The bell of St Giles chimed the quarter hour as the old man took his seat by the bay window of the library. Across the lawn, beyond the ha-ha, the first signs of an evening mist started to rise from the stream that was hidden from even this elevated view.
The library of Dellington Hall, unlike most Georgian libraries, did not occupy a position on the ground floor. Instead it looked out over the Dellington estate from a lofty first floor position. Indeed, on this side of the building, it was actually the second floor, the true ground floor being the rear of the basement, as the hall had been built into the side of a steep embankment.
The reason for such an awkward location for the hall was the desire of the first baronet for the property to be clearly visible not only from the road to London, but also the canal beyond it, ownership of which had raised the funds to build this edifice in the middle of nowhere. This meant building it on the crest of Mortimer Rise. Unfortunately the side of the Rise away from the canal, sloped steeply down, thus giving rise to the unusual layout of the building.
Although it was the first baronet who built Dellington hall, it was his grandson, Sir Edward, who had moved the library from what were quite cramped quarters on the ground floor to the more spacious accommodation on the first floor. This was due in part to the quantity of books that Sir Edward had acquired during his years at Cambridge, where, contrary to the custom of the time for a member of the landed gentry, he had actually studied and acquired a first class degree and gave every indication of establishing himself as a scholar within that renowned seat of learning.
Unfortunately for Sir Edward's academic ambitions, an outbreak of cholera in Manchester had removed from existence both his father and his grandfather, in that order. Both gentlemen had been in that city at the time to take pleasure in the entertainments that were on offer. Manchester they had thought to be more civilised than Liverpool. It was also further away than Chester, a location where there was little doubt they would be seen and recognised.
The other reason for Sir Edward's removal of the library from the ground to the first floor, was the threat of flooding. It was not unknown for the gentle stream that flowed across the meadow beyond the ha-ha to become a raging torrent, whose waters would spread throughout the valley. On more than one occasion the basement of the hall had been inundated. Only two years before Sir Edward had obtained the title, the waters had actually reached the steps of the front entrance on the other side of the house. To do so Sir Edward had calculated had required a flood of a good twelve feet.
Although the men of his estate had assured Sir Edward that such an event was of an uncommon occurrence, none of them knowing of such in their lifetimes, or hearing of such in their fathers' lifetimes, Sir Edward was not assured that an event of an even higher magnitude could not happen again. Given his regard for his books and his disregard for dancing, Sir Edward had no hesitation in instructing that the ballroom, which run the length of the house on the east side, from front to back, be split to make a library, study and work room for himself.
To fund such alterations to the hall Sir Edward had be forced to liquidate his holdings in the canal company. A course of action which turned out to be very fortuitous. Within a few years the railways would have taken most of the canal’s trade -, and the stocks that Sir Edward had sold be worth a tenth of what he had sold them for.
Extravagant as Sir Edward was in his refurbishment of Dellington Hall, he still had considerable funds left from his sale of the canal stock. Most of it he spent buying up market gardens on the outskirts of London, the rest he invested in railway stocks.
Within twenty years, the expansion of the railway system throughout the land, but particularly around London, meant that areas that had been beyond easy travelling distance into the City, became commutable. Sir Edward had built houses on his market gardens and in doing so, by the middle of the century, had become one of the richest men in England. Not that many knew of his riches, for Sir Edward was a private man. He gave no grand balls, indeed he had destroyed his ballroom. Likewise he gave no dinners or receptions, for he was far too busy reading or working in his work room.
In fact Sir Edward Dellington was not a social sort of man. He kept to himself, to such an extent that he barely ran a household to see to the upkeep of Dellington Hall. He also did not marry. So, it was that the house that was inherited by Sir Edward's nephew Sir John Dellington, the third baronet, was somewhat decrepit. It was also miles from anywhere that Sir John would care to be seen. Given that, and the vast wealth that Sir John had inherited from his uncle. Sir John settled into a comfortable abode in Mayfair, all but forgetting about Dellington Hall, except when some bill for some vital repair made its way to his desk.
That changed with the unpleasant incident involving his younger son Phillip and a private from one of the guard regiments in Kensington Gardens. Sir John quickly settled matters concerning Phillip by marrying him off to Margaret, the youngest daughter of the Duke of Melton. The one everybody politely avoided comparing to a horse. Such a comparison being insulting to the horse.
Once Sir John had got the two married, in what was a very quiet ceremony, they were despatched off to Dellington Hall, with an allowance from both families sufficient to live in a fair amount of comfort, on the strict understanding that neither of them was to show their face in polite society. An understanding that both Phillip and Margaret were happy to comply with. After all neither of them had much liking for polite society. Phillip much preferred the society of his valet, Thomas, and certain young men with whom Thomas was associated. Margaret was of a similar temperament with regard to her maid Rose.
