It was close to the eventide in the year of 1858, when I finally had arrived at the Montague Estate, within the propinquity of the town of Harwood in Lancashire, England. The day was drear and dank as my carriage had passed the old causeway reaching the estate. The wheels of the carriage were covered in the mire and grime of the solitary country road. The westerly winds were blowing and the weather was cold and unpredictable, as the carriage had halted its immediate advance. Little would I know that the day of the 18th of May as I got off the carriage, it would forever be stitched in my mind, as the day I met the infamous Devil in person. His name would be Mr Montague. I had come to visit him on behalf of his nephew Sebastian, as a solicitor. I was instructed through the will of Mr Montague that the manor and the rest of the country estate would be bequeathed to the intimate members of the Montague family. Mr Montague's impeccable reputation was indeed well-established in the local area of Harwood, from what I had understood.
His home was a Gothic manor located in the outskirts of Harwood built in 1838. It was a house that Mr. Montague had inherited through a fortunate bequeathal. A Tudor style building that had a fifth bay two storey façade to the front with a double pile two bay wing to the rear that was indeed impressive in stature. A slate roof and chimneys were incorporated to the stairwell rising, through the centre of the building. There was not much that was truly known about the entire history of the house other than it was owned by the Montague family of Great Harwood, who also owned nearby Harwood Hall. The house also had a classic cellar at the bottom. From what I had understood vaguely of the history of the Montague family, they were in the business of the collection of prestigious wines throughout Europe.
I was kindly greeted by the lackey upon my arrival, and one of the servants had escorted me to the main hall, where Mr Montague was standing, as he was observing attentively, one of the family paintings of his stately lineage. Once inside the house, I had noticed the unique façade featured large mullioned windows and a central tower that was imposing, with the accommodation set over four floors and a central sweeping staircase that was ornated in a bright lustre that had overshadowed the quietude of the parlour. My first impression upon entrance of the house was that it was spacious and elaborate in architecture. The panelled walls hung with old tapestries and the furniture was vintage and pristine, as well as the priceless Persian and Arab carpets. There was a certain eeriness that had prevailed throughout the house that was irresistible. At that time, I was not certain of what that eeriness had consisted in its genuine essence.
When I had finally met Mr Montague and was able to converse with him, he had been calmly expecting me with an irrepressible grin. He was not much of an intimidating man by constitution alone, for he was a willowy man with a curly moustache dressed in a black frock coat and trousers. His shoes had appeared to be spotless, even though mine were drenched in the heavy mire from outside. He bore gold-rimmed spectacles that were conspicuous. His top hat was placed nearby a chair. It was not perhaps the propitious occasion to visit the house, due to the possible inclement weather, but it was my diligent duty to achieve the purpose, I had come in the first place, on behalf of his loyal nephew.
'Mr Clayton, 'tis a pleasure finally to meet you in person. I have heard good things about you, from Sebastian my dear nephew. He seems to entrust you, with your valuable expertise in the matter'.
'Forgive me sir, if I be modest in saying that by all means, I am no authentic expert in the field, only a proficient man of my profession'.
'You bid your diligence well, young man. Nowadays, it is extremely difficult to find such worthy and irreplaceable men as yourself of simplicity in nature. I have met my share of fainéants. I must say, all of them despicable raspcallions'.
'Thank you sir. As a solicitor I due my diligence efficaciously'.
'No need to thank me. Your decorum speaks for your noble persona'.
He shook my hand and said, 'How was the trip to Lancashire? I hope that the trip was not that unpleasant'.
I had responded, 'A bit surprised, but as a traveller I was fain to reach the estate at last, despite the inflexible weather'.
'Good, I am glad that you were able to arrive in tact and without much inconvenience. As for the weather my friend, one must become wont of the intermittent stages of its expectant fluctuation'.
'The manor has lost some of its natural lustre. You see, the original manor was built in the year of 1668. I had to remodel and refurbish that old house pleniful times, but I could never seem to abandon it. For it needs all the affection we can give to it. It is fond of me, as I am extremely fond of it'.
'Excuse me sir, did you say I?'
'Oh, it is a form of expression in these parts of the country'.
He began to smoke a cigar and had offered me one in the token of his formality, 'Cigar Mr Clayton?'
'I am afraid I must decline, for I do not smoke sir'.
