The Bank Manager shuffled uneasily in his seat as he put down the phone in his office. He had just received a telephone call that had disturbed him. The caller had asked that a representative from the bank should visit him to discuss the possibility of his opening an account with them, and had flatly refused to come to the bank himself.
Under normal circumstances, the Bank Manager would have preferred the gentleman caller to come to see him in person, but as the sum in question was considerable he agreed to all the caller's terms.
Walking into his Customer Services Department, the Bank Manager looked around him. No, he thought, this was not a job he was willing to give to one of his many female employees, after all, vast fortune or not, he had never met the man.
He cleared his throat. "Gareth", he called out to a male employee, who was, at that very moment sipping coffee and staring into space, "can I see you in my office in five minutes".
"Oh no!!" thought Gareth to himself, "he has caught me daydreaming again, I am in for it now!!"
However, he was wrong. Gingerly, he tapped on his boss' door and on being beckoned he entered.
Again, the Bank Manager cleared his throat. "Now, Gareth", he started, "I have just received a telephone call from a wealthy gentleman, who is unable to visit the bank in person. He says he would like one of my best employees to call on him so he can arrange to open an account with us. Do you think you could possibly go and see him and discuss matters?"
"Yes Sir", Gareth started, quite taken aback, "I would be delighted, and thank you, Sir, for giving the job to me".
Slight colour came into the Bank Manager's cheeks, and he gave a peculiar sort of cough and handed Gareth a slip of paper with the gentleman's telephone number on it. "Could you telephone him and make an appointment?" he asked Gareth as he stood up to usher his employee out of the room.
"Certainly Sir," Gareth told him enthusiastically, hurrying back to his desk to make the arrangements.
"I will send my chauffeur to collect you tomorrow after you have finished for the day", came the deep voice over the phone. Gareth felt in awe of the man, and he felt privileged to be the one who may secure the account, a responsibility he could not ignore. He must not fail, he knew that, and he knew he would be letting his boss down if he did.
The nights were drawing in now, and it was cold as Gareth waited on the pavement outside the bank where he worked, waiting for the car that was to take him to the prospective customer. He shivered. Where was the car? Soon the bank was empty; he had said goodnight to every member of staff as they all left. The shops had all closed, the street was deserted now and there was still no sign of any chauffeur. Gareth was beginning to think he had got the message wrong, or else the man had changed his mind, or even his driver had not been able to find the bank. He made up his mind to wait another half hour, and then he would go home.
Ten minutes later it began to rain, and at that moment Gareth was about to give up and go home, but no, he had said half an hour, so he had better stay for that time. Another five minutes and he was feeling very wet indeed, as he had not felt the need of a coat that morning. He was feeling very fed up when a car pulled up beside him.
The driver got out and came to the rear passenger door nearest to Gareth. He opened it and signalled for Gareth to get in. The chauffeur wore a peak cap pulled down over his forehead and he kept his head bent so Gareth could not get a look at his face.
The car drove off as soon as the door was closed, and after a few minutes they were out of Bradford and heading for the surrounding countryside. On and on they drove through village after village, through open farmland and finally into bleak moorland. Deeper and deeper they went, and Gareth felt a sense of foreboding as he looked out of the darkened windows of the car out onto the moors. After some time, the road ended and only dirt-track remained. This meant a bumpy ride for Gareth and he was not enjoying that in the least. He wanted to ask the driver if they were nearly there, but he was a little afraid of him, because, although he could not clearly see his face, he had noticed his tight, pursed-up mouth, and felt a coldness from him.
Suddenly the dirt track turned into road again, as they passed through huge iron gates and along a tree-lined, winding, driveway. The car stopped outside an enormous mansion.
The chauffeur opened Gareth's door and once again signalled to him, this time to get out of the car. He then drove off without a word, leaving the poor bank employee by himself. Taking a deep breath, he nervously knocked on the large iron knocker on the even larger front door.
A few minutes later, Gareth heard what seemed to be bolts drawn back from the inside of the door, and then, as if with some effort, a small, stooping man hurled the door open.
"Mr. Lister?" enquired the stooping man in a weak, croaking voice.
"Er??s" was all Gareth could manage in reply.
The man lifted up a crooked finger and beckoned for Gareth to enter, and he showed him into the library.
"My master will see you soon, please make yourself comfortable" croaked the man.
Gareth looked around him. There were bookshelves from floor to ceiling all around the room, full of dusty, well read books. In the centre of one wall was a tremendous open fire with a most ornate mantelpiece, full of the most beautiful ornaments Gareth had ever seen. There was a table by the fire, covered with a beautiful lace tablecloth and on it was a china teapot and two china cups and saucers, two china tea plates and another plate which was covered with a lace cloth. The furniture was just as beautiful, a large armchair and a smaller chair surrounded the table, and other chairs like the smaller one were round a large wooden table in the centre of the room.
