Dance Macabre

Henrietta returned home by way of the old graveyard. The villagers could raise their eyebrows all they wanted at her choice of a shortcut, call it “morbid”, “perverse” even, but it was her favourite. She liked the old, moss-covered tombstones, the engravings of those gone almost a century ago. The new graveyard, on the other side of the church, couldn’t compete with charm of the old one, with its ancient beeches and oaks and the silence that settled over it, the silence so very specific to itself. The dead couldn’t hurt you anymore, unlike the living.

The villagers thought Henrietta a strange girl, with strange ideas. It suited her well, she was left alone to her books and her lone walks in nature and her daydreams. The few friends she had lived in the city.

The city was where she was coming back from, walking from the train station through the old graveyard. She was, as has become the case with her of late, immersed in a different world, a world of fancies. All her current daydreams revolved around the same vision: she was dancing, not to any rhythm but out of joy, her mind was free of worries, she twirled—and he was there. The one with dark eyes. She didn’t know who he was. He stretched his hand towards her and they danced together till the end of the days. She was smiling to herself, imagining he would have a deep voice. And be dressed in all black.

Henrietta’s mother might have worried about her daughter—had she been alive. But she wasn’t, she withered away in early spring, worn out by life marked by bad choices. There was nobody else left to worry about Henrietta. But there were plenty to call her strange and weird.

Yet, she was not so lost in her imaginary worlds that she didn’t see the beauty of the real one. The first leaves were turning, soon the world would bask in the golden glory of autumn. She was opening the small wrought iron gate, when a feeling seized her, a feeling of not being alone. She looked around the graveyard. A dark shapeless figure was walking by the church. It rounded the corner and disappeared from her view. The vicar or the curate? Henrietta didn’t go to church but she was sure neither of them ever wore a long black cloak. She shrugged, passed the gate and closed it behind her. Her eyes might have tricked her. But her pace gathered speed as she headed home.

Home, of sorts. She lived at Ferndene, because one had to live somewhere, and because her mother had married its owner. Mr John Rossiter, who came from the long line of Rossiters, a distinguished family, who owned this piece of land for centuries. By all accounts he had been a catch, and many had wondered how a middle class widow with a daughter had done it. A whirlwind romance, they called it. So whirlwind that teenage Henrietta had had little time to say goodbye to her modest childhood home before their move to this imposing mansion. Shortly after, her half-sister Susie was born.

Henrietta preferred getting in by the side entrance; the main one thought itself too serious. She hoped to get to her room unobserved, but alas, right at the foot of the stairs stood Jack, blocking her way. “Hi Henny! Had a nice date in town, eh?” He smirked.

She shoved him aside. “None of your business.”

He called after her but Henrietta, ignoring him, climbed the stairs and went to her room. Jack was her stepbrother. He had returned home to Ferndene six weeks ago to, in his own words, cheer up his grieving father. Henrietta rolled her eyes. As if she didn’t know the truth. He had to be bailed out again. For all her daydreaming, she was more than enough aware of what was going on.

“Dinner’s ready!” yelled a little voice outside her door. The handle turned but the door stayed shut. Henrietta took to bolting it ever since Jack’s return.

“I ate in town,” Henrietta answered.

Her little half-sister yelled some more, but Henrietta tuned her out. She thought of the conversation she had with her friend Marie in the restaurant in the city. They discussed Jack. “For him to move back home,” Henrietta said. “Are even his cronies fed up with him?”

“I think it might be something else,” Marie suggested. Henrietta looked up at her from her plate. “What’s on your mind?”

“He wants to marry you.”

Henrietta put the fork down. How had she not thought of it herself?

In six months’ time, Henrietta would turn twenty-one and finally be able to get her hands on her father’s legacy. She had suspected for some time that the Rossiters’ fortune was dwindling. Bad investments, taxes, mother’s illness, step-grandmother’s illness, add to it the prodigal son’s shenanigans…

The legacy was not that large, but Jack had no hope of a better match. He had to take what he could. And Henrietta was always the dependable one, the quiet one, the never-making-a-fuss one, the take-the-side-door-to-Ferndene one. The one to run and hide from the master of the house’s violent outbursts.

Henrietta went to the window. Dusk was falling. Jack’s advances would not prevent her from carrying out her plan, she determined. She had everything worked out. A room to rent in the city, a position at Marie’s fiancé’s estate agency. With a steady salary and income from her father’s estate, she should be able to get a decent apartment within a year and live independently. She was already contributing articles to the city’s Observer, if she worked hard on it, one day she might even get a permanent employment at the paper. Say goodbye to Ferndene forever.

