Meriweather Willoughby was an altruist and a storyteller. He had led a hard life trying to make ends meet; yet he still helped the poor and needy with whatever money he earned. The stories he wrote did not appeal to the English audience – he was mocked by people. He was called a mad man, a conjurer of dark tales of men transforming into wolves, ancient vampire princes and spiritualist mediums who could see the future. Jeered at by the masses, ridiculed by his sweetheart Geraldine’s father, Lord Ravenson who harshly declined Willoughby’s proposal of marriage to his lovely daughter, turned down by publishers who found no strength in his average writing skills of the macabre; penniless and evicted by his landlord, Meriweather Willoughby filled his satchel with his precious stories and of course the love letters he had exchanged with Geraldine over the years (the only possessions he had) and left his shabby quarters at Whitechapel. He set forth on a journey to the north of England far away from the mockery, far away from the injustice in London and of course far away from the memories of his lovely Geraldine.
Willoughby had an aunt in Yorkshire whom he had not seen in years – that is where he intended to go. However he had no horse, no savings his only option was to travel on foot and so he did. The year was 1829 and the month was October; it was cold undoubtedly and Willoughby only wore a tattered, old coat. After walking for hours and battling the cold winds, Willoughby reached a lonesome and dark road surrounded by woods on either side. This certainly was not how Willoughby had anticipated his future but here he was. He walked on in the cold reminiscing the warm summer days he had spent with Geraldine by the river, reading out his supernatural stories to her. She was the only one who had never derided him – in fact she loved his stories and more than that, she loved him. She had stood up to her father for her beloved – but Lord Ravenson was a cruel man, known for his depravity and his unjust policies against the poor. A landlord himself, he had condemned many a poor families to the streets – feeble mothers with new born babies who had ultimately succumbed to their misfortune and were found dead on the vile streets of London.
Willoughby’s thoughts troubled him – Geraldine was right, he had a heart of gold, but an empty pocket and no title. He wanted to help the poor but could not as much as he wanted. He wanted to help his beautiful damsel in distress, but he could not. They had planned an elopement – but being too poor to support her, Willoughby had dismissed the idea. His parting with Geraldine had been a painful one.
“You deserve better than me sweet Geraldine, a man with a title, not a penniless pauper like me” he had said with teary eyes.
Despondent and dejected Geraldine had confined herself to her room in the magnificent Ravenson House, with no hope for a future she had once dreamed of with her one true love.
Lost in his conflicting thoughts whether to continue on with his journey or to go back to Geraldine, Willoughby stumbled upon something and fell.
“Who are you?” said a frail voice.
Willoughby who had hurt his leg stood up with difficulty to talk to the stranger – he saw an old man, weak with tattered clothes and grey hair.
“I say you are a Lord, are you not? Pardon me my Lord” and with those words the grey haired man bowed to Willoughby.
Willoughby laughed and patted the old man’s back – “You mistake me for someone else Sir; I am no Lord, just a humble and penniless wanderer”.
The grey haired man shivered from head to toe because of the cold and generous hearted Willoughby quickly removed his own old, tattered coat and covered the old man’s shoulders with it.
“You are a noble man my Lord, a fearless and honest knight, one I could never be” the old man said in his quivering voice. Willoughby took him for a lunatic but out of the kindness in his heart humbly said,
“Sir I am no Lord nor a knight, but who are you and what are you doing out here in the woods? Have you no family?”
The old man smiled solemnly “I left my family and the woman I loved fifteen years ago for riches and an adventure. I am paying for my sins today my son. I am Sir Charles Haley”.
Upon hearing this Willoughby took a step back and stared in shock, “Sir Charles Haley! The Sir Charles Haley? That cannot be. Why I was but ten when we heard you died fighting off bandits in the Alps, it cannot be you”.