Gareth did not hear anyone walk into the room, but he jumped and spun around when he heard a booming voice behind him.
"I am Lord Carandini" went the voice, "welcome to my home, Mr. Lister, I expect you are hungry after your journey, if you would like to follow me, I have a meal prepared for you in the dining room."
Gareth could only utter a feeble "Thank you" as he followed his host.
Gareth was even more in awe of him in the flesh as he had been over the telephone. Lord Carandini was a tall man, over 6ft, with grey hair which must once have been very dark, and the most piercing eyes you could ever imagine. He was dressed from head to foot in a dark, almost black suit, well cut and expensive, and he spoke with a very deep voice, very precise and refined, and he walked with an unusual elegance.
The dining room was a grand, impressive room, with a high ceiling and a highly polished table at the centre, with a crystal chandelier overhead. Lord Carandini sat at the head of the table and pointed to the other end of the table where Gareth was to sit.
There was only one servant, the same stooping butler who had first opened the door to Gareth on his arrival. He was slow and meticulous, and, Gareth noticed, was very careful not to make any mistakes, because at the merest hint of an error, Lord Carandini gave the poor creature such a steely stare that it made Gareth's blood run cold.
The meal was delicious, with home made soup to start, then a roast with a selection of different meats, fresh vegetables with roast and new potatoes, various sauces to garnish and thick gravy. Gareth thought he would not be able to eat it all, but it was so nice he couldn't stop himself. He was given wine to drink, and as soon as his glass was half empty, the butler promptly filled it again. The dessert was just as wonderful with gateau and cream, followed by fresh fruit.
All this time, Lord Carandini watched in silence, with the occasional glare in the direction of the butler to make sure everything was served perfectly. After Gareth had finished they went back into the Library, where they sat at the table by the fire for tea and biscuits, from the china tea service Gareth had first noticed.
Even the tea and biscuits were delicious. Nothing could be faulted with the food, drink, nor the surroundings, and yet Gareth had a very uneasy feeling about it all.
Lord Carandini smiled pleasantly as he poured the tea, "It has been a long day for you, I imagine" he started, "perhaps we could discuss business in the morning, I have taken the liberty of having a room prepared for you."
Gareth nearly choked on his tea "Oh, well, actually my family will worry if I am not home" he protested.
His host smiled broadly, showing for the first time a set of brilliant white teeth, quite a contrast from his dark suit. "You may telephone them and let them know".
All Gareth could think about was the horrified look his boss would give him if he was not able to secure the account, so he nodded and finished his supper.
Lord Carandini rang for the butler while Gareth telephoned his parents to let them know he wouldn't be home.
"Stott," the lord addressed his stooping butler, "will you show Mr. Lister to his room now please,"
Stott nodded and turning to Gareth croaked "This way, Sir," and led him up a grand staircase with portraits hanging on the walls. At the very top of the staircase was the largest and grandest portrait of all, and the likeness was strikingly eerie, that of Lord Carandini himself. Gareth gave a little gasp, it was so lifelike, and so expertly painted he mused to himself.
Stott led him down a long corridor and into a room at the very end. Inside was a huge four-poster bed with velvet drapes, the curtains at the window were velvet too. There was a small fire in an open grate, and next to the bed was a table with a lamp, and there was a small hand basin in the corner near the window.
"Bathroom's this door here, next to yours" croaked Stott, "I would go there now if I were you."
"Thank you" Gareth said, taking the butler's advice. Before turning in for the night he went to the window and looked out. It was pitch black and Gareth could barely make anything out at first, but as his eyes became more accustomed to the darkness he could make out a few trees nearby, but in the distance all that could be seen was that awful bare moorland he had been driven through earlier that evening.
The room was warm, yet for some reason Gareth shivered a little as he looked out into the bleakness outside. Soon he was overcome by tiredness, so he put on the pair of pyjamas his host had kindly left for him on the bed, and he turned in for the night.
Gareth woke very early the next morning and got out of bed to go to the bathroom, but got a shock. His door was locked. At first he thought it was jammed, but pull as he might, the door would not open. He knocked and called out, but no-one came. The fire was out by now, and the room was cold. Gareth had no option but to go back to bed.
When he woke up again, it was to the sound of Stott opening the door to bring some breakfast.
"Did you sleep well, Sir?" he enquired.
"Well," began Gareth, "I slept well enough, thank you, but I found my door locked earlier, could you tell me why that was?"
Stott put the breakfast down on the bedside table and drew back the curtains. "It's a fine morning, Sir" he said, and left the room without answering the question about the door.
