Kathryn's Tale

Author: Ian Crampton

There was a sombre mist floating over the parapet of the trench; a stench of death filled the air mixed with cordite fumes and the lingering chlorine from the last gas attack!

Captain Daniel Wellingborough was writing a letter to his beloved fiancée Kathryn on the evening of August 24th 1916. He was quite comfortable, he told her, and well away from the fighting somewhere in France. He was looking forward to their Wedding day, which was planned for Christmas the same year. From Kathryn's last letter he had learnt that all the arrangements were made and their plans were to come to fruition very soon. They were to be married at St. Andrew's Church in Nottingham and the reception was to be held at a small Hotel, called the White House not too distant from the Church. She had even copied out the licence and he noted that she was described as, "Kathryn Isabelle Wilkinson." Spinster of the Parish of St. Andrew's, in the City of Nottingham, daughter of Hedley Hector Wilkinson, Mill Owner, of the same parish.

She was to be married to, Daniel Alexander St. John Wellingborough, bachelor, and son of Brigadier Sir Clement Maurice Arthur Wellingborough, JP also residing in the city of Nottingham.

Both families lived close to one another the Wilkinson's lived on Forest Road and the Brigadier in a large house on Arboretum Street, Nottingham; an area inhabited by well to do industrialists and retired gentry. The Wilkinson family was famous for their lace making, Hedley's father and grandfather had founded the Nottingham mill, and they were the owners of numerous properties in and around the city including the White House Hotel. The Brigadier was retired from the Army having served his country valiantly for many years.

The Captain ended his letter by vowing his undying devotion to the woman who was his only love and swearing to be at the Church on their Wedding day.

Nothing would stop him.

The White House Hotel. Nottingham. 1966

The gates of the small hotel were open that evening in October 1966. The autumn mist rolled in from the tree-lined avenue across the road, blanketing the empty car park.

I was the proud owner of this dilapidated building having been informed by Messrs. Blake, Grimshaw and Smith, Solicitors to the Wellingborough family estate that I was the sole heir to their fortune. This property being all that was left! The deeds were enclosed, as were the keys to the front door!

I noted that there was a light in the upstairs window and felt comfort knowing that I would not have to spend the night alone.

Or so I presumed!

There was a string of lights under the gables which, with the rolling fog, only added to the mystery. I had been informed that the last tenant was a Brigadier Wellingborough, presumably my relative, and that he had died in the City Hospital, Nottingham the previous spring. Apparently the postman had found him collapsed in the driveway, having suffered a heart attack. No one had entered the building since then; the old man had lived as a recluse for some years after buying the property upon the death of a Mr. Hedley Hector Wilkinson

The gravel, what was left of it, crunched against the tyres of my white BMW as I drew to a halt in front of the porch. The door was locked and I took the rusting key from my pocket inserting it into the keyhole after I had swept away the web that had been left by the huge spider that peered at me from the porch roof.

The door groaned under my full weight, it took all of that to push it open, and I entered into what was once the hotel lobby.

The scene appalled me! There was dust and cobwebs everywhere; I made a mental note to sack the cleaning woman the next day! I was to be sadly disappointed, as there was no cleaner, there had been no cleaner for decades. I was to discover the truth later. The story was that the unfortunate woman had resigned after the owner's wife had tried to poison her by serving chicken for lunch that had not been defrosted.

The poor demented wife had finally run off with a hosiery salesman from Leeds who she firmly believed was the only man who could satisfy her obsession for Black 40 denier tights from Tesco! She had returned to the bosom of her family 6 months later having discovered that her lover had been purchasing her favourite hosiery from the nearby branch of Tradex at half the price of the same items from Tesco.

There was a bell on the desk and I picked it up in order to summon the staff, well I picked up the handle, the bell stayed firmly rooted to the desktop. The handle did not last long, that was riddled with woodworm and disintegrated in my hand! I coughed loudly but there was no reply. Hardly surprising, as there was nobody to answer me!

I fetched my luggage from the car and placed it gently on the wooden floor, I had seen the bell handle and was wary of my possessions ending in the cellar.

Treading carefully I made my way across the floor to a door marked "Private" believing that this was the entrance to the office or at least the proprietors living quarters. The handle was difficult to turn and I determined to oil it the very next day, I had been told that WD40 was very good for the job, a friend had recommended it after lubricating an answering machine that had developed a squeak. The squeak was fully cured but the machine never worked again, nevertheless it did cure the squeak!