The old man smiled yet again. “It is me lad, it was not the Alps, but the Carpathian mountains, have you heard of the Carpathians?” Willoughby shook his head in puzzlement. “It is a place damned with superstition and darkness. It is a place where the devil lives” he coughed a little – Willoughby patted his back then said, “Now now, is there any place where I can take you to rest? You must not be out here in the cold”.
Sir Charles held Willoughby’s hand and exclaimed, “I avoid people. I stay away from them for their own protection. There is a stable nearby where I keep my horse. Take me there”.
Though Sir Charles made no sense to Willoughby he obeyed the old man’s instructions and accompanied him to the nearby lonely stable where stood only one black horse. Once inside Willoughby helped Sir Charles sit down and gave him some water he carried with him. The stable otherwise dark was only lit by one flickering lantern.
“You really are a kind fellow. Sit down with me and I shall tell you everything. I was an adventurer. I travelled far and wide. I was an arrogant man. I left behind the woman I loved for an expedition to the Carpathians. I was there with five of my bravest friends. We had camped on the mountains for days and every night we would hear the howling of wolves. My friends and I were fearless, or so we thought until one night we were attacked by a ferocious pack of wolves. One by one my friends were killed not by the pack, but just by one wolf, dark as hell with red eyes. He was a gigantic wolf who stood on its feet like a man. Our guns, our knives, all our weapons were no match for the wolf’s evil power. When my time came, the wolf attacked me but rather than killing me like he had done to my friends, he tore the flesh off my chest with his hideous claws” Sir Charles then then removed his clothing to reveal the brutal scar on his chest.
He then continued “You see that was no ordinary wolf. It was once a man, like me and it was cursed. He passed on that curse to me. That is why every year on All Hallows’ Eve under the full moon, I turn into the creature”.
When Sir Charles had ended his ludicrous tale, Willoughby who contained his laughter cleared his throat and said, “No Sir Charles, if indeed you are truly Sir Charles, you should not be out here alone in the woods. Though I have no money and no transport, let me somehow help you, let me take you back to your family”. At this the old man pushed Willoughby with anger, for an old man his age, his hand was no doubt like iron.
“You mock me! Don’t do that! You don’t understand I want this curse to end. I don’t want to hurt another human being. I want to die. But I cannot kill myself; that is the curse. That is why for fifteen years I have roamed these woods only preying on deer and cattle. Only one pure of heart can end my suffering. Bring that sack over to me” he pointed towards a sack sitting at the far corner of the stable.
Obedient as he was, Willoughby brought the sack to Sir Charles – he rummaged through it to find what appeared to be rather expensive and archaic pistol.
“Take this and these silver bullets. Tonight when the full moon appears, I shall become the creature. Don’t let it take over my body and soul again my Lord. Kill me. Shoot me straight in the heart with the silver bullet. End my suffering, I beg of you”.
By now Willoughby was certain that this old man whether he was indeed Sir Charles or not was a lunatic – he could not abandon him but of course he could not believe him either.
“Sir Charles, I cannot do what you ask of me, I have never hurt a fly in my life. How can I kill a man…..”
Sir Charles then interrupted him, “Can you not see though, I am no man, I am the devil’s slave, I only do his bidding, but I don’t want to any longer. God has sent you to me, to help me now take this” he thrust the pistol in Willoughby’s shivering hands then continued, “when the full moon strikes and you see what I become, kill me”.
Willoughby carefully studied the pistol and shook his head in horror and disbelief. Sir Charles then rummaged the dirty old sack again and this time took out a pouch “Take this, it is for you”. Willoughby reluctantly took the pouch and opened it, letting out a cry in utter shock.
“This is gold, Sir Charles, so many gold coins – I cannot take all this from you. It is wrong, I have not earned it”.
Sir Charles once again interrupted him rather heatedly, “It is yours now lad. Do good with it and when the time comes, take my horse, Midnight. He is all I have but after tonight I will no longer require his services. But you do. Do not argue with an old man and just do as I say” he showed his mighty fist to Willoughby who grew quiet with all the ravings he had been burdened with and the gold which shone bright under the flickering lantern. Willoughby soliloquised: if only he had not escaped from London. If only he had not abandoned Geraldine, if only he could go back to her now and elope with her no matter how penniless he was. But as the generous man he was he sat with Sir Charles and silently heard his ravings of the Carpathians, the devil and the man who became a wolf.