Again, the food could not be faulted. There was fresh fruit juice, cereal, a full cooked breakfast with toast and a pot of tea. Really, Gareth thought, it was too much for him, especially after the large meal of the previous night, but it tasted so good that he could not resist.
After breakfast, he dressed, washed and went downstairs to look for his lordship. The house seemed deserted, he could not find a soul. One thing had puzzled Gareth. Since being dropped at the front door he had not seen hide nor hair of the chauffeur, and he wondered where he was.
"Lord Carandini!" called out Gareth. No reply. "Stott!" he called next.
Stott came slowly out of the kitchen.
"You called Sir?" he asked.
"Yes" came the reply, "I am looking for Lord Carandini, we have some business to attend to".
Stott looked sheepish, "I am sorry Sir" he said apologetically, "the master can not see you this morning. Did he not tell you that last night?"
Gareth was furious, but held his temper, after all, he told himself, this poor stooping creature was only the butler. For the first time, Gareth took a good look at the man in front of him. Man, yes, but so crooked and twisted that the term could only be used very lightly, for indeed, creature seemed a much more fitting description. Stott seemed old, for he was very wrinkled, and his back was bent, which is what caused him to stoop, and yet, Gareth noticed, his eyes were bright, and he was obviously an expert cook, that is unless there were more servants somewhere.
"Does his lordship have a big staff?" Gareth decided to ask.
"No Sir" came the reply, "there is only me."
"What about the chauffeur?" Gareth asked hopefully, rather keen to leave this beautiful, yet eerie mansion.
Again Stott would not answer this direct question, "I will make you comfortable until the master gets back" he told him, "perhaps you would care for a book from the library. I could recommend some good ones" then he dropped his head and sighed, "the master doesn't know I read his books, please, you won?ell him will you?"
So, Gareth thought, not only an accomplished cook, but well-read too. Poor, poor man, what ever had he done in his life to end up a humble servant to a master who did not appreciate him.
"But Mr. Stott??p;quot; began Gareth. Stott looked up, and the look on his face could only be described as sheer terror.
"No, no!!" he appealed, "you must never call me Mister, if the master hears that he will flog??p;quot; then suddenly aware he had said too much, he turned on his heels and called out "I will bring you a pot of tea to the library, please make yourself at home, I promise as soon as the master returns I shall tell you."
Gareth thumped his fist down on the big wooden table in the centre of the library. He then paced up and down until the pot of tea arrived. Soon it was morning no longer and Stott brought some lunch to the library. Gareth tried to make a phone call to the bank to explain why he had not turned up for work, but it was out of order. He looked out of the window, but he knew he was miles from anywhere, and couldn't even consider walking back to the nearest village. Nevertheless, he went to the front door, hoping for some fresh air anyway. To his horror it was locked.
"Stott" he called. The butler came hurrying. "Could I get out for a while please?"
"I am very sorry Sir," Stott told him, "I do not have permission to open this door unless the master is at home. No, no" he went on, sensing the bank employee was about to protest, "you must not ask me to do such a thing, you have not seen the master when he is angry."
So, there was nothing for it, Gareth spent the whole afternoon in the library, reading one of Lord Carandini's many books.
Gareth glanced up, he hadn't been aware of how long he had been sitting there, but as he looked out of the window he realised it had become dark. A little while later Stott came to see him.
"The master has returned and asks if you will join him in the dining room, dinner will be served in half an hour if you would like to freshen up first, Sir."
Gareth sighed, and nodded. He was getting very tired of his host and the way he was expected to wait for him all day. However, he was there on business, and he intended to conduct himself in the way he thought his boss would expect him to.
Later, in the dining room, Lord Carandini was seated again at the head of the table, and, as before, Gareth was shown to his seat.
"I trust the day has not been too boring for you?" his lordship tried to be friendly. "I must apologise for my absence, but I assure you, this evening we shall discuss business, I am sure you are anxious to get home."
"Thank you, Lord Carandini," smiled Gareth, "I would appreciate that."
Dinner was just as wonderful as it had been the previous evening, and as before there seemed too much to eat, and, peculiarly as before, Lord Carandini just sat patiently while Gareth ate everything that was on offer.
After dinner the two men retired into the library again with tea and biscuits, to discuss the new account. Business went well, and Gareth secured Lord Carandini's signature on all the relevant documents, and a cheque for a very large sum of money was handed over, much to the bank employee?elief.
Gareth fidgeted uneasily in his chair. He was desperate to get home, but did not want to appear rude. The lord was a shrewd man, he knew exactly what his guest would be thinking.
"Now, I am sure you would like my driver to take you home. I have imposed far too much on your time already" he assured him. "It has been a real pleasure doing business with you, and I trust I can call on you again if I need to make deposits or withdrawals on my account?"
