The Haunting of Longbourn
C. P. Odom
The Haunting of Longbourn
- 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 departing to her room whenever 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, as if someone was talking to himself at times. The voice seems to be English but the mutterings are virtually all unintelligible. They also report the smell of smoke wafting out of the room into the hallway as well as occasional sound of a violin being played along with the creaking of the bed. 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 Lizzie and Jane’s 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, 1890
“Here is your usual room, Mr. Holmes,” Miss Elizabeth 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 extension of the railway line to meet the London Underground line.”
“Ah, all is good, madam,” Sherlock Holmes said, as he entered the clean, well-furnished room in the lodging house Miss Collins had managed since the death of her mother twenty years previously..
“Though I must warn you of a certain degree of whispering about strange sounds from this room while you were in London.”
“It is of no matter, since I do 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 am working on a case.”
“Are you close to solving the matter of Professor Moriarty, then? And will Dr. Watson publish it in The Strand as usual?”
“Ah, Dr. Watson will likely publish something,” Holmes said, his voice as dry as a desert, “but whether it will bear any similarity to my investigations is a matter beyond my control. But to answer your first question regarding the corruption of railroad officials, I should have the final pieces of evidence in a day or two.”
Miss Collins seemed not to have heard Holmes’ caution as she rubbed her hands together briskly, a pleased smile on her face. “I shall look forward to it then. His relating of your exploits is always most enjoyable.”
Holmes steadfastly forced himself to refrain from rolling his eyes, since his dissatisfaction with Watson’s recitations was a matter between him and his friend.
“In any case, I do hope your investigations are fruitful quite soon,” Miss Collins said as her look of pleasure disappeared. “The work on the railroad has already been delayed for months, and I know how much it is needed. These delays have idled most of the working men in the neighbourhood, and belts cannot be cinched much tighter without employment.””
“I can easily understand your concern, madam, since the rail line will go right through Longbourn House.”
Miss Collins gave an emphatic nod at this last statement. “The authorities have the payment for the house ready, and it is supposed to 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 from the rail company is enough for me to take rooms close by. I never married, you know, and my mother has been gone these last twenty years. Longbourn is just a house these days.”
“Yes, very philosophical, Miss Collins. Now, might I trouble you to have my dinner sent up to my room? I wish to set immediately to work.”
“Of course, Mr. Holmes.”
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. In addition, a thick cloud of pipe smoke drifted out from under the bottom of the door, and their noses wrinkled in distaste. Both were familiar with pipe smoke and usually enjoyed the aroma. This smoke, however, seem to be both foreign and foul-smelling.
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 perceived.
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 English and what sounded like German. 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 “Was hat der Bösewicht diesmal vor?” (What does the villain intend?) 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? The room was supposed to be empty!
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 take flight 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, allowing a cloud of foul smelling tobacco smoke to cloud the hallway…
Thursday, October 27, 1890
Despite the fact the bedroom door silently swung open in front of Darcy and Elizabeth, it squeaked in Holmes’ bedroom, and he stopped pacing and swivelled at the unexpected sound.
“What is this, then?” Holmes exclaimed, taking his pipe from his mouth and taking a backward step while waving at the smoke to get a better view of the two wraithlike figures standing in the hall looking in at him. “You do not belong here! If I was not a man of science, I might think you a pair of phantoms such as my friend Watson might suppose in his imaginings! But my eyes must be playing 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 more than fifty years previously.
Worse, they are stepping into the room!
It took all of Sherlock Holmes’ vaunted self-control to make himself stand stock still 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 variant of the King’s English from decades earlier.
“Good evening, sir.”
Instead of a terrifying demon or vision, what Elizabeth saw as the door opened was a tall, thin, hawk-nosed man with piercing grey eyes and wearing a completely unfamiliar dark grey frock coat and trousers. 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, replaced by strange, semi-transparent, furnishings.
But despite his unfamiliarity, the man was simply too calm and controlled to be frightening, and when he spoke, he was perfectly understandable, even if his English sounded rather odd in both intonatioin and phraseology.
When she felt Darcy start to step forward, she was quick to step into the room with him. And when Darcy gave a simple greeting in response to the tall man’s expression of incredulity, the other man started visibly.
He heard Darcy! What is happening here? He cannot be an apparition if we can hear him and he can hear us!
Holmes gathered himself and reined in his rampaging anxiety, instead managing to say, “Good evening yourself, though this is a most extraordinary meeting. The two of you look so insubstantial, like wraiths! Do I appear the same?”
“You do,” Darcy replied. “Your voice seems to come from far away, though itis perfectly intelligible, even if the manner in which you speak is rather unfamiliar.”
“As is yours, which might be more appropriate to the early 1800’s if I am any judge of dialect. Of course, my suppositions are buttressed by the fact that the attire of both you and your wife appears to be from approximately the same period, that you are a gentleman of considerable wealth, that you ride almost daily, and that the two of you only today arrived at this house.”