It was at the stroke of midnight, the nearby church bells tolled and they tolled very loudly. Sir Charles gasped.
“It is time, remember what I have asked of you my Lord, do not fail me” and saying this Sir Charles retreated to a corner of the stables.
Willoughby’s eyes suddenly caught a glimpse of lightning and then the ferocious sound of thunder rocketed through the skies. Midnight the horse snorted and agitatedly moved attempting to break free from the rope which had him tied to the stable pillar. The winds howled fiercely and Willoughby found himself standing alone with the pistol in his hand – the conglomeration of noises in the background: church bells tolling, the roaring thunder and Midnight’s violent neighing.
“Sir Charles, I say Sir Charles come out in the light, a storm is coming. We need to get out of here – we must” but just as Willoughby was about to take a step forward, from within the darkness, he saw two red eyes glowing brightly and then suddenly a creature emerged.
It was tall, very tall about seven feet, with the face of a hideous wolf and claws large enough to kill ten men with one blow and yet it wore the same tattered clothing of Sir Charles. “This cannot be, it cannot” whispered Willoughby to himself. Midnight terrified as he was broke free of his rope and dashed out of the stable.
Sir Charles, now half man, half wolf took a few steps closer, each step a loud thud with the size of his enormous feet and claws. He snarled at Willoughby and glared at him with those blood shot eyes. The snarl then turned into a wailing and reverberating howl – Willoughby covered his ears for the hellish noise was piercing. Sir Charles then bend down, like a tiger about to attack its prey and just as he leapt forward to attack Willoughby, the latter who by now had come to terms with this Gothic reality, pointed the pistol at Sir Charles and shot him straight through the heart.
Sir Charles had landed on Willoughby who lay on the ground unable to rise with the weight of the creature which lay upon him. With much labour was he eventually able to push away the creature and stood up pointing the pistol at him again. But when he then saw Sir Charles, he was no longer the devilish creature he had been a few moments ago, he was transforming back into the frail old man he was. His beastly blood shot eyes grew smaller and tenderer gradually. He stared at Willoughby who stared back at him in terror. A gentle smile crept on Sir Charles’ lips and he whispered,
“Thank you Lord Ravenson” before he took one last breath and died.
The pistol in Willoughby’s trembling hand pointed at Sir Charles fell to the ground. He gasped and covered his mouth in horror and cried. What he had witnessed and what he had done, only the characters in his ludicrous stories of the macabre had seen and done. His works were now turning into a dark reality. He took a while to compose himself and to absorb the supernatural phenomenon that he had just witnessed. Midnight the horse neighed and approached his master – silenced now in solemnity.
“Why did he call me Lord Ravenson?” whispered Willoughby to himself. He bore no resemblance to Geraldine’s cruel father and there was no way Sir Charles could have known of Willoughby’s affection towards Lord Ravenson’s daughter.
“Senseless, madness, madness” he kept whispering to himself. Suddenly Willoughby heard the distant sound of horses; men were approaching. Afraid of being punished for a murder he did not intend to commit, Willoughby grabbed the pouch Sir Charles had left him and climbed onto Midnight and rode on in the thick of night, where to, he himself did not know any more.
It had been a few hours since Meriweather Willoughby rode on; he had rested in a tavern in a quiet village; used the coin Sir Charles had left him to buy food and drink. But fear drove him on – he was still determined to reach his aunt’s home in Yorkshire but not so much out of despondence for parting with Geraldine, but rather the terror of what he had seen and done back in the woods. There came a moment when atop Midnight remembering the horror of that night, Willoughby deliberately threw the pouch into the bushes, fearing the destruction Sir Charles’ gold would bring him. But to his utter amazement, Midnight suddenly stopped trotting.
