The Haunting of Longbourn
C. P. Odom
Wednesday, October 27, 1813
“Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, sir,” Hill announced from the door to her master’s refuge. “Tea is being prepared.”
Mr. Bennet greeted his favourite daughter and her husband, and they took their seats on the small sofa in front of his desk. It was barely wide enough to seat the couple, but that was not a problem for them as they sat as close as they usually did.
Also as usual, their hands came together, and Lizzy squeezed Darcy’s hand and gave him the warm smile that revealed so much of their intimate attachment to each other. Mr. Bennet felt a pang; he had never experienced anything like it, even in the earliest stages of a marriage of more than twenty years.
That is what comes from marrying for lust instead of for the love I see before me, he thought. Not even Jane and Bingley can boast such an attachment. Theirs is more a relationship of comfort and serenity than fervency.
The couple now looked at Mr. Bennet expectantly since they had hastened their return to London following his urgent express. Their departure from Pemberley had been so swift that Darcy’s sister and her companion would come later, which was just as well. What he had to say was bizarre enough that it was only fit for adult ears.
Mr. Bennet sighed and began his explanation.
“Longbourn is haunted?!?”
Elizabeth’s stunned disbelief at her father’s words was palpable, and her glance at Darcy showed him to be just as dumbfounded. His reaction, however, had been to blank his face, much as he had done when he first came to Hertfordshire and she had formed her initial dislike of him.
But instead of a rebuke, as she might once have given before a full year of marriage had proven far more happy than she could have believed, she simply laid a hand on his arm and looked up at him. Rather startled, his eyes met hers and an unspoken message flashed between them.
“Sorry, dear,” he said, visibly shaking himself and returning her soft smile before turning back to her father. “It was just that what you said caught me by complete surprise, sir. It is seldom these days to hear of such supernatural things as hauntings.”
“I agree completely, but that is the word being used by my family,” Mr. Bennet said with a helpless shrug. “I cannot say anything one way or the other. The girls talked me into listening only once by the door to the room Lizzy and Jane shared for years. Nothing happened, but my female relations here at Longbourn are adamant that something not of this world…ah, ghosts or perhaps spirits…have come to dwell in that room since Lizzy and Jane departed. Not every night, they say, but many. Even Mary seems affected though she refuses to allow the subject to be raised in her presence, simply going upstairs to her room if it is mentioned. She refuses to believe in ghosts, but she does not deny the strangeness of these events.”
“I see,” Darcy said, smiling as Elizabeth’s hand squeezed his again. “Uh…what form do these…events take?”
“Mostly unexplained sounds, I am told. Footsteps, usually, the sounds of pacing back and forth inside the room along with some muttered voices at times. Uh…the voices seem to be partly in English but are mostly in what Kitty thinks is French. There is also the creaking of the beds and other unintelligible mutterings, as if someone was talking to himself as he paced. I am afraid neither of the girls will go near the room any longer, and my wife will not even climb the steps to that floor.”
“And the servants?” Elizabeth asked.
“Hill does her best to keep a lid on things, but even she has decided not to attempt cleaning your old room. She does heap scorn, however, on the idea of a haunting when she talks to the staff. Not that it seems to do much good.”
After several minutes of silence while they sipped their tea, Darcy put down his cup and leaned forward, his brows knit in thought.
“I note that you mention inexplicable happenings, sir, but you do not mention anything that sounds particularly menacing.”
“I had the same thought. Yes, there are none of the wails or screams or other alarming sounds such as are usually the grist of the stories told on Hallowe’en—which is, by the way, only a few days hence. I truly wish that you and Lizzy might stay a night or two and give me the benefit of your rational judgement.”
Elizabeth and Darcy looked at each other, and Elizabeth could easily see that her husband would vastly prefer to leave Longbourn problems at Longbourn to be solved or endured by those who lived there. But the look she gave him and his own knowledge that these supernatural events seemed centred in the room where she and Jane used to reside seemed to convince him. With a sigh to match that of Mr. Bennet, he agreed to stay a couple of days.
“Though I do have to say that I am certain the events you described will not recur,” he said. “But I see my wife wishes us to investigate, and I have learned enough in a year of marriage to realize that occasional adjustments in plans lead to a much more pleasant home life.”
Especially once the lights go out, Elizabeth thought happily, ducking her head to hide her smile as she squeezed her husband’s hand yet again…
Thursday, October 27, 1938
“Here is your usual room, Mr. Poirot,” Mrs. Collins said as she opened the door into the room on the top floor of Longbourn. “I do wish I had a room on a lower floor, but the house is completely full with those engineers surveying for the new aerodrome.”
“Ah, all is good, madam,” Poirot said, as he entered the clean, well-furnished room in the lodging house Mrs. Collins had managed since her husband fell in the Battle of Ypres during the Great War.
“Though I must warn you of a certain degree of muttering about strange sounds from this room while you were in London.”
