A Mistletoe Bride is murdered on Christmas Eve, 1893. Her ghost haunts the family stately home, Willow Manor, until her remains are discovered and the truth revealed. Set in the present day and Victorian England, the tragic young bride can at last share her story and put right the terrible injustice that destroyed her family and those she loved. The city of Oxford’s Randolph Hotel, and the village of Minster Lovell, the site of the stately home, are the locations for this heartwrenching story of deceit, love and betrayal. The Mistletoe Bride, a local legend, was popularised in a poem by Thomas Haynes Bailey in 1884, and then set to music to become the popular song: The Mistletoe Bough!
|Publisher:||Cosmic Egg Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
David Slattery-Christy is an author and playwright. He studied journalism for his BA Hons Degree (City University London), a Teaching Degree at Lancaster University and Masters Degree at UCLAN. He has written and published several plays and books and also worked on the 'scar- and BAFTA-winning film Gosford Park. His Novello biography In Search of Ruritania was featured on BBC Radio 2 as part of the BBC's Great War Commemorations. More information at www.christyplays.com
Read an Excerpt
The Mistletoe Haunting
Legend of Minster Lovell
By David Slattery-Christy
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 David Slattery-Christy
All rights reserved.
The Beginning After the End – Present Day
My story has taken an intolerable time to find a resolution. Breaking the surface at last has enabled me to share with you the convolutions of fate that has brought me to this present day. I have a voice again. My heart aches with the longing, innocence, devastation and interminable loneliness that accompanied me through my short life and then forward to this time. A time that is incomprehensible to me, and a time I was never meant to see if the normal rules of living had applied to me. For more than one hundred and twenty years I have longed to be able to rest – to find peace – and, as importantly, put right the terrible wrong done to me and also to those I loved. Wickedness beyond my comprehension was at the root of everything.
Forgive me. I need to start at the beginning to enable you to understand. It seems so long ago and the memory of a time when the surge of happiness and joy I experienced, as a young woman about to marry the man I loved, envelopes me still when I think of it. Everything was ahead of me – or so I thought. Fate, I know only too well, had other ideas, other plans, and other paths to thrust me along. This is no time for tears. Tears are no use now, and never were they except as an accompaniment to pointless self-pity. The only thing I ask is that you reserve judgement until the story is complete – however hard that may be at times. I would love to suck in life giving lungs of fresh, sweet air – as one does to inspire courage at a time when determination is needed.
My name is Ellen, Lady Ellen Forsyth of Willow Manor, Oxfordshire. As much as I was married for a few short hours, I continue to refer to myself by my maiden name. My marriage was never consummated, so therefore I feel unmarried but also because I never knew a life of marriage with my darling, Lord Lovell. Time for me is now limited – not much left before I have to move on to that other place, a blessed place where the spirit soars once the ties to this mortal plane are untethered. To proceed with my story, for the sake of clarity, I must take you back, back to 1893 a few days before Christmas and my ill-fated wedding.
Father was beside himself at the prospect of my nuptials, by Christmas Eve morning he was so excited as to be rather irritating to some but amusing for me to behold. He had been counting the days and driving the staff demented with various demands about the wedding plans and the invitation list, at all hours of the day and night. As a result the command bells tinkled constantly in the servant's hall, so much so I had to speak to him firmly because I worried for his health over his erratic behaviour – not to mention the effect of this on the servants' moral. However, secretly, I was pleased for him, simply because it was the first time for a long time I had seen that mischievous glint in his eye again – so often there before Mother died suddenly and tragically young. Charlotte, my only sister, and I were barely out of the nursery when Mother died. I feel it more keenly than Charlotte, perhaps because I am named after her.
Mother and my father, so he told me many times, had given a wonderful dinner party and had danced all night to the popular waltzes in the ballroom. They were devoted and always in love and a sight to behold in admiration and awe among those fortunate to witness them. I had always dreamed of finding a love like theirs with a special someone. A love that accepts silence as comfortable, and finds no demands or obligation to constantly entertain or amuse. A love where a brief look or a suggestion of a smile can convey more than a thousand words spoken ever could. My parents were my example for defining love.
