An Atherton’s Artificial Artifact!
Features of Interest: Folly — Wood Panels with Divers Curious Carvings (Note: some of the carvings are not suitable for Ladies. We especially advise Ladies not to view the Blue Bedchamber, save if the Lady be married, and in her husband’s estimation needful of instruction in certain aspects of the marital state) — Maze (by Batty Langley), complete with Tomb in Center (Note: the tomb is much older than the maze, and was chosen as the center-piece because it was thought to be Picturesque, and since it was certainly Already There. IMPORTANT NOTE: Do Not Tour The Maze, especially after dark)
A Note Concerning the Curious Name of the Manor: Illgot suggests the phrase Ill-Gotten Gains – but this is not the True Etymology of the name. Many visitors have assumed that the Manor was once either an Abbey or the property of a Catholic family, and that either Henry VIII or Queen Elizabeth must have seized it, later bestowing it upon the Portents, perhaps for Service to the Crown. This is Not So. Illgot is a corruption of Ill-Begotten, and refers to an incident alleged to have taken place in the Medieval period, when the Manor was built. You will find more details about this incident in the General Notes below.
This picturesque (if melancholy) spot in the county of Wessex has had a long and rather tormented history. Even before the last stones were laid, there had been, so it is said, murder committed within its walls. Reports of who was murdered, and by whom, differ, but everyone is quite firm on the fact itself. This might explain the figure, known locally as the Wailing Workman, who moves along a straight line high above the floor of the Ball-Room. Presumably, he is moving along the scaffolding which, when he was Flesh, bore him Aloft.
This same Wailing Workman is alleged to be responsible for the Great Stampede of 1780, in which a Grand Ball at the Manor ended suddenly as the guests ran screaming out of the Ball-Room, some spilling out into the Grounds through the sash windows that stood partially open.
Strangely, this may account for another ghost (called the White Lady by the simple rustic peasantry), reported to haunt the Manor Grounds, of a lady in Antiquated Finery, who is said to stumble hopelessly through the Maze on Dark Nights, crying piteously for “Algie” and saying “Oh, I am lost! I am infernally lost!” Could she be a reveler, lost on the grounds after her panicked flight from the Ball-Room? And, if this is so, what dark fate overtook her?
Remarkably, this ghostly sequence (in which Ghost begets Ghost) does not end with the White Lady. In 1845, the Hon. Cecil Upright-Smythe, a young man and in good health, was found dead at the center of the maze, “without a mark upon him, but with such a look of horror upon his face,” according to the diary of the twenty-second Lord Portent, “that I, on seeing him, looked instinctively behind me to see whether some terror might be there.” It transpired that the young man had been challenged by some of the other young men in the house party to spend the night in the maze after boasting of his utter disbelief in “spectres and similar nonsense.”
The young man was found but a few feet from the great iron doors of the tomb (that of the first Lord Portent, allegedly a Warlock) that forms the maze’s grisly centerpiece. The well-known Sir Eldritch Entwhistle was a guest at the time of the tragedy, and posited a Supernatural explanation for the death. Hoping to find some proof for this theory, he (in company with several other guests, among whom were the young men who had issued the fatal challenge) kept watch in the center of the maze the next night, to see if any spiritual Manifestation might account for the man’s untimely death. What follows is from Sir Entwhistle’s diary, and can be found in his Manifestations of Ur-Matter.
For a long time, nothing. The night was temperate; no wind blew; in fact, the maze grew stuffy. My young companions, at first given over to nervous laughter and over-bold speech, grew frankly bored. Then! Midnight proclaimed itself from the bells of the village church. Following the final chime, a blast of vapour chilled the air. The young men stopped the game of cards they had commenced to play (for the moon was full, and full overhead, and there was light enough for cards) and staggered to their feet. Old Cornthrope, the Vicar, fell to muttering a prayer, and the Major fell to swearing (could the Major’s profanity have counter-acted the pious prayers of the Vicar? I must explore this possibility at some point). Then all stopped doing all these things, for a Lady was suddenly in our midst. A Lady dressed in white stumbled, weeping, into the clearing. “Oh, I am lost! Lost!” She cried. The Major stepped forward and gruffly offered the lady any assistance she might require. She took no notice. I was about to step forward to attempt more effective communication when my attention was diverted.
One of the young men cried out. “Why, look, it is Cecil!” And we turned to look where he pointed. Indeed, our unfortunate friend sat upon the steps of the tomb, nonchalantly loading his favorite pipe. “Hallo, Cecil, old man,” someone shouted. Cecil took no notice. He was still filling his pipe. Finally, he looked up. He didn’t see us, but he seemed to see the White Lady; at any rate, his eyes fixed upon her, and terror flooded into his face.
The Lady did not attend to him. She had fallen to pacing the clearing, her form passing indifferently through the sacred (the Vicar) and the profane (the Major) of our company. But Cecil’s eyes followed the lady’s form, as if at a thing that he would give much to see no more. At last, the lady turned towards the tomb, and seemed to see Cecil- or rather to see, and to be terrified of, something directly behind Cecil.
Cecil gave a single, choking cry at this, and then fell, sprawling and lifeless, to the ground. I cannot call him coward- he was already seeing a ghost when he was sure that no such thing could exist; to know also that there is some worse thing behind one, something that has terrified the most terrifying creature one has ever seen- that might fell any man. Cecil’s form lay still for a moment, then became as vapour, and soon was gone entirely.
The White Lady was not gone, however. She stood, all a-tremble, in the center of the clearing, staring, and mad with terror. And now it was quite clear that she was looking at the great iron doors of the tomb. And it seemed indeed that there was something wrong about the doors- almost as if they were swinging slowly open, impelled by some invisible force, possibly applied from within.
“Gentlemen,” I said, calmly. “We must run. No- do not argue! Run!” And run we did, down the twisting corridors of the maze, and pursued by the screams of the White Lady- and by another noise, which I shall not describe.
I think we have discovered, not only the cause of Cecil’s untimely death, but also, perhaps, what doom overtook the White Lady on that night in 1780 when she strayed into the heart of the maze. I wish I could believe that the lady, like Cecil, died of fright. But I fear she was the victim of some yet darker fate. It is curious, at any rate, that no report of the discovery of the lady’s body appears in any of the family archives. Could the first Lord Portent sleep unquiet in his marble hall? Could he have dragged the lady behind those great iron doors, and there- but it is not well to speculate. But I did fancy that, just as the lady’s screams ceased, I heard the clang of heavy metal, as of an iron door slamming shut.
It is known that Lord Portent asked the village blacksmith to step up to the Manor the very next day. It is not known that his task was to open those iron doors, for the family have always refused to speak of the matter. However, whatever the blacksmith did, he “waren’t the same man, after, and soon could nae longer be smith, for he grew too weak for th’ work, and his hair as white as if he was an old man,” (Further Inquiries in Wessex, Sir Eldritch Entwhistle; the quote is attributed to the smith’s wife).
The Manor can be toured by all Suitable Visitors. Write to Lady Elsinore Portent, c/o the Wessex Historical Society Ladies Auxiliary Branch, stating clearly in what week you would find a visit convenient. Enclose visiting card. Minimum Donation £3
Well, that’s a disturbing tale. Well done!