“Come on Midnight, don’t stop now boy, off we go” Willoughby gave the horse a little kick with his heels, yet he did not move only snorted. Willoughby was puzzled yet understood the reason for the horse’s stationary position. He disembarked and walked towards the bush, found the pouch, stuffed it in his coat pocket then mounted the horse again. Without instructing the horse to move, Midnight himself walked on. This was all a supernatural dream he was having, that is what Willoughby kept saying to himself. All his mystical penny dreadfuls were slowly coming to life on All Hallows’ Eve.
Though what troubled him the most was Sir Charles addressing him as Lord Ravenson. Lost in his thoughts, Willoughby suddenly heard a scream. He was startled, pulled the reins and for a moment both master and horse paused. There was no light save the glowing silvery beams of the moon and no sound save the cawing of a raven. Midnight snorted and Willoughby grew tensed by the moment; he was about to trot on with Midnight when suddenly he heard the screaming again, this time it grew louder and more painful and audible enough to know it was a feminine voice.
Upon hearing this Willoughby kicked Midnight “Quick Midnight” he shouted and the horse cantered – farther and farther they went into the thick of night, into the thick forest and the louder the screaming grew. They came upon a tower made of stone – it was tall like a lighthouse and only had one window.
“Who is up there? Show yourself! Are you hurt?” shouted out Willoughby.
After a few moments a figure emerged in the window – it was a girl of about sixteen years of age with golden hair and pale skin, her face drenched with tears. “Help me, I cannot climb down the tower, please help me” she cried.
Gallant and valiant as Willoughby was and had proven to be not that long ago, seeing a true damsel in distress, he quickly jumped off Midnight and with his might started climbing the tower. It was an ancient tower, one Willoughby would never had anticipated to see in the English countryside. It looked like a tower out of a fairy tale.
“Please hurry, it’s time, he’ll come for me, I cannot take it any longer” cried the pretty girl. “I’m almost there, please don’t worry” shouted out Willoughby as he continued to climb one stone brick at a time. He felt like some supernatural power was pushing him on as he had never climbed a wall in his life let alone climbing a tower. He finally reached the window and the pretty girl with golden hair helped him in.
“You’ve got to help me escape before he comes for me” she cried.
Willoughby caught his breath then put his hands on the girl’s shoulders, “Calm down girl, who is after you? Who has made you a prisoner?”
The girl continued weeping and stuttered, “Pr-ince, Pri-nce Heinrich”.
Willoughby took a step back in shock and stared at the girl open-mouthed, “What? Prince Heinrich of Bavaria? That cannot be, he’s been dead for over a hundred years”.
Willoughby collapsed on a chair, hid his face in his hands and whispered to himself, “What is happening? Is this all a terrible nightmare?”
The girl pulled his hands and said, “My Lord it is true; Prince Heinrich died in body – but not in soul. You see he is the living dead. He was a devil worshipper, a follower of black magic. He sold his soul to the devil a hundred years ago and now he lives by… by…” the girl abruptly paused and wept again.
Willoughby jumped up from the chair and held her again, “By what girl.. speak…”
She looked at him with forlorn eyes and blurted, “By drinking our blood”.
Willoughby was aghast; his legs trembled, his face filled with perspiration,
“Are you telling me that Prince Heinrich is a vampire?”
The pretty girl nodded.
“Aye my Lord he is. I myself am a medium – I can communicate with spirits on the other side. I have always been gifted. Prince Heinrich thinks I am valuable. He doesn’t kill me but he, but he….” she abruptly stopped and Willoughby quickly interjected again, “What does he do with you?”
The girl then unbuttoned her collar to reveal her neck and shoulder. To his utmost repugnance Willoughby saw what he had only written about in his penny dreadfuls, what people had ridiculed his writings for, he saw two red bite marks. He gasped and recoiled.