Both Margaret and Phillip understood one another from the start and were quite content with their household arrangements. So once the required unpleaseantnesses had achieved their required result in the birth of young Clive, they withdrew from each other's company. Margaret to the west wing and Phillip to the east wing. Margaret and Phillip were always polite with each other when they met, usually over breakfast, and over time became good friends.
Clive was about three when his nanny made him understand that the woman who walked around the gardens and looked a bit like his pony was his mother. Clive never could recall seeing his father.
Once Sir John had obliged the Duke of Melton by arranging to take the ill-countenanced Margaret off his hands, the Duke obliged Sir John by offering his very well endowed sister, Jane, for Sir John's older son, Paul. An offer, which both Sir John and Paul, having given consideration to the settlement on offer with the lady in question, were happy to accept. Especially as the Duke had used his influence to get Paul a commission in the 11th Hussars, at no cost to the Dellington family. In the end that turned out to be a bad choice of regiment, as Paul found out when charging the Russian guns.
‘ Sir John was apoplectic when news of the fatal charge reached London. The news of Paul’s failure to survive compounded Sir John’s apoplexy, which in turn, resulted in Philip becoming the next baronet
For the next forty odd years Sir Phillip and Lady Dellington had what they considered to be the perfect marriage. They now only saw each other twice a year. One such event was Christmas, the other was Lady Day, for which Lady Dellington always made a point of being at Dellington Hall. She needed to ensure she got her share of the annual rents. Most of the rest of the year Lady Dellington, accompanied by Rose, was inclined to spend in Paris, though she preferred Nice just after Christmas. Sir Phillip Dellington fully appreciated a wife who was so obliging, and therefore did not begrudge her the one third share of the annual rents that the wedding settlement had allocated to her.
Sir Phillip, of course, remained at the Hall all year round accompanied by Thomas, who was equally happily married to Rose. Although both Thomas and Rose might be separated from their marriage partners because of their duties to their master and mistress, neither complained and both were more than adequately remunerated.
That fact that Sir Phillip was at Dellington Hall and Lady Margaret was either in Paris or Nice, meant that the London house, belonging to the Dellingtons, was for many years, unused. One cannot say unoccupied as there was, of course, the resident army of servants required to accommodate Sir Phillip or Lady Margaret should either decide to visit the property for any reason. The fact that neither was ever likely to visit was neither here nor there. The house was ready and waiting for them should they decide to visit. The beds were freshly made up each week, and warmed, with a warming pan, each night, whether or not they were being used. It was the proper thing to do. A fact which turned out to be useful when Clive Dellington found that he had finished his final term at Harrow without having achieved either the academic achievement required go up to Oxford or Cambridge, or the sense of duty required to enter the army. In fact one of the few achievements that Clive had ever made was the fact that he fully appreciated the total folly of his Uncle Paul's achievement in the Charge of the Light Brigade, no matter what Tennyson said about it.
So, shortly after his eighteenth birthday Clive Dellington took up occupancy of the house in Mayfair, along with an allowance which would probably have kept a small Midlands town well fed for a year. For the next twenty years Clive worked hard on being the young bachelor about town. A condition which he maintained, despite the deflowering of a number of young females of good birth, until the Prince of Wales found himself attracted to a voluptuous young actress, who unfortunately was unmarried. It being unthinkable that the Prince of Wales would take an unmarried woman for his mistress, Clive obliged and married the lady. Some years later, after his accession to the throne King Edward rewarded the service by way of a seat in the House of Lords and the title of Baron Stokeman.
Unfortunately, the accession meant that Queen Alexandra decided that the presence of the still voluptuous though not so young actress at houses where her husband was staying was not desirable. As a result Clive found he had a wife who was quite enamoured by her status as a Baroness and fully intended to hang onto it. Though in many ways this was a piece of good fortune for Clive, who was, to be honest, not maturing as elegantly as one might have hoped, and was finding it increasingly difficult to entice younger female members of the aristocracy to his bed. Fortunately the Baroness was still a number of years younger than him, and well versed in the arts of pleasing older men. After all she had kept the Prince of Wales entertained for ten years.
Some eight months after the accession of the King and, therefore the termination of his relationship with the Baroness, Robert Dellington was born. King Edward sent a nice christening present for the boy, together with a message indicating that the boy might be better cared for by his elderly grandfather, well away from London and any speculation as to his paternity.
