Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Peculiar Manor

The following is a short story. The world it is in is one that exists mostly in my head. To clear up any theological confusions it is a world in which—sort of like in Lewis's Narnia, but not really quite like Narnia---persons know Jesus “by a different name.” There are a few theological ideas that I wanted to explore when I started thinking about this world, and I began to think up a series of stories with an unsolved murder acting as a plot device to connect them (though ultimately forming a sort of story in itself). This is one of those stories. It is not at the beginning or at the end, in part because I haven't got the murder part worked out totally yet, and don't know if I ever will work that out or write other pieces of this story. The attempt I have made here is an attempt to write the story in a largely self-contained fashion. Within you should expect to find a few Biblical themes explored, as well as other, less Scripturally explicit, theological ideas. If you do read it and you find some of these ideas, or other ones that you're not sure I meant to explore, please do feel free to post a comment and let me know what you've found. I would love to know what you find in terms of theme, even if you're not comfortable posting it here.

Lastly, anyone who knows me might guess that I owe a lot in terms of imagination and ideas and wit to G.K. Chesterton; I do, but I also hope and pray that what I write might be more than just a shadow of the work of those authors I admire, and a vehicle for Christian expression and exploration in its own right. Please enjoy, if you can.

A Peculiar Manor

Two travelers were huddled on the front porch of a great house in the country. It was night-time, and raining rather violently.

One was a man. Fairly young, sporting an off-white shirt under a brown vest underneath a gray trench-coat, with gray trousers. His skin was fairly light, his frame lanky. He had brown hair and wore a tasteful brown bowler. The other was a woman, two or three years his senior, who wore a white jacket over a light purple dress. She was tanner than him and held an average frame. Her hair was blonde and she wore what appeared to be a purple bowler, except stretched to three times its height.

The two had come a long way from a nearby city and had not a few scares, mostly because he had suspected her of a murder and, as the detective, had been forced to look after her and see her safely to somewhere within town. But friendly people thought to be unfriendly had chased them away, to the point where they had spent all the money they had, and found themselves faced with a twenty-mile walk back in the rain; two miles along they had found the house. Due to the aggressive weather, the pair hoped they might get out of the rain for awhile and perhaps have some tea or cocoa. The man knocked on the gigantic door and then turned to the woman. “Oh, come on! Where's your sense of adventure?”

“I lost it somewhere between being trailed by that man in black and riding in that flying deathtrap you called transportation.”

“Well, we've got to make the best of these things. Sometimes you can't...”

The door creaked open, revealing a servant girl about two years younger than him, dressed in what appeared to be a uniform of sorts, a white tunic and shorts, whose plain face was full of joy. The sight of rain-soaked strangers filled it further still. “Hello,” she said.

“Hello. I'm Ben Simonson and this is Lady--”

“Oh, no need for all that now. Get yourselves out of the rain first.”

Ben and the lady obliged; the servant addressed them again. “Now, you were saying?”

“I'm Ben Simonson and this is Lady Rose.”

“Lady Rose Alston.”

“Could we have a sit for an hour or two, to see if the rain subsides?”

“We can do better than that! Our master is always happy to have visitors for dinner.” She motioned to them to follow her and led them down one of a dozen hallways. “Can I get you a drin--?” she asked, as she led them into the parlor.

“Tea.” Rose was hasty.

“...Cocoa.” Ben gave it maybe too much thought.

After she left Rose turned to Ben with a serious face. “If it turns out they are cannibals, I won't be pleased.”


“'Have visitors for dinner?'”

“That is not what that means.”

“Given the trip so far, I would not be surprised.”

The servant reentered and handed them their hot drinks. “Excuse me miss; what is your name?” asked the lady.

“Bernadette, ma'am. Also, the master will want you two at the head of the table tonight. Mr. Simonson on the right, and you on the left.”

“Can we meet him before dinner? Get introduced and whatnot?” Ben was sincerely intrigued.

“Well, he's not actually in at the moment and, well...” The plain face grew apologetic. “Master Nathan's only reliable appearance is at dinnertime.” The pair appeared quite puzzled, and so Bernadette continued. “He's like that.” She flashed a smile and left the two confused travelers sitting in the parlor and drinking their exceptional drinks.