After that dazzling ball my mother and father had gone to bed as normal, delighted that everything had gone so well and the company had enjoyed their hospitality. Happy, but exhausted, Mother had fallen asleep never to wake again. Her heart just stopped, for no reason her doctors could explain. The shock for my father to awaken and feel my mother's cold body in his embrace was horrifying and the memory of it became unbearable. He raged at God and fate that his darling wife should be torn from his side in such a cruel and heartless way. My father was never the same man after that. Nothing consoled him for his loss. His soul mate had gone and nothing would ever be the same.
He wore his loneliness and heartbreak like a shroud. He was never a man with great ambition or interest in politics, shooting, hunting or estate management as were many of his contemporaries. He led a fairly simple but privileged life at Willow Manor. He had been an only child and heir for his parents – parents who were odd strangers to him because he was born to them when they were older than conventional parents. They were out of tune and out of time with each other. He inherited the manor and title of Baron Forsyth of Littlemore whilst still up at Oxford, when they died suddenly within days of each other. They lay in the family crypt, he would say, as cold to each other in death as they had been in life.
His formative years as a border at Eton made his parents somehow strangers, which is perhaps why he sought to find a love that was warm and real and enduring. In my mother, Ellen, herself from a low status Oxford family, he had found his ideal. He cared not a jot for social conformity and it took time for Mother to be accepted by the local families and in society in general. However, my mother was secretly admired for her beauty, determination and grace. Many a time she was the object of deliciously whispered gossip and scandal at society balls and dinner parties.
Father was immensely proud of her achievements as a hostess and that she had even caught the attention of Bertie, the Prince of Wales. Renowned for seducing beautiful women who took his fancy, she was for a short time in his sights. She flattered him but made it clear that friendship was all that was on offer – this made him roar with laughter and respect her even more for not being afraid to refuse him. His Royal Highness, noted for taking a delight in mischief making among society snobs, deliberately invited himself for a weekend at Willow Manor, so Mother could throw a grand ball in his honour that would once and for all silence her critics and make her the most sought after guest on the invitation lists of Oxford and London society events from that point on.
It continued the royal connection to our family and the manor. Father's family had been granted the land that Willow Manor was built on by King Charles II. His father King Charles I had used Oxford as his capital city during the civil war. Sought by Cromwell's troops, the King had hidden in property owned by Father's ancestors, the Forsyth's, in Hinksey Village, near old Botley, on the outskirts of Oxford. They remained loyal to the King and at his defeat, several of Father's ancestors had their land and properties confiscated and were executed for their association with him – considered as treasonable by the Roundheads. Once the monarchy was restored and Charles II took the throne, he gifted the land to the family and ennobled them with a Baronetcy for their loyalty. The hereditary title continued to my father's day. He had two daughters, so was hoping one of us would bear a son and heir for the title to continue. That, as you will discover, was another loss for the family. He little realized it at the time, but my father turned out to be the last Baron Littlemore.
Charlotte, my sister, seemed to have inherited some of the cold aloofness, in public at least, that was typical of Father's parents. But to me she was always warm and generous and an object of my intense admiration. When Mother died she was little more than ten years old but she immediately took on the role of mother to me, her younger sister by more than four years. She made me feel safe and would always defend me, even against Father's rages that erupted in the early years after Mother's death. These rages, so out of character for my father, I later understood to be the result of loneliness, drink and grief. Only now do I realize the terrible burden placed upon Charlotte's young shoulders at that time.
To me she is quite beautiful but always she has felt inferior to me in that regard – a nonsense I tell her whenever the issue is raised in moments of silly, sisterly arguments. Indeed I once asked Father not to keep suggesting that my beauty, so like my dear departed mother's, was so superior to that of Charlotte's, whose features were "strong and practical" by comparison. I could see the pain behind Charlotte's eyes when these opinions were voiced so nonchalantly. She would never show outwardly how hurtful she found such comments – but I knew it penetrated as deeply as a knife wound.
