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.
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 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.”
They all drank to that. “Now, if you please to excuse me, I am turning myself in early because of not feeling well. Thank you.”
“Peter, would you show Mister Tarboosh to his room?” George asked, and Peter gave a short bow in acknowledgement. “I do hope you feel better, Mister Tarboosh.”
Finally, the man tore his eyes away from Maureen’s, and now Maureen seemed to wake from a deep sleep. “I thank you, sir. Goodnight, everyone,” Mister Tarboosh said, and his gangly form followed the footman out of the dining room, moving like a mist.
When they had gone, the dowager countess said, “My, my, Maureen, you seemed a bit taken by our exotic visitor. Do you not take our conversation to be sufficiently fascinating?”
“What? Who do you mean?” Maureen said, blinking and shaking her head as if to bring the room back into focus.
“I assure you, that is quite fine,” the duke said. “Our relations with Romania have never seemed more promising. I’m entirely Mister Tarboosh’s servant at the moment. In fact, he has been staying at my country home during his visit here.” Perhaps subconsciously, the Duke pulled a bit at his starched collar, making sure it was up far enough.
“Oh, of course,” Maureen said brightly, but a bit distractedly as she thought: Exotic visitor? She had no idea what her granny could be talking about. “I have ridden past Renfield Manor many times. You have done fine things with the house. I take it that rumors of lycanthropi in the area are just the working class telling stories to keep the Christish missionaries at bay?”
Roger turned to face the wall to hide his stricken expression, but all those dining laughed at this, including the duke. “It’s not the full moon until next week, I believe, but I should say we’ll all be safe from any shape-shifting monstrosities as long as we throw salt over the correct shoulder and spin thrice ’round before sitting.”
This unexpected witticism made the room erupt in laughter, but the instant Maureen heard the word “spin” the room seemed to suddenly whirl around her, forcing her to place a cool hand against her forehead.
“Lady Maureen, are you quite well?” the Duke asked, and Foree was by her side in seconds.
“I … think it would be best if I cut my evening short, Your Grace.”
“Of course,” the duke said, as if he would say anything else at her obvious distress. “I would like to call on you sometime in future, if I may.”
Maureen retched and fell against the stout butler’s side.
“I think we should take that as a ‘yes’,” the dowager countess said.
Foree lifted Lady Maureen and carried her from the room, only just saving the dining party from having to see her vomit on his white dickey. “Not the first time I’ve seen you sick, milady,” he said with as good a humor as he could muster, and called for Sarah and Daphne to come get her washed and into bed.
“Perhaps the ladies would like to have coffee while the men enjoy some brandy and cigars,” Lord Monroe said, and the bumps in the dinner were soon smoothed over and forgotten.
* * *
“He’s a vampire, as sure as I’m standing here,” Peter said to the servants gathered downstairs, who were ravenous for any information. “He looked into her eyes and she was captivated, like. She couldn’t turn away. Didn’t even know where she was.” He looked to Roger for confirmation.
“The lot of them could use a bite on the neck, you ask me,” Roger said. “What’s supposed to happen then, they become a vampire or what?”
Mrs Gonk said solemnly, “No. Worse.”
Everyone waited for a few moments. Finally Roger snapped, “Come on then, out with it!”
“It all depends, doesn’t it? You become a slave after the first bite, but you might seem perfectly normal to those around you. Doesn’t matter, though. The vampire can then control your mind, make you steal, kill, even make a woman compromise her honor.”
“Poor Lady Maureen!” Dawn gasped.
“We don’t know anything yet,” said Mrs McDermott, who made some of the servants start a bit. No one had noticed she was even in the room. “He didn’t bite her, right?”
“Not that I saw,” Peter said. “He just … mesmerized her, like.”
“Good. Then we just need to make sure he doesn’t have a chance to bite her during the night. What time are they supposed to leave in the morning?”
Roger said, “Before dawn. Said they had a meeting in London, had to catch the early train.”
There was a general murmur around the room. Everyone mumbled something different, but each utterance could be translated as “Well, there you go.”
“Vampire or no,” Mrs McDermott cautioned, “he is still a guest of this house. We can try to protect Lady Maureen, but we can’t be taking stakes or anything into his room while he sleeps. I’m talking especially to you, Buffy.”
The blonde maid cast her eyes down. “Of course, Mrs McDermott.”
O’Dea shushed them and held up the string of garlic she had pilfered earlier. “We might not have to worry too much, actually.” She showed it in the light, and everyone could see that the string was missing a few cloves.
“Oh, Miss O’Dea,” Mrs McDermott said, sounding ill. “What have you done now?”
“If he ain’t a vampire, it’ll be nothing that should bother our guest, except maybe a bit of smell.”
“What does garlic do to a vampire, anyway?” Dawn asked.
The servants looked at one another for a moment, then settled their gaze on O’Dea. She tried to think of something to say, but ultimately just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Something bad, I hope.”
NEXT WEEK: PART 5 — A MIDNIGHT VISIT TO LADY MAUREEN