DOWNTON ABBEY MEETS LOVECRAFT MEETS NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in Deadtown Abbey.
It is a world few of us have ever known. 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.
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.
NEXT WEEK: PART 3 — THE DOWAGER COUNTESS