“Take me away from here Lord Ravenson, I shall forever be in your debt” cried the girl. Lord Ravenson! Once again Willoughby was bewildered – was there some spiritual connection between this girl and Sir Charles he wondered, but his conjectures were immaterial for now. What was substantial was the situation at hand.
“My name is Willoughby girl and I shall rescue you – tell me what do I have to do to destroy this monster who has done this to you?”
The girl quickly wiped her tears then said, “The stake is the only way…you will have to drive a stake through his heart”.
For a moment Willoughby felt his own heart would fail. First he had to kill Sir Charles with a pistol and now he was to slaughter Prince Heinrich with a stake.
“That is the only way he will die forever my Lord”. The girl then lifted the chair and banged the window with it – out of the shards of glass that fell over, she picked one and handed it to Willoughby, “Take this my Lord and end my suffering”.
Willoughby stared blankly at the jagged shard, his fingers twitched, he gulped. “Where is he right now?” he whispered.
She whispered back, “he goes to the village every night to prey on young innocent girls like myself. But it is almost dawn now, he will be back soon and he then rests in his crypt downstairs in the tower where I cannot go because this door is always locked” she pointed at the metallic door.
“This is our only way out my Lord” she said.
Willoughby deliberated for a few moments then removed a kitchen knife from his boot (a little weapon he always kept for protection) and turned the blade in the key hole of the metallic door. After carefully turning the blade and pushing the door, Willoughby eventually succeeded in opening the rusty, ancient door which opened with a loud and irksome creak. He took the shard from the girl and held her hand. They both then descended a long spiral stone stairway which seemed it went all the way down to hell.
The tower was quite empty except for grand well light candelabras. There was no sound but for the sound of Willoughby and the girl’s foot-steps.
“We will have to walk quietly, if we..” and before the girl completed her sentence she screamed so loudly her voice reverberated in the entire tower. Willoughby too recoiled. Prince Heinrich stood in front of them on the stairway – contrary to what Willoughby had visualised, the Prince stood as a young man with dark hair, a dark cape, pale skin and two long pointy fangs dripping with blood.
His crimson eyes glared at Willoughby and he opened his mouth like a wild animal and shouted in a shrilly voice, “You dare take her from me, she is mine, mine forever” and with this threat, Prince Heinrich attacked Willoughby.
There was a struggle on the stairway – the girl screamed in the background and shouted, “Help, somebody help! Please don’t hurt him Prince Heinrich, please don’t”.
But Prince Heinrich made several attempts to bite Willoughby; the latter fought him with all his might, he kicked him, punched him and at last pushed his hand forward to thrust the shard of glass but the vampire grabbed his arm – his grip was like scorching metal, Willoughby screamed in agony and the devil laughed at him with his ivory monstrous fangs. The shard had fallen on the stair.
“You will die today, Lord Ravenson, you will die” said the vampire gloating over his victory and grabbed Willoughby’s neck and pulled it closer to his mouth. Just as he was about to dig his fangs into Willoughby’s neck, the girl shouted “No, I won’t let you kill him” – she then quickly seized the shard of glass from the stair and thrust it into the vampire’s heart. He let out a piercing cry, so evil, so shattering, Willoughby collapsed on the stairs and the girl too cringed with fear covering her ears. Then a silence ensued.
When the girl then opened her eyes and Willoughby plucked enough bravado to stand up again, the vampire looked at the girl with blood dripping from his eyes, “Sweet Clara, you were mine”.
The girl, Clara, stood up bravely, tears dripping from her eyes,
“My body was yours Prince Heinrich, but never my soul. You are the devil and I can never belong to the devil – the monster who preys on innocent children. You belong in hell”.
Before Willoughby’s eyes Prince Heinrich then gradually turned into dust, his lustrous black hair, his ferocious fangs, his pale skin, all turned to dust.
Willoughby managed to escape the dreadful ancient tower with Clara and she now rode with him to her village.