“It is of no matter. Hercule Poirot does not believe in the ghosts. But I have much thinking to do, and I do not wish to be trying to find another domicile when I have need to put the little grey cells to work.”
“Are you close to a solution to your problem then?”
“Ah, it has been…how do you say…ah, yes!…a most vexing problem. But I anticipate no more than another day before the authorities can lay their hands on the miscreants.”
“I hope so,” Mrs. Collins said, wringing her hands. “The building of the aerodrome has already been delayed for months, and I know how much it is needed. My oldest boy, Robert, is a pilot in the RAF, you know, and he told me so.”
“And I believe you have another son in the army and one in the navy. I can easily understand your concern.”
“Then you think…that we will have another war?”
Poirot shrugged. “I wish I could say otherwise, but it appears the Boche will not be satisfied with their ill-gotten gains. Even Mr. Chamberlain finally seems to realize that appeasement of the lion simply means that we shall be the last sheep to be eaten.”
“Oh, God. Well, I hope your deliberations are fruitful. The authorities have the payment for the house ready, and it will be torn down a few days after Hallowe’en.”
“Yes, I know. Does it trouble you, the losing of your home?”
“Not really. I am getting too old to manage it, and the payment is enough for me to take rooms close by. All my family is gone, you know, and Longbourn is just a house these days.”
“Yes, very philosophical, madam. Now, might I trouble you to have my dinner sent up to my room? I wish to set immediately to work.”
“Of course, Monsieur Poirot.”
Wednesday, October 27, 1813
Darcy and Elizabeth had decided to spend the night in Lydia’s old room, convincing Mary and Kitty to move downstairs temporarily. It took little argument to convince the two girls; they knew what their sister and brother planned, and they wanted no part in it.
“At least I shall be able to get a restful night’s sleep,” Mary said, and Kitty was quick to agree.
“Though there are no such things as ghosts,” Mary professed in her most lecturing tone, unable to avoid having the last word.
Once everyone else in the house sought their rooms, a tense silence descended on Longbourn. Darcy and Elizabeth quietly carried a pair of chairs into the hall and placed them before the bedroom door at the end of the hall. Darcy had disassembled the latch earlier and carefully greased the hinges so the door would open soundlessly. Now, as he and Elizabeth seated themselves to wait, he found himself clutching his heavy cane.
This is ridiculous, he thought. There will be no ghosts. And what good would a cane do if there were?
With that conflicted thought bouncing about his mind and with Elizabeth’s nails firmly embedded in his arm, the couple settled down for what the rational part of their minds expected to be a most boring evening.
Deeper, more elemental feelings were not so sure…
The boredom soon ended as both Darcy and Elizabeth almost levitated from their chairs. Neither remembered standing up, but they found themselves in a fierce embrace while their eyes tried to bore a hole in the door to the bedroom. From the other side came the sound of footsteps pacing back and forth inside a room they knew was empty. Their shock was so extreme that both of them later marvelled they did not bolt down the stairs and out of the house. There simply was no logical, rational explanation for what they heard.
But, as the seconds and then minutes passed, they also realized Mr. Bennet had been right. The sounds had no explanation, but there was no frightful menace in them. Instead, they heard muttered exclamations in French and English. Darcy was fluent in the language, and since moving to Pemberley, Elizabeth had joined Georgiana during her language lessons.
So both of them recognized such interjections as “Mon Dieu, Ça y est! Hein? Bon!” and others, exclamations such as a person would make as he struggled with an intractable problem. It all sounded so ordinary! Yet how could they be hearing such things?
As he held Elizabeth in his arms, Darcy grew aware that he still held his heavy stick. He drew back from Elizabeth and looked at it, then at the bedroom door. He looked back at Elizabeth and motioned towards the door.
Elizabeth immediately realized that her husband proposed to shove the door open, and she wrapped her arms about herself in agitation.
I suppose we could flee if what we see is too terrifying, she thought, and she again wondered whether they ought to be fleeing for their lives right now. Finally, she nodded at her husband and clasped his free hand while he reached out and gently pushed the door open…
Thursday, October 27, 1938
Despite the fact the bedroom door silently swung open in front of Darcy and Elizabeth, it squeaked in Poirot’s bedroom, and he stopped pacing and swivelled at the unexpected sound.
“Mon Dieu!” Poirot exclaimed, taking a backward step as he saw two wraithlike figures standing in the hall looking in at him. “Des fantômes!”
He stopped after a single step, bracing himself. “It cannot be! My eyes! They must be playing the tricks on me!”
He squeezed his eyes shut and pulled out his handkerchief, rubbing them briskly. But when he opened them, the spectres were still there. A man and a woman, dressed in antiquated costumes from a previous century.
Worse, they are stepping into the room!