I was in awe of Charlotte's capabilities, intelligence and wisdom. She was a shrewd and capable manager of people and able to organize, a brilliant communicator, a talent she exercised frequently on the servants, but had little else beyond the house and estate to which she could deploy those skills. She may have been a woman, but her abilities matched those of any man and surpassed even Father, who found the duties of running such a large manor and estate tiresome and an increasing burden financially.
The colour of our eyes was the only thing Charlotte openly envied. She had inherited the deep brown, a throwback from Father's side of the family, whereas I had the pale, striking blue of my father and mother's. Other than that, aside from her irritability at times, again a trait of Father's, she was a perfect older sister. She was as excited as I was at my forthcoming wedding, or so I believed, but I did wonder if she felt that, as the elder, it should have been her right to marry first. If she felt that, she never said as much at the time. However, now I know the full story, I understand things from a different perspective. I cannot believe I could have been so blind and ignorant of so much that was going on.
Florence, the housekeeper at Willow Manor for years, had also been an important part of our lives and someone who Father came to rely on more and more after Mother's death. Florence had become a steadying force for my father when he was torn apart with grief. She kept the house in order and made sure the servants and estate staff continued to work efficiently and appropriately. Her uncle, Phillips, and his small family, lived in the gatehouse at the entrance to the estate. He was the perfect sentinel and was fierce in his loyalty and duties as gateman. He had started working for Father as a stable boy many years before and worked his way up to head groom. He then had a terrible accident, being thrown from a frisky stallion he was trying to break, and it damaged his leg. Once he recovered he realized rather quickly that he would be unable to walk properly again or continue doing his duties. He gave notice to leave but Father would not hear of it. He moved him and his family into the gatehouse, where he created a position for him as gatekeeper, this secured his status among the estate servants and also made sure he could continue to provide for his family.
In time, Florence became a mentor to Charlotte and myself and in some ways even a surrogate mother. She did that rare thing in aristocratic houses; she crossed the line between servant and master. To me she was, and always would be, family. To my father she was irreplaceable on many levels and they did establish a strange friendship of sorts that relieved the pressure for him, as Florence took on more and more of the duties Mother had done so well in the house and on the estate. All this was carried out under a veil of respectability, and no guest or caller to Willow Manor would have guessed at what they would have considered at the very least impropriety, and at worst less than respectable. Charlotte was the official family and public face for the smooth running of the house, after Father. No matter. We were, in our own rather oddly eccentric way, happy and content with the status quo.
The day that Lovell was arriving with his best man, the Russian Count, Nicholai Romanov, had dawned. This was eagerly anticipated and had caused us all much excitement I remember. Florence, Charlotte and I were in my bedroom suite. I was having a fitting for my wedding gown. I was standing rather precariously on a footstool in my elaborate dress, made from ivory silk, with intricate pearling and beading work on the boned bodice. It was far from finished though. Mrs. Drummond, the dressmaker was making adjustments to the hem, helped by our housemaid, Millie.
As I recall, Charlotte had grown tired of fussing about the dress, she never had much patience for dressmaking and fittings, and had been standing looking out of the window for some time – her own impenetrable thoughts had got the better of her. We were well used to her interminable silences and occasional sulks. There was a side to my sister that then I had not really understood or even suspected. Perhaps I was oblivious to it because I didn't want to believe she was anything but a perfect sibling.
The story as it happened needs to speak for itself. I must not interfere with it for my sake, or in response to my emotional reaction because it is newly revealed to me, I have to enable you an impartial perspective, I need to allow that to happen as we progress.
Florence above everyone, I now see, had become aware that Charlotte could at times behave strangely and in a way that worried her intensely. She made allowances, as did most of us, because Charlotte had had to shoulder so much responsibility, at so young an age, on the death of Mother. Shortly before my wedding, Father had commissioned a portrait to be painted of me as a Mistletoe Bride. My mother had also been his Mistletoe Bride, and in his way he was honouring her memory and also marking the occasion of my marriage to Lord Lovell. The portrait had been completed and hung in the drawing room and covered with a silk cloth so as not to create bad luck for me – seeing the bride in her dress before the wedding was tempting fate. How ironic that statement is, knowing what I know now and everything that has happened since! (If I could laugh at such irony, it would be nothing but a discordant, hollow sound that would abruptly turn into racking sobs of despair and anger.) However, Father was adamant that nobody could see the portrait until after my marriage, in Willow Manor's private family chapel on Christmas Eve 1893.
