DOWNTON ABBEY MEETS LOVECRAFT MEETS NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
A world of masters and servants, where everyone knows one’s place.
A world of newfangled technology like telephones and motorcars.
A world of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and monsters of the deep.
At the center of his necropolis estate lives the Earl of Monroe, who must hold the family he loves and the servants he trusts together against the eldritch onslaught of this rapidly changing world.
— Judith O’Dea, “Barbra” from the original Night of the Living Dead
“Don’t worry, you needn’t be a fan of the BBC or PBS’ Masterpiece Theater to enjoy the story, as the characters are so well written and the plot moves at a breakneck pace.”
“It’s Downton Abbey with Lovecraftian mythos and traditional supernatural monsters and deals with the devil. Best of all, it’s written in a style that kept me cackling all the way through.”
— The Horror Fiction Review
News of the events of April 1912 wended its icy tendrils across the Atlantic Ocean, over the cliffs of Dover, through the smoke and grime of London, and up into the bucolic boroughs of England to Yorkshire. Its reach extended even to the tiny hamlet of Monroeville, known as “Deadtown” for its tens of thousands of graves radiating out from the nearby manor house as far as the eye could see.
A bicycle messenger coasted past the dignified gates and up the fine gravel path to the door of Monroeville Hall, a stately manor house built on the site of a former abbey which burned down under mysterious circumstances in the early seventeenth century. The abbey itself had been nominally Christish, but that faith never caught on with the regular folk of Yorkshire, and it should not come as a surprise that the Old Religion of the masses may have inspired the destructive blaze.
The bicyclist rang at a back door and, when it was answered and the fee paid with a tuppence, gave the man the telegram and rode away ever as fast as he could. He didn’t care for “Deadtown Abbey,” and would’ve said so if it hadn’t meant a dressing down from his superior, who thought all addresses were equal inasmuch as they paid up for telegrams.
Peter, a young blond footman in spotless livery, was handed the rolled parchment, which he took past the stairs and through a winding hallway to Mister Foree, the staid butler of Deadtown Ab—excuse me, Foree would much prefer it called by its proper name, so let us say the staid butler of Monroeville Hall. Mister Foree nodded his thanks to Peter, who then glided back to the kitchen, where he could be of more use at the moment.
Mister Foree’s thick eyebrows furrowed into a V as he unfurled the telegram:
Mister Foree had been in service for too long to allow the death of a thousand people—or their second death, perhaps—to make his hands shake as he held the slip of paper. But the death of the heir of Monroeville Hall, dear Stuart, was enough to make the butler fortify himself with a peg of whisky before taking the note to His Lordship.
He knocked the shot back, steeled himself, and started up the stairs.
* * *
“What’s got into him?” Roger the footman said to his friend, the lady’s maid, Miss O’Dea, after they watched the funereal heaviness that was Mister Foree glide past the doorway to the servants’ dining hall.
“Probably just learned His Highness had to wipe hisself,” she said, and they both stifled a laugh.
“You shouldnae talk that way,” the skinny, pale kitchen maid said.
“Ah, what’s it to you, Dawn?” Roger said with a smile. “He doesn’t even know you exist down here, scrubbing pots from morning ’til night.”
“That’s not true,” O’Dea said with a tiny smirk, and Roger knew she was about to unleash a zinger on the stupid kid. “I’m sure he knows who cocks up his meals.”
They laughed. Dawn didn’t. Mrs Gonk, the chubby house cook, didn’t either, but then, she hardly ever laughed. 
“I wasnae flirtin’, Mrs Gonk, I swear!”
“Just get back to work, girl.”
“Yes, Mrs Gonk. Sorry, Mrs Gonk.” Dawn didn’t spare a glance back to O’Dea and Roger, who got up from the long table and headed outside for a wee smoke.
* * *
“I understand you have a new valet coming, George?” the Countess of Monroe asked her husband at the breakfast table. “So sad what happened to Monty.”
George, the Earl of Monroe, looked away from his newspaper and out into space. “Poor man. But then, he wasn’t a fool. He had to know what he was getting himself into, walking alone in London during the witching hour.”
Air escaped Countess Barbara’s lips in a raspberry of derision. “Honestly, George, ‘the witching hour’? You sound like a fishwife, telling tales to spook shoeless children.”
“You just fail to understand what’s going on because you’re an American,” he said, teasing his wife a little. “Not to mention a Christist.”