“I can tell the future; I see things – that is why Prince Heinrich kept me as a prize, as his slave. I had seen his demise – truth be told I had seen it done with my own hands, but had it not been for you Lord Ravenson, I would not have defeated my brutal tormentor”.
Willoughby who had not recovered from his two supernatural encounters remained puzzled and traumatised.
“Why do you call me Lord Ravenson? For I am not – I told you my name is Willoughby…how do you even know Lord Ravenson?”
Clara who sat in front of Willoughby turned her face around to look at him, “I suppose, you’ll know one day” and then she grew quiet. Midnight trotted to the beautiful village which is where Clara’s family resided.
It was at the crack of dawn when they finally reached Clara’s dilapidating and shabby cottage and seeing the state of the old and decrepit house amidst a dirty, muddy farm, Willoughby felt sorry for the pretty girl. Her mother and father dashed out of the cottage upon hearing the horse.
“Can it be true – oh sweet Clara! We had lost all hope? We thought you…you were dead” cried her feeble mother.
Clara’s father was a farmer, an old and weak man.
“Sir, how may we ever repay you for your kindness, for bringing our daughter back to us?” cried Clara’s old father.
Willoughby analysed the sentimental scene – a daughter’s reunion with her poor parents living in shabby and dirty conditions. What could he do to help them? Clara was no doubt a sweet and beautiful girl – she reminded Willoughby of Geraldine. Just then it occurred to him. Excitedly he jumped off Midnight and approached Clara.
“Clara, before I leave, there is something I wish to give you”.
Clara wiped her tears and asked, “What more can you give my Lord? You risked your life to save mine”.
Willoughby then took Clara’s hand and placed Sir Charles’ pouch in it. Bewildered, Clara opened the pouch and gasped as did her parents.
“My Lord, I cannot accept this from you!” she cried.
Willoughby gently put his finger to her lips,
“Dear Clara, this is not my gold. It was not meant for me. A wise man gave it to me and said I ought to do good with it. At that moment I did not understand what he meant, but I do now.”
He then looked at Clara’s parents and said, “Take this gold, repair your house, adorn yourself in new clothing, buy new cattle and horses and above all when the time is right, use the remaining coin for your beloved daughter’s wedding”.
Saying this Willoughby bid Clara and her family adieu and once again rode off and this time he was not heading north – he decided to return to London, to return to Geraldine, his one true love.
The nightmare was over; the darkness, the evil, the supernatural horror had all evaporated with the beautiful morning light. The golden sunshine enlivened Willoughby’s spirits; the birds chirped, the splendour of begonias and chrysanthemums filled the air with magic. Willoughby was now euphorically riding on Midnight who cantered for miles and miles. Though it had only been one night; though all the horror had happened at All Hallows’ Eve, it felt like a life time had passed. Willoughby imagined his reunion with Geraldine – the thought of her in his arms once again made him laugh like a child. But his laughter soon turned to sorrow with the thought of Lord Ravenson degrading him; ridiculing him and prohibiting him from marrying his daughter. He was now in close proximity to London; he could see the industrial smoke from afar. Midnight cantered at full speed and suddenly a black bird flashed across him and cawed – it was surely a raven with coal black feathers, a large abhorrent beak and dark piercing eyes; Midnight grunted wildly and reared up sending a terrified Willoughby to the ground. He hit his head against a tree and fainted.
When Willoughby woke up, it was not amidst the trees and greenery, but rather as he slowly opened his eyes and regained consciousness he beheld the face of his beloved Geraldine who quickly kissed his forehead and exclaimed excitedly, “He’s awake now, he’s finally awake”.
As Willoughby sat up in bed and looked around the grand bed chamber he was in, he realised he was at Ravenson House.
“Geraldine, how did I get here?” he inquired softly.
“Do you not remember anything my love? Why some travellers found you unconscious in the woods – when they searched your pockets, they found our love letters, that is how they learnt of my address and brought you to me”.
