By Gordon Rugg
In last week’s thrilling episode, the Earl of Rockbrook arrived at the enormous Georgian mansion which had been in his family since the days of Charles II. He was in a dark mood. But why would a man who had inherited the mansion that he fondly called Rock be feeling a taint of calamity?
In this week’s episode, the anonymous narrator begins to uncover the first hints of that which is unutterably hideous…
The Shunned Lioness and the Lily House
Episode 2: The Earl’s dark past
Ever since he had been a child he had stayed frequently with his mother and father at Rock and had thought it the most beautiful place in the world. In my childhood the shunned house was vacant, with barren, gnarled and terrible old trees, long, queerly pale grass and nightmarishly misshapen weeds in the high terraced yard where birds never lingered.
He remembered games of “Hide-and-Seek” along the corridors and in the attics that were filled with forgotten relics of the past, and of how the old Butler had taken him down into the cellars, and he had thought the cold stone floors and the heavy doors with their huge locks made it seem like a tomb. It was plainly unhealthy, perhaps because of the dampness and fungous growths in the cellar, the general sickish smell, the drafts of the hallways, or the quality of the well and pump water.
Then unexpectedly and completely out of the blue, when he had never anticipated for one moment that such a thing might happen, he had inherited Rock. What was really beyond dispute is that a frightful proportion of persons died there; or more accurately, _had_ died there, since after some peculiar happenings over sixty years ago the building had become deserted through the sheer impossibility of renting it.
When he had first learned of the death of his uncle and of his cousin he had felt as if someone had dealt him a blow on the head. These persons were not all cut off suddenly by any one cause; rather did it seem that their vitality was insidiously sapped, so that each one died the sooner from whatever tendency to weakness he may have naturally had.
Even now after lying awake all night thinking about it he could hardly credit that a pit of destruction had opened at his very feet and he could think of no way that he could prevent himself from falling into it. His own view, postulating simply a building and location of markedly unsanitary qualities, had nothing to do with abnormality; but he realized that the very picturesqueness which aroused his own interest would in a boy’s fanciful mind take on all manner of gruesome imaginative associations.
He had just finished reading one of the newspapers and was about to blow out the candles beside his bed when to his astonishment Lady Louise Welwyn appeared. Separate events fitted together uncannily, and seemingly irrelevant details held mines of hideous possibilities.
Then as she advanced toward the bed with a sensuous smile on her lips and an unmistakable glint in her dark eyes, the Earl knew that everything he had heard about her was true. The first revelation led to an exhaustive research, and finally to that shuddering quest which proved so disastrous to myself and mine.
She was extremely pretty and the Earl would not have been human if he had not accepted this “gift from the gods” or rather what Lady Louise offered him. From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.
In next week’s episode: Love and marriage…
In this series, I’ve used an even mix of sentences from Dame Barbara Cartland’s The Lioness and the Lily and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shunned House. The sentences from The Lioness and the Lily are not consecutive, but they are in chronological order. The sentences from The Shunned House are not in chronological order. I’ve used pink for the Dame Barbara sentences and eldritch green for the Lovecrat sentences, in case it’s unclear which is which at any point. The plot, such as it is, is a mixture of both stories.
I’ve used the Project Gutenberg edition of The Shunned House.
I’m using both texts under fair-use terms, as limited quotations for humorous purposes.
The photo of The Lioness and the Lily is one that I took, of my own copy of the book. I’m using it under fair use policy (humour, and it’s an image of a time-worn cover).
The other photos come from the locations below. I’ve slightly cropped them to fit, and given a faint pink wash to the pictures of Lovecraft and Cthulhu to make them more in keeping with the Cartland ethos.