Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, England.
La Parte Une:
George Gordon Byron’s eyes snapped open and he stared at the canopy of his fourposter bed above him, realising he was being rudely awakened. The banging was only somewhat in his head and mainly on his door. Rolling his head he saw and remembered he was not alone and that the door was possibly the only place in the room where banging had not taken place last night. Saturday night, now Sunday morning?
Yes, with Maud… Martha… M…M…M… Marion. The new maid. Making a mental note to make a written note of the names in future, he rose and yanked open his bedroom door to reveal his servant, stocky and dependable.
‘Fletcher! Heavens man d’you want to wake the dead ?!’
‘No, m’lord but something seems to have done and your guests are a bit perplexed. Took the liberty of assembling them with your visitors in the Great Hall.’
Byron regarded his man; a little older than his own twenty-seven years. Together they’d seen it all and anything that spooked Fletcher was seriously weird.
His guests! It all came back to him, shoving last evening’s shenanigans aside. Wait – the awoken? No, first things first. After another blazing row with Annabella he’d quit London telling the missus he’d be up at Newstead curating his recently formed Live Poets Society until further notice. Then, of course, he’d had to swiftly arrange the actuality of the fabricated excuse that had rolled off his tongue. So he’d rattled off the names to Fletcher to contact and invite. Then they’d headed up country.
Sir Walter Scott and that silly sod Southey had arrived yesterday and Coleridge and Keats were on their way, as were…
Wait – visitors?
Byron threw on some clobber and gently woke Marion with a cup of water sloshed in her face, a slap on her bum and a shrill ‘Off with you please, Maud!’
His lordship found his Great Hall full. He blinked. Sir Walter Scott, a broad and brawny middle-aged gent with cropped iron grey hair was resplendent in gaudy tartan finery and was standing with sulky Southey. He was slightly younger and infinitely more conventionally dressed. So far so good. But the others?
A sergeant of the local militia and some thirty of his red-coated troopers were intermingled with the village people; those men numbered around twenty-five and carried about their persons various hammers, axes, scythes along with a few old firearms. A couple winked at him.
‘Morning m’lord, thank you for accommodating us and Ned Ludd’s lads here.’
‘Luddites?’ said Byron, avoiding more frantic winking, ‘if there’s a plot here, please explain it very, very briefly!’
‘Right-ho m’lord. Well, last night, our militia patrol found Cap’n Swing’s boys framebreaking and we chased ‘em out and squared up to ‘em in the village churchyard. Just as it were all about to crack off, there’s an unholy moaning and groaning from the Pegg Family vault and, well, concisely put m’lord, the long-term and more recently deceased ‘pon my honour, emerged then shuffled, lurched or ran at all of us and tried to eat us. M’lord.’
A murmur of agreement came from the gathered potential combatants. Southey raised an eyebrow and Sir Walter Scott dashed off, fast.
Sergeant Baker continued his report:
‘Lieutenant Pidgeon bravely advanced on one cadaverous assailant, drew his sword and lopped an arm off, but it kept coming and it bit his throat out! At this, the vicar, Reverand Cooper emerged from the church and threw holy water at an emaciated matriarch, but to no avail and he went down too: as her supper.’
At this point one of the troopers stepped forward saluting:
‘Beggin’ your pardon, sirs –‘
‘Private Rhodes, m’lord,’ said Baker.
‘Well it was like this, y’see, sirs. On seeing Lieutenant Pidgeon and the parson all munched up like they woz a Sunday roast, it fair got me dander up an’ I opened fire at the armless bloke – ‘coz he wasn’t ‘armless, woz he? Anyway I shot through the heart, but he kept on chewing at the Lieutenant. So I put another right in ‘is noggin and down ‘e went like a ninepin! Tried it on another one – same! Seems like these folks what’s returning from their not so final rest go back to it thataways.’
Byron nodded his thanks to the young trooper and said:
‘It’s a grave situation, right enough. The officer and the clergy gone…’
The old sweat interrupted:
‘That ain’t the half of it sir! During the ensuing melée, some of the Luddites got brought down - we were fighting back to back, but what with the darkness and the confusion, well…’
Southey piped up:
‘Brevity please, man!’
You can talk, thought Byron, but listened as the militiaman concluded his tale of terror.
Byron took a deep breath and addressed Southey, the returned Sir Walter Scott, and his staff:
‘So, the dead are rising and are after the flesh of the living to feast on, and they can only be despatched by a shot to the head…’
‘Or a right good skull-crackin’ whack on the nut with a mallet or some such cudgel m’lord!’ interjected one of the framebreakers, brandishing a large hammer encrusted with brains, to evidence his point.
To Be Continued...
You can read more of Greg's hilariously fantastic tale of the romantic poets fighting the undead at Newstead Abbey with a visit to the blog of Christy Fearn...
Christy Fearn is a novelist. Her debut novel 'Framed' was published by Open Books in March 2013. Christy lives and works in Nottingham.
She is a self-confessed 'Byron nut' and has a tattoo of Lord Byron on her arm.
Thank you Christy for permission to share this swashbuckling tale of ghouls and derring do, and a HUGE 'thank you' to Greg for writing it!