Below this introduction you'll find a four-page preview of Sara's Ball. Sara's Ball is a first for Raven's Rants in that it's a 30+ page novella. This story is far too long to be displayed in one piece on the site and is available in the form of a downloadable Adobe PDF file.
|Click Here to Download the Full Sara's Ball PDF|
Enjoy the preview!
The English Countryside, 1824
The reigns of the horse rattled and buckled as the driver pulled them tight, bringing the carriage to a stop in front of the main gate. The dust from the dirt road began to seep forward underneath the carriage briefly filling the air with a faint brown haze, which was easily blown away by the soft spring breeze.
"Ah, James," the passenger said sticking his head out the carriage window, "It's good to see you."
James, who was working on the latch of the gate, trying desperately to get it unstuck, dropped his tools and walked over to the carriage, "Why Mr. Windham, isn't this a pleasant surprise?"
"Surprise, hardly," he responded, "I sent a post a week ago, didn't you get it."
"'fraid not sir. The post has been running awfully slow these days. Last month we received a three-week old letter from London. It appears they just don't come out this way too often."
"Oh, it figures I suppose, tell me though, is your master around?"
"Mr. Bently? He's around here somewhere. The last I heard he was going for a stroll in the garden but that was earlier this morning. I've been out here all day trying to fix this bloody latch. I'll go get Melinda though; she'll know where he is. Care to come inside in the meantime?"
"I'd be delighted," said Mr. Windham as he climbed down from the carriage.
Side-by-side, the two men began traversing the large front yard of Bentley manor, walking down a ragged and dilapidated dirt trail that wound it's way around an empty fountain and to the front door of the large two-story home. The home itself was in obvious disrepair, though built with the finest stone in England, it was showing it's age in the form of un-repaired cracks and ramshackle wooden trim. Where there was paint, it was peeling and where there was glass it was either filthy or cracked.
The two men walked swiftly up the main steps and into the hall of the house. As with most houses of it's kind, the main hall was the largest room by far with smaller rooms spinning off of it on both sides and a large stairwell in the back leading to the second floor. The interior of the house was in far better condition than the outside, here the floor was recently waxed, the wood trim on the staircase polished and chandelier in impeccable condition.
So stark was the contrast that Mr. Windham found himself catching his breath as he wandered around the room.
"Excuse me Sir," James said breaking the silence, "I'm going to go fetch Melinda now and have her find Mr. Bently. Is there anything else I can get you?"
"Not right now James, thank you." James turned around and began walking toward one of the doorways toward the back of the room when Mr. Windham called out again, "Wait a minute James, can I ask you a question?"
"How long have you been working with Mr. Bently?"
James idly shuffled his feet while trying to think of an answer, "I don't know, I'd suppose it's been about eight years or so."
Mr. Windham scoffed loudly, "You must have started work for him when you were just a boy then."
James laughed politely, "I was sixteen at the time sir."
"That makes you what then, twenty four? Bah, you don't look a day over 18."
James turned his head away from Mr. Windham, "I'm going to go get my master for you now. It might take a few minutes so make yourself comfortable. If you wish, I'm sure you can take a seat in the study."
"Thank you James," he responded, "But if it's all the same, I'll just wait here. I don't want to be rude to an old friend."
With that James turned around and headed out of the room. Mr. Windham took a seat on an antique velvet-covered couch positioned near the door to the study and waited patiently for someone to return. However, as time slowly dragged on he found himself getting more and more restless and he walked to one of the windows that overlooked the front lawn. He looked on in awe at how the un-manicured grass and overgrown paths compared with the sterile, pristine interior. To him, it was as if inside and outside were two separate worlds, one immaculate, the other in peril.
"It's tragic isn't it?" a voice called to him from the other side of the hall, "This house has been in my family for countless generations and piece-by-piece it's going to ruin. It's all I can do right now to keep the inside habitable."
Startled, Mr. Windham spun around on his heels and saw the figure of a tall man walking toward him. He had short, dark hair that was slicked back and an angular face that, while not unpleasant to look at, seemed awkward and unnatural, especially with the bright blue eyes that sat in the middle of it, ruining his shadowy appearance. He was wearing a dark brown suit buttoned loosely in the middle as if it were too big for his thin, frail frame. The suit itself partially covered a matching vest and tie. His shoes, though nice and polished, showed signs of mud and abuse.
"Mr. Bently," Mr. Windham said with a sigh of relief, "I almost didn't recognize you there. I can't recall the last time I've seen you so dressed up."
"Ah, well, I've been making an effort lately to look my best, it's the only thing one can do in these times," Mr. Bently responded.
"Well, then it's obvious it's been far too long since I've paid you a visit old friend," Mr. Windham said with a smile as he extended his hand for a handshake.
