover and returned to his room to clean up the feathers before going down to breakfast. Dad was not always at his best in the mornings, and it would be wise not to give him anything to complain about. He needed Dad in a good mood before he told him his news.
The job didn’t take long, and a scant twenty minutes later, Freddie entered the kitchen to find his mother, Daphne, already there at the table, a mug of coffee clutched in her hand.
“Sleep well, dear?”
“OK, I suppose, if you don’t mind sleeping on a sofa with dodgy springs.” Freddie grinned at her from the doorway. “No sign of Xander then?”
“He left early. Something about meeting a friend in Bath. Honestly, I wish I knew what your brother was up to.” She sent Freddie an amused look. “Or maybe I should be glad I don’t.”
Freddie patted her shoulder as he went past to pour himself a coffee from the cafetière. “You worry too much, Mum. I’m sure Xander would tell you if anything was wrong.”
Unlike himself, who still couldn’t summon up the courage to confide the truth to his mother even though he was an adult of nearly thirty.
Returning home this year had also made things awkward; he’d been accustomed to doing what he wanted when he wanted, and that just wasn’t possible in a place like Lanyon Park. Not that his parents were particularly difficult or that his working hours too long; no, that wasn’t the problem. Freddie just wanted things to settle down before dropping his bombshell.
After several years working in the City – quite successfully too – it was time to return to the fold and learn the ropes of running the estate. Freddie had seen the toll it had taken on his father, who’d been landed with rectifying the mistakes of the previous earl, Freddie’s grandfather, a man who’d resolutely refused to move with the times. As a result, Charles Lanyon had been faced with farm buildings in poor condition, unhappy tenants, and a large Palladian house in need of repair. Freddie knew it was his time to step up and lend a hand.
“Xander wants to bring some clients over for a tour tomorrow, but I’ve no idea how many he’s thinking of bringing,” said Mum, frowning as she poured herself another coffee.
“He told me he’d organise the food and drinks for that; it must be that new girl he fancies, the one who runs a catering company.” Freddie sent his mum an apologetic grin. “Sorry, I should have told you, but it slipped my mind last night.”
Just then, the kitchen door swung open and Charles, looking rather windswept, came in. He shrugged off his battered waxed jacket and draped it over the back of a chair before leaning down to give his wife a quick peck on the cheek. He cocked an inquisitive eye at his son.
“There you are, Freddie. Did you manage to get some sleep after last night’s excitement?”
“Yes, thanks. Why didn’t you wake me? I would’ve come with you.”
“That’s all right. Hugo was up so I persuaded him to tag along. Good job, really, as it required a
bit of muscle to clear a fallen branch off the main drive. Isn’t that right, Hugo?”
Freddie’s younger brother appeared in the doorway, a wide grin on his face.
“A good thing one of us goes to the gym, isn’t it, Freddie?”
Freddie bristled. He hated it when Hugo drew attention to the differences between them. Granted,
being lean and lanky, he didn’t have nearly so many muscles as his little brother, but then, he didn’t spend all his free time pumping iron.
“Now, boys.” Mum shot him a warning look. Freddie bit back the reply that was on his tongue.
“What’s this about you sleepwalking then?” asked Hugo as he poured himself a cup of coffee and leaned back against the work counter. “Dad told me there was a bit of a mess.”
Freddie shrugged. It was interesting that Dad had not mentioned the possibility of a ghost to Hugo. In fact, whenever the possibility of Lanyon Park being haunted was raised, Charles was always dismissive.
“Just a few feathers and a rumpled bed, not much at all really. Though I did say it could also have been a ghost. I’m not prone to sleepwalk.” Freddie saw his father’s jaw tighten and quickly added, “And yes, it’s all tidy now.”
“Rumpled bed, eh? Sure you haven’t had someone in and didn’t want anyone to know?”
Freddie decided that little brothers could be evil little sods.
“Hugo, really!” Daphne Lanyon glared at her youngest, then she turned softened eyes towards
Freddie. “You know you’re always welcome to bring friends home, Freddie? You’re an adult and your father and I respect that, don’t we, Charles?”
“Huh? What?” Charles looked up from the phone screen that had suddenly claimed his interest.
“I was just saying to Freddie that he mustn’t worry about bringing friends over to stay.” She winked at her husband and Freddie had to choke back a laugh.
“Yes, right.” Charles, a puzzled frown on his face, returned to his phone. Daphne rolled her eyes.
“If and when I bring anyone to stay over, I’ll be sure to let you know. But I can assure you that last night there was no-one in my room except me.”
Freddie was gratified that he’d succeeded in astounding his bumptious younger brother for a change – it was usually the other way round.
“So, what are you going to do about it?” Hugo took a slurp from his mug, his eyes brimming with excitement.
“Well, I thought I’d see what happens tonight. It might just be a one off. Perhaps a freak draught from the chimney caused the mess.” Inwardly, Freddie knew that it would have taken a hurricane to shift the heavy dressing case from its position on the chest of drawers.
Hugo leaned forward. “Tell you what, why don’t we swop rooms tonight?”
Freddie raised his eyebrows and thought about it for a moment. To tell the truth, he’d got enough on his plate without losing sleep as well.
“OK. You’re on.”
Hugo punched the air. “Yeees!”
Charles looked up from his phone. “If there is a ghost, perhaps we can use the fact in our marketing
for the open weeks. I don’t believe in all that nonsense myself, but there’s nothing like a bit of the supernatural to draw the punters in, and we could certainly do with the income.”
Daphne put a hand to her brow. “Oh dear. I can feel one of my heads coming on.”
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