On entering the room I fumbled on the wall for a switch and, having found it turned on the light. The room was in truth the living room vacated by the previous incumbent, my erstwhile relative, now departed.

There was a table in the middle of the scene of devastation that greeted my eyes; on it was a pile of cuttings from newspapers. These were stacked in rows the furthest being yellowed with age and as I looked from left to right the colour changed gradually until, the more recent were white. I was fascinated at this and glancing at the dates saw that they ranged from January 1966 to April 1966. The last one was dated April 14th 1966. They were all announcements of Weddings from the Nottingham Evening Post. As I looked up I saw a stack of boxes along the far wall all neatly labelled from 1916 to 1965. I did not have to guess what they contained; but why would any one keep such a hoard? There was a mystery here that I would have to find the answer. Tomorrow!

There was an old chaise longue in one corner of the room and I decided to spend the night on it. It was getting on for midnight and I was tired after my drive. I threw my bag onto the table and lay down, fully clothed, to spend a sleepless night listening to the creaking of the old building around me.

There were two reasons for staying dressed, one was that I was cold and there was no bedding to be seen and, two, I was a nervous character, a coward, and the place gave me the creeps! I had visions of the old man coming back to visit me from his grave, if only I knew then what I know now I would have left the place immediately!

During the night I did notice something odd. There was a strange sound amongst the usual creaks and groans of an old house. It appeared that some one was playing an organ, the music was always the same, over and over again in the distance. I searched my memory for the tune for some time but it escaped me. Then I sat up with a start, as I remembered it, the Londonderry Air! Why would anyone want to play that, at this hour? Another mystery, to be solved, tomorrow!

I arose the next day. My mind was full of unexplained enigmas.

I knew nothing of my lost relative. My family had never mentioned him. Perhaps they knew nothing of him. Perhaps he was the black sheep of the clan, hiding some dark secret. What was the answer?

Why did he keep all these cuttings from the local paper?

Who was playing the organ so late at night?

I attempted to draw the curtains in order to let in some daylight but they fell apart in my grasp! The glass was opaque with dust and grime from years of neglect; but there was a semblance of light from the autumn sun and it cast long eerie shadows around the room. There was a small gas ring on a shelf in one corner and I made my way over to it to retrieve the kettle that was sitting on top.

The tap in the sink belched forth a cloud of dust and as I brushed it from my clothes a rush of cold brown water followed, obligingly washing my shirt! The tap top came of in my hand and I had to fetch the grips from my car to stem the flow of water, after washing the kettle out and filling it. A visit to the local Wilkos was (called for to purchase some new tops for the taps. I knew how to fit them as my WD40 friend had demonstrated the technique, drowning me in the process! I lit the gas ring and then set about the room looking for the means of making a hot drink, with no success!

There was a small corner shop nearby and I purchased some coffee, milk, sugar and a newspaper from the proprietress, a surly fat woman, who cast her eye suspiciously over me. She watched me return to the Hotel from the doorstep of the establishment, her arms folded across the wrap around overall that she wore. There was a cigarette dangling from the side of her mouth and one of her slippers sported a multi-coloured pom-pom, the other was devoid of any such decoration! In fact I never saw that evil old witch without that cigarette in her mouth, I think that she was probably born with it there. Her husband was a small mild mannered inoffensive chap who worked as a road sweeper. He, like the rest of her acquaintances, was justifiably terrified of her

The kettle had boiled when I returned and I comforted myself with a hot drink made in a crazed enamel mug, the only drinking utensil available. Obviously the White House Hotel had no restaurant facilities!

Just as I finished my coffee the ringing of a bell startled me. Looking up above the door I noticed that there was a row of coiled metal strips attached to each was a small bell. Above each was a number and the one marked 14 was still vibrating.

I could not believe that there was a guest in this excuse for a workhouse but yet again the bell rang and I foolishly took the decision to investigate.

Carefully climbing the rotten stairs I checked the room numbers and found room 14, or rather I found that it was missing. Number 13 was there as was number 15 but no sign of 14! Strange, to say the least!

I entered the room marked 13 and discovered, nothing! No furniture, no carpets, no curtains, nothing! There was one door set into the wall. I opened it. Nothing just an empty cupboard. There was a switch but as there was no light fitting I left it alone and shut the door quickly. There was a mystery here that needed thinking over. Discretion being the better part of valour I made my way downstairs and lit the gas for another mug of coffee, I also lit a cigarette, I needed something to calm my nerves.