'You are an esteemed man of practicality Mr Clayton, and I admire that peculiar trait of a man. A man must always personify his candour than his oblivescence'.
I was the bidden guest and Mr Montague made me feel at home in the manor with his conviviality. He had invited me to stay the night and have dinner with him. I had kindly rejected his invitation, but after hearing the drops of the rain and the thunder from afar, I had acquiesced knowing that the roads leading out of the estate would be even more perilous or unwieldy. Mr Montague had appeared to be a likeable man, but for some inexplicable reason unbeknownst to me, he was estranged from many of his living relatives. At the dining table we had discussed the magnificent history of warfare, to the current events unfolding in the world. He was an intelligent man that expatiated with such precision and passion, seldom seen presently. Despite his selcouth mannerism at times, he was a man of simplicity and reverence. He was not irresolute in his convictions.
It had seemed that my stay at the manor would be then intruded by the eerie sounds of an approaching storm. We had been discussing the subject on coins due to the fact that Mr Montague was an avid coin collector, when suddenly the sound of pounding of pipes were heard. I had heard the noise at first faintly, until it started to increase in its piercing echo. Mr Montague had continued to talk, despite the sound. It was as if he either did not hear this sound or was simply too distracted to notice. I had decided to remain aloof to the obtruding sound, but it began to billow to the point that I could not resist enquiring.
'Sir, what is that strange sound I hear?'
He had continued with his conversation, irrespective of my question, until I rose from the table and asked once more the inquistive question. Apparently, it was enough to arrest his attention. I see that there is something troubling you old boy. May I enquire what is the nature of this irritable inquietude?'
'Pardon my intrusion sir, but I can't seem to ignore the heavy clang of what appears to be pipes'.
'Oh my boy, it is nothing but the sound of rusty pipes and the clamour of the rain'.
'I see, but the sound is a constant clang. It is worse than the ringing of a vintage clock'.
'Perhaps, it would be better if you retired for the night in your chamber. I imagine the trip here was exhausting. We can carry on the conversation in the morning old boy'.
'Indeed, I am somewhat fatigued, If you will excuse me,' I had replied.
'Naturally!' He smiled and said.
Thus, I had left Mr Montague in the dining hall, and I headed upstairs to my chamber to repose in privacy. It was at least two hours that had transpired during the unfolding night, when I had heard the clang of the metal pipes once more. Quickly, it began to increase into a persistent clangour that had irked my sensitive sentience. At first, I had attempted to ignore the fastidious sound, but the clanging had become too unbearable. Thus, I had walked out of my chamber and headed towards down the staircase. My intention was to speak to one of the servants about the matter, but in the end, I had realised that there was little I could do, except, endure the noise, until the morning. But, it was clear to me that I would have to deal with the unusual noise. Thence, I had decided to return to my chamber. The rain did not help the matter, for it merely unnerved me. I had suspected the rain to have entered through the leaks of the cellar and reach the pipes. I had tried to convinced myself that the horrendous noise would subside after the rain and for a brief time the banging had ceased. But it would return after a few minutes and increment even more in its annoying sound.
The hours had elapsed and it was near midnight, when the rain calmed and dissipated. Unfortunately, for me, I had only escaped the natural wrath of the rain to have to thole the terrible wrath of the pipes of the cellar. If I had thought that the noise was only confined to certain areas of the manor, I would be sorely mistaken. Within the matter of an hour, the banging of the pipes was everywhere. I could feel the steady pounding of the walls as the noise grew and grew with every passing minute, but what happened next was more puzzling. I had started to hear the echoes of what appeared to be tormented souls in agony. Was it the eldritch sound of the wind howling still, after the passing of the rain I had asked myself? All of these peculiar sounds had begun to become a daunting obsession. To the point that I sought to investigate the matter of the banging pipes for myself. As I had stated before, there was nothing I could do, but bear unwillingly the unwelcomed inconvenience of this madness. I was vulnerable to the heightened state of my debilitating anxiety that I had been suffering, since my early childhood. The slightest noises made were enough for my acute audition to be easily provoked and triggered.
