Ye Olde Duke
1884 was the year that my wife, Antoinette, and I first acquired the coaching inn by the name of Ye Olde Duke.
Located on the windswept, planes bordering England and Wales, the inn was sturdy in its design. Built from the local Cotswold stone it had remained relatively untouched for almost a century. Famed for it’s warm atmosphere and impressive inglenook fires, Ye Olde Duke had been the heart and soul of the village for centuries. As well as the folk traveling through, it was also frequented by many of the villagers. The pride of the inn was the enormous portrait of the once, Duke of Gloucester, wearing his regimentals, dignified in his pose with his trusty dog, Ferdinand, standing proudly by his masters side. The duo had watched over the main hallway since the inn was constructed back in the early 1700’s.
Antoinette and I took over the running of the inn in early May of that year, spring has such a wonderful freshness about it, and seemed the perfect time to embark on our new venture. I of course ran the bar and attended to my customers while my wife ran the kitchens, she had always been a proud cook and her warm hearty meals were appreciated by all.
From the day we moved into the property, Antoinette began to complain about an uneasiness she felt whenever alone inside. There was a distinct chill to the air that remained well into the high summer months. She said that shadows seemed to move around her as she walked, and she sometimes felt a whisper of breath on her face as she lay still in her bed.
Often she would pass by the portrait and complain loudly, “Hideous man, why won’t he just stop staring at me?”
I tried to explain to her that the apparent staring was resulted from the angle of the eyes and the artist’s skill with the brush.
“It’s not just that, Henry,” she responded “he sends a shiver down my spine when ever I’m alone in the room with him.”
“Well, he is our house fellow,” I explained, “You will just have to get used to him being there. That painting has been on that wall for nearly two hundred years, we can’t go moving him now.”
“I believe it would benefit from a swift move towards the attic” she crowed with vexation.
“You know we can’t do that my dear. He’s in the deeds, you know there is a covenant to specify that he has to stay mounted on that very wall for as long as this building remains standing.” Antoinette was not satisfied by my argument but she seemed to quieten down about it for a while.
Our first summer passed swiftly, business did not go as well as expected and of course my dear wife could only blame the painting for our personal failings.
“I told you that wretched thing is cursed,” she stated as I leafed through the books trying to make head nor tail of our accounts.
Antoinette remained adamant that the portrait of The Duke was detrimental to trade, so I took out the deeds to check the covenant. Indeed it stated in clear black penmanship that the portrait was to stay mounted above the stairs whilst the building remained standing.
“I see no way around it, my dear,” I stated with resignation. “The law is the law, this inn is close to the hearts of many of the older villagers, they would certainly ensure the law is upheld.”
“But the travelers hate it as much as I do,” she returned. I couldn’t deny that she was right about that.
The months began to flit by and before long the nights were beginning to draw in signifying the beginning of autumn. There had been no improvement to our profits, so we decided to have some alterations carried out on the property, in a hope to improve trade before Christmas came upon us. We had the entire building decorated throughout in a more elegant, modern style hoping to appeal to more travelers as they passed by our doors. Electric lighting was installed throughout the inn at a large expense to myself, but my wife had insisted upon its necessity.
Still The Duke haunted us. It was no longer just my wife who had a problem with his presence, I too felt him whenever I happened to pass by the portrait, his eyes seemed to burn into my flesh and I couldn’t help wondering if Antoinette was right about a curse.
Whilst in bed that evening, my dear wife came up with a most intriguing remedy to our predicament.
“I’ve had a thought, Henry. The Duke could remain mounted on that wall, if we were to build a false wall in front of it, therefore obscuring the wretched thing from view.”
I could see her reasoning; several passing customers had mentioned it’s off putting demeanor and eerie stare and I wondered if indeed it was preventing passing trade. I spoke to the workmen who had been carrying out the renovations and they agreed to place a brick wall directly in front of the old one encapsulating the portrait, which would remain mounted on the specified wall above the grand staircase.
Within a week the work was completed and a new modern painting hung in the very position of The Duke.
Generally the villagers were relieved to be rid of the painting, although some of the older generation saw it as a slur taking The Duke himself out of Ye Olde Duke Inn.