It took all of Hercule Poirot’s vaunted control that he did not throw himself out the window but remained motionless as the two wraiths came several feet into the room. He had no idea what to expect, but not in the wildest stretch of his imagination did he anticipate that the tall wraith would speak, in a sepulchre voice that seemed to come from an impossible distance and in a dialect from another century.
Instead of a terrifying demon or vision, what Elizabeth saw as the door opened was a short, funny-looking man dressed in a completely unfamiliar black suit. He was rather plump with dark hair plastered to his skull and a moustache unlike any she had ever seen before. Though he looked more like a semi-visible shadow, she could see such detail because the room in which he stood was relatively well lighted compared to the dark hallway in which she and Darcy stood. The familiar furniture of her room seemed to have vanished, and it was replaced by strange, semi-transparent, furnishings.
But the man was simply too ludicrous to be frightening, and when she felt Darcy start to step forward, she was quick to step into the room with him. And when Darcy gave a simple, one-word greeting, the little man jumped visibly.
He heard! What is happening?
Poirot gathered himself and reined in his rampaging anxiety, instead managing a greeting of his own.
“Bonjour, monsieur. Bonjour, mademoiselle.” He gave a quick, precise bow that brought a smile to both of the wraiths.
“Êtes-vous français?” Darcy asked.
“Non, monsieur. I am Belgian, though I have lived in England for years and speak excellent English.”
Elizabeth firmly hid her smile, instead nodding gravely. Somehow, though the man seemed incredibly vain, from his appearance and manner of speech, laughter did not seem appropriate to this situation.
“I am Hercule Poirot,” the little man said with another bow. “The greatest detective in the world. But how are you called?”
Both Darcy and Elizabeth had to puzzle out this weirdly contrived English, and it was a moment before Darcy spoke.
“I am Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire, and this is my wife, Mrs. Darcy.”
“Ça, alors!” Poirot exclaimed. “But this is astonishing, Monsieur et Madame Darcy! But you look so insubstantial, like wraiths! Do I appear the same?”
“You do,” Darcy replied. “And your pacing and the other sounds from this bedroom have the Bennet family thinking this bedroom is haunted.”
“The Bennet family! C’est pas possible! Madame Elizabeth Darcy! The one-time Mademoiselle Elizabeth Bennet! It cannot be so, but it is! I see you before me though I doubt I could touch you! One amazement piled onto another!”
“Please excuse me, sir,” Elizabeth said firmly. “You introduced yourself as if you expected to be recognized. And what is a detective? I have never heard of it, though I imagine it derives from the word detect.”
“Indeed, you are correct, madam. But please, in the world where you reside, what year is it? In my world, it is 1938.”
“What—1938!” Both Darcy and Elizabeth were startled, and it took some thought before Darcy responded, “It is October 27, 1813, sir.”
“And it is the same date in 1938! These cannot be coincidences! But, to answer your question, Madame Darcy, a detective is one who collects information to solve crimes. There are very few in your year of 1813 though there are the Bow Street Runners, founded by Henry Fielding in London.”
“And you are the world’s greatest detective?” Elizabeth asked, her lips curved in a wry smile.
“But of course, madam!” Poirot replied, so confident in his claim that he was not even offended and simply gave another of his small, precise bows. “And to prove such, I shall offer you the solution to the problem you mention, that of the alarm of your esteemed family to what seems to be the haunting of this room. I cannot explain why this connection has opened between our times, but it will only last for a few more days, after which the house of Longbourn in my world will be torn down to build an aerodrome to protect your country against German attack from the air.”
“German attack!” Darcy exclaimed.
“Alas, it appears so. They have already started one giant war more than twenty years ago, and it now appears they wish to start another.”
“And what is it…this arrow-drome that you mentioned?” Elizabeth asked.
“Aerodrome, madam. A place where machines that fly through the air land and take off.”
“Like those da Vinci wrote of!” Darcy exclaimed.
“Indeed, yes. It is this way…”
It was some hours before Darcy and Elizabeth finally sought Lydia’s rather small bed to get what sleep they could. But Darcy was bubbling from what they had seen though he several times affirmed that they could say nothing of them. He was so wide-awake and energized that Elizabeth finally resorted to what always worked. She shrugged out of one sleeve of her nightgown, wound her fingers in Darcy’s dark curls in the manner she loved, and pulled his head down to her bare breast…
Afterwards, both fell asleep in each other’s arms. Determining what they would tell her family could wait until the morning…
…or they might even stay and pay a return visit to her bedroom to talk again with that detective. He might look rather comical, but he was most informative…
Awww, is Longbourn haunted? Is Hercule Poirot haunting Longbourn in 1813, by going back in time, or are Darcy and Lizzy haunting Longbourn in 1938? What about the connection between the two times? Is it a time portal? Did you enjoy this Halloween vignette? Thanks, C. P. Odom for giving us a fun tale.
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C. P. Odom’s Books
A Most Civil Proposal; Pride, Prejudice, & Secrets; Consequences; Perilous Siege
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A Covenant of Marriage