Gareth nodded readily, and shaking Lord Carandini's hand, he thanked him very much for his hospitality.
A little while later, Gareth was being driven back to Bradford where he could collect his own car, and drive home. It was a long drive back, but he was just glad it was all over with. There was something about the tall suave Lord Carandini which he just could not take to.
At the bank the next day, the Bank Manager was anxious to hear how everything had gone, and, more importantly, to receive the cheque and the signed papers.
All went on as normal for a month or so, until one day Gareth was summoned to the Bank Manager's office again.
"Ah, Gareth, seems you made a good impression on our illustrious client" he started, "he has asked for you personally to go and discuss an investment plan of his, says he?send his driver this evening to talk things over, and??p;quot;here he broke off for a little chuckle, "hopefully give us another fat cheque!!"
Gareth gulped. He had not expected to be called back quite so soon. He nodded in acceptance, but with a heavy heart. He knew, though, he must not let his employer see his reluctance. It is always best to keep on the right side of one's boss. This time, however he took the precaution of warning his family in advance, he may be in for a long night again.
As before, Gareth waited outside the bank. Everyone had left and the shops had all closed before the car pulled up. He sat back into the seat and stared dismally out of the window, knowing it was going to be a long journey and an even longer evening with his host again.
It was winter now, and the wind was howling up on the moors. It had started to sleet by the time they reached the winding driveway that led up to the old house. Gareth shivered as he knocked on the big front door. An icy blast of wind rushed past him as the crooked, pathetic face of Stott threw open the door with an enormous effort.
"Come in, Sir" he croaked with a faint smile on his face. Gareth felt he genuinely seemed pleased to see him. "Will you wait in the library until the master is ready for you?" he hesitated, it looked as if he wanted to say something, but with a sigh, he turned and went out.
Gareth looked around the familiar room. A short while later Stott came back and took him into the dining room where Lord Carandini was waiting for him.
If there was one thing Gareth enjoyed from his first visit, it was the food, and this time it was just as delicious as he had remembered.
After the meal, which Lord Carandini again did not eat, they retired into the library to talk business.
Gareth decided once and for all, to pluck up his courage and ask his host about this.
"I was wondering", he started, "why you do not eat when I have such a lovely meal in front of me?"
His Lordship looked at him, "I shall eat later", he replied, "much later."
The business did not take long to be completed, and the relevant documents signed. Lord Carandini stood up. "I will get my driver to take you back now, it has been a pleasure once again". He flashed his dazzling white teeth at Gareth, who hurried to the door.
Suddenly Lord Carandini went to the window, he frowned and turned back to the anxious Gareth. "I think you should look out here", he told him, "I do not think you will be able to go anywhere in this", he pointed outside, to where the snow was now coming down thickly.
Gareth's heart sank. The last thing he wanted was to spend another night there. "Perhaps I could telephone for a taxi?" He asked, hopefully.
Lord Carandini smiled. "You are very welcome to stay the night again, a taxi would not be able to reach here in this snow. I am afraid we are very isolated up here."
Gareth frowned. He did not want his host to think him ungrateful, so he accepted the hospitality, albeit reluctantly.
Stott was called to take Gareth up to the guest bedroom again. Gareth shivered. He got ready for bed as quickly as possible, and settled himself as far under the covers as he could, to keep out the cold.
Gareth lay awake. It wasn't the cold keeping him awake. He felt very uneasy, but he could not understand why. Somewhere a clock was striking midnight. Gareth heard a noise. What was it? More disturbing though, why was it getting closer? Gareth listened intently. He was sure the noise was outside his door.
All was quiet for a few minutes, then, horrors upon horrors, Gareth heard a key in his door. It was pitch black in his room. He could see nothing. But he could hear all too clearly his door creak open. He had to think fast. Should he pretend to be asleep and hope whoever it was would go away? Should he call out to them to ask who was there? Or, should he call out for help? He felt rooted to the spot. He felt his heart beating so fast. He could almost hear it, and he felt as if the whole room echoed with the sound of his beating heart.
A draught blew into the room. The door was now open, Gareth was sure of it. He was also sure now, of the footsteps tiptoeing towards him. He began to sweat. He was shaking. Who or what was coming towards him?
Gareth could not remember what happened next. He remembered feeling a sharp pain, but he must have passed out at that moment, for the next thing he knew it was morning. The sunlight was pouring in through his window. He tried to sit up. He felt dizzy. Just then he realised he was not alone. Stott was sitting in the corner of the room.
"Good morning, Sir", he croaked. "Would you care for some breakfast?"
"I..I?ot sure, Stott", Gareth replied, still feeling dizzy. Stott ignored him and passed him a hot cup of tea.
