The Monster of Beaulieu

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“Christine!”

William returned to the palace in time for dinner. Mr. Walton escorted him to his place at the dining table. The table itself was incredibly long and ill-fitting for the relatively few people who sat at it. Earl Beaulieu, of course, sat at the head. Lady Montagu sat a few seats down from him. William couldn’t tell if this was the lady’s bidding or the earl’s. Neither seemed keen to talk to the other.

A girl, six or seven years old, sat beside Lady Montagu between her and earl. William assumed she was the younger sister Lady Montagu had mentioned earlier that day; Elizabeth, was it?

William was seated on the other side of the earl. The table was lavishly covered, and Elizabeth seemed eager to eat. Earl Beaulieu said a quick prayer then got to dining. The others followed suit.

As servants buzzed around the table, William noticed Lady Montagu gesture to Mr. Walton. She pulled on his arm to bring his ear close to her lips. She whispered something to him but William couldn’t make out the words. Mr. Walton looked troubled, but he bowed to my lady and left.

“Should not Martha eat with us, my lord?” Lady Montagu said, addressing her father who was stuffing his face with mutton.

Earl Beaulieu wiped his mouth with his napkin. “Must you ask this every night?” he replied coolly. “Even in the presence of our guest? Is Elizabeth’s spot at the table not enough for you? Must you add another?”

“I see Elizabeth as my own sister—” said Lady Montagu.

“As you see many things as your own,” the earl muttered.

“—and as much as I despised your conduct with Martha, I feel—”

“You feel she should eat at the table?” interrupted the earl dryly. “Listen to me, girl, for I shan’t repeat myself: as master and lord of this house, I forbid you from speaking of this ever again. My mind is made and shall not be changed.”

Silence fell over the table. The earl continued to stuff his face with food, heedless to Lady Montagu’s sullen countenance. Elizabeth played with her meal, perhaps to distract herself from the tension between her father and sister.

In an awkward and rash attempt to douse the perceived choler of the diners, William said (perhaps a bit too loudly), “May I have a shovel?”

All parties turned to look at him, confusion and curiosity in their eyes.

“Whatever do you need a shovel for?” Earl Beaulieu asked.

“I stumbled across a box buried in your courtyard,” William answered. “However, I only glimpsed a portion of it, the tip of the corner to be precise. I would need a shovel to recover it.”

“Fascinating,” said the earl thoughtfully. “I don’t remember anything being buried in the courtyard. Then again, the property is monstrously old—it was here long before the Montagu family—so anything could possibly be here without our knowing.”

“Perhaps it is buried treasure,” Elizabeth excitedly hazarded. “We could be the richest family in England!”

“Or it could be something quite boring,” Lady Montagu put in, “like a boxful of old clothes or receipts.”

“About that shovel,” said Earl Beaulieu, addressing William, “you may have it, if you like. Frankly, I’m as curious as you in this manner. How ever did you come upon it?”

“I was pacing ’round the courtyard deep in thought when the damned thing tripped me,” William replied. “It was sticking out a little from the ground. I dug at it and found that it was a box of some kind.”

“How did it look?”

As the conversation continued, thoughts of Martha or sullenness were pushed to the back of the mind. Before long, dinner was over and those at the table were dismissed to their bedrooms.

William found his room particularly dreary at bedtime. The dark colours invoked in him apprehension, as did the yellow eyes of the tapestry’s Serpent which seemed to stare at him from amidst the darkness.

“How irrational I am!” William muttered reproachfully.

He changed into his nightgown then slid between the bedsheets of the large bed. The sheets were cold and the bed nearly seemed to swallow him. Shutting his eyes tight, William ignored his unease and rolled into a position which would hopefully invoke sleep.

The night was silent and cool, and William found himself unable to fall asleep. He lay in bed, staring up at the wooden canopy above head which obscured the ceiling from sight. He idly began reciting prayers and Scripture, tossing a stray button he found up at the canopy, hoping button and cloth would eventually make contact.

“Blast!” he muttered as his button, instead of falling back into his hand, bounced off the bed and rolled across the room, softly striking the door.

William was tired and certainly wasn’t in the mood to leave his bed to retrieve the button; however, he was also bored. After a solid minute of bartering, he managed to convince himself to leave bed. Just as he swung his legs off the bed, he heard a door open down the hall.

A voice, if one could call it that, made horrid, miserable noises, like a large animal in pain. The voice itself seemed an unnatural combination of man and beast. It sounded like that of some unholy creature: gravelly, deep, and loud; yet almost man-like in syllables which resembled speech.

The creature’s cries grew louder as it moved down the hall. Its footsteps were heavy; it must be large. William cowered in his bed as the apparition moved closer to his chamber door. The sounds it produced filled William with dread.

A certain two syllables the creature seemed to repeat. As William listened, he realised the creature was speaking!

“Christine!” it said, long and slow. “Christine!”

It repeated this name as it moved down the hallway. William saw through the slit under the door the moving silhouette of feet, unnaturally large yet human-looking. The creature had some source of light; otherwise, William would have seen only blackness. He breathed a sigh of relief as the apparition moved beyond his door.

“Christine!”

William shuddered. He feared the fate of whatever woman went by that name. “Egad!” he mumbled, his eyes widening in remembrance. “Christine has the key!”

That was what Earl Beaulieu had said to Mr. Walton earlier that day. Could this creature have escaped its confinement and now searched for the woman who had kept him there? If it was out for vengeance, Christine had little chance for safety.

What was that creature, anyway? A ghost? A monster? A demon? William’s mind brought him no answers and no sleep.

He was exhausted the next morning but tried to appear somewhat alive at breakfast. The family, on the other hand, was deathly silent as they ate.

“Is the palace haunted?” William asked, breaking the silence.

“No,” said Lady Montagu quickly.

Her father looked displeased but said nothing in opposition.

“Sometimes Mama sees the wraith of Countess Beaulieu,” Elizabeth said. “But Christine says ghosts aren’t real.”

“Christine?” William’s head perked up. “Who is Christine?”

“I am,” Lady Montagu said.

William let out a short sigh of relief. “Thank God! I thought that thing had killed you last night.”

The lady’s brows furrowed. “What thing?” she asked.

“The creature in the room,” William replied. “It came out last night and called for you.”

Christine frowned. “You must have been dreaming. I heard nothing last night.”

“Dreaming?” scoffed the earl. “Truly, Christine, that thing was loud enough to rouse the whole house! Mayhap you were the one dreaming,” he added dryly.

“I heard it,” Elizabeth said softly. “Mama heard it, too. She thinks it’s a demon.”

Christine looked agitated. “Pray excuse me,” she said, getting up from her seat. “Would you like to come with me, Betty?” This she addressed to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth shook her head. “I haven’t finished my food. You’ve barely touched yours. Mama would spank me if I ate like you.”

“Martha isn’t here,” Lady Montagu said. “She would have no reason to spank you.”

When Elizabeth declined again, Lady Montagu curtsied in the direction of the table then left.

“May I ask you about Christine?” William said to Earl Beaulieu as the lady disappeared from view. “Forgive me,” he added hastily. “I should have properly addressed her: Lady Montagu.”

“No need to apologise,” said the earl. “I prefer you call her ‘Christine’. In truth, she is neither a lady nor a Montagu.”

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