‘We need to move on now, everyone. The next room is the library. I’ll give you a few minutes to look around and read the information and then I’ll tell you a little more and you can ask questions.’
The small group shuffled forward in the guide’s wake, through the huge wooden door. The posts with red rope between ran parallel to the two large windows curtained in rich brocade topped with tasselled swags. Through the windows the grounds, beautifully neat with regimented trees and flowerbeds nestling inside box hedging, looked grey and dull today, in the drizzle.
Joe brought up the rear of the group as they spread out along the rope with their backs to the window. Why had he come? So far it had been uninspiring but better than playing on the computer or watching TV. This room looked typical of the era too; no surprises here. Portraits of ancestors, posed in their finery, filled the spaces on the walls not taken up by ponderous bookcases and shelves.
Years ago Joe had played a computer game where almost every object in a room hid a secret and you had to solve a puzzle in order to move on. That telescope, lying on the writing desk, for instance, would have been an object you had to pick up and store until you needed it. He remembered being stuck in a room like this for ages, ending up having to find a cheat on the Internet.
He brought himself back to the present because the guide was talking.
‘I always like to tell people about this room but especially approaching Christmas, when, traditionally families gather around the fire and read ghost stories.’ Joe shivered, not sure he wanted to hear the rest.
‘Marshall Hall, like most large houses, has a ghost story that centres in this very room.’
People looked at each other with various expressions from disbelief to avid interest. One woman tittered, nervously.
‘I must assure you the visitation never occurs when the general public are here, but family and servants have seen a man, dressed like a monk. He stands over there,’ she gestured towards the fire spitting and crackling with flames darting around huge logs, ‘warms his hands and then glides to the book case on the right, and disappears through it.’
She smiled, obviously enjoying the impression she’d made.
Joe shivered, looked at the fire and wondered why it didn’t seem to be warming the room. His eyes strayed up and he looked properly at the portrait of a gentleman holding a model ship in his right hand whilst his left hand rested on a globe. The same globe stood to the right of the fireplace.
He noticed the faded settees flanking the fireplace and homely touches, a vase of roses,…….His thoughts were interrupted again.
‘We believe there was a priest’s hole but, so far, we’ve not been able to find it. Perhaps he hid and couldn’t get out, dying slowly of dehydration. We’ll never know.’
‘Has the monk spoken to anyone?’ Asked the tittering woman.
‘No he makes no effort to interact and causes no trouble. He’s a very gentle ghost. Well, if there are no more questions we’ll move on to the dining room.’
She led the way and the group shuffled, in subdued silence, after her. Joe followed but when he got almost to the door he stopped, unable to go any further. The last person left, the voice of the guide faded and Jo stood, frightened by the invisible force that held him.
‘Now you know how I feel, trapped. It’s not good is it? You can turn round now but no sudden moves or I’ll have to freeze you again.’
Joe turned slowly and saw the owner of the rasping voice. It was the monk, complete with tonsure but lacking substance. Joe could see the flames flickering through him. He was talking to a ghost. Adrenalin was coursing through his body, his heart was thumping in his chest and he wanted to run but he could do nothing.
‘Well done, Joe, I can see you’ve decided to behave so I’ll explain what you can do for me.’
‘Why should I do anything for you? Suppose I refuse?’
At that the monk took a huge, audible suck in of breath and Joe felt it pulling him forwards.
‘Not a good idea; if you refuse, the consequences for you will be worse than you can possibly imagine. If you agree we can both get out of here, you’ll still be alive and I can leave, at last.’
‘Ok, I’ll do it but why me?’
‘Don’t flatter yourself as being special. I’ve tried hundreds of people, but they’ve either refused, big mistake, or were unable to complete it. So, you must treat this like that computer game you were thinking of. Solve the puzzles and all will be well.’ His voice faded as he dissolved into the bookcase.
Joe headed for one door, then the other but was unable to go through either.
‘Better make a start,’ said the disembodied voice.
Joe ducked under the rope and picked up the telescope.
‘I spy with my little eye, but your cold, so cold.’
An icy wind blew through the room, the fire dwindled to embers and Joe, shivering, put down the telescope and opened a drawer in the writing desk. There was a magnifying glass. He picked it up and the temperature increased. He put it to his eye and looked around the room but it had no obvious effect. Magnifying glasses were used to see something small so he looked in the desk again and found a tiny parchment scroll. The words were so minute he could scarcely see them at all. The magnifying glass revealed a riddle.
‘Look right and left, above, below
‘If you see a glow, do not be slow,
Through the wall we go,
and freedom I’ll know!’
Right and left were bookcases so Joe looked up at the ceiling and saw it was painted around the edges with cherubs and angels on clouds and the centre depicted the night sky with a crescent moon and constellations. He traced along the side of the plough and located the North Star. It was easy to spot because it twinkled. Grabbing the telescope he put it to his eye, waiting for a chill wind, that did not happen. The star came into focus and continued to twinkle but there was nothing else to see. Then it came to him, navigation by stars, the globe, ships, the picture. He used the telescope to look at the ship and could see the name, ‘Marie Rosanna,’ painted on the side adorned with roses. Now what?
Joe returned to the riddle and looked at the floor, a carpet of roses. That was no help but he remembered the vase of roses. He picked it up, looked at every aspect.
‘It’s getting chilly again and you’re running out of time.’
‘You never told me there was a time limit. How long have I got?’ There was no reply and anxiety was making it difficult to think. He put the vase down. Running out of time. Did the ghost give him a clue? There was a carriage clock, but when he examined it he only discovered it had stopped working. The word carriage stuck in his mind. He moved to the nearest bookshelf looking for a book about carriages. Suddenly the room became stiflingly hot. The anxiety turned to excitement as he read the spine of a large book entitled, ‘Carriages for all occasions through the ages.’
He pulled it towards him and there was a loud click.
A section of bookcase revolved with a protesting shriek. The room filled with fiery, swirling smoke, a vortex that dragged him towards the black gaping hole. He tried to fight it but the force was too great.
‘Praise the Lord! Relax Joe; let it take you. It won’t hurt.’ The monk whisked past him, twirled around the room and as he reached Joe he grabbed his arm, lifting him off his feet and sweeping him through the gap. Joe, who hated fairground rides, screamed.
The library seemed to sigh with relief as the secret, shrieking door in the bookcase closed behind them.
A clock chimed quietly as the tour entered the Library. Joe noticed a carriage clock showed exactly one o’clock. He checked it with his watch; accurate to the second, no wonder he was hungry. He hoped she would speed up so he could get to the café.
‘This is the library as you can see. Please move along the rope so everyone has a good view. Thank you.’
Joe shuffled along and looked around. There’s something familiar about this room, he thought.