From her window she had a good view of their next door neighbour’s cottage. Mrs Wellard, the next door neighbour, had bought the cottage only a couple of months ago. She was a very old lady, but she also looked, with her white hair and sky blue yes, like a good old lady from stories, who helped the unfortunate. A fairy godmother. A fortnight ago, Henrietta, seeing the old lady struggling with shopping bags and parcels on the street, offered to help. Mrs Wellard was most thankful. “Do you have anyone?” Henrietta asked. “Children, grandchildren, nephews or nieces?”

The old lady replied that she had a nephew, but he was very busy with his work. I bet he is, Henrietta thought. From then on, she dropped in on Mrs Wellard and ran small errands for her, with the inhabitants of Ferndene being none the wiser. She wished Mrs Wellard had been her step-grandmother instead of Suzanna Rossiter.

A figure walked out of Mrs Wellard’s cottage. The busy nephew found time to see his aunt, after all? But no, it was the vicar. Then Henrietta remembered she heard Suzanna say that the curate was away, visiting his ill father. The black-cloaked figure in the graveyard couldn’t have been either of the clergymen.

Henrietta abandoned the window, threw herself on her bed and surrendered to her daydreams. This time, her dark-eyed hero wore a long black cloak…

“Is everything alright, dear?” asked Mrs Wellard the next day. “You look like something is weighing on your mind.”

Henrietta sighed. “Got an earful from the old hag about going to the city to see a play. I’m to write a review for the Observer.”

“And pray what is mighty Suzanna’s objection to that?”

“Who knows anymore? The fact that it’s in the city, the fact that it’s something I want to do, the fact that it’s a play… she has a problem with everything.”

“What is the play?”

Salome by Oscar Wilde.”

The old lady chuckled. “Oh yes, that’s a fun one.”

Henrietta smiled. The wicked step-(grand)mother versus the fairy godmother indeed. “You know, I have such wicked thoughts. Every time we sit down to eat, I wish she choked on her food and died. I’m a bad person, what can I say.”

Mrs Wellard had a strange smile on her face. “And how do you deal with these wicked thoughts?”

“I write them out. I have a journal. Sometimes I go to the old graveyard and write there. You know people here think I’m crazy for favouring that place?”

“Do they think you dance with the dead?”

“Dance with the—no. At least… I’m not sure if they do. I’ve never heard of anyone dancing with the dead. I mean, I know you can’t really dance with the dead but—“

Mrs Wellard laughed out loud. “I see this tale has not reached this part of world.” She leaned forward. “In winter, when the nights are long and the moon is full, the dead rise from their graves and dance around the graveyard.”

“Do they dance to music?”

Mrs Wellard nodded. “It’s a divine one. It plays on its own.”

“Interesting.”

Later that day, Henrietta went to the graveyard with her notepad and pen and wrote a short piece on the dance of the dead. She even doodled a bunch of skeletons dancing among the graves. For the first time since her mother’s death, something brought her a genuine joy.

The day after the Salome performance, the family at Ferndene were sitting at their dinner table, when Suzanna Rossiter choked on her food and died. Coronary thrombosis, the doctor concluded.

Henrietta went shopping to the main square, it was a market day. The villagers kept stopping her to offer their condolences. She understood why they did so, but wished they didn’t. She contemplated getting the next train out to the city, shopping be damned.

Then she saw him. Not the whole of him, just the eyes. The dark eyes. They looked at her, locked in gaze, and disappeared in the next aisle. She couldn’t tell what the rest of his face looked like, let alone his whole figure, but she had a vague vision of a black hood over his head. Afterwards she had moments when she doubted it was real, but the intense feeling of those dark eyes looking into hers stayed with her.

After Suzanna’s funeral, she started avoiding her family. She kept to her room, eating her meals by herself. She ignored every single one of Jack’s daily knocks on her door. She went to the city as often as she could. The editor of Observer, happy with her review of Salome, was keen to read more from her. She reviewed films, plays. Yet they could not offer her a permanent position.

It got too cold to spend much time in the graveyard. She daydreamed in her room and went to the café to write. At first, she couldn’t face Mrs Wellard again. Then she called herself a coward and paid her a visit. “I’m afraid,” she admitted. “I feel like I brought her death upon her.”

“It was a blood clot, not food that killed her. She just happened to be eating.”