"This will do you good, Sir" he told him. Gareth took the cup, and wondered if perhaps it had been Stott in his room during the night. Only one way to find out, he thought to himself, so he asked him.
"Stott", he began, "You didn't happen to come into my room last night did you?"
Stott frowned, "No Sir, I did not." Gareth believed him. He had a strange expression on his face, and Gareth thought he knew who it was, but did not want to say, so he asked him. "Well, is there any chance it was your master then, or do you have any other guests staying here at the moment?"
Stott frowned again, "I sleep in the servants' quarters, and I do not see the goings on in this part of the house. I can not say if my master had anyone staying here last night, they come and go. If it was his Lordship that came to your room then you will have to speak to him about it, I am not allowed in the main part of the house after I have served dinner."
He hurried out of the room, looking rather flustered, and obviously not wanting to be asked any more questions. Gareth drank his tea and staggered over to his window to look out. Everywhere was white. There had been more snow during the night. It was very deep. Gareth dressed as quickly as his throbbing head would allow, then went downstairs to look for Lord Carandini.
His Lordship was nowhere to be found. Gareth wondered to himself if perhaps he was sleeping late. He went to find Stott to ask. Stott was no help. "I am sorry, Sir," he told him, "The master does not like to be disturbed."
Gareth went to the front door. It was very difficult to open. It was a big, heavy door at the best of times, but with several inches of snow piled against it, it was even harder to open. When at last Gareth managed to move it just enough to see out it was clear nobody could have left the house that way. Gareth went through the kitchen to find the back door. It was the same there. He smiled. He knew at least that Lord Carandini must be still in the house, and it would just be a matter of time before he would get up. Gareth went into the library, and decided he would wait in there.
He had a long wait. Stott brought in some food for him at lunchtime, then some sandwiches for tea. Finally, he was called to the dining room in the evening, where Lord Carandini was waiting for him.
By this time Gareth was angry. He had waited all day, and he felt he could take no more of this treatment, even if it was from a very important customer of the bank.
"Lord Carandini," he started, taking a deep breath and swallowing hard. "I thank you for your hospitality last night, but I really need to get home, surely there must be a way for me to leave. I have waited all day to see you, did you not remember I was here?"
His host rose from his seat. He was very tall, quite an imposing figure, too. Gareth now wished he had kept his mouth shut. He was a little afraid of what was going to happen next.
"Mr. Lister," boomed the handsome Lord, "I imagine you have noticed how much snow there is still outside?"
Gareth nodded, and waited for his host's next sentence. Lord Carandini walked to the window. He drew back the curtain a little way and beckoned his reluctant guest to join him.
"Do you really think there is any way you can leave while the snow is still so thick?" It was a rhetorical question really, but Gareth shook his head sadly.
Gareth made an excuse to not join his Lordship in the library after dinner, but just before he went to his room he plucked up the courage to ask Lord Carandini.
"Someone came to my room last night," he paused, "Well, I was just wondering, was it you?"
The handsome face of his host frowned. He did not answer straight away. After a moment he said, "I can see you are not happy here. I am sure the snow will clear soon enough. Now if you will excuse me, I have things to attend to." With that, he turned and went into the library.
Gareth had not received an answer to his question, and was about to call it out again, but though better of it, and instead went to his room. He was fed up after his boring day, and the disturbed night before it, so he decided to turn in early to see if that night he would have a better sleep.
At first that seemed likely, and Gareth got to sleep fairly quickly. However, he woke with a start. Gareth shuddered. He could feel warm air on his face. He was still half asleep, but within a minute he felt he hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He realised it was not warm air he felt, it was someone's breath. He felt the same sharp pain as the previous night, then he was overcome with a horrible queasy feeling and passed out again.
In the morning, Gareth awoke in a cold sweat. He felt dizzy again. He tried to stand, but he collapsed onto the bed. He looked around the room for any signs of the butler, but Stott was nowhere to be seen. Gareth called out, but his voice came out as a whisper. He was terrified. He needed to get to the window, in the vain hope that maybe some of the snow had cleared, at least enough to enable him to leave.
Standing was still a problem, and walking, even the short distance to the window, was completely out of the question.
Gareth sat on the edge of the bed, with his head in his hands. He felt awful. He bent down, picked up one of his shoes, and threw it against the door, hoping somebody would hear him.
Gareth lay down again, and tried to sleep. Some time later Stott came in with some breakfast. He looked at the stricken figure on the bed and tried to lift him into an almost sitting position, so he could have something to eat.
"Please help me, Stott", whispered Gareth, "I don't know what is happening to me, I want to go home."
Stott turned away. Gareth heard him sniff, and he thought he also heard a faint whimper. The butler opened the curtains, and composed himself. He turned back to Gareth and gave him a lopsided smile. "It's a very pleasant morning, Sir, think the snow may melt soon."