“We are Christists. And one does not have to be American to be skeptical of the English habit of jumping at shadows and calling them monsters.”
Lord Monroe let his newspaper fall as he fixed his wife with a look that was neither kind nor unkind and said, “The man’s head had been bitten off and his entrails—”
“Really, George! The girls don’t need to hear your gruesome recaps.”
“I quite like it, Mama,” said Lady Sheryl, the youngest daughter of three who made up the total, heir-free production of the Earl and Countess of Monroe.
“Oh, you’ll fancy anything that disgusts others,” the eldest, Lady Maureen, said plainly. “That must be why you’re so fond of Eleanor.”
“Hey!” cried Lady Eleanor, middle child of the family, a fish-faced girl of one-and-twenty afflicted with dishwater blonde hair. “That’s dirty pool!”
“Dirty pool?” Maureen said, her mouth quivering on the edge of a laugh. “Did you pick that up during a visit to the ale house, looking for a beau?”
Eleanor’s face turned an unfortunate shade that made her slightly batrachian features even froggier. “You are such—”
“Telegram for you, milord,” Foree the butler said in his overpowering baritone, fortunately shutting Eleanor down before she could say something everyone would regret. “I’m afraid it’s not good news.”
“It so rarely is,” George said, and took the rerolled parchment from Foree’s silver tray without taking his eyes off the newspaper.
“This is worse than usual, milord.”
That made everyone look up from what he or she was doing: Lord Monroe from his ’paper, Lady Monroe from her kippers and eggs, Maureen from herStrand magazine, Sheryl from spreading jam on a scone, and Eleanor from her hand mirror in which she was deciding what she would change about her face first if she were ever granted three wishes.
Lord Monroe read the telegram with increasing dismay, saying finally, “TheTitanic has sunk. Cousin Stuart has been lost at sea. Drowned, I assume.”
Shocked silence weighed upon the room. Slowly, all eyes turned to Maureen, who had returned to her mystery story. “What?” she said as she noticed their stares.
“Maureen, darling, he was your fiancé!” her mother said at last.
“Barely,” Maureen said, not looking up from the magazine.
Lady Monroe threw her hands up and made a sound that could only be interpreted as frustration.
“Better dead than undead,” Sheryl said with an air of insouciance. “Three out of five ships leave Liverpool with a zombie somewhere on board. That is a statistic! You think that’s happened, right, Papa?”
Lady Monroe sighed with a weariness borne of three daughters always trying to see who could get the greatest rise out of their mother. “Even you don’t believe the claptrap that you’re saying, Sheryl. Once again, to all of you, we are Christists, for the merciless sake of Yog-Sothoth.”
But Lord Monroe fixed his gaze on Sheryl and said, “I agree with your mother that this is all a joke to you, but the ravenous undead are suspected to be the cause, yes.”
His wife now put a hand over her eyes. “George,” she sighed wearily, “stop winding them up, if you please.”
“And don’t those luxury ships usually have some kind of protocol if the undead have multiplied and overrun the ship?” Sheryl said. “They usually ram the boat into an iceberg if they can, I believe. To sink it.”
“But not on a maiden voyage, surely!” Eleanor cried.
Sheryl said sadly, “Zombies don’t care how many times a ship has sailed. They only know that they want to eat flesh and make more zombies.”
“Ye gods!” cried Lady Maureen.
“Honestly, Sheryl, you’re as bad as your father,” Barbara said, and the look exchanged between their youngest daughter and her husband told her that this was not necessarily taken as a criticism. “What kind of ideas are you young people playing with? And George—zombies and ghouls, indeed! Folk tales told by commoners.”
“You hold to that, even after they had to burn Brighton to the ground?” Sheryl asked.
“I think that rather improved it,” Maureen snarked with a mean smile.
“You’re on a cruel roll today, Mo,” Eleanor said. “Not enough to mock a dead fiancé, now you have to make fun with an entire city up in flames?”
“The undead are as real as you and me, Mama,” Sheryl finished. “Now they’ve killed Cousin Stuart as well. At least, if the zombies did get him, he drowned not long afterward.”
“Zombies don’t drown, stupid,” Eleanor said. “They don’t breathe.”
“Really!” Barbara interjected. “Enough of this talk, girls. Maureen will go into mourning, and we shall all say a prayer to the Jesus god for Stuart.”
“A prayer? I thought you just said you didn’t go for supranatural stuff.” Maureen took a sip of her tea, which Peter had just topped off. “Besides, it was more of an agreement than an engagement. I won’t be mourning much.”