What is a Mistletoe Bride? It is an old tradition that no longer applies or has any meaning, and perhaps even in my time its relevance was diminishing. It is simple to explain. When one gets married on Christmas Eve, it is traditional to be a Mistletoe Bride. It has its roots in old English pagan traditions but in the Victorian era it was the decorative and sentimental elements that persisted. To have a bride's headdress and floral handheld display using mistletoe, made the most of seasonal plants and added an element of Christmas to the ceremony – not forgetting the ancient fertility meaning behind the mistletoe sprigs! The darker side of mistletoe escaped me at the time. It is a parasite that feeds off another living thing to be able live and thrive itself. How dark and twisted that seems now after everything that has happened. The night before my dress fitting, unbeknown to me at the time, there had been a strange nocturnal dispute between my sister and Florence.
In the dead of night Charlotte had lit her bedside candle and listened for any sounds of family or servants still moving about the house. The silence and stillness of the night reassured her that everyone was asleep. As quietly as she could she pushed aside her bed covers, swung her legs to the floor and slipped her feet into her slippers. Again she listened intently. She moved slowly and steadily towards the bedroom door, protecting the flickering candle flame with her cupped hand. The sound of a distant dog barking somewhere on the estate brought her to an abrupt halt. She composed herself and slowly opened her door and walked along the deeply carpeted landing. Her footsteps were inaudible as she passed swiftly by the painted portraits of ancestors and their wives and children. The candle light flickering gave them an eerie, haunting scowl and Charlotte could no doubt see their disapproving, beady eyes as she walked quickly by. Once she reached the landing to the grand staircase, she stopped and collected her breath, at the same time listening for any sounds of life. The ticking of the huge grandfather clock at the foot of the stairs seemed to echo through the vast hallway and staircase. It began to chime and then struck the hour of 3:00am. The flickering candle flame reflected brilliantly on the highly polished mahogany banister of the curving staircase, and glinted here and there in the crystals of the huge unlit chandelier. She glided silently down the stairs as if floating on some ethereal mist. Unbeknown to Charlotte, Florence was watching her progress from behind a marbled pillar, on the opposite side of the upper landing. She had been doing her final rounds and locking up for the night when she had seen the flickering light and had hidden in anticipation of seeing an intruder – or an errant servant up to no good. She even wondered if the Baron was still awake and wandering, as he had done often when newly bereaved all those years ago.
Excerpted from The Mistletoe Haunting by David Slattery-Christy. Copyright © 2015 David Slattery-Christy. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents
Prologue: Present Day,
Chapter 1 Beginning After the End,
Chapter 2 A New Incarnation – A New Time,
Chapter 3 The Gathering – Christmas Past,
Chapter 4 The Dinner Party,
Chapter 5 Reunited – Christmas Present,
Chapter 6 Randolph Hotel – Secrets,
Chapter 7 Silent Night,
Chapter 8 Unfamiliar World,
Chapter 9 The Wedding Day,
Chapter 10 Destiny & Resolution,
Epilogue: Yet to Come!,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Mistletoe Haunting was a great ghost story, one told by the ghost! You don't see that often. I have always enjoy a good ghost story and this one is sad and very chilling down to the soul, especially the ending. It literally gave me chills! Ellen is to be married, but unbeknownst to her she will never be happy because of a jealous sister and a betraying fiancee. She has all odds stacked against her, but she doesn't know the truth. This was a very well written, chilling tale of love, loss, and betrayal. I felt for poor Ellen, she really deserved to be happy. She wanted to be a bride and yet her happiness was so quickly taken from her. Charlotte was indeed evil! No other words can describe her. I know, I couldn't stand her from the second she was introduced! I'm not sure if this is just a work of fiction or if this was an actual story from the past that now haunts and tells such a sad tale. It was definitely a fantastic ghost story and in my opinion would make a great movie!...Stormi