Gareth groaned. It was very nice of Stott to try and console him like that, he thought, but the message was clear, the snow may melt soon, actually meant the snow still hasn't gone, and he would be stuck here for another ghastly day.
It was almost lunchtime before Gareth felt well enough to venture downstairs. He helped himself to a book from the library and waited in there for his lunch. He knew from past experience he could not expect to see Lord Carandini until dinner in the evening.
Gareth thought to himself that he really ought to explain to his family what was happening, but when he went to the telephone he found it disconnected. This only made him more frustrated and angry. He looked out of the library window. He wished Lord Carandini did not live so far away from even a village. He also wished he had some Wellington Boots with him. Then and idea struck him. So he had not Wellingtons, but maybe Stott had some, or even his host may have a pair, it did not matter if they were the wrong size, he just desperately wanted to leave as soon as possible.
On hearing his name, Stott hurried into the library. "What can I do for you, Sir?" he asked.
"Well", came the reply. "I was wondering if you or your master have any Wellington Boots I could borrow? I would like to try to walk to the nearest village."
"Oh no, I am sorry Sir", Stott told him, "We do not have any, and if you don't mind my saying so, I do not think it wise to venture out on the Moors by yourself. You do not know this area, and before you got very far it would be dark."
Gareth knew it was pointless really, but he thought there may be just the slight chance it was not really as far as he imagined.
Later that evening Gareth was in the dining room with Lord Carandini. His Lordship was in very high spirits, and looked even more handsome than before, if that were possible.
"You look very low this evening, Mr. Lister, do we not make you comfortable enough?" his host asked. It was all Gareth could do to be civil to the man.
"I am comfortable enough," he started, "but I do not have good nights. I do not know what is happening, I have these pains, and I feel that someone is in my room. I cannot see anyone, but I hear them, and I feel their breath. Stott says it is not him, and I do not see anyone else here but you, and I do not see you in the daytime to ask you."
Lord Carandini laughed a loud, hearty laugh. "Well then, Mr. Lister, I am sure you will be glad to know there has been no more snow, you will be able to leave soon."
With that, he got up and left the room. Gareth followed him, and went to the library where he often went after dinner, but this time the room was empty. Gareth went to find Stott, but he assured him he had not seen where his master had gone.
Gareth made up his mind to leave as soon as he woke in the morning, snow or no snow. If he left early enough, and followed the direction of the sunlight he would eventually get to somewhere with people, a village, or a town, or at least a farmhouse. Anywhere just to get away from where he was now.
With that he went to get an early night again. He felt uneasy. Would his midnight guest come again? He tried to sleep, but fear kept him awake. From downstairs he could hear the clock. Eventually it struck midnight. Gareth could hear his heart beating. He kept very still, listening.
There it was again. Footsteps outside his door. The handle turned. Gareth held his breath. He turned over, thinking maybe if they thought he was asleep he would be left alone. The steps got closer, closer??en, that pain again!! Gareth passed out as before.
Gareth felt very dizzy again when he woke in the morning, but even more than that he felt annoyed with himself that he was not able to stay awake to find out who came into his room.
When Stott came in with breakfast, the tea was cold before Gareth could raise himself high enough to have anything. Afterwards he fell asleep and did not wake up until Stott brought him some lunch.
"I need a doctor", Gareth could barely get the words out, he felt so weak. Stott looked serious.
"Oh, but Sir" he said, "the telephone is out of order, the master is not about, and besides the roads are still impassable. I am sorry. I will send the master up to see you later this evening".
Gareth drifted in and out of consciousness all day, until, as Stott had promised, Lord Carandini went to see him. "Oh dear, oh dear", were his first words, "so, what are we going to do with you, Mr. Lister?"
"Please, Lord Carandini," the ailing Gareth appealed to him, "I must go home. I feel very ill and weak."
His Lordship went over to the window and sighed. "Well, I think you will be able to leave in the morning. There has still been no more snow today, so I think the road may just be clear enough tomorrow, that is, of course, if it does not freeze over in the night."
It may have been his imagination, but Gareth got the distinct impression his host was reluctant to let him go, and maybe even wished it would freeze over, just to keep him there even longer.
Finally, after Lord Carandini had left the room, Gareth, still feeling weak got out of bed and went over to look out of the window. It was true, there was still snow on the ground, but, surely it would not be too deep to walk through.
Gareth heard the clock striking eleven o'clock. He really did not want to wait another hour until midnight. He dressed quickly and tried to open his door. One thing Gareth had forgotten from his very first visit was that his door was locked at night. He tugged and pulled, but to no avail. He called out as loudly as he could, but no-one came to his aid. He went back to the window. His room was not that high up, but it would be a sheer drop if he were to attempt to climb out of it.