Holmes was not surprised at the look of surprise that came over the faces of both of the wraiths facing him at these trivial observations. It was so usual that he would have been surprised not to see it.
“That…that is amazing,” the woman said, peering more closely at him. “You are correct in every particular. How could you know all that.”
Holmes only shrugged. “It is but a matter of observation, madam. The fact that you and this man are married is indicated by the ring on your left hand. The dialect in which you speak and your attire comes from my studies of such matters in order to aid in identification. Your husband’s wealth is indicated by the superb material and fit of your attire.”
“But how could you know that I ride daily and that we just arrived at Longbourn today?” Darcy asked.
Holmes gave another shrug. “Again, by simple observation. Your hands show that you do not do manual labour, but the calluses you do have are those of a man who handles a horse’s bridle daily. Especially when the ride is fast and energetic.”
“Too energetic, sir,” Elizabeth said. “I keep observing that he could break his neck!”
“As for arriving at this house today, I detect a slight bit of dust on your shoes and your pant and dress hem. I merely had to use my eyes to do what most people do not do, which is to see. To really see. It is what I do. My name is Sherlock Holmes, and I fancy myself the world first and foremost consulting detective.”
“I am Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire, and this is my wife, Mrs. Darcy.”
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, sir, madam, even though I must wonder at your presence before me when I doubt I could touch you without my hand passing through your insubstantial bodies. It is one amazement piled onto another.”
“As for our presence, sir,” Darcy said, “what else would you expect, when the sound of pacing footsteps and mutterings along with the smell of this, ah…aromatic…tobacco drifts into the hallway. It has the entire Bennet household, family and servants, thinking this bedroom is haunted.”
“Ah, yes, the tobacco is my own blend of several Turkish leafs. But the Bennet family, you say? Yet the owner and manager of this house is an elderly woman named Collins. Miss Elizabeth Collins.”
“The husband of my closest friend, Miss Charlotte Collins, will inherit Longbourn when my father passes on,” Elizabeth said. “He is the closest male relative to my father, you see. And Charlotte has just given birth to a daughter who she named Elizabeth because of our friendship.”
“Who never married!” Holmes said, beginning to pace about, his brow wrinkled in thought. “The Bennet family, you say! And you are Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. This is amazing! And your given name, Mrs. Darcy, is Elizabeth! The one-time Miss Elizabeth Bennet, the most famous heroine in all of British literature! Can it be that the revered Jane Austen wrote of real characters rather than fictional ones? But even if you are mere literary wraiths, it begins to make sense! And when all possibilities save one have been eliminated, what remains must be the answer, no matter how astonishing!”
“Please excuse me, sir,” Elizabeth said firmly, interrupting Holmes’ pacing. “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, Mrs. Darcy. But please, what year is it in your time? In my world, it is 1890, and Queen Victoria will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee in seven years.”
“What—1890!” Darcy exclaimed. “But who is this Queen Victoria? The Prince Regent will be king when his father dies, and his only legitimate child is Princess Charlotte, who is only seventeen and unmarried.”
Both Darcy and Elizabeth took several moments of thought before Darcy finally responded, “Today is October 27, 1813, sir.”
“The same date in 1890! These cannot be coincidences! But, to answer your question, Mrs. 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 foremost, ah…consulting… detective?” Elizabeth asked, her lips curved in a wry smile.
“The term consulting detective is of my own invention. I will have to lay the blame for foremost on my biographer and friend, Dr. John Watson.” Holmes reply was offhand and unstudied, his confidence so manifest that he was not even offended. “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 lay the rails for the new railway line connecting London and Hertfordshire.”
“Railway line?” Darcy asked, his brow furrowed.
“Carriages pulled by steam engine locomotives. In your day, such devices were in their infancy and considered as novelties. By my day, millions of Britons use rail travel every day. Travel by horse-drawn coaches and carriages has all but disappeared between towns and cities.”
“And this…railway line,” Elizabeth said, looking distinctly unhappy. “This railway line requires that this house…the home I where I was born and grew up…to be torn down?”
“I suppose the rails could have been laid in other locations, but Miss Collins was ready and willing to sell Longbourn. She never married, the management of the establishment is becoming burdensome, and, as she told me, Longbourn is just a house to her these days. She is willing to live elsewhere on the funds from the sale.”
“But how did these steam engines come to transport so many people?” Darcy asked.
“This century and especially the years of Queen Victoria’s reign have seen much progress, sir. It happened 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 peculiar, but he was most informative…
Awww, is Longbourn haunted? Is Sherlock Holmes haunting Longbourn in 1813, by going back in time, or are Darcy and Lizzy haunting Longbourn in 1890? 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