“I know, but still, it went exactly how I said it.”

“Nobody can bring anyone’s death upon anyone, but Death itself.”

“My rational mind knows that, but sometimes…” she sighed. She changed the subject. “Another one of our maids resigned, you know.”

“Because of your stepfather?”

“Probably, at least that’s why they usually go. He shouts at them, calls them names. Although it could be Jack too. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he groped her.”

Soon she found out she was right in this assumption. Rita, the departed maid, got a job as a waitress in the café and confided in Henrietta. “I’m sorry that happened to you,” Henrietta said. “I’m glad you got a new job.”

One morning, Jack was waiting outside her room. “Why are you shunning me? I want us to be friends.”

“Since when?” she asked with amusement. He had never displayed any affection towards her during all the years he had lived away from home. Or before, for that matter.

“We have more in common than you think,” he said.

“How would you know what I think?”

“I know that you think we don’t have much in common. Otherwise you wouldn’t avoid me.”

He got her there.

He followed her downstairs to the kitchen. “We have both lost a mother,” he said. That was true. “And,” he drew closer to her as she was pouring herself coffee, “I, too, hated old Suzanna.”

”What makes you think I hated her?”

He grinned. “Please.”

“She was your grandmother,” Henrietta reminded him.

“So? She was still a hateful hag.”

That was true too.

She took her cup of coffee and sat down to a plate of toast and boiled eggs. Jack took a seat opposite her. “Are you going to see another show in the city?”

“Maybe,” she answered cautiously. “What’s it to you?”

“See this is what I mean, why are you so hostile to me?”

She looked at him. His hurt appeared sincere. “Why do you care if I go to see a show in the city?”

“Well, you know, I was thinking that maybe I could go with you.”

“I only get one ticket.”

“I can buy my own.”

“Are you interested in the theatre?”

“A bit. I prefer films. Why don’t you come to the cinema with me someday? We can get something to eat afterwards.”

If I say yes, will you leave me alone? But if she said yes, she’d have to go with him. She decided on the non-committal “I’ll think about it.”

“Right.” He tapped his fingers on the table top. “Don’t think too hard.” He stood up, winked at her and exited the kitchen.

“He’s actually quite handsome,” she told Mrs Wellard. “And, obviously, incredibly charming.”

“Yes, I have seen him around. So you have a date then?”

“I didn’t promise anything.”

“Do you want to go?”

“Not really. But I’m afraid he’ll keep pestering me.”

“Ah, but you’ll have to decide one day. Sitting on the fence is not comfortable.”

“No, I suppose it isn’t. I could consent and ask my friend and her fiancé to join us.” That would be bearable.

Mrs Wellard said her nephew had come to see her the day before. She didn’t say how they had spent their time together and Henrietta, for reasons unfathomable to her, was unable to ask anything about him. Mrs Wellard had no photographs of him, or any other relatives or friends, or herself for that matter. Henrietta knew only the nephew’s name: Tristan.

Tristan, she liked that name. Though it sounded a bit like sadness, she liked it. Maybe she liked it because it sounded like sadness.

One October evening, she took a walk alongside the canal. The setting sun reflected in the water. She stopped to admire this beautiful sight.

“So, here you are, Miss Too-Good-For-Me, eh?”

She gave a start. Jack was standing next to her, scowl on his face.

“What are you talking about?”

“You don’t wanna go out with me. You don’t like any of us. You never did. And what are you, really, what were you when my father married your mother?”

“You’re drunk.”

“So what if I am? What will you do, eh?”

She turned to go.

“Where’re you going?” He grabbed her arm.

“Let go off me!”

“What if I won’t? What arya gonna do, missy?”

She tried to free herself, but he was too strong for her. “Let me go.” His grasp tightened. “Help!” she shouted.

“You think someone’ll come and rescue you?” Jack laughed.

Someone did. “Hey, you there!” a voice called from the road. “Leave her alone!” It was the vicar.

Jack let go of her. He spat into the canal and walked away.

The vicar accompanied Henrietta home. He inquired whether she had anywhere else to live, her mother’s relatives perhaps, but Henrietta said there weren’t any. At least, none that she talked to, but she didn’t tell the vicar that. She thanked him as they parted outside Ferndene’s side door.

She felt shaken for the rest of the night. Unable to sleep, she awaited her step-brother’s return. But he never made it home. Two days later, his body was fished out of the canal.