Nothing for it, Gareth made up his mind. He would wait until the intruder entered his room at midnight, he would wait behind the door and make a run for it. He knew there had to be a chance of a window open somewhere, or better still a door he could leave by. His weakness did not deter him, although his head was swimming, he just had to get away at any cost, no matter how hard the journey may be.
It seemed far too long before the clock struck twelve. Gareth stood behind his door, sweating and with such palpitations it felt as if his heart was trying to leave his chest. The wait was over. The key turned in the lock, and then, very slowly, the door opened into his room. Without thinking, Gareth fled his room as soon as he felt the presence of someone walking slowly towards his bed.
Gareth ran downstairs and immediately tried the front door. He was not too surprised to find it locked. He ran to the kitchen, to the back door. It too, was locked. He went to the library and tried the window, again no luck. Then he rushed to the dining room, and the same thing there. Gareth was beginning to despair. There was another room, one which he had never been in, a large sitting room. It had large French Windows. They were locked, but there was a key on the large mantelpiece nearby. Gareth grabbed it and tried the door.
It fit! Gareth could not believe his luck. He was outside at last. Thank goodness for the full moon, Gareth thought to himself, for if it had not been shining into the room there was no way anyone could have found that key in the dark.
It was very cold. The full moon had a haze around it , which was always a sign of a frosty night. The snow crunched under foot, and Gareth had no idea in which direction he should go. All he knew was he wanted to get as far away as possible, and as quickly as possible.
Gareth ran towards the long, sweeping driveway. It was difficult to run and he slipped a few times. The driveway seemed longer than it did when he was being driven up it by car. The snow glistened in the moonlight, and under different circumstances, it could have looked very beautiful. Gareth, however did not like snow at the best of times, and this certainly was not anything like the best of times.
A cold wind blew, it nearly took Gareth's breath away. Still he carried on, slower now as he felt safer the farther away from the mansion he was. He glanced over his shoulder a few times to be sure he was not being followed. He was not being followed, but he felt a sharp twinge every time he turned his neck.
By the time he reached the big iron gates, Gareth was out of breath. He felt dizzy, and confused. The gates were locked and there seemed no way to open them. There was a high wall on either side of the gates, and one section of wall had a tree near it, which, Gareth thought was not too difficult to climb, and he might just be able to reach the top of the wall and shin down the other side.
Luckily the tree had some low branches, and even with his head swimming, Gareth could climb up easily. Getting down the wall on the other side was not so easy. There was a long drop to the ground, and the wall was sheer. Gareth slid as far as he could then took a deep breath and let go.
Two grazed knees and a bruised arm did not seem much of a price to pay for freedom, Gareth thought to himself as he stood up and dusted himself down. He had arrived at the dirt track and there was only one direction he could go in. Away from the trees along Lord Carandini's drive, the wind blew much colder and Gareth shivered as he jogged along to try and keep from freezing.
The moonlight was still bright and Gareth had no problems seeing his watch. It was 1 a.m. Gareth could not keep up the jogging pace any longer. He had to stop for a few moments to catch his breath, and rub his now aching arm. The air was biting, and the moors were white as far as the eye could see. Gareth felt faint. He was trembling. He wanted to sit down until the feeling went away, but there was nothing to sit on except the cold, snowy ground. He carried on, much slower now. The wind was whistling around his ears. 2 a.m. came and went and Gareth was still plodding along the dirt track.
Suddenly, before he knew what was happening, Gareth collapsed in a heap on the ground.
The next time Gareth opened his eyes he did not know where he was. All he could see was bright sunlight almost blinding him. He groaned. He hurt all over, so much so, he could not move for the pain. He rubbed his eyes. After a few minutes Gareth realised where he was, and he groaned again. He was back in his room at Lord Carandini's mansion.
Gareth looked around. He could just make out the outline of the butler, Stott, over by the window. He heard the groaning and turned to face Gareth. He spoke. "You must rest, Sir, you have not been well, the master found you last night and asked me to look after you, you could have died out there in the snow, Sir."
"Thank you, Stott", Gareth said in little more than a whisper, "but I would like to speak to His Lordship now. I know he will not be out, so he must be somewhere in the house. You must disturb him, just this once. You are a good sort, I know that, and I will not let you get into trouble on my account."
Stott went pale. "Oh no, Sir, I cannot do that, you must not ask it of me, please, Sir, anything but that"
Gareth tried to sit, but could only move himself a few inches up the pillow, "Then, Stott, just tell me where he is, and I shall disturb him, he cannot keep me here forever."