I was conscious of one thing that was indisputable, and that was the fact that this ongoing mystery, had a rational explication that would satisfy my suspicion and acumen. I was keen on solving the dubious mystery that had beclouded me since my entrance into the manor. When I had left the room and walked down the staircase, I headed towards the proximity of the cellar carrying a lamp, until I had reached it at last, with a measure of apprehension. I was hesitant somewhat, not knowing truly what I would discover with my unwitting approach. The unfathomable noise that had tormented me suddenly had stopped for a brief moment, as I cautiously approached. It started to sound at intervals as if the house knew I was nigh. It was too strange for me to understand what was transpiring, but I had proceeded ahead to open the door. I made certain that the few servants were not awakened by the unannounced exploration of my intrusive prying eyes.
As I had walked down the staircase, the pungent smell of wine was drenched everywhere, until the stench of death began to permeate over the general vicinity, towards the narrow passage of the door of the cellar. The horrible sound of the harrowing souls clamoured once more, deafening my ears. It had prompted me to pull the handle and open promptly the door. What I saw were the disturbing faces of disfigured beings on the sturdy walls of dread yearning to be freed from their afflicting burden. The images had discomposed me that I fell to the ground instantaneously. There was an even more frightening sound that began to resound over the just clamours of the walls, the beating of a heart. For it was no ordinary heart. It was the heart of the manor that was throbbing. I could palpably feel the vibratory pulsations reverberate uninhibitedly, throughout the passage to the cellar. My anxiety had heightened into an intense consternation. Immediately, I sought to exit the cellar and reach the stairs that led up to the door. The loud and acute reverberation had deafened by the minute more my ears, as I could hear incessantly the clangorous ringing.
When I had escaped the cellar, I had to escape the manor, for the vecordy inside was consuming me in its powerful grasp. It was a gruesome scene and the imagery of disturbing flashbacks that were too ineffable and unbelievable in nature to be described. Apparently, my implacable indiscretion to pry into the cellar was not unnoticed. In fact, the attentive eyes of the manor had been observing every action of mine taken, since my announced arrival. Namely, the unadvised intrusion into the creepy cellar. Despite the macabre discovery that I had found in the cellar, I realised that I had to quickly compose myself. I was not certain of what to do, leave the house at once, or wait to depart the house of horror. My decision was to leave in the morning. That had implied that I would have to ignore the unimaginative things that I had witnessed in the dreadful darkness of the cellar.
As I had passed the corridor leading to the staircase that I took to reach the chamber I was staying at, one of the servants had seen me sneak up the stairs so stealthily. Her name was Lily.
'Did you need something sir? If I can kindly ask, what were you doing up so late in the night?'
Naturally, I was a bit unprepared to offer any plausible or logical response, 'Since the storm had kept me awake, I could not sleep'.
'Oh, of course. I do apologise for any troubling inconveniences that have kept you from sleeping well'.
'It was not your fault nor of your doing that there was a storm'.
'Unfortunately, the storms in this part of the country are restless like the howling of the wolves, or the cries of poor souls'.
The servant had paused before continuing, 'Was it only the storm you heard sir?'
The question had stupefied me and at the same time, made me more curious to know what she meant. For some reason, I had resisted the intense temptation to tell her what I had encountered in the cellar, 'I do not believe so. No, if you will excuse me, I must return to my chamber. I must depart in the early morning'.
The servant had smiled then she replied, 'Good. May you slumber like a mouse the rest of the late hours'.
'Thank you. I shall attempt to do that precisely'.
If my comportment was to be considered odd, the servant's comportment would be even more of a peculiarity, for she had seemed to be less vague and conspicuous. I had wanted to scream from the top of my lungs to her about the evil of the bloody house of horror, but I had remained silent in my tongue. Once the servant had excused herself, I returned to my chamber. As to be expected, I could not sleep for the remainder of my time in that unpleasant manor. I had pondered with a pensive mind the unspeakable things that I had observantly witnessed in that pit of terror that was the cellar. I had contemplated all options, including the option of my sanity. Could it be feasible I had wondered, if what I saw before in the cellar was indeed real, not some inexplicable hallucinatory episodes of my mind playing tricks on me? I was always told as a child that riddles were mysteries to be solved. The baffling question that I had queried was how could I reconcile the preternatural with the natural or reality with surreality? So much to unlock and so many undiscovered truths to be revealed. It was utterly mind-boggling to decipher the rationality of the sequences of occurrences that had betided suddenly.