They buried him in the new graveyard, next to his mother and grandmother. Henrietta pretended no display of grief. Her face remained neutral all throughout the ceremony. Several of the guests lamented the loss of life so young, only weeks before his twenty-seventh birthday, but many had no illusions. “I’m only surprised he didn’t die in a pub brawl,” said the owner of the café.

After the funeral, Henrietta walked on her own past the church to the old graveyard. It was a grey day, but not gloomy, breezy but not cold. She leant against the trunk of her favourite beech tree. Was she supposed to feel guilty? Her stepfather glared at her, if he even acknowledged her these days, finding ways to blame her for his son’s death. But she returned home that day before dark, the vicar confirmed it, and Jack’s drinking buddies were able to establish seeing him alive till at least half past eleven. Coroner’s verdict would most likely be accidental fall into the canal while intoxicated.

Nobody but the vicar knew of Jack’s assault on his stepsister. And he, understanding Henrietta’s silent plea, kept quiet.

Church bells were tolling. Henrietta wondered if the dead would dance tonight, since it was a full moon, and whether Jack would be among them. She looked up into the tree’s branches. Half of the leaves had fallen, the other half following leaf by leaf. She saw him again. The man of the dark eyes. She didn’t remember where and when, but it must have been on the way to the funeral, for the memory was so fresh. She saw the eyes distinctly. They were black. Not dark brown, black. Nobody else seemed to have noticed, at least nobody said anything. Surely in a village like this one, a stranger would be noticed. Was she the only one who saw him? Was she going crazy?

A leaf fell on her head. It was so bronze and beautiful, she kept it and put it between the pages of her journal.

Marie’s fiancé Peter, who ran the estate agency, called and ask if she could start working in December. The woman Henrietta was to replace decided to leave for Australia four months early. “Yes, oh yes!” Henrietta cried into the telephone. She’d have to commute, she hadn’t enough money to rent a place in the city, but that was a small price to pay.

“I might be able to get out of here sooner than I thought,” she confided to Mrs Wellard.

“Yes, I think you will.”

But Henrietta was not destined for the estate agency job. Before the first week of November was out, the village was hit by a flu epidemic and had to go into a quarantine.

To be so close to one’s dream, only for it to be snatched away so cruelly was worse than not being any close to it at all. Nobody was allowed in or out of the village. Peter had to employ someone else. The Observer wasn’t interested in any pieces from Henrietta but the reviews, which she couldn’t write if she couldn’t go to the city to watch the shows. She tried to distract herself by teaching Susie at home, as the school closed. But she found no joy in that activity.

Had her little half-sister always been such a brat? Her screeching wails hurt Henrietta’s ears, and boy, did she screech a lot. At any hint of “no”, she broke into endless “waaaaaaaah!”’s. And she was so rude. “Stupid, you’re stupid, stupid!” she sang at Henrietta.

“Don’t call me stupid, Susie.”

“I will, I will,” she kept singing. “Stupid, Henrietta is stupid.”

Henrietta stood up and went out into the garden. How she wanted to slap that little shit! But she’d never get away with it—it would make things even worse. She’d have to endure.

How long would an epidemic last?

She couldn’t go visit Mrs Wellard again. A lady of that age was more vulnerable to the flu. At least they could still talk. Henrietta would stand at the fence of the cottage, while Mrs Wellard came to the little pantry window. After pouring her heart out, Henrietta added: “I feel guilty. People around us are dying and my problems are so trivial.”

“Nothing is trivial, my dear. Rita from the café is sad that she can’t go dancing anymore.”

“She does like dancing,” Henrietta said with a smile. “How is that nephew of yours?”

How come she asked that?

“He came to see me yesterday, you know.”

“He came? Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Oh no, he didn’t come in, he stood by the fence like you do now.”

Strange that Henrietta didn’t see him. She had spent the afternoon of the previous day at her window, writing.

She returned to the topic of her half-sister. “I just hope I can muster enough patience to get me through this without wringing that kid’s neck.”

Mrs Wellard laughed. “Some children can make you feel so.”

“Do you think it’s wrong of me? She’s my sister… at least we share a mother.”

“We don’t choose our families. A sister can be a best friend as equally as she can be the worst enemy. Take that story about the girl who burned her older sister’s manuscript because she didn’t take her to a party.”

“Oh that.” Henrietta felt rage coming, as she always did at any mention of that story. “And that hateful little brat never gets punished for it, the narrative even rewards her. Where’s the justice?”