“Lovely,” Barbara said, but then looked over at her husband, who had balled up the telegram and was staring into space, tears in his eyes. Unlike Maureen, George was gutted by the loss of his beloved designated heir, zombies or no.
* * *
On the morning that Lord Monroe learned of his heir’s fate aboard theTitanic, a solid-looking man in a humble black suit and vest was riding aboard the early train that passed through Monroeville. He was well groomed and gave a smile to the other passengers as they chugged across the English countryside, but as soon as they looked away, a certain sadness settled on the man’s features. He had seen things. Awful things. And, as the train came to a halt at the tiny Monroeville station, Howard Bubb swung his good leg out into the aisle and then moved so his artificial leg would help support him as he stood.
The metal leg was a constant reminder that he hadn’t just seen things.
But this day could be the beginning of a new life, a better life, working as his old comrade George Shambley’s personal valet. It was true that he didn’t get along as well as some when it came to limber walking and bending, but he felt no man was his equal when it came to facing the dangers of the night. He limped off the train, tipping his bowler hat at a young girl who seem transfixed by the silver of Mister Bubb’s ankle, which flashed as he stepped down.
“What’s happened to your foot, sir?” the girl asked.
“Karen Cooper, mind yourself!” her guardian snapped, looking aghast at the young one’s rudeness. “I’m terribly sorry, sir. She—”
Mister Bubb’s smile appeared again. “No apology shall be accepted, madam. A curious child is an asset to this world.” He lifted up the right leg of his trousers a couple of inches and said, “Stainless steel, my dear. It’ll never rust.” He didn’t like to lie to anyone, especially not little girls, but there was no reason to frighten her.
That made the girl giggle a little bit, something she probably wouldn’t have done if she knew his leg was plated with silver and hollowed out to be filled with stakes, truncheons, and other supranatural fighting gear. “Where’s your real leg?”
A twitch crossed Bubb’s face, but he kept smiling at the dear girl. He said, “I lost it in a fight with goblins.”
“No,” Bubb said, letting his trouser leg down again, “but that’s better than the truth.”
Peter the footman held the handrail as he came down the stairs into the servants’ dining area. He felt weak and he knew he had no color in his face. He strode as manfully as he could to a wooden chair at the table and sat.
Mrs Gonk took one look at him and said, “What’s wrong, my dear? You look like you’ve been drained of blood and propped up like a mannikin.”
“Oh, no, Mrs Gonk, nothing like that. It’s—well, I lingered in the breakfast room, filling tea and such, when they started talking about …”
Suddenly there were four more servants in the room: O’Dea and Roger, who had been smoking right outside the door; Dawn, who had been scrubbing a particularly obstinate suet pan; and Mrs McDermott, the Hall’s housekeeper, who happened to be passing through the room when she overheard what Peter said.
“Yeah?” O’Dea said, “Come on, what was it? A calamity like the Duke tipping his egg cup?”
Mrs McDermott moved to censure her, but stopped when Peter spoke again.
“No,” Peter answered her without irony, still dazed. “That ship, the Titanic? It sank. Everybody’s dead, or most of them.”
“That’s ridiculous, even for you,” Roger said. “That ship’s unsinkable.”
“Not if they sank it on purpose,” Peter said.
“What? Why in the name of the Prophet would they do that? Don’t be stupid.”
Peter didn’t say anything else, but Dawn said suddenly, “Zombies! The undead! Don’t they scramble boats when there’s zombies on board?”
“Scuttle,” Mrs Gonk corrected her.
“Pssh.” Roger wasn’t having any of it.
“Or a Kraken! Sea monsters could take down a big boat, right?”
There were nods around the room, and Miss O’Dea was just about to add something she thought Roger would find amusing when the deep bass voice of Mister Foree filled the room. “Sea monsters are mythical. Most of them, in any event. So why don’t we stick to what is real, like the danger of being let go from your current situation if you don’t get back to work.”
“I think I’d prefer a sea monster to Mister Foree,” Roger whispered to O’Dea as the staff dispersed from the room.
* * *
“What does it mean, George? If Stuart is really gone?” Barbara avoided using the word dead, since her husband thought it unclear who was dead and who was merely undead.
“It means that Monroeville Hall, upon my death, will go to the next heir in line, a distant cousin named Johnny, I believe.”
“Johnny? What, is he a toddler? Or an imbecile? By the gods, I can’t imagine our lovely home in the hands of a pinhead!”