The place was cold and damp and I sat looking at that pile of newspaper cuttings before me. Did the answer lie in them? I asked myself.

I began to examine the newspaper cuttings before me. They were all sorted into date order, the top one being dated April 14th 1966 the day before the old gentleman had died. As I looked at them I noticed that there were lines drawn across the column at the letter "W". Now I did know that the previous owner's name was Willkinson so I deduced that he was looking for an entry by the name of Willkinson. That was fairly obvious and the proof was that as I looked through the piles of cuttings every so often that name was ringed! It was also crossed out. More mysterious by the minute!

There was one other thing that I noticed, the cuttings from November to January were kept separately in small bundles. It was then that I found the clue to the enigma. I went to the box marked 1916 and the first cutting was from the paper dated December 16th the name Willkinson was there; but it was in an announcement for the Wedding of Kathryn Willkinson to a Captain J. Wellingborough. The ceremony was due to take place the following week, Saturday 23rd of December at the Parish Church of St. Andrew's, Mansfield Road, Nottingham. A visit to the Church was next, to check the records; I rang the Minister, the Very Reverend G. T. Pugh and made an appointment for that afternoon.

The autumn sun was strong on my back as I made my way through the trees to the Church and I felt better for the exercise. My friends were always telling me that walking was good for me. In fact I never did subscribe to that opinion but each to their own. One friendly lady did stop me and ask some rather unladylike questions regarding my requirements but I assured her that I was not interested in her services and she walked away muttering something about marriage ruining her trade, whatever that was! She even offered me a discount as it was early and business was poor.

The housekeeper answered the doorbell and I introduced myself. She asked me to follow her to the minister's study where she knocked and opened the door. I was introduced to a tall elderly man wearing an old grey suit and the usual black vest topped by a white stiff, "Dog-Collar." This was the Reverend Pugh. He turned pale when he first saw me then quickly regaining his composure shook my hand warmly. The housekeeper offered to make some tea, which I gladly accepted.

There was a register of marriages on his desk dated 1916 and he opened it at the date that I had requested in my telephone conversation that morning. The certificate was there all completed, marked as void due to the groom being absent.

I asked if he knew of the circumstances but he only said that the hearsay was that the brave Captain had been killed in the Great War and therefore the marriage had been cancelled. This was not very helpful at all. I was disappointed.

I asked if he knew of the old gentleman, the Brigadier, who had owned the White House Hotel until recently and he did say that he had visited the Church on many occasions, mostly to search through the registers.

The Willkinson family had forsaken the Church after the unfortunate happenings in 1916. They had cut themselves off from the world. There only was the Brigadier, the father of the absent groom!

There was some gossip of a secret that they held but it was only a rumour. I asked if he knew anything more but he was reticent to make anything of hearsay.

As I was leaving I had a thought and turning to him said, "Do you know who the person is that plays the organ through the night, I believe that the tune is, "The Londonderry Air?" He turned visibly pale but soon recovered his composure, "No." he replied, "But there is someone whom I think that you should have met. First let me show you something more."

He went to a drawer and took from it a box. From that he took an envelope and from the envelope a dusty old card folder. He handed it to me. In faded writing it announced that it was the order of service for a marriage ceremony. Dated 23rd December 1916 the Bride was to be "Kathryn Isabelle Willkinson." And she was to marry, "Captain Daniel Alexander St. John Wellingborough."

I opened the document and looked inside. After the ceremony the Bridal Procession was to walk down the aisle to the tune named as, "The Londonderry Air."

Or as it is popularly known, "Dannyboy."

I was puzzled, the minister sat down at his desk and motioned me to sit opposite, I obliged without comment.

"Let me tell you the story as I know it." he said.

"One of the parishioners told me this tale when I first took over the Parish Church of St. Andrew's in 1955. Apparently there was a mystery surrounding the Church which concerned the Wellingborough family. During the Great War the only son of Brigadier Wellingborough was to be married to his childhood sweetheart Kathryn Wilkinson. The Wedding was all arranged and the Banns were read, as is the custom. The day arrived and so did the Bride but not the groom. He had been serving on the western front and had arrived in Nottingham the day before the Wedding having obtained leave, or so everyone believed. The Captain had been seen on the eve of the Wedding. The man had spoken to him but the Captain had ignored his greeting walking on as if in a trance. It was if his only purpose was to get home. When he turned the Captain had disappeared into the evening mist that is a feature of the roads around here. Especially around the Forest or as it is popularly known The Goose Fair site.