“The justice is in writing your own story,” Mrs Wellard replied in a mysterious tone. But Henrietta suddenly remembered she left a notepad filled with her ideas on the dining room table. “I need to go check something.”

She raced to the dining room. Susie was sitting at the table, scrawling in Henrietta’s notepad with a pencil. Henrietta snatched it from her. “What’re you doing with my notepad?”

The notepad was opened on the page where she’d doodled a bunch of skeletons dancing in a graveyard. Susie scrawled Henrietta is stupid all over the drawing and drew moustaches on some of the skeletons.

Henrietta lightly tapped the kid’s hand with the notepad and said: “Ask your daddy to teach you. I’m done with you.”

But nobody taught Susie anything ever again. Within a week, she succumbed to the flu.

Nobody else at Ferndene got ill. Henrietta, John Rossiter, and the maid were healthy, symptom-less.

“Who did she get it from?!” John Rossiter roared all over the house. “Where did she get it?!”

The most likely explanation was the she caught it from the boy next door. Susie was in a habit of climbing the fence to play with him in their garden. How she managed it during the quarantine, nobody knew. The boy got seriously ill, but recovered.

Henrietta went out. It was a windy, rainy day but she didn’t care that she’d get wet. She knew that she alone would now face her stepfather’s wrath. She walked to the old graveyard, the only place to be untouched by the epidemic. Majority of the trees were now bare, the leaves dancing in the wind. Dancing. Like the dead. Would old Suzanna, Jack and Susie be among the dancers, come full moon?

She doubted it. Something in her, on some subconscious level knew that the horrible trio would not be dancing to any music in the graveyard. The fact amused her and she gained new strength. She would not be afraid of her stepfather. She turned to go home.

It was almost dark but she saw him clearly. He passed her on the little path that led to Ferndene and to Mrs Wellard’s cottage. He was dressed in all black—long black cloak with a hood over his head and black boots. His face, pale with dark eyes, shone from under the hood. She slowed down. Their eyes met. “Awful weather, isn’t it?” he said cheerfully. She mumbled something in agreement. He smiled at her and continued on his way.

She was real to him. He knew her, as she knew him.

And it was this knowledge that helped her get through the last days of John Rossiter. Every day, her stepfather shouted and raged and broke everything that could be broken. Henrietta had to stash some dishes away in her room so that she’d have something to eat from. But for the first time in her life, she found a certain element of entertainment in her stepfather’s wrath.

“You know it’s actually quite comical,” she said to Mrs Wellard from the fence. “Oscar Wilde would have had fun with him.”

“Sometimes it needs a change of perspective,” Mrs Wellard answered.

“It’s the poor maid I feel sorry for. I’m trying to be a support to her but I don’t know if it’s enough.”

“I’m sure she appreciates that.”

The epidemic eased in time to bring a little of Christmas cheer to the village. Henrietta helped with decorating the tree in the middle of the main square. The lights were lit. “At least we’ll have some Christmas,” said Rita in the reopened café.

Ferndene would see no Christmas. At least the maid would get to spend the holidays with her family. Henrietta expected her to give notice after the New Year.

In fact, she gave it sooner, before her Christmas leave. Henrietta came home from the markets to find her stepfather in such a rage as she had never seen before. He screamed expletives at her, blamed her for all the deaths and the maid’s departure.

“You want to pin the epidemic on me too?” she asked, smiling, but she was afraid.

“You think you got it all worked out?” he said. “You think you wait till you turn twenty-one and get your father’s money? Well let me tell you something, there is nothing left in your father’s estate. It’s all gone, gone!”

“You’re lying,” she whispered.

“Who do you think was the trustee?”

“Mother was.” But she was dead and when she died— “You have spent it all.”

“That’s right, I have, I have spent all your precious money. You have nothing left.”

And he started laughing. It was an ugly, vile laugh. He was an ugly, vile man.

Chill entered Henrietta. She spoke in a calm voice. “Drop dead.”

She turned and left the house.

She walked around aimlessly, along the canal and back, past the pub, the shops. She would find a way, there had to be a way. She could get an office job in the city, or at worst a retail one. Even a shop in the village would be something. They’d need people now, with so many dead.

Her head clearer, she headed back home. She won’t let her stepfather see her upset. She would be calm and collected. Look at me, look at how calm and collected I am.

Mr John Rossiter would not see Henrietta calm and collected, or in any other state again. He had dropped dead. The maid found him on the dining room floor when she came to get her things.

“So that is that,” Henrietta said aloud to the empty house.