It was a suggestion which both the Baron and Baroness were equally in agreement with, so young Robert, together with his nurse, were bundled off on the ten-forty-five to Manchester. They departed the train at Macclesfield from whence a pony and trap took them to Dellington Hall.
The Honourable Robert Dellington was a delightful child who was doted on by his aging grandfather Phillip, who was no longer served by Thomas. Sir Phillip had been devastated by the death of his servant, far more than by the death of Lady Margaret, who had not long survived the departure of Rose.
In all honesty Sir Phillip may well have gone the same way as Lady Margaret, for after Thomas's death he had sunk into a deep melancholy which nothing seemed to raise him from. The staff of Dellington Hall had almost been in despair for the wellbeing of their master, and their employment. Baron Clive had made his views on the Hall clear on one of his occasional visits. He had no intention of maintaining such a large and expensive property stuck out in the back of beyond.
However, the presence of the child in the Hall brought a new life both to the Hall and to Sir Phillip, who proceeded to survive his son Clive by three months, two days and sixteen hours having reached the age of one hundred and two.
Of course everything had not been plain sailing after Robert arrived at Dellington Hall. For the start there had been the problems of the Baron and Baroness's style of living. It was, to put it mildly, somewhat extravagant. As Lord Clive pointed out one had to live in a style appropriate to one's social status. For the Baron and Baroness, this meant hosting frequent dinners, balls and other events at which the great and the good could be expected to be in attendance. It also required a country property, where his Majesty could be entertained whilst he was slaughtering the wildlife.
As the Baron informed his father, Dellington Hall was totally unsuitable for this purpose. For a start, it was bloody inconvenient to get to, stuck as it was in the back of beyond. Secondly, it did not have sufficient wildlife of the right kind to be slaughtered. This being the case, based on his expected inheritance, the Baron took out a rather large bank loan to purchase a conveniently located grouse moor in Yorkshire.
The purchase having been made at a time when Sir Phillip was still in a state of melancholy following the loss of Thomas, and young Robert had not reached the point of development where his inquisitive mind would brighten his grandfather's life, had seemed eminently reasonable at the time. Unfortunately for the bank involved and the Baron, the presence of young Robert seemed to have an amazing effect in reviving the wellbeing of Sir Phillip. Upon the death of Lord Clive, the bank in question found that he had very few assets and that the value of Yorkshire grouse moors had suddenly diminished, a side effect of the Wall Street Crash.
Of course the Baroness had urged Sir Phillip to settle the debts of Lord Clive for the good name of the family. A request which resulted in a response from the centenarian asking as to what good name she was referring, given that he was a queer and she was a whore.
Fortunately, for the Baroness, the Married Women's Property Act of 1882 meant that her jewels were not part of her husband's estate. As such she was well within her rights to take them with her when she left the London house to take up residence at an Italian villa, with one of her footmen. The sale of a particular necklace, a gift from the late King, more than adequately provided for the purchase of the property.
One cannot say that the death of his father had much of an effect on Robert, who was busy studying at Oxford at the time. In fact he did not immediately find out about it, having been distracted from picking up his mail by an interesting article in Nature on The Effect of Direct Current on the Frequency of Sonometer Wire. It was not until one of the college porters addressed him as mi lord, that he realised that the event had taken place.
Robert did think for a moment that the college porter might have been mistaken, but on consideration he realised that the chap was an Oxford college porter. The chances of him making such an error were less than the maître d’ at the Savoy Grill, confusing an Earl with a Duke. It could happen in theory, but, on the basis of probability, would probably not.
Upon checking the volume of mail that was awaiting him unread, he found the telegram from the Baroness, informing him of the change in his status. It also asked that he intercede with his grandfather for some funds. Robert having grown up in the comparatively fugal environs of Dellington Hall and Uppingham School (Sir Phillip had learnt from his mistake in sending Clive to Harrow), was not inclined to pass on the request.
Lord Robert, as he now was, returned to Dellington Hall for Christmas and was somewhat surprised to find his mother there. Over the Christmas table, much to her annoyance, Sir Phillip and Lord Robert spent their time discussing the work of Mr Chapman and the ozone-oxygen cycle. Eventually, after they had been interrupted in their discussion a number of times by irrelevant observations from the Baroness, Lord Robert agreed with Sir Phillip on some provision being made for his mother, conditional upon her residing in Italy. With this in mind, Sir Phillip was kind enough to endow her with a small pension, as the mother of his heir, for her to live on. The pension being provided on the understanding that she stayed, with her footman, in Italy.
It must be admitted that the Dowager Baroness found Italy particularly agreeable, once she got there and was comforted about her new social situation by her footman who was now her major-domo. It was even more agreeable when she became the mistress of El Duce. There was something about the strongman of Italy she found most appealing. He was also able to supply here with more jewels.