Willoughby suddenly remembered the uncanny episodes of Sir Charles, Clara and Prince Heinrich and panicked, “Geraldine, how long have I been unconscious, what is the date today?”
“Why it is the third of November my love, you left London on All Hallows Eve and the travellers brought you back the very next morning. You’ve been unconscious for two days” she explained.
Willoughby then hysterically commenced his tales of terror and as he narrated the stories of the Sir Charles and the vampire, Geraldine giggled.
“You mock me Geraldine?”
Geraldine caressed her lover’s cheek and smiled, “Not at all my love. I simply remembered some of your dark stories of the supernatural and how I loved them. As for Sir Charles Haley, well contrary to what we all believed he had returned to England and lived in the woods outside London.
He lived as a hermit for fifteen years frightening villagers with tales of a wolf that became a man. He eventually shot himself you know”.
Willoughby was astonished,
“Geraldine, promise me you will love me no matter what – I killed Sir Charles, he asked me to – he was cursed, I had no choice, nor did he”. But Geraldine continued to giggle like a child.
“And, and Sir Charles gave me his horse, Midnight… was there no horse beside me?”
“Hush now my dear, calm down, there was no horse beside you. You were found alone” Geraldine moved her face closer to Willoughby’s to kiss him.
Suddenly a noise came from the corner of the room – a man cleared his throat. It was Mr Farthington the Ravensworth family solicitor. He spoke rather gruffly,
“Forgive me for intruding this rather intimate conversation my Lady, but if you permit me, shall we now discuss the important matters?” he looked at Geraldine sternly. For a moment the woman grew forlorn then embraced Willoughby.
“Oh Meriweather, my dear Meriweather, father is dead. It was on All Hallows Eve he travelled by ship to France. The weather was terrible, there was a storm – the ship sunk and all men on board died. His body was recovered the next morning with dozens of others at the Cornish coast.”
Geraldine wept for a few moments in Willoughby’s arms. He was shocked – Willoughby was a kind man and though he had his differences with Lord Ravenson, he still felt sorry for him and of course for Geraldine.
Mr Farthington again cleared his throat, “If I may my Lady, you will forgive me as I do not have all day. Shall we proceed with the particulars?”
Geraldine wiped off her tears and said in a shaky voice, “Apologies Mr Farthington, yes please do go on and explain the terms to Meriweather”.
Willoughby was confused as to what terms Mr Farthington was referring to but listened silently.
“Mr Meriweather Willoughby, I understand that you and Lady Ravensworth are in love with each other and wish to be married. Now there is no obstacle to a union and it is Lady Ravensworth’s own desire to be married to you as soon as possible. All I wish to explain to you is that Lord Ravenson had made a will prior to his death. As you know he had no male heirs. Geraldine is his only daughter and next of kin. But according to his will, Lord Ravenson a man who never had much faith in the umm…intelligence of the fairer sex decided to leave his fortune i.e. Ravenson House and his title to the man who would marry his daughter, his son-in-law and as you and Lady Ravensworth will be married………you shall then be the new Lord Ravenson.”
Once Mr Farthington had completed his speech, Willoughby stared at him in astonishment and fear; his heart raced. How was this possible? The fact that all the characters from his nightmare had addressed him as Lord Ravenson and now he was to be Lord Ravenson in actual fact. This was all too much for him. He looked at Geraldine perplexedly,
“Geraldine, I am a simple man. Your father was a great Lord. How can I look after his land, his servants; this house? I am not capable of being a leader. Of taking on such responsibility. I am only the son of a school teacher” and saying this Willoughby covered his face for he did not wish Mr Farthington to see his tears. But his beloved consoled him.
“There, there Meriweather. You are not a simple man – you are a wonderful and noble gentleman. The greatest and kindest man I have ever met and I love you with all my heart. You are honest and conscientious. I know my love, you will do wonders with the new title that shall soon be bestowed upon you”.