George gave his wife a smile, the first he had felt on his face all morning. “No, he is a scholar and writer living with his mother just south of London. Perhaps that’s why a man of eight-and-twenty would keep such a moniker.”
“He probably lives with her because he’s a slope-shouldered man-child.”
“That’s very generous of you, dear.”
A half smile made Barbara’s lips into a loving smirk as she said, “I just hate that the entail means this property can’t go to Maureen, to keep it in the family.”
“Maureen was engaged to marry the heir. It would have remained in the family had Stuart not just perished, or worse, on the Titanic.”
“Or worse? George, dear, please stop with your stories. My father threw all of that balderdash right out the door when he made his fortune. Christism is for people such as we. It’s like a monarchy.”
“With three kings at once? Or is it one at a time, and they switch places? The whole thing is confusing to me.”
“I said like a monarchy. I would think that you being Lord Monroe, of all people, would appreciate a tidy, hierarchical theology rather than that rogue’s gallery the servants hold dear.”
George held out a palm to his wife to signal surrender. “Maybe I just wish Maureen had been more interested in Stuart. So what if he was a bit too interested in musical theatricals and the design of homes’ interiors to offer her all his attentions? Marriage is a partnership, not a loss of individual identity like being bitten by a zombie.”
Barbara shook her head in exasperation at the word. “Be that as it may, the best people stick to marrying the best people. I always believed Stuart’s interest in ballet rather than the hunt a sign of refined quality.”
“Maureen apparently is uninterested in that kind of quality.”
“I know, I know. Well, perhaps the dinner tonight shall present someone more suitable. The Duke is a bachelor, I understand.”
George groaned. In all the drama of the morning, he had completely forgotten that the esteemed Duke of Baskerville was coming that evening, and bringing with him a sub-ambassador from one of those eastern countries. He beseeched her: “Perhaps we could cancel the whole thing? I’m not feeling much up to entertaining today, especially not for some nabob or whatever the Duke is dragging along with him.”
“No, dearest, we cannot. It is our job, I might remind you, to represent the best in this hamlet, this county, and this country. This guest the Duke is bringing is one Kasztelan Tarboosh, assistant to our ambassador in Romania. The country is practically European these days—”
“As long as no one steps out after dark. It’s a blasted menagerie of soul-suckers out there in the near East.”
“Ugh, you and your Old Religion supranatural obsessions.”
George had been looking out the window of their bedroom, but now turned to look at Barbara as her hair was being styled by Miss O’Dea, before whom they discussed private matters as if they were alone. “They are not obsessions, my dear, only smart precautions. I have a hard time understanding how you can overrule the evidence of your own eyes.”
“Evidence!” Barbara cackled, almost making O’Dea drop her ribbons. “Mutilated cows and missing women of low trade hardly qualify as ‘evidence.’”
“It just hasn’t reached us up in the higher classes yet, that is all. I bet Miss O’Dea knows of plenty of eyewitness accounts she could share of zombies, goblins, vampires, that sort of thing.”
Barbara’s eyes met O’Dea’s in the mirror of the vanity. She raised her brows as if to say, “Do you?”
“I shouldn’t like to disagree with Her Ladyship,” O’Dea said carefully, “but I have lost a sister and a nephew to werewolf attacks just this past full moon. It is all real enough, milady.”
“Balderdash,” Barbara said with an exasperated air. “The working classes are more superstitious than peers and other nobles. You all see ghosts and phantoms when all there really is are shadows and scurrying mice. No offense intended, O’Dea.”
“None taken, milady,” O’Dea automatically replied, but she remained tight-lipped for the rest of the Countess’s preparations for the day. She knew what she had seen, and what she had seen was the remnants of her sister and her sister’s young son in their ransacked house that night.
“But look at this Titanic business, my dear,” George said. “Our own heir lost at sea, in all likelihood due to a zombie infestation out of steerage. I do believe times are changing, and it won’t be just the lower classes’ problem for long.”
* * *
Howard Bubb elected, false leg or no, to walk from the train station to Monroeville Hall. He liked to get a lay of the land before beginning at a new position. The hamlet seemed as sleepy as three dozen he had seen in the course of his travels throughout the bucolic realms of the kingdom: lovely rolling hills dotted with farms and estates, but also ringed by dark woods that could contain any kind of evil.
After a short-feeling hour of limping over a bit of paved road in the town proper that turned first to dirt road and then to well-kept gravel, he entered the grounds of Deadtown Abbey itself.