I was lying on the floor unbeknownst to me, when I had heard the abrupt knocking on the chamber door. It was Lily, the servant calling on me. The knocking had awakened me from my dormant stupor. I was not even certain of what time it was the next day. I rose to my feet and sat on the bed trying to regain my reasonable faculties, before I had answered the door. When I did, the servant had told me that Mr Montague was waiting for me to have breakfast with him. I told her that I would be ready in a few minutes. My clothes were in need of being dusted off a bit. So was the need to blow away the cobwebs in my head; however, I was pressed on time, and the matter of the abominable cellar was consuming my every thought afterwards. Once I had composed myself and properly dressed, I proceeded to join Mr Montague for breakfast. I had the urgency to speak to him at once, about the creepy cellar and what I had descried with an unsettling realisation. I had to remain calm and coherent in my words; although I was extremely eager and fidgety. I could not permit Mr Montague to detect my growing uneasiness nor distracting eyes so plainly; yet I was keen on discovering the ghastly truth about the unrestricted horrors of the cellar. Was this horror that I seen an actual occurrence or was it nothing more than my heightened state of mind conjuring things that were not plausible in the end? I could not depart from the manor without knowing the whole truth. The anxiety to know would consume me entirely like an opium drug taken by an addict. Thus, I had prepared myself the best that I could, then walked slowly down the staircase and headed into the hall where Mr Montague was expecting me already with a casual smirk on his face.
'How was your sleep Mr Clayton? I hope you were able to sleep well last night and found your accommodations to your satisfaction'.
'Considering the unwanted conditions of the night, I would say my sleep was somewhat to be expected'.
From what I was told by Lily the servant, you were up late and she had seen you heading to the staircase. Was there a particular reason for that Mr Clayton?'
'If you must know Mr Montague, the terrible noises had prevented me from sleeping much. Thus, I was looking to see where the noises derived from'.
'The cellar...you were in the cellar last night Mr Clayton. There is no practical need for you to conceal that'.
I was not prepared for his clever response, but I had sensed that he was referring to the awful things that were hidden in the cellar, 'I am not certain what you mean sir'.
'I was referring to the noises of course. The metal pipes'. He paused then continued, 'You were complaining yesterday because of them. Have you forgotten old boy?'
I had tried to deceive him at his game, but he was one step ahead of me and was outwitting me, 'Indeed. The horrible banging was very palpable and real'.
I had chuckled then said, 'It almost felt as if the manor was alive and had a beating heart of its own sir'.
Apparently, Mr Montague was not amused by that jesting enacture of mine. I could see the intense look in his eyes and had noticed it in his serious demeanour afterwards.
'You are correct Mr Clayton. The manor is alive. It has been ever since it was originally built decades ago, when I was a small child. I have no intention of seeing this manor owned, by any mischievous wastrel. I much prefer to preserve its natural integrity and keep the manor within the family lineage'.
For a full minute I had thought, did I hear him right? Was he acknowledging that the horrific sequence of events that I had witnessed in the cellar was veritable and not a mere illusion. He had sensed my momentary lapse of concentration.
'Are you all right Mr Clayton? You seem to be very pensive at the moment. A bit obfuscated by something'.
'Did I hear you say, the manor is alive Mr Montague?'
'Correct old boy. The manor is alive. That I can attest to. Even you can attest to that'.
'Then what I saw in that bloody cellar was all real and not my imagination? Everything?'
'Yes. All that you saw is what it appears. As I said ere, I have recomposed from fragments this old manor that we are in to construct its present image'.
'Was I not dreaming or hallucinating?'
'No Mr Clayton'.
'But how can that be? It is impossible to fathom'.
'Oh everything is possible in this world when it comes to death, Mr Clayton. You see, what you had discovered behind the horrid banging of the metal pipes are actually the souls of the trapped victims who belong to me, the devil in disguise. For I am the collector of souls'.
I was shocked by his disturbing tale of horror, 'Are you mad? What are you implying Mr Montague? Is this a macabre joke of yours?'
He had stared deeply into my eyes with a wicked smile that manifested his genuine disposition, 'Not in the slightest bit Mr Clayton. I am Lucifer in person'.
'The tormented souls, the spills of blood and the beating heart. All of those extonious things and more exist? How is that feasible?'