Upon hearing this Willoughby kissed his beloved wife to be and left old and stiff Mr Farthington rather embarrassed. The next day they both were married in a small church not far from Ravenson House and one by one each guest, each servant bowed to Willoughby and drank a toast to the new “Lord Ravenson”.
The new Lord Ravenson turned out to be exactly as his wife had predicted. Generous to the poor; kind to the old and altruistic to the invalid. More than that he placed his wife on a pedestal and advocated for women’s education and rights. He encouraged Geraldine in whatever activity she wished to pursue and accompanied her wherever she wanted to go. He became an exemplary husband and with time, an extraordinary father.
On their tenth wedding anniversary, Geraldine decided to take her husband to a theatre showing a play about a corrupt duke who had travelled from Europe but was in fact a vampire – it was a popular penny dreadful and knowing how much her husband loved tales of the macabre, Geraldine had booked the tickets. As they both disembarked the carriage, Willoughby caught a glimpse of a beautiful woman entering the theatre with a gentleman – he felt he had seen her somewhere but could not quite decipher her identity.
The usher exclaimed, “Welcome to Temple Theatre Lord and Lady Ravensworth, we hope you enjoy the play”.
Upon hearing his name, the beautiful woman turned around and stared at Willoughby in amazement. She walked over to him quickly and exclaimed, “Lord Ravenson is it really you?”
Willoughby was a bit embarrassed seeing the woman’s bold manner.
“Madam, forgive me, I cannot recall who you…”
But before he could complete his sentence, she interposed, “Mr Willoughby, it is me, Clara”.
Willoughby grew silent, his eyes widened with a mixture of fear and astonishment – Geraldine too was shocked. Indeed over the years she had constantly heard of the tale of her husband rescuing a poor village girl named Clara from the jaws of the evil Prince Heinrich.
“Clara, how can it be?” he finally questioned.
Clara elatedly held his hand and said, “Remember the gold you gave our family – were it not for the gold, my family and I would not have risen from poverty. I would not have had such a grand wedding. This is my husband Dr Saunders”.
She introduced her husband to Willoughby. “Were it not for your husband Lady Ravensworth, the evil Prince Heinrich would have ruined my life. Your husband is a true saviour – may God bless him forever”.
Saying this Clara bowed to Willoughby and went inside the theatre with her husband leaving both Lord and Lady Ravensworth aghast.
It was a few days later, on All Hallows Eve 1839 that Lady Ravensworth was putting her little daughter to bed and Lord Ravenson took his usual rounds around Ravenson House to check if every door was secured. The House was empty and quiet. Suddenly Lord Ravenson heard a noise – it came from the drawing room. It was an odd noise though, more like the sound of a horse neighing. As Lord Ravenson entered the drawing room to his utmost horror he saw Sir Charles Haley sitting on top of Midnight. He wore a knight’s armour and looked fit and well – not frail and old as he had died. He smiled at Lord Ravenson.
“Sir Charles? No it’s impossible – I am dreaming, that was all a dream – it’s just not ….” Sir Charles then interposed.
“It is all true Lord Ravenson. You saved my soul and for that I shall be indebted to you for all eternity. You truly are the greatest of men, one I could never be. But you saved me from hell. You are a true saviour Lord Ravenson…I only wish to thank you” and with this Sir Charles gently bowed his head and disappeared along with Midnight.
Lord Ravenson’s heart raced; his face was filled with perspiration, the candle in his hand trembled – he heard a creaking sound and when he whirled, he saw Geraldine standing behind him who looked equally shaken.
“You were telling the truth all along my love, you were right all along. I didn’t believe you. It is all true. I saw the ghost of Sir Charles with my own eyes”.
Saying this Geraldine’s eyes filled with tears and she ran to her husband and embraced him tightly and he repeatedly kissed her forehead still terrified from the uncanny appearance of Sir Charles’ ghost.
“I love you dearly Lord Ravenson” cried Geraldine as she held on tightly to her husband on that stormy night of All Hallows’ Eve in 1839.