Sunday, 12 August 2012

104: White Cap

In Victorian times, this beautiful manor house was the home of wealthy stockbroker Horace L Chesterfield and his family. Chesterfield made his money during the railway fever that gripped the country and settled his family in rural Hampshire whilst he continued to work in London.

The first Mrs Chesterfield, Lucinda, bore him six children, five girls Charlotte, Emily, Catherine, Poppy and Elizabeth, and one boy, Charles. Unusually for the time, all six children survived infancy and grew up strong in the country air. Lucinda carried another child, another boy, but both mother and son died during a long and painful labour. The boy was named Lucas and laid out in the nursery wearing a white cotton cap that had been his father's as a baby.

Chesterfield retreated to his London house and left the children in the care of a governess, a Miss Weston, and the housekeeper Mrs Parker. Abandoned by both a mother and a father in such a short time, young Charles became clingy and refused to be parted from Charlotte and Miss Weston.

Some months later Chesterfield returned to the manor accompanied by the second Mrs Chesterfield, Annabel the sister of a business acquaintance. The children were introduced to their new mother and all seemed well for a while. Then Chesterfield returned to London leaving his young wife alone with his family and things began to turn sour.

Annabel knew nothing of children and try as she might, her interests lay in dresses and balls rather than lessons and another woman's babies. Miss Weston despised her, having harboured hopes that she would be the one to comfort Chesterfield and give him more children later. Charlotte and the girls were still grieving for their mother and didn't take well to having a new one delivered by their father. Charles became sickly and screeched loudly whenever left alone with Annabel.

Then Annabel began to complain of seeing things, of her things being moved. Noises followed her down the hallways. Shadows came from nowhere, she said. The worst was a little white cap, left in her bedroom every night. It had streaks of blood inside and the initials HLC embroidered inside. She blamed the children, the maids, even her husband. All claimed no knowledge of these things haunting her and nobody else saw anything.

She took to her bed and refused to come downstairs. Chesterfield came back from London to talk her out of it, but she would not be moved. He began to talk of moving her back to London to recuperate and perhaps taking the whole family too. All the while the white cap still appeared in her room every day. On the day they were due to leave for London, her maid went to wake her, to find Annabel dead in bed, choked to death by something forced into her throat. When it was pulled out, too late to save her, it was the little white cap still streaked with blood.

The police investigated but found no evidence against anyone. Eventually, the house was shut up and the family moved but it was never discovered whether Annabel was murdered or if she killed herself.

Some mornings there is still a small white cap found in her bedroom and very occasionally, a gurgling choking sound comes from Annabel's bedchamber.”

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