"But Sir," Stott went on, "You are not well, you must stay in bed. When the master found you, you were unconscious. You are lucky he found you, otherwise??p;quot;
His voice trailed off. He turned and headed out of the door. Gareth tried to turn his neck to watch him go, but the pain was so sharp he could only rest it back onto the pillow.
Gareth had never felt so desolate. He was a grown man, but the urge to give way to tears was stronger now than it had ever been. He felt so hopeless and so alone. He knew deep down the butler was a good man, but utterly devoted to his master. He sank his head into his pillow and tried to sleep in the hope that he would feel better when he awoke.
Gareth had no idea how long he had been asleep, but when he did wake, the sun was no longer shining into his room, it was dark outside. He felt queasy, but was now able to sit up. He carefully got out of bed, and stumbled to his door. He made it as far as the top of the stairs but then had to sit down. He could hear voices downstairs, and one of them was definitely Lord Carandini. He seemed to be giving Stott instructions. Gareth could not hear everything, but he seemed to be talking about opening the garage door. Just then, Lord Carandini came out into the hall and glanced up to see Gareth at the top of the stairs.
"Good Evening, Mr. Lister", he called up, "And how are you feeling tonight?"
"Not too well, I am afraid", came the reply.
"Are you well enough to travel?" Lord Carandini called anxiously
"Yes, yes I am sure I am" Gareth now felt a little better at hearing this.
"Jolly good, then go and get dressed, in 15 minutes my car will be at the front door to take you home". Lord Carandini then turned to Stott and instructed him to hurry up as things had to be taken care of without delay.
Gareth wished he could have eavesdropped more, he wanted to know what all the hurry was about, but he was in a hurry himself - to get home!
Lord Carandini was nowhere to be seen when Gareth arrived at the front door, dressed and ready to go. He went to hug Stott, and told him he was glad to have met him. Then he hurried out to the waiting car. Neither he nor the driver spoke for the whole of the journey. It was a long journey, but every mile away from the mansion made Gareth happier. He did not mind the ride for a change, at least it was in the right direction.
It was the early hours of the morning by the time Gareth finally arrived home. He tried to be as quiet as possible, but his mother heard him and came rushing to see him. They were both so relieved to see each other they just hugged for what seemed like forever, but in reality must have been only around ten minutes.
It was days before Gareth felt strong enough to go back to work, and when at last he did go back, the first thing the Bank Manager said to him was "Where the hell have you been, Lister?"
"Sorry, Sir, it is a long story" came the reply.
The Bank Manager was quite taken aback at this, it was the first time he could remember any of his employees calling him Sir. He instantly softened and invited Gareth into his office to tell him all about it.
When Gareth had finished, his employer said "Well, I think we had better get the police onto the matter straight away, I cannot have members of my staff endangered in this way."
The police were called and although Gareth could not remember exactly the route he was taken, he was able to give sketchy directions as to Lord Carandini's home.
The police invited Gareth and his employer to accompany them to the mansion. They were a long time finding it. It was well off the beaten track. Finally they came to the large iron gates. To Gareth's astonishment, it was not Stott who answered the door, but a very pleasant looking middle aged woman, with grey hair and wearing a very smart tweed suit. She invited them in, and Gareth looked around, not believing his eyes, for although this was obviously the right place, all the furniture, and paintings were different. The library was still there but with completely different furnishings. The kitchen was the same except for different pots and pans. His bedroom was now empty, although, of course the wallpaper and carpets were exactly as they were when Gareth had stayed there.
The middle aged woman was a Mrs. Beisley, just back with her husband from some months abroad. When questioned further she admitted having rented the mansion out while they were away.
"But", she added, "I have never heard of a Lord Carandini. The very nice gentleman who we let our home to was called Mr. Lee. I am afraid I do not have an address for you, he seemed such a very nice man, and he paid in full before he took the place."
The police turned to the Bank Manager. "Don't worry", they told him. "Just let us know if he comes to make a deposit or withdrawal at your branch, and we shall come down without delay."
They thanked Mrs. Beisley for her time and just as they were about to leave Gareth asked her "Excuse me, but when Mr. Lee came to see you, did he come in the daytime, or at night?"
Everyone turned to look at him for asking such an odd question. Even Mrs. Beisley was taken off guard with that.
"Well, let me see" she started. "It's funny you asking that, he came in the evening. Yes, I remember because we asked him to come around teatime, but he insisted on it being after dinner, which was quite late."
"Thank you" said Gareth. He turned to one of the policemen. "I think Mr. Lee and Lord Carandini must be one and the same person. I do not think we shall see him at the bank."
The policeman smiled at Gareth. "Oh don't worry, he will have to make a withdrawal one day, even if he sends someone else to do it, then we shall find him, somehow."
But Gareth was not so sure.
THE END... or is it?