John’s nearest relative, a cousin, arrived the next day, together with a solicitor. “Apparently he had a weak heart,” the cousin informed Henrietta, “the doctor cautioned him to take it easy, but… well, losing your whole family, and in such a short time at that, will take a toll on the strongest of us.”

“So much tragedy,” Henrietta sighed, marvelling at how easy it was to play along. “And the money problems too.”

“Ye-es,” the cousin agreed carefully. “An insurance policy will cover the funeral costs. After that–” He left the sentence unfinished. 

The cousin arranged everything as swiftly as possible, he was only too glad to wash his hands of the affair. One thing was never having got along with John, another the amount of debt the estate was in. 

Had Henrietta known how bad the situation was, she’d have made steps to get out much sooner. Coulda woulda shoulda, at least she knew where she was now.

When she walked down the street, people looked at her with pity. She thought they could stick their pity somewhere, she didn’t need it. She knew where she was now.

The vicar was the only one who offered her any honest help.

“Thank you, but my friend Marie said I can stay with her.” Marie was getting married in the spring, but, hopefully, by then, Henrietta would establish herself. She had registered at every work agency she found in the city.

Mrs Wellard vanished. Her cottage was empty, with no trace left of the old lady.

“I’ve not seen nothing,” said the woman in the cottage next door. “I thought her an odd old bat, living by herself, like a witch.”

Indeed.

Fairy godmothers were supposed to appear when you needed them most, but clearly it wasn’t that way. Well, she’d have to make do herself.

Winter solstice dawned. The morning post brought a few bills; she’d forward these to the solicitor later. They were not for her to deal with.

And there was the note.

Delivered by hand, a thick yellowish ancient paper, folded in half, with her name Henrietta written with an elaborate capital H. Jet black ink, beautiful old fashioned calligraphy. Meet me at midnight, at the old graveyard.

She turned the note over and over, held the paper against the light. I’m a regular Sherlock Holmes, she laughed to herself. She caressed the note in her hands, then placed it between the pages of her journal.

She spent the day throwing out all the personal items of her stepfather, stepbrother and half-sister. Wouldn’t it be funny if Ferndene burned down? But she pushed that notion out of her mind. Fingers would in all likelihood be pointed at her, and she didn’t need an accusation of arson to follow her around. She finished the last remains of food in the house.

There was nothing more to be done. It was too dark to take a walk. She stayed in her room, her safe haven of years. She read and napped and daydreamed, read and napped and daydreamed. The day was drawing to a close.

At five minutes to midnight, she left Ferndene for the graveyard. It wouldn’t take longer than four minutes for her to reach it. It was full moon. Of course, she should have known. Everything made sense now.

The graveyard bathed in the moonlight. He stood in the centre. The figure was familiar to all men, women and children. A long cloak with a hood, a scythe. She entered the graveyard. As she walked towards him, the church bell rang twelve times.

“Henrietta,” said a deep voice. “You’re right on time.”

He pinned the scythe to the ground and threw back his hood. It was him, the dark-eyed hero of her dreams. She knew him as he knew her. “Tristan,” she said.

He laughed. “Pleased to meet you at last. Thanks for looking after my auntie Loretta.”

It occurred to her only now that she had never learned Mrs Wellard’s first name. “Is she alright? I mean, she left so suddenly.”

“She’s well. It’s what she does, you know, goes from place to place. She never stays anywhere long.”

Henrietta nodded. She had, after all, appeared when Henrietta needed her most. Now she was a fairy godmother to another. And after that to another again, and on and on for the rest of the days.

“She’s my favourite aunt,” Tristan said. “I know you’re not supposed to have favourites, but I can’t help it, out of all my aunts I love her the best.”

“Everyone has favourites.”

“Quite so.” He smiled at her.

The graves were opening, the skeletons were emerging. From up above them, divine music started playing.

Tristan stretched a hand towards Henrietta. “Shall we dance?”

*

Ferndene was bought at an auction by an up-and-coming property developer, who converted the formerly imposing mansion into apartments. Marie and Peter got married and ran the estate agency together, until they sold it and retired to Spain. Rita met and married a good man from the city, whom she met at a dance. The vicar continued serving until retirement and lived to the grand old age of ninety-seven. The village, powerless to escape the progress of time, grew and was integrated as the suburb of the city.

But the old graveyard remains the same. And sometimes, on winter nights, when the moon is full, Henrietta and Tristan are still seen dancing among the graves.

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