The Bride, understandably, was inconsolable and swore never to trust another man as long as she lived. She insisted on the Wedding Breakfast being served at the White House Hotel as arranged. The guests thought that she had become deranged and went along with the girl's wishes in order to humour her.

The whole affair was a disaster the food was left untouched and the cake uncut. After a short time all the guests took their leave and the family was left in peace. That was the last that was ever seen of Kathryn. Some say that she was committed to an asylum. Some say that she took her own life. There was even talk of a child being born but that was pure speculation, no record exists of any child or even her death. She simply disappeared. It was as if the poor girl had never existed. All that I do know is that when Hedley Hector Willkinson passed away, Brigadier Wellingborough bought the White House Hotel resided as a recluse and died last April. There were never any guests, the Willkinson family fortune was spent long before this and the Brigadier paid a very small sum for the property.

The strange thing is that on certain nights of the year the organ in this very Church can be heard and the tune is always the same, "Dannyboy".

These are all the facts, as I know them. The gentleman who told me this story asked that I should keep his name a secret. He was not the man who saw the Captain. Nothing has ever been heard of the bride since 1916 and nobody has ever seen who plays the instrument on October 24th and December 23rd every year!

There is one thing more, the bride was a much-accomplished organist but this means nothing now as she has disappeared from the face of the earth. To all intents and purposes she is dead."

I was bewildered. As I made my way back to my new home I decided that the best course of action would be to sell the property as soon as possible. After all what did I know about running an hotel? The place was in a state of disrepair and I had no money to refurbish it.

Yes I would call an estate agent the very next day!

I retired early that night. The couch in the scullery was hard. Springs dug into my body as I tried turning from one position to another, to no avail. Sleep eluded me.

At eleven thirty the bell over the door marked 14 rang. I lay watching it vibrate. There was no room 14; or was there? What was in that cupboard?

I had no intention to investigate until daylight. My craven nature got the better of me. I shut my eyes and covered my ears with my hands.

Leave it 'till morning, I told myself.

Try as I might I could not shut out the sound of the Church organ accompanying a droning soprano voice, "Oh Dannyboy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…"

The voice was that of a woman, not unpleasant, and I removed my hands from my ears to hear her singing. Then I realised that the Reverend Pugh had told me that the music was only heard on two nights during each year. This was neither! Slowly the singing stopped and the voice was heard to sob. Then the single word, "Daniel!" followed by a thunderous silence.

There were no more interruptions that night. I drifted off into a fitful sleep and the next thing that I heard was a blackbird singing outside in the garden. I looked at my watch the time was nine twenty five, the sun was up and as always things did not seem so bad in daylight.

I thought back on my experiences of the night and put them down to an overactive imagination fuelled by the strange tale told by a vicar who should have known better!

Then the bell to room 14 rang! This was too much for me I ran up the stairs and into room 13. The cupboard door was shut and I flung it back, nothing! Nothing but the switch! The switch, of course, the switch! I flicked it down, it was an old one, probably installed before the last war!

There was a groaning creaking sound as if the doors of hell were opening. The back wall slowly drew to one side revealing a door! On the door was a number, the number being 14!

I tried the handle and found it old and rusty to turn, just like everything else in that building; but it gave way to my efforts and I shouldered the door open. The stench from within was nauseating! There was a single rose window set into the far wall that threw a soft light into the gloom. As my eyes scanned the room I saw a table set for a Wedding feast, there was a half eaten cake, once tiered but now leaning at an angle as if at any moment it would finally topple onto the hand outstretched towards it.

The long slim fingers of the bride pointed to the dissolution spread about her! I knew instinctively that this was Kathryn. I had found her at last! As I watched in disbelief her head, which rested on the once white linen cloth, turned towards me; and her lips moved, "Daniel." She said in the voice that I had heard singing during the night, "Daniel, come to me!" The log bony finger crooked and she stood up. She stumbled towards me holding on to the table for support. There was malevolence in her eyes that sent a cold shiver down my spine. I shuddered with fear.

It was then that I saw the knife in her hand, hidden in the folds of the satin bridal gown. The knife meant for the rotting cake on the table, now clearly intended for me. I had taken the place of Daniel. To her I was the man who had deserted her on her Wedding day. I was about to pay for all the bitterness that had smouldered inside this poor woman for the past fifty years!

I stood petrified, rooted to the floor as she drew closer to me. The evil look upon her face changed to a grimace then, as she came within striking distance she smiled, turned the knife and plunged it into her chest!

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