Art and Culture

The Willows. A House of Sorrow

Shabana Chowdhury Ahmed, Belguim 

Our world is not only full of magic and mysteries but also full of superstitions and fear! Throughout the centuries people believed in evil spirits and fairies. In ancient cultures and religions the belief of bad spirits existed and was attached to objects or houses, where tragedy occurred. Even today in the modern age superstition and fear of evil spirits still exist. In Physics negative energy is a concept used to explain the nature of certain fields like gravitational field and various quantum field effects. 

Elizabethan Era was called The Golden Age. It was also The Enlightened Age. Yet superstition and fear of evil spirits, ghosts and witches existed among the population. The story teller tells her tale set in Elizabethan England. 

‘The Willows’ in Suffolk England was the country residence of Lord Burns. He was a very rich nobleman, who owned vast cultivation lands. He also had a town house in London. He had a wife, a son and a daughter. His eighteen years old son was called Cole and his lovely daughter, who was fifteen, was named Rose. In the Spring and Summer the family resided in their country home The Willows and as Autumn began they moved back to London for the winter. 

In the following Spring the Burns family moved back to The Willows. They spent time having parties and picnics. Every Friday friends and relatives came from London to stay at The Willows and return on Mondays. The household staff came from the village of Suffolk. Lord Burns was a kind hearted gentleman, who took care of those, who were working for him. Cole was the opposite of his father. Being a nobleman’s son he acquired bad habits like gambling, drinking excessive alcohol and keeping company of prostitutes. He invited his unsavoury friends to spend the weekends with him in his father’s county home. Rose on the other hand loved spending time in the garden and along the river. 

The head butler was the most trusted servant in The Willows. Lord and Lady Burns left all the arrangements in the capable hands of their head butler. He made sure that the women staff were older and married. He avoided bringing young girls to work at The Willows. He had a wife and a beautiful daughter named Fern who was fourteen years of age. Unfortunately she was born deaf. He would visit his family from time to time.  

The guests from London began to arrive at The Willows for the weekend. They were taken to their rooms by the maids. The kitchen staff was extremely busy. The ball began and Lord Burns announced the engagement of Rose to his friend’s son James, who was an architect recently returned from America. The young couple exchanged rings. Dinner was served. Meanwhile Cole was in his bedroom drinking wine with his three friends. They finished a few bottles of wine. As the guests were having dinner a maid informed the head butler that Master Cole wanted some more wine in his room. The keys to the wine cellar always remained with the head butler, so he went to fetch more bottles of wine. A knock on the kitchen door was opened by the cook’s assistant. She saw the daughter of the head butler standing there with tears running down her cheeks. The cook’s assistant asked a maid to take the girl to her father. The maid had seen the head butler go up the stairs from the servants staircase. She took the head butler’s daughter up the stairs and told her to walk down the corridor and knock on the last door where her father would be with Master Cole. As Fern walked down the corridor her father left Master Cole’s room and took the main staircase down instead of the servant’s staircase thus missed seeing his daughter.

Fern had come to her father as she had found her mother lying in a pool of blood in the house, while she was in the woods picking berries. Fern opened the door and saw Cole and his three drunken friends. Cole pulled her in and locked the door. They threw her on the bed and raped her. She kept on screaming but no sound was heard and she fainted. Fearing his father’s anger Cole decided to hide the unconscious girl in the cellar. They carried her down to the cellar from the servants staircase. Cole knew where the unused cellar was. It was closed with a heavy thick iron door. It was also air tight. The key was hanging near the door. They opened the door and threw Fern into the cellar and locked the door. Cole put the key in his pocket and went to sleep in his room. Next morning he woke up with a high hangover and found everyone leaving for London. He slept all the way to London. Fern gained conscious in the dark smelly cellar. She was gasping for air. Fear and anger consumed her dying mind and body then she lay still. 

The Burns told the head butler to lock The Willows and send the servants home with full pay. He went home and found his wife’s dead body. Fern was nowhere to be found. He soon died of heartbreak. Meanwhile, Mr Burns fell ill. So he insisted that Rose marry James. After the wedding Mr Burns died. Cole inherited his father’s fortune. Rose left for America with her husband. The Willows was falling apart. The villagers avoided going near it for they believed that it was haunted! Some heard screams, others heard melancholy crying. 

Cole was haunted by the face of the girl, who he had locked in the unused cellar. He began to drink excessively and died. 

Rose inherited the family fortune as Cole had no heir. She and James retured to England. She wanted to visit The Willows. As she walked into the decaying house, she felt overwhelming grief. Fungus was sprouting everywhere. James told her, she would have to demolish the whole house and rebuild. As the house was being demolished a workman informed Rose and James that they have found a heavy thick iron door in the cellar. They removed the door and a foul smell came out. A torch was lit and they found a skeleton on the floor. She buried the skeleton in the garden and planted a white rose bush on it. She had all traces of The Willows removed and turned the ground into a beautiful garden for the villagers. Children could play and people could walk in the garden. Rose returned to America. After a year she came back to attend her mother’s funeral in London. Rose wanted to visit the garden she had created. James accompanied her. They walked through the well kept garden as she left funds for it. She walked towards the grave, where she had planted a white rose bush. To her surprise there were Red Roses blooming. She asked the gardener, if he had removed the white roses bush and planted a red roses bush. His reply was NO.  

Somewhere far beyond a melancholy spirit has found every lasting peace.

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