Monroeville Hall, Bubb scolded himself. He must not call it by that other name. That was all he needed to do, insult the Earl’s hallowed property on his very first day as valet.
He shook off the traitorous thoughts as he came to the servants’ entrance at the back of the house and knocked politely.
After a few minutes, the heavy wooden door was unlatched and swung open. There stood Miss O’Dea, her middle-aged features arranged into a disdainful sneer. “What do you want, then?” she said.
“My name is Howard Bubb. I am Lord Monroe’s new personal valet.”
Roger stepped into the doorway, blocking Bubb’s way, and said, “I’m his valet now.”
O’Dea rolled her eyes and said to Roger, “You’re a footman again, now that Bubb’s here. You’ll have to get rid of him first if you want to be a valet.”
Roger’s lips twisted at O’Dea’s unfortunate nailing of that particular point. “Come on in, then. The sooner you start, the sooner …” Roger trailed off as he noticed Bubb’s favoring of his left leg as he entered the house. “Oi there, what’s wrong with your leg?”
Bubb knew this would be coming, so he figured it might as well be right then. He lifted his trouser leg, farther than he had with the little girl at the station. The gleaming, untarnished silver was unmistakable. He wouldn’t be trying to fool a grand manor’s servants about what was silver and what was steel.
Roger tried to say something cutting, but he could only sputter at the sight of Bubb’s artificial leg.
O’Dea chimed in fast, however: “A valet with a false limb? That would be ridiculous if it wasn’t insane. What’s His Lordship need with a lame valet?”
“That is between His Lordship and myself,” said Bubb, who was prepared for this harassment, although he hadn’t expected it quite so early in his tenure.
“Well, it’s going to be between a duke and a diplomat as well, should you fall down tonight and embarrass His Lordship,” O’Dea retorted.
“Yeah,” Roger croaked lamely in agreement, paling as he stared at the new valet’s leg even after the trouser cuff was lowered again.
“Thank you for the fine welcome,” Bubb said with a cold smile, “but I must go present myself to His Lordship.”
The lady’s maid and footman stood aside to allow him to limp past them into the house. O’Dea immediately turned to examine Roger’s wan face. “What’s gotten into you? I thought this was a united front?”
“I-I’m just angry he took my new job, that’s all.” Roger pulled out two cigarettes and lit them as nonchalantly as possible, handing one to O’Dea.
She wasn’t having any of it. “Don’t you worry, Roger. I’ll bring the whole place down on that gimpy bastard if he keeps my friend from the position he deserves.”
Roger laughed, smoke escaping with each chuckle, and said, “You’re a right witch, you are.”
O’Dea curled her fingers into claws and made her eyes wide. “Boo,” she said.
* * *
Foree tapped at the library door, just loudly enough to sound firm to the room’s occupant. “You have a visitor, milord.”
“Thank you, Foree,” George said, shutting his book gently and standing to receive his visitor. “Is it my valet?”
“I hope that is the case, milord,” Bubb said, smiling humbly as he entered the library.
George took a couple of great steps and was shaking Bubb’s hand before he had come five feet into the room. “It is good to see you, my brave friend! How’s the leg?”
“Still gone, milord.”
It took George a moment to register Bubb’s words, but then he laughed heartily. “Of course it is, how silly of me,” he said, and clapped Bubb on the back. It really was very good to see his old comrade again. “I see that you may be short a leg, but your good humor seems as intact as ever.”
“I like to think so, milord,” Bubb said, but his smile faltered a bit as he said it.
George noticed. “You stayed in the battle too long, Bubb. You could have lost much more than a leg.”
“I had to stay, sir, as long as I could draw breath and fight.”
“It’s a blasted shame,” George said, “that Brighton was lost anyway.”
“But contained, milord, contained. We saved the kingdom. Well worth a few pounds of my pale flesh.”
George smiled at that. “Indeed. But you are well enough for your duties as my personal valet? It can be stressful.”
“Brushing a coat and shining shoes is exactly what I need, milord.”
“And the other duties we discussed?”
For the third time that day, Bubb pulled on his trouser leg to expose the silver limb underneath.
“Well! That certainly answers that question. You will fit right in with the staff here, I think. And if you don’t, then so much the worse for them.”
Bubb let his dour face break into another smile.
“The dowager countess,” Foree intoned as Lady Velma swept into the sitting room like a peacock tasting something sour.
