Prologue - 1970
Spaulding Hunt stood on his gravel driveway smoking an after-dinner cigar, as was his usual habit. He was very much a man of habit, and always had been. At the age of eighty-four he felt entitled to indulge in whatever took his fancy, without feeling the need to justify his actions to those around him.
In truth, the confirmed bachelor had never allowed the concerns or wants of others to cloud his judgement. He had very much lived his life according to his own code of conduct.
Expelling a huge ring of smoke into the night sky, Spaulding turned at the sound of footsteps behind him.
Mr and Mrs Jarrow climbed down the stone steps which led to the gravel drive, before wishing their landlord and employer a good night.
Spaulding acknowledged their departure with a slight nod of his head and the merest hint of a smile.
The Jarrows had worked for Spaulding in several capacities for over twenty-five years.
Mrs Jarrow acted as house-keeper, cook and cleaner, whilst her husband took on the duties of gardener, handy-man and chauffeur.
They lived in a modest cottage in the grounds of Spaulding’s manor house and even though he charged them a peppercorn rent for their accommodation, the meagre wages he paid them meant that they both had to secure alternative employment on a part-time basis.
Jack Jarrow worked three mornings a week in their local sorting office, whilst his wife covered three afternoon shifts as a barmaid at their local.
Had Spaulding been willing to pay a proper wage, the Jarrows could easily have made looking after him and his crumbling manor a full-time occupation. But as it was, the middle-aged couple did what they could in the time that they could spare.
Emily Jarrow ensured that Spaulding’s breakfast was on the table at 8 o’clock promptly every morning, including weekends, and that his dinner was served at 9 o’clock each evening.
Spaulding insisted on a full English breakfast consisting of porridge, egg and bacon, toast and marmalade and a pot of tea - every morning. His lunch was invariably a sandwich and a pint or two, served by Emily more often than not at the local.
For dinner he insisted on a four-course fare starting with soup, followed by a main, dessert then cheese. Dinner was always washed down with a full bottle of claret, and usually a glass or two of port to compliment his cheese.
Unlike many octogenarians, Spaulding’s appetite had not diminished with his advancing years; yet even now he managed to maintain a relatively proportionate build for his height.
He watched as the Jarrows climbed into their car and pulled out of the driveway.
The second that they were out of earshot the singing commenced, as Spaulding knew that it would.
It was the same every night.
Once he was alone his torment would begin!
First came the singing. That sweet, gentle voice seemed almost as if it were carried on the wind, as the strains of the heart-wrenching lullaby filled the air surrounding him.
“As the waters run deep, so my soul yearns to soar.
On the wings of an eagle, I’ll wait nevermore.
In the arms of my true love, I will pause for my time.
So, hold me forever, until you are mine.”
Try as he might, Spaulding was unable to block the sound out. Even by sticking a finger in each ear the lullaby managed to pervade his defences.
It was almost as if the music were emanating from within him, a cry from his soul.
He knew the voice!
After so many years it was completely plausible that he would have forgotten it by now were it not for the fact that it visited him each night, and often during the day if he was alone.
He had no control over it, and no way of stopping it.
From a combination of disgust as well as frustration, Spaulding threw down his half-smoked cigar and stormed back into the manor.
He slammed the door behind him and stood for a moment with his back against it.
As he expected the singing had crossed the threshold with him, and now that he was inside the lyrics echoed throughout the manor as if they were being sung in each room simultaneously.
Spaulding slapped his palms against each ear in a futile attempt to drown out the sound.
Taking several paces forwards into the great hallway, he lifted his head and screamed out at the top of his lungs.
“Enough! I can’t take this anymore! What do you want from me?”
In response to his yelling, several of the doors to the upstairs rooms began to open and slam shut, one after the other.
As if on cue, the downstairs lights began to flicker and fade until eventually they went out altogether, and the only illumination came from the roaring fire in the dining room which cast eerie shadows through the open doorway to where Spaulding was standing.
The upstairs doors continued to open and slam shut, but the noise they made did little to drown out the singing which still seeped out of every room inside the manor.
Spaulding walked over to the foot of the sweeping staircase and gazed up into the darkness of the upstairs floors.
“Why can’t you just leave me in peace?” he screamed, into the blackness.
“Cry for me my lover, ‘til the seas have run dry.
Never seek answers, and never ask why.
The path I am destined is not paved with gold,
But the warmth of your love, keeps out the cold.”
The words of the lullaby which he had long ago learned by heart, in spite of himself, echoed down to him as if to taunt or goad him into action.
Slowly, using the bannister for support, Spaulding began to make his way up the winding staircase. “What can I do?” he yelled once more, keeping his head raised as if expecting someone or something to suddenly appear in his line of vision.