Mr. Bently gripped his hand firmly and shook it eagerly, "Indeed it has, indeed it has. What do you say we make our way to the study so we can get caught up? I'm sure you have much to talk about."
Without a word, the two men began walking across the hall, their footsteps echoing in the empty chamber, as they made their way to the study. There, after shuffling the chairs around so they faced each other, they sat down next to an unlit fireplace.
The study itself was a very comfortable environment for the two men. Though filled to the brim with books, it was large enough that it didn't feel imposing or confining, but still small enough that it wasn't awkward or empty. The dark wood that made up the shelves, furniture and trim contrasted neatly with what little dark red wall was exposed and gave the place a very subdued, relaxed feeling to it.
For his part, Mr. Bently was pouring himself a glass of brandy from the decanter he had on the table. "Would you like something to drink?" he asked Mr. Windham.
"No thank you," he responded.
"Are you certain? I can have James make you some tea if you'd like."
"Thank you, but not right now, I might take some water in a bit though," said Mr. Windham.
"Very well," Mr. Bently began, "So tell me, to what do I owe this pleasure?"
Mr. Windham drew in a deep breath and clinched his hands together in his lap, "Well, I'm here to talk to you about your sister, Sara." he said.
Mr. Bently sighed loudly and hurriedly set his glass down on the table. Slowly, he leaned back in his chair resting his elbow on the armrest and his chin against his hand, "I see, what of her?"
"You see," Mr. Windham said with a sigh, "These are tough times for people like us. I for one have had to close off two wings of my manor and let go of nearly half my servants. I'm afraid that it's just impossible for me and my family to take care of her anymore. We don't have the resources to do it any longer."
Mr. Bently tapped his fingers slowly along the edge of the armrest, "I see, so what of the monthly stipend I've been sending you, have you not been getting it?"
"I have received all of your payments fine and on time, but that barely pays for room and board. Your sister's… condition… has progressed to the point that she's irrational, uncooperative and extremely violent. My servants have taken to calling her 'demon woman' and I can't find anyone to care for her that hasn't been scared off in a month or less. She's become an incredible tax on my time and resources and to put it bluntly I simply can't afford to take care of her any longer. I have to bring her back home and soon. I'm sorry."
Mr. Bently sank even deeper into his chair rubbing his eyes with his index and forefinger, "I see, and you think I'm any better off? You saw outside, this place has fallen into horrible disrepair and I don't have the money or the time to fix it. Just the other day I had to fire my cook and as of right now James, Melinda and Mark, the stableman, are it. If anything, I'm worse off than you."
"Listen," said Mr. Windham leaning forward, "I know these are hard times for you too and I know that our families have been friends for generations. I'd be willing to wager our ancestors were toasting one another while Jesus was walking on water, but that doesn't change the fact that these are desperate times and they call for desperate measures. You have no idea how much this pains me but nonetheless my mind is made up."
"I know, I know. You've always been a good friend and our families have always been parallel to one another. Though I'm sorry and I wish it wasn't necessary, I can't blame you," Mr. Bently said flatly, "I just feel sorry for my poor sister."
"Listen, it's not your fault that your sister is mad. Every family tree has a couple of people like her in it; you can't blame yourself for what happened. It happened before you were born for Christ's sake."
Mr. Bently raised his hand and began waiving it in frustration, "Yes, I know. But that doesn't change the fact that we aren't prepared to handle her. All of our rooms lock from the inside and we don't have the materials or the staff to take care of someone with such high needs."
"Ah, I came prepared for that," Mr. Windham said standing up, "Samuel, my driver, has been the one looking after your sister for the past few weeks. He knows better than anyone how to set up a room to contain her and, even better, he was an apprentice locksmith for several years, he can fix your door for you so she can't get out."
"A jack of all trades I see," Mr. Bently said with a scoff and slight smile, "Very well, if we must, we must. Have him and James start work on the upstairs guest bedroom, the one at the opposite end of the hall from the master. As much as I still love her, I can't have her keeping me awake at night. I have too much to worry about as it is."
"I'll go do that immediately," said Mr. Windham as he turned to leave. However, before he could make it two steps, Mr. Bently reached up and grabbed his wrist.
"Tell me something," he said, "Would you think less of me if I told you I feel my sister would be better off dead."
The air quickly left Mr. Windham's lungs and a look of shock came over his face, "Not a bit old friend, I'm just stunned to hear you say that."
"I'm shocked to hear me say it too," Mr. Bently said. "Go, get Samuel and James and have them start work on the room. I'll go find Melinda and tell her what's going on. By the by, when will you be bringing her?"
"In about a week, don't worry though, I'll have my doctor give her heavy sedatives. The trip will be completely safe for everyone."
"Very well then, I guess I shall see you in a week."
"A week it is…"