“Mother,” George said warmly, and rose to kiss her on the cheek.
“Velma,” Barbara said without looking up from her tea.
“Oh, dear,” Velma said to her daughter-in-law as she sat on a comfortably cushioned chair, “I’m sorry to see Dr. Logan’s facial cream is doing nothing for you. You don’t even seem to need to be in the sun to sport a hide as tanned as that of a gardener.”
“Thank you, Velma. I see that your liver spots—”
“Tonight is the Duke’s visit,” Lord Monroe interrupted, not knowing what the rest of his sentence would be, “and we will be lending a hand to help international relations.”
“Really?” the dowager countess said. “George, I would think you’d have your house in mourning after the loss of poor Stuart. Soon you will be dead, and now your wife and daughters will be thrown into the streets.”
“You’re not wearing mourning clothes,” Barbara noted, but was ignored.
“Mother, I am hardly on death’s door. And we shall see if this Johnny Shambley isn’t interested in making an offer to Maureen as soon as he lays eyes on her.”
“Johnny? It sounds like he should have Maureen as a governess rather than a wife.”
Barbara sighed so dramatically that for a moment Foree, who remained near the door to await any requests, thought a window had been pushed open by the wind.
“In any event,” George said, trying to get the conversation onto a safer path, “visiting us for dinner this evening will be the Duke of Baskerville and his friend from the Romanian embassy, a Mister Kasztelan Tarboosh.”
“He sounds Turkish.”
“He comes from one of the oldest families in Romania, I assure you.”
The dowager countess harrumphed. “People running around with Turkish names. Next thing you know, we’ll be inviting night-gaunts into the house to dine on our slower servants.” She gave the butler a tiny smile with a twinkle in her eye. They had known each other for thirty years, and she knew that he still held with the Old Religion, even though he spent most of his time with upper-class personages. “Not a bad idea, eh, Foree?”
He had a chuckle in his voice as he replied, “I think they would find it very motivating, mam.”
“You two are completely incorrigible,” Barbara said, glad the mood had been lightened. “When are our guests arriving, Foree?”
“After seven o’clock, I believe, Your Ladyship.”
George started at that information. “Seven? My goodness, that’s after sunset!”
“Indeed, sir. Apparently the sub-ambassador is not arriving in London until quite late in the afternoon.”
“Ah, well, we must accommodate our esteemed guests. We live to serve.”
“Apparently,” said the dowager countess.
* * *
Nearly the entirety of the residents of Monroeville Hall were arranged in front of the majestic structure to welcome their esteemed guests. The family stood in a line to one side—the Earl and Countess, the dowager countess, and the three daughters of the family were dressed in their most formal wear. This was a duke, after all.
On the opposite side stood the servants of the house: Mister Foree, the butler; Mrs McDermott, the housekeeper; Mister Bubb, the new valet; Miss O’Dea, the lady’s maid; footmen Roger and Peter; head housemaid Sarah; and the two housemaids, Daphne and Buffy. Of the staff, only the cook, Mrs Gonk, and Dawn the kitchen maid remained in the house, toiling over the grand dinner. The chauffeur, “Flyboy” Grimes, was driving the car back from the train station.
The electric headlamps of the Duke’s entourage could be seen just as everyone settled into position, the house’s front electric bulbs flooding the wide semicircle of driveway with light against the gloom of night. O’Dea leaned over to Roger and said, “I’ve got this dullard to my right. Any message you’d like me to give him?”
Roger only smiled, and nudged her slightly with his shoulder.
The motorcar carrying the Duke, Mister Tarboosh, and the Duke’s servant putt-putted into the driveway. Grimes applied the parking brake and came around the front of the black automobile. He opened the rear door and out stepped the Duke, nattily dressed with his hair slicked back in the new style. After him, an impossibly tall, gaunt, pale figure unfolded himself from the backseat, the effect heightened when he placed the old-fashioned stovepipe topper on his head.
“Close your mouths!” Foree snapped at a low volume, but his baritone of annoyance made the couple of servants who had allowed their mouths to hang open in amazement or fright regain their composure quickly.
“He’s a bloody vampire,” O’Dea gasped in shock.
“They’re going to invite him into the house, sure enough,” Roger said quietly. “He’ll have the run of the entire place by midnight.”
“I recommend you both shut up,” Mrs McDermott said just loudly enough to be heard by O’Dea and Roger, but no farther, “before we all are sacked.”