Although not particularly put out by the death of his father, Lord Robert was most upset when just over three months later his grandfather died suddenly. Indeed if it had not been for George, a college servant who had looked after Lord Robert's set in college, the young man would have been totally inconsolable. However, seeing the distress that the news had brought to his lordship, George had remained in his room that night, as he did for many nights after.
Eighteen months later, having obtained a rather good degree from Oxford, Lord Robert established himself in residence at Dellington Hall. He was, of course, accompanied by George, who had now been elevated from college servant to research assistant. Fortunately, the investment policy of the Dellington family over the years had been to invest in manufacturing and infrastructure, rather than banks and finance, had left the family with a good income stream. Therefore Lord Robert had no necessity of seeking gainful employment, or doing anything else which needed him to generate wealth. He was able to spend his time in what was going to become known as blue skies research. Two fields particularly interested him. The first was fluid dynamics, especially airflow over fast moving objects. His other area of interest was the work of Robert H. Goddard, with whom he was in frequent correspondence.
Lord Robert's correspondence with Robert Goddard eventually resulted in Lord Robert, with George, visiting the United States of America. It was during this visit that Lord Robert was introduced to Millicent Amy Ferriberg and her eighteen month old son Colin. Mrs Ferriberg was the widow of the aviation pioneer John Ferriberg, and a woman who had a strong understanding of the principles of flight in her own right.
So good was her understanding that she was, some years later, heard to announce that if her late husband had been aware of Lord Robert's work on airflow over fast moving objects, then she would not have been a widow upon her meeting with Lord Robert. As she stated, that would have been unfortunate, for it would have prevented the arrangement that she and Lord Robert came to.
You see, Lord Robert badly needed somebody to run his household. The management of Dellington Hall was taking him away from his books, his research and above all his George. The widow Ferriberg was one of those women who got little or no enjoyment from the provision of those services which many men expect from women, especially their wives.
Once the widow Ferriberg became aware of Lord Robert's relationship with George, and Lord Robert became aware of the widow's disinterest in certain activities, they both agreed that the other would be an ideal partner. Therefore, in the autumn of 1933 at the British Embassy in Washington, Millicent Amy Ferriberg became Lady Millicent. Shortly after their arrival at Liverpool in December 1933, Colin Ferriberg was adopted by Lord Robert, thus assuring the continuance of Dellington estate. The title, however, became extinct, due to the fact that Colin was not a descendent by the blood.
In the years that followed, Lady Millicent enjoyed herself running an efficient household, and took an active part in local society. Not that there was that much society in that part of the country. However, the Women's Institute used the grounds of the Hall for their annual gala and the agricultural society made use of the Great Meadow for the annual farm stock show.
When not investigating the properties of air moving over surfaces at high speed, Lord Robert, inevitably accompanied by George, would spend long hours walking the grounds of the Hall, especially the woods. Even though their relationship was understood in the Hall, they shied away from public displays of affection within its walls, unless they were in the privacy of Lord Robert's room. However, outside in the woods they felt freer and would often walk hand in hand.
They also spent many hours out on the lawn, teaching young Colin the finer points of cricket, much to the annoyance of Lady Millicent, who had to deal with the repercussions of broken windows nearly every week during the summer as her husband showed her son how to hit a six.
With the outbreak of the Second World War Dellington Hall was exempted from being commandeered by one of the armed forces. Much though they would have liked to get their hands on it. Lord Robert's work on fluid dynamics and airflow around high speed objects, took on an importance that they had not had in the past.
Such an importance that his work room became a state secret, guarded by a platoon of soldiers, who thanked whatever god they believed in for such a cushy billet. They each had their own room up in what had been the servants' quarters below the roof. More importantly they were well fed, the Hall having its own walled kitchen garden. Although the call up of fit young men caused a shortage of gardening staff, the soldiers were more than happy to assist in the walled kitchen garden, given the benefit they got from it. Each and every one of them would go home on leave with a parcel of veg and often half a dozen eggs.
However the most enjoyable thing for the solders was the fact that in Lady Millicent they found somebody who could put the fear of god into their Sargent.
All that, of course, had been a long time ago, more than sixty years. Lady Millicent had lived long enough to see men walk on the moon, in part thanks to the work of her husband. She had also seen her son become a Member of Parliament during the Liberal revival although he had not held his seat for very long.
The old man in the chair in the library smiled as he remembered that. He had taken Colin into the Palace of Westminster many times as his guest, but the boy had got there in his own right in the end, even though he was unable to inherit the title. There would be another Dellington in the Upper House as Colin did get appointed a life peer.
