Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the eighty-first piece of flash fiction in this series. This week I welcome back Jane Risdon with this 889-worder. This story will be podcasted in episode 28 (with three other stories) on Sunday 30th June.
The Secret of Willow Cottage and the tale of the Reluctant Bride
Willow Cottage was slowly giving up its secrets to the new owners but none was as shocking or surprising as the discovery of the huge oak chest, bound with iron and with a rusted latch sealing it tightly.
Covered in decades of dust and dead insects, the chest was uncovered in the stone out-house during exploration of the secret garden area behind the apple orchard.
After a great deal of effort with WD40 and reluctant use of a crowbar, they managed to prise the lid open. At first they thought it was a pile of old carpets and cloth but as soon as they moved them aside to investigate further it became apparent it wasn’t.
Lying curled up and dressed in what had once been fine fabric, was the remains of a small person. They recoiled in shock, disbelief and horror. It was all true. The story the locals had told them about the reluctant bride who on her wedding night had fled her husband still in her wedding dress, never to be seen again, was really true.
The de Grouchy family had been sceptical about the story they’d been told, of the young girl who had been secretly betrothed to a neighbouring family’s eldest son, destined to inherit a bankrupt estate upon his father’s death, and who had been forced to marry the choice of her father instead; an elderly widower whose wife had died in childbirth leaving him without an heir of his own. Her job was to provide one, and quickly.
It made sense to the girl’s family who were having financial problems of their own and needed a good marriage for her to enable their own estate to prosper. And so the marriage was celebrated and the wedding party was almost over when the girl’s jilted fiancée, who had been thrown out of the church earlier for trying to stop the proceedings, returned and challenged the groom to a duel.
The bride had fled in tears upon seeing the men and their seconds take up their positions, swords ready, her pleas for her father to halt the duel ignored.
This had all taken place about two hundred years before in what was the ‘big house,’ long since demolished, the estate having been divided up over time and sold off. Willow Cottage, originally the estate manager’s home, being the only remaining sign of the once-grand estate the liaison was meant to rescue.
According to the estate agents, the whole story was a fabrication which had no factual basis, but then the cottage had been on the market for ages and the agents were keen for the whole thing to be buried for fear of putting off potential buyers.
The de Grouchy family didn’t take any notice of myths and legends, and moved into Willow Cottage and set about restoring it and the acre of land they purchased, including the out-house which was overgrown and in danger of collapse, thus ensuring that the building had not been entered in over a century.
Upon the sad discovery of the young woman, the police were called and after the usual investigations and an inquest, it was decided that the young girl had died of suffocation, probably when the lid of the chest in which she had hidden had dropped shut, and unable to open it from the inside her cries had gone unheard. Foul play was not suspected.
The local press took up the cause, making their own investigations and eventually the story was corroborated. The tale of the ill-fated lovers seemed to be based on fact.
What had become of the girl’s young lover was never certain though there had been talk at the time of his being driven off the estate following the duel, the groom being badly wounded and dying soon after. There had been a search for the bride but no trace had ever been found and over time it was assumed she had been reunited with her lover and they had made their way to the Americas and had lived happily ever after.
It is possible that no-one had ever looked inside the trunk and over time it had been sealed and moved from the main house into Willow Cottage, or to the out-house where it had remained forgotten, until now, the key lost long ago.
On a drab Autumn morning three months later, the de Grouchy family stood in the little village churchyard, the only mourners left to attend the last resting place of Serena Beaufort, the reluctant bride, no living family having been traced. She was laid to rest near her ancestors and as they left the churchyard the family couldn’t help but wonder what had become of her young love, Sebastian Nugent, and where he might be resting. Had he stopped searching for her? Had he left for the Americas after all?
The family returned to Willow Cottage and continued their renovations and every month they visited Serena and placed flowers on her grave and as they did, their thoughts would turn to Sebastian wherever he now lay. The de Grouchys believed deep down in their hearts that the ill-fated lovers had been reunited in death and they would raise a glass in their memory at Sunday lunch, happy that at last the secret of Willow Cottage was no more.
I asked Jane what prompted this piece and she said…
I came up with the idea when asked to write 100-200 words for my writing group Writers on the Same Page, and having just overheard a conversation my mother had been having with a friend about an old country house it came to mind.
Apparently there had been a young bride whose body was found in a trunk. She had been playing hide-and-seek following the wedding and had climbed in to the trunk and waited to be found. Unfortunately no-one ever looked inside the trunk which had locked itself as she closed the lid. No-one heard her cries and she died. Her body was only found decades later when the trunk was moved and someone decided to try and open it to look inside. Such a sad tale.
I returned to my 100-200 word story and re-worked for Morgen. I hope you all like it.
I loved it. It definitely appealed to my dark side and knowing it was based on a short story makes it all the more chilling. It’s probably why I enjoyed creating Feeding the Father so much. Thank you, Jane.
For the last thirty years Jane Risdon has worked in the International Music Industry as an Artiste Manager, Producer and Music Publisher with her husband who was a professional musician when they met in their teens.
Together they have discovered, mentored and guided the careers of Singers, Bands, Songwriters and Producers all over Europe, the USA and SE Asia as well as the UK, resulting in Chart hits, TV and Movie Soundtracks and numerous other successes, including launching the very first Industry Showcases at the London Hippodrome in the mid 1980’s.
She has lived and worked in Singapore, Taiwan, Germany, USA, as well as Europe and England – working with English, American, European and Chinese artists in all genres of music and in various languages including Mandarin and Cantonese.
Jane has been writing since childhood and has had articles published in the Music Press. Her main genre is Crime writing; mysteries and thrillers – usually with a twist in the tale. At the moment she is writing a crime story, ‘Ms Birdsong Investigates’, which features an ex-MI5 Officer and her new life in a rural Oxfordshire Village. This novel should be completed sometime in 2013.
In addition to this novel she has a series of stories which she describes as Character Based Gentle Humour, called ‘God’s Waiting Room,’ which she hopes will be completed by 2014.
Jane is also co-writing a novel with an award winning author of over 28 books. It is a change of direction for Jane and as of February 2013 she has completed her parts of the book. Her co-author is completing her parts and then it is off to the agent, possibly mid 2013.
With numerous Short Stories and several Flash Fiction pieces under her belt she is a prolific writer who is yet to publish a book in her own right. However, she has had several short stories published for Charity during the last year including her story, ‘The Look,’ in ‘I am Woman Anthology Volume 1,’ in aid of Breakthrough, Women for Women and Women’s Aid and two stories, ‘The Debt Collector’ and ‘The Ghost in the Privy,’ published in the anthology, ‘Telling Tales,’ in aid of The Norfolk Hospice.
Jane also has written a chapter for a new book project, which features several authors all writing a chapter each, without any idea of what the other has written. She found this great fun and looks forward to reading the finished book. This project is on-going and until all writers have contributed it is unsure when it will be ready for release.
In addition to everything else going on in 2013, she is also writing a Short Story for inclusion in yet another anthology later in 2013. This will be a crime/mystery anthology in aid of a Charity, yet to be disclosed.
Jane has a Blog which is gaining a large following and she writes about things that interest her, her love of photography – always photos to look at – and also anything else which takes her fancy. Many of these articles have humorous content. She is often invited by other authors to be the Guest Blogger on their Blogs.
If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here, or up to 5,000 words for critique on my Online Short Story Writing Group (links below).
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