All in all I believe our takings did steadily increase from the day we re-opened. We kept our Duke’s new home to ourselves or should I actually say his continued inhabitation of his existing home.
For the next few months things seemed to settle down and our life in our newly renovated inn became calm. Autumn bled into winter and before long a dusting of snow began to settle on the ground. Christmas fast approached and we planned our own festivities for the locals in the inn. We put a huge Christmas tree in the hallway and adorned all the surfaces with holly and such decorative fauna. Candles illuminated the main bar and Antoinette had prepared all manner of hearty treats for our customers. Christmas eve was the highlight of our merriment. We had nearly fifty guests and all were enjoying the revilement, mulled wine and tankards of ale had been flowing freely when the subject of my guests turned to the portrait. I was unaware that the locals knew of the covenant and I was blissful in my ignorance.
“Tell me Henry, what have you done with the painting of The Duke?” was the beginning of the questioning from Mr Forbes. He was a landowner and had frequented the inn for the past twenty seven years.
“We had to remove it for the renovations” I replied, “It didn’t go with the new modern look we are striving for.”
“I see. But you do realise that this inn is the foundation of our village, and the portrait is the heart of this inn, it was under no circumstances ever to be removed” he added.
“Yes…” added another local “Yes I believe I heard something along those lines when the inn changed hands a couple of decades ago. In fact didn’t Mr Warnly act on behalf of the sellers in that case?”
“Indeed he did,” agreed Mr Forbes with a staunch look engrained on his face. “In fact he is just over there, I’ll ask him” he gestured to an elderly man seated in the corner “Excuse me Mr Warnly, I was wondering if I could ask you a question regarding the history of this very establishment.”
Mr Warnly looked interested “Go on,” his voice was deep and aged, it matched the deep lines that time had etched into his face.
“The portrait of The Duke? Is it not a requisition of the law that it is to remain mounted on that wall there?” he pointed to the new painting that hung merrily in its place.
Mr Warnly looked puzzled for a moment. “Why … is it not still there?” he enquired squinting as he tried to focus on the new painting.
“No, the new landlord, Henry, has had it removed. He said that his wife despised the painting and wished it gone.”
“Is that so Henry? I do believe you need to replace the portrait forthwith as you are evidently breaking the law, and I for one will no longer be able to drink in this establishment in that knowledge.” There was a hum of agreement from the other villagers.
Of course I was stunned at my regular customers opinions on this matter. I tried to explain that the portrait was still mounted within the building preferring not to go into detail for fear of their reaction.
My wife however was not so clandestine in our little secret. It was not long before she readied them in the knowledge of the paintings whereabouts. She saw our little charade as clever and was surprised at everyone else’s shocked reaction. There was an outcry. The alcohol had been flowing all evening and people were not shy in their opinions. All of our guests pushed their way out into the hallway and stared at the new floral painting that graced the newly redecorated hallway with such an airy delight. It stood in the place of their beloved portrait of The Duke. Several of the younger men approached the new painting and together they lifted it off of the wall, tapping on the brickwork to establish that it was indeed a new level. At that moment a very drunk young man stormed up to the wall carrying a sledgehammer. With no hesitation he wielded a blow at the new brickwork. My cries fell on deaf ears as the drunken locals thought this was a brave and admirable idea. At first nothing happened so he tried again and again. Antoinette was, at this point hysterical; her brand new decoration was being utterly destroyed on a whim by these idiotic drunks. At that moment the man broke through the layer of bricks and created a small hole. Some of the others helped him clear away a few bricks but there was no obvious sign of the painting. I was terrified that they wouldn’t believe me, that our hiding place for the picture upheld its legality.
A candle was lit and held to the hole, I expected to see part of the guilt frame shine from within but I could see nothing. Cries of “Liar” were being hurled at my wife and myself. So I actually found myself assisting the demolition of my own property in a desperate attempt to prove my legitimacy.
Several layers of bricks were removed before the full horror became apparent.
There positioned in the recess, propped up against the wall, in the exact pose of The Duke was a blackened, dust webbed, full size man’s skeleton. My wife screamed in horror and fainted before all of the gasping gentlemen. The younger men continued to strip the wall away only to be faced with an additional skeleton of a trusty dog obediently healed by his master’s side.
(All rights reserved 2010 J. Lawrence)