Remembrances of times past was all that was left to the old man these days. He had been born in 1901; that was over a hundred years ago. As he looked out of the window he saw Colin's grandson Dean, walking in the woods with his friend from college. Lee, that was the lad's name. He had been Dean's friend from when he started at Uppingham School. The child of a single mother, Lee was a scholarship boy. Over the years it had become Dean's practice to invite Lee to the Hall during the holidays, knowing how difficult things could be for him at home. Now they were both at Oxford, in the same college, the practice continued.
The old man remembered watching Colin teaching Dean how to hit a six, much the same as he had taught Colin, with similar results. Though of course there had been no Lady Millicent to shout at them for breaking a window. It had been Mary, Colin's daughter-in-law, who had taken over the running of the Hall. Colin's wife, June, had never got interested in such an activity, preferring to spend her time in London, though they no longer had a London house. That had gone on the 6th of December 1944 when a V2 rocket had landed on Duke Street. In the long run that may have been for the best.
Circumstances in the intervening period since the war had resulted in a serious reduction in the family’s wealth . Now they had to open the Hall's grounds to visitors every day during the summer and they opened the house itself most weekends. Mary of course would be manning the ticket booth. A good weekend could bring in nearly ten thousand pounds, though it would cost nearly that to keep the house running for a week.
A darkening of the sky suggested rain to the old man. He looked across at the woods, and sure enough it must have started to rain. Dean and Lee were dashing across the lawn making their way towards the house. The old man thought it was a pity that the rain had started so early. He knew that Mary had been looking for her son, to get him to sort out clothes for donation to the Women's Institute jumble sale.
That she had found Dean was confirmed some ten minutes later when a somewhat damp Lee came into the library. He went over to the table where the current editions of magazines and papers were laid out. Picking up a copy of New Scientist, Lee came and took the other chair by the window, where he could read it by the last of the failing daylight.
The old man gave him a couple of minutes to settle down and scan through the magazine.
"Anything interesting?" the old man asked.
"Oh, sorry sir, I did not know there was anyone in here, I thought everybody was down in the kitchen sorting clothes for the jumble sale."
"I suppose everybody important is," the old man replied. "You're at Oxford with Dean aren't you?"
"Yes sir, we're in the same college and sharing rooms."
"They were called sets back in my day. What are you reading?"
"I'm reading computing and mathematics," Lee replied.
"What is Dean reading?" the old man asked.
"A complimentary subject," the old man observed.
"Yes, we hope we will be able to start a business together when we have finished."
There was a pause, the old man thought about the question he was thinking of asking. Should he ask it? After a moment he decided he would.
"Have you told Dean that you love him?"
"Don't deny it, I could see how the pair of you were behaving when you were walking along the edge of the wood."
"You could see us? I thought it wasn't visible from the house," Lee replied.
"I believe this is the only window you can see the woods from and even here you have to lean into the bay and look out to the side.
"You haven't answered my question. Have you told him?"
"No," Lee replied.
"The do so. Do it the first opportunity that you have, for he needs to know."
"He's on his way up, you can do it when he gets here."
"Is he? How did you know?"
"At my age you get to know these things."
The door to the library opened and Dean stepped into the room. "Lee are you up here?"
"Yes Dean, I'm by the window." Lee got up from the chair and moved back towards the other end of the library, where the door from the stairs was.
"Good, I’ve escaped mother."
"That was quick, how did you manage it?"
"It was all my old school stuff, so I told her to take the lot for the jumble sale."
Now standing next to Dean, Lee laughed, then paused. "I love you."
"I wasn't going to wear … You said…"
"I said I love you."
Dean stood silent, looking at Lee. He then reached out and took Lee's hands. "I love you too, Lee. I always have, from the first day at Uppingham."
The two young men leaned forward, their lips meeting in a gentle kiss.
"Why now?" Dean asked. "Why are you telling me now?"
"Because the old man said I should."
"What old man?"
"The old man in the chair. He saw us walking by the wood," Lee stated pointing to the chair by the window. As he did so he became aware that the chair was empty. "Where's he gone?"
"Who was he?" Dean inquired. He turned back to the door and flicked a switch to banish the dusk pervading the room.
"Him," Lee replied, pointing to the portrait that hung over the fire.
"Lee, that's Lord Robert. He was killed on the 6th of December 1944 when a V2 rocket hit our London house."
This story was inspired by a photograph I saw taken of a supposedly haunted library in a country house. I would like to thank Pedro and Tom for the help they have given in knocking it into shape.