As a sharp wind whistled down the staircase, the old man clung onto the bannister for dear life. The force of the gust rocked Spaulding as if he had suddenly been caught up in a vortex, almost knocking him off his feet.
The sheer audacity of the attempt to prevent his ascension made Spaulding all the more determined to complete his task.
Taking a deep lungful of air, he pushed on ahead, refusing to submit.
As he reached the halfway mark, Spaulding could feel a tightness in his chest.
Before he had a chance to respond to his plight his left hand began to go numb, and it took a supreme effort for him to tear it away from the bannister.
Spaulding stood for a moment on the stair, unaided, as he proceeded to rub the pins and needles from his hand. But before his efforts bore fruit, a sharp, stabbing pain accosted his left side as if someone had thrust a knife into him.
Grabbing his left shoulder with his right hand, Spaulding felt the ground beneath him give way.
He was faintly aware of the singing still resonating through the air as he tumbled head-over- heels down the stairs until he finally ended up slumped in a heap at the bottom.
As the life left his aged body, the singing stopped and the lights in the manor came back on.
Spaulding stared ahead with dead eyes, unable to witness the ghastly apparition which loomed above him from the top of the stairs.
Chapter One - Present day
Meryl Watkins carried a tray of drinks over to one of the many tables surrounding the stage at the far end of the pub that she ran with her husband Mike.
The bar was heaving, even more so than it usually was on a Friday night. Meryl put it down to a combination of the snow that had fallen the previous evening and which was now lying several inches deep on the ground, and the fact that once a month she and her husband played host to a live band at the pub.
Tonight, they had a folk group consisting of four cousins. One man was on drums with another playing guitar, then there was one girl on the flute with another on guitar. The one playing guitar was also the lead singer.
They had never had this group in before, but they came with a recommendation from a couple of other landlords who Meryl and Mike knew through the industry.
They were Romany travellers who performed all over the world, and although they had never released any albums they were always asked to perform again by their hosts when they were next in the vicinity.
Meryl rushed back over to the bar where there were already at least five customers waiting to be served, on top of the ones that her husband and their two other barmaids were in the process of seeing to.
The players were already setting up their equipment on the tiny stage, and the two girls had already received several wolf-whistles from some of the males in attendance. Meryl did consider whether she needed to make an announcement to keep them in order, but the two girls appeared to appreciate the attention and responded by blowing kisses out to the crowd.
The performance was due to start at nine-thirty, and just before the long hand on the clock reached the six Meryl felt an icy blast as the outer door to the pub opened and one of their regulars shuffled in from the cold.
The old man had been in every night at the same time for as long as Meryl could remember.
He never spoke to anyone other than to say please and thank you when paying for his drink, and he always sat in the far corner away from the other patrons to enjoy his ale in peace.
Meryl noticed the shocked look on the old man’s face when he realised how crowded the bar area was. For a moment he stood in the doorway gazing around at the packed interior, and Meryl was convinced that he was contemplating venturing back out into the cold without his usual two pints inside him.
On an impulse Meryl handed a customer their change and apologised to the next one in line as she made her way around the bar, and she grabbed the old man by the arm just as he was turning to leave.
The man looked up with a mix of shock and confusion on his face until he realised just who his assailant was.
Meryl smiled broadly. “It’s a bit busy in here tonight,” she explained, “but there’s an empty table at the back, just for you.”
With that, she carefully guided the old man through the crowd until they reached their destination.
Once he was seated, Meryl offered, “The usual, is it?”
The old man smiled, “Yes please,” he answered, and Meryl patted him on the arm as she went back to the bar.
Having served a couple of her regulars, Meryl returned to the old man with his usual pint of strong ale.
She placed it on the table in front of him and as he opened his wallet to pay, she held her hand over his. “First one’s on me, today,” she said with a wink.
The old man thanked her, politely, and Meryl left him to go back to the bar.
The band introduced themselves and began their set.
Their music covered an eclectic mix of tunes but they had arranged these so that they all stayed within the folk/country genre they had promised, and by the end of their first set the crowd were all joining in with all the well-known songs they covered.
When the band took their break, there was a sudden surge of revellers aiming for the bar to replenish their drinks.
In between listening and serving Meryl kept an eye on the old man in the corner, and as he drained the last gulp of his pint she began to fill his next glass.
She managed to make her way through the crowd just before the old man was about to rise to try and fight his way to the bar. His face lit up when he noticed Meryl approaching his table, and he slumped back down in his chair and began counting out his money in anticipation of her arrival.
“Oh, thank you so much,” the old man sighed, “I was dreading fighting my way through that lot to get to the bar.”
Meryl laughed. “I don’t blame you,” she replied. “I’m just glad that I’m on the other side of the bar, we’re really busting tonight.”
The old man nodded and handed over the correct change for his pint. “They are very good,” he remarked, nodding towards the empty stage.