'Simple my boy, all that what is, is what it is. Everything within this manor is the sole creation of my wishes. The poor souls of exulant you heard are the destined victims of my condemnation and the beating heart is the heart of the manor itself. As I have said before, the house is alive. It watches us. For its eyes are always observant of the actions made by its visitors. Listen closely and you will hear the beating of its heart now'.
As he spoke, the loud beating of the heart of the manor had resounded. It was disconcerting in its intensity that I was fixated on the manor itself.
'Can you hear the beating of the heart of the manor? It is the most beautiful sound to enjoy Mr Clayton'.
'It is insane I say. No...no.. this is all a mere hallucination unbalanced!'
Then the familiar sound of the heavy banging of the metal pipes was heard audibly anew, with powerful echoes that had reverberated deliberately.
'Stop the madness now!' I had screamed as I covered my ears with my two hands to deafen the penetrating noise drowning me in its insufferable force.
Mr Montague had appeared to be very much entertained with this sick perversion that he demonstrated a harsh, derisive laugh.
It felt as if time had stopped and the hours and minutes were inconsequential. I could not prevent the inescapable thoughts entering my mind of running out of the house to rid myself of this unspeakable evil and scevity. Yet, as I attempted to scurry to the front door, Lily had blocked my escape. She had reflected a terrifying grin and a dark stare in her sinister eyes.
'Going somewhere, Mr Clayton? You will be needing the key'.
The fear in me had turned rapidly into a desperate need to flee the unavoidable manor that I pushed her out of the way, but to no avail. Mr Montague made certain that my departure from his home would not be until he said when.
'You weren't planning on leaving so suddenly old boy, without bidding me a duly farewell? That wouldn't be befitting, since you are a welcomed guest. Do you not agree Mr Clayton?'
'What is it that you want from me? Stop playing games with me and state your purpose. What are you going to do with me?' I had vociferated.
He had smiled once more as he stood before me with his phlegmatic imposition. His voice had suddenly changed from a raspy voice into a deep defiant voice, 'Oh, it is not I that will do something; for it is the house that will. It must feed itself. It needs your soul Mr Clayton'.
The clamouring souls from the cellar had begun to burst from the walls of the manor, as they were manifest. The gripping terror had consumed me even more continging, beyond any rationality. I had felt my head was about to explode. The noises were intolerable and unbridled. I knew then, I had to escape if not, I was doomed to the brutal fate of my peril. Thus, I had to react in accordance to the undeniable threat or I would be a wretched prisoner of the house of horror for eternity. His ugsome appearance had altered into horns and hooves, the crimson guise of the vimineous devil himself. Out of my pure instinct, I had knocked the servant to the ground as we tousled and took the key from her. There was no time to spare, and the dead were coming for me and the house was starting to swallow me. I put the key in and unlocked the door. I had turned the knob and opened the door expeditiously, as Mr Montague laughed uninterruptedly. At last, I was freed of the unyielding nightmare of the house. I had closed the door and stood before the purity of the sunlight's morning rays. I had caught my breath as I ran away from the manor on to the garden. My heart was still beating fast, and my anxiety had not yet abated, but the horror finally did. Or so I was led to believe.
'Going somewhere Mr Clayton?'
The familiar voice was that of Mr Montague. I was in absolute shock. When I had turned around to see, it was another man with a distinctive voice that I did not recognise nor suspect. 'How can that be? I just left that abominable house with you inside it!'
He was perplexed by my answer, 'Are you all right Mr. Clayton? You seemed to have descried a ghost? Has the Devil stifled your tongue'.
'A ghost?' I had replied.
'Did we not have an engagement for this day to discuss the issue of the manor and its property?'
'The manor and its property?' I was still confounded by this strange occurrence that I was ill-prepared for what had transpired next.
'Yes the property Mr. Clayton. Was this not the purpose of your visit to the estate?'
Could it be within the realm of possibilities that I had only been tricked to believe that what I had seen and experienced with my own eyes previously was actually an illusion of my mind? 'No, I am fine sir!'
'Then may we proceed to discuss the matter that brought you here in the first place?
'The matter? Oh yes of course', I was a bit timorous.
'Let us enter the manor and enjoy at the same time the manifold wonders of the house. I'll have Lily prepare some tea for us'.
'Yes, my female servant. Oh, you will find her and the manor to be pleasing indeed. After all, you are my bidden guest', he said with a sarcastic grin in his face that had marked his innocence visibly and candidly.