“But a vamp—”
“I said shut up!” Mrs McDermott said tightly, just as Lord Monroe stepped up to welcome the gentlemen to Monroeville Hall. The Duke was as everyone remembered him: handsome, with sleepy eyes that made him look kinder than he probably was, and with a thin voice, as if he were straining to be heard.
There were bows and handshakes as was customary, and then came the words from the Countess that made the entire line of servants inwardly shiver as they heard her:
“Won’t you come inside?”
And so they did.
* * *
Ladies Maureen, Eleanor, and Sheryl whispered among themselves as they followed at the back of the line as it progressed towards the drawing room for cocktails. “You know why the Duke is here, don’t you, Sheryl?” Eleanor said across Maureen to her younger sister.
“Stop it,” Maureen said.
“No, why?” Sheryl said, naive as usual.
“To ask for Maureen’s hand!”
“Well, thank the gods somebody’s going to. But did you see that ghoulish fellow he’s brought with him? That Mister Tarboosh?”
Eleanor shuddered in response. “Maybe Mister Tarboosh will ask M—”
“Stop it, will you? I am a perfectly respectable noblewoman, and there’s no reason why the Duke should not want to marry me,” Maureen said. She didn’t actually know if she would want to marry the Duke when it came to it, but he was good-looking, and he held a fine title, even if his dukedom was from the dreadful Baskervilles. And now that Stuart was dead …
“I think he looks like a vampire,” Eleanor said.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, are you on about that again?” Maureen whispered as sharply as she could. “There are no vampires, or werewolves, or ghouls, and the Titanic sank because it hit an iceberg. There’s absolutely no reason to say that zombies forced them to sink the ship.”
“It’s happened before,” Eleanor said sulkily.
“In fact, it has not happened before,” Maureen snapped. “Servants’ tales to spice up their rotten lives, no more. Now shut up about it and let’s get on with being the lovely ladies of Monroeville Hall.”
They continued along the hallway in silence for a few seconds, but then, right before they crossed the threshold to enter the drawing room, Sheryl leaned close to Eleanor and said, “I believe in them, too.”
Eleanor reared back as if Sheryl had bitten her ear and said, “I don’t believe in them, you prat! I was only saying that Mister Tarboosh—”
“That Mister Tarboosh what, exactly?” It was their mother, who had stayed behind at the door. She had heard them whispering and wanted to put a stop to it.
Eleanor smiled and said quietly, “Nothing, exactly nothing. I’m sure he seems quite the fellow.”
Sheryl chewed her lip. She knew Eleanor believed in the supranatural creatures that lived near Deadtown Abbey, but no one would never get her to admit anything so declassé.
* * *
“Mrs Gonk!” cried O’Dea as she blew into the kitchen like a gale.
“Ye gods, woman, you almost gave me a heart attack!”
“No heart needed once a vampire gets ahold of you.”
“A what? A vampire?” The chubby cook continued working.
“The guests for tonight include a creature of the night, I tell you. It’s the Romanian sub-ambassador. Tall as a scarecrow and just as lifeless. We all saw him come out of the car. Atnight.”
“Oh, it must be a monster then!”
O’Dea ignored the comment. “Tell me there’s lots of garlic in the meal.”
“Just as much as it needs, Miss O’Dea. That might be none at all.”
The lady’s maid turned her severe countenance on Dawn’s undernourished face and said, “Is there garlic in the soup? Or on the meat?”
“No, Miss O’Dea. Tonight we—”
“Don’t tell her anything, stupid girl!” Mrs Gonk shouted. “She’ll be putting whole cloves in it to kill the vampire!”
Dawn almost dropped the soiled pan she had been carrying. “There’s a vampire in the house?”
“Don’t listen to Miss O’Dea, you silly git.”
Despite the opposition, O’Dea fixed her gaze on Mrs Gonk and smiled. “I take it you do not believe in vampires? Getting above your station, I see.”
“I believe in them well enough!” Mrs Gonk said, shoving past her to take something out of the oven. “I just don’t believe there’s any such creature in this house. It’s hallowed ground. Vampires can’t enter Deadtown Abbey. This used to be a holy place of some kind, you know.”
“Yes,” O’Dea said, “I gathered as much from the word ‘abbey.’ But there are no graves under roads or under this house, remember. He can come over the drive and keep himself inside the house, which is exactly what he’s done. Vampires are clever.”
“And lady’s maids seem not to be. Lord Monroe used to fight monsters before taking his peerage. He would never let one into his home.”