When dinner came a male servant named Mark arrived to escort them to the dining room. The room itself contained only one table, but a large table. It seated twenty to a side on its long ends, and two or three on each of the short ends. When they arrived the last of the food was being set out, and it appeared that when the serving was done and the master arrived, the table would be full.

Once the table was full there were about five minutes of waiting, and then the same creak of the giant front door, and a loud slam. A few shuffles and footsteps later and the Master Nathan came bumbling through the dining room door. Now he was neither skinny nor heavyset, tall nor short. His skin was a mysterious tone; persons attempting to guess at a race usually failed. He wore a fine dark-red three-piece suit, with a top hat that fit his head perfectly. The suit was torn a little, and more than a little wet and muddied. “Apologies on my lateness, everybody. Now please--” here the master turned and noticed his guests. “Wonderful! Can someone say who they are?”

Bernadette piped up. “Ben Simonson and Lady Rose Alston.”

“Wonderful!” Now please, let us say grace. Rex, would you?”

A small servant stood up. He was one of the Reptilians, a strange and sometimes primitive people who were, well, quite reptilian in skin and face, though 'human' in their standing, walking and talking. Lady Rose wondered a bit at the sight, because like most city-folk she had heard so little about these strange people that she doubted their existence. Rex stood as Nathan sat, his tail wagging excitedly. “Oh, yes.”

The room silent, Rex spoke the prayer in a poem.

God bless this house,
And bless our guests,
And the food upon this table.

God bless our friends,
And bless our foes,
And the horses in our stable.

God keep us safe and keep us free,
Of anger, hatred, greed and lust.

God keep us safe and help us grow
In Inri, wisdom that we trust.

Rex Sat, and the serving and passing and eating of food (and not a little conversation) commenced.

Master Nathan asked his guests many questions, like who they were exactly and how they had come to his manor. And so the two recounted a few bizarre events to him. First there was a murder in the city they had come from, originally thought to have been part of a duel, on which Ben was a detective and in which the Lady had been a suspect, which was how the whole mess started. Second, a strange cloaked man had chased them to a small town shortly out of the city, and he had had to stay with her because, after all, she was still a suspect. Third, still fleeing from his man they had fled by way of bird-basket to a farmer's market a few acres from the house, where the cloaked man appeared to meet them, and turned out to be harmless. And last, trying to make their way to the city, their arrival at a strange house with one master and forty-three servants.

Nathan also asked whether Lady Rose was still a murder suspect. Rose's voice had more than hint of frustration when she responded that no, she wasn't, and she wouldn't be on this terrible adventure if anyone had had the sense not to make her a suspect to begin with.

“It was my fault,” said Ben. “I was supposed to keep an eye on her, and I didn't figure out she was innocent until we were up in that basket, pulled along by a flock of doves.”

“Ah,” said Nathan.

Now they in turn learned from Nathan and his servants the ways of their house, including their duty to do dishes after dinner, the master and servants' insistence that all guests stay the night, all the odds and ends of work at the manor, and Nathan's generosity and frequent misadventures outside. Most recently he had helped two farmers returning from the market to get their cart and mule out of a watery ditch.

The meal itself was quite good, and the guests at least okay with the duty of dishes. When those were done, they were told their clothes would be cleaned overnight and that they had servants' clothes waiting for them in the meantime.


Shortly before the house curfew the two relaxed in the servants' general room, talking with Bernadette and Rex. Lady Rose raised a practical question, asking whether the whole business with the dishes was payment for their stay.

“Not exactly,” Bernadette replied. “It's because whoever sits at his right and left always does the dishes. He always calls two of us in a night.”

“And the guests always get a shot,” Rex interjected. “Once a group of eight came, and he made 'em stay for four nights. Sometimes.” He paused. “Sometimes he picks someone who's mad at him. It's awkward, but fun. Remember that day the horses had diarrhea and stable-hand Ted was on his left, Bernie? That was classic.”

The servants exchanged a look and a laugh, then turned somewhat embarrassed to their guests when they remembered it was an inside joke. Bernadette spoke. “Sorry. If you're ever here again we'll fill you in. As it stands it's almost time for bed.”

Ben and Rose parted with the other two and left the servants' chamber. With the aid of one or two stragglers they located their guest rooms, across the way from each other and down a long hallway from the servants' quarters. “Hey Ben,” said the lady. “For what it is worth, this is probably the least terrifying part of the trip so far.”

“Heh. Yes.”

“Well, goodnight.”


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