O’Dea harrumphed, turned on her heel, and exited the kitchen. But not before snagging a string of garlic from a basket as she walked out.
Mister Foree stood at the sideboard while Roger and Peter served the table. The three of them moved almost like one organism now, Foree the brain and the footmen his appendages. They remained in the background, attracting no attention, and the dinner party hardly knew they were there. And indeed they didn’t have to know, as the drinks were topped, the gravy was proffered, and the plates cleared before any diner could even realize any service was needed.
This invisibility of experienced servants meant that the good people at the table felt no self-consciousness about discussing anything in front of them. No doubt Roger and Peter would observe things to share titbits with their gang downstairs. But Mister Foree observed only so that he could serve the family he loved even better.
What he was noticing at tonight’s meal was that Lady Maureen and the gaunt foreigner never took their eyes off one another except in response to a direct address. Maureen seemed transfixed, while Mister Tarboosh merely smiled his smarmy smile, his thick moustaches perched on his sloping lips like eels on a wet rock.
The Shambleys’ butler would do anything he needed to in order to protect Lady Maureen, with whom he had formed a special bond almost since she was born. But was this tall man a threat, or merely admiring—as so many men did—her regal bearing and perfect features? Foree made a mental note to keep an eye on the sub-ambassador. He watched everyone, of course, but paid extra-special attention to the Romanian.
“Nasty bit of business with the Titanic,” the Duke said. “I do offer my condolences.”
“That’s very kind,” replied Countess Barbara.
“Indeed,” Lord Monroe added.
Silence settled on the room then, the only sounds being the demure clinking of silver on china and the soft glug of glasses being expertly refilled. Maureen and Mister Tarboosh continued to stare at one another. Nothing seemed to stir.
“Oh, by Yog Himself!” Sheryl cried at last. “Is no one going to say anything about the zombies?”
“The zombies? I didn’t realize it was folk-tale time. Shall we make a circle around an open fire and roast … whatever it is one roasts?” the dowager countess said, looking around the table for concurrence.
She found it. “Sheryl!” her father barked. “That is not a fit subject for the table.”
Sheryl wasn’t backing down. Her voice increased in volume and urgency as she said, “But lies about the Titanic are all right? That it just happened to run into a giant iceberg?”
“I believe that all icebergs are fairly large,” said Eleanor, “by definition.” She then trilled a little laugh that was not picked up by the remainder of the dinner party, and failed even to be noticed by Maureen and Mister Tarboosh, whose eyes seemed to be burning into each other’s.
“Father, you fought monsters in the uprising!” Sheryl said, undaunted. “Are we to let necromancers and foul beings like werewolves pollute our country?”
Roger poured gravy onto the table instead of the Duke’s dish. As soon as he noticed what he had done, he rushed to sop it up. “I’m terribly sorry, Your Grace.”
For his part, the Duke was magnanimous. “No problem, my boy,” he said. “This is a rather riveting conversation, I agree. And Lady Sheryl, we do have some abnormally large hunting dogs in the Baskervilles, but none mysteriously so.”
“I do apologize, Your Grace,” George said. “I’m afraid my daughter has become quite enthralled with the concerns of England’s less fortunate.” Now he turned to look at his youngest daughter. “Sheryl, I did not fight monsters in the late troubles. I fought revolutionaries in South Africa. Monstrous indeed, but not in quite the same way.”
The table—save for Sheryl, Maureen, and Mister Tarboosh—chuckled at the Earl’s wit. But his daughter would be not be distracted from her stance: “Father, you’ve told us the farms there were overrun by flesh-eating ghouls and zombies from the shantytowns! How can you say—”
“Darling, I don’t remember saying any such thing. I was there. You were not. That will be the end of it.”
Sheryl tried to find a way to keep buttonholing her father on the subject, since he knew perfectly well how the undead plague ripped through the Johannesburg slums and sent the zombies looking for fresh meat on the settlers’ farms. But there was no way to push it at the table without seeming an awful boor.
“Mister Tarboosh, are you not enjoying your dinner, sir?” Barbara asked their guest searchingly. “You haven’t touched a morsel.”
His thick Eastern European accent made his words hard to understand, but everyone got the gist of it when he said, “I am having the digesting problem. Please not to feel I am rude. I am having enjoyment of your lovely family.” His eyes never left Maureen’s, nor hers his, while he spoke, or even when he raised his glass. “I toast you all for fine dining and hospitalities.”
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