The Bell

Eight sentence snippet(http://www.wewriwa.com/):

“Julia sat a while, admiring the tree with all its mixture of old and new. Mrs Leveton took great pride in her festive decoration, and rightly so.

A dog wandered in through the door and lay down in front of the fire, in a very relaxed, familiar way, and looked at Julia enquiringly. A magnificent animal, long-haired, a black mix between labrador and retriever, with a little bell attached to its collar which chimed gently with every movement.

‘Hello – you must have come with new guests – I’m sure I haven’t seen you before,’ Julia murmured at the dog. The animal continued to gaze at her, then suddenly placed his chin on his front paws, keeping a watchful eye open. The bell chimed again; it sounded familiar and Julia couldn’t help a tiny shiver trickling down her back. How strange to dream of a black dog with a bell before actually seeing it.”

(Complete story below)

 

A short winter’s tale with Julia Warren, to bring in the new year. It was  inspired by … a pet dog’s bell hanging on a Christmas Tree.

Happy New Year  and Happy Haunting !

The Bell

1800, December

Letter to Edith Summers from her cousin Jane Leveton.

“… and such a tree it was, the children said, a great yew in a pot, standing taller than any man in the room, right in the middle of the floor and spreading its branches out as so many arms, each bearing something bright, something pleasing, something to delight – and delighted the children were, too, each coming home afterwards with his or her toy and sweetmeat tightly clasped to breast, cheeks all pink with excitement…little Robert declared it to be the best Christmas party ever… and Emma ate all her sweetmeat at once and was quite unwell most of the night…too much sugar and excitement, I have declared all rich food be kept out of sight for the rest of the week , or at least until their spirits are a little more settled….

‘I had not yet told you about the toys – Robert has marched the little wooden soldier he was given till I am certain I heard the poor thing squeak in protest; such limitless energy the little ones have! – whereas Emma has a doll with a bell attached to it; a shepherdess, I think it is, a charming little thing– the bell is on a stick, with a blue ribbon attached; every time it is shook, it gives off a singularly gentle chime. The child has been carrying it around the house, and now the dog  follows her everywhere: I am certain he does so in order to hear the sound of the little bell again…’

1800, July

Letter to Edith Summers from her cousin Jane Leveton.

‘My dear Edith,

Such a panic there has been since you were last here, I can even now barely set it down without my hand causing my pen to tremble and scratch, and the ink to run and drip most terribly – and this even with the happy outcome. No doubt in years to come we shall look back all together in fond memory of the day Emma went missing – but not at present; I am quite unable to imagine what I might have done or where I might be had things turned out otherwise …

‘You will remember it is Emma’s habit to wander about the garden on sunny days, (still with her doll and its little bell to which she is most attached),and so it happened she slipped away the other day without telling anyone – which she has been told not to do previously, on many occasions, but because we know her usual movements, we have always been able to find her. This time, however we could not find any trace of the naughty thing, and were quite desperate, and called all the servants out to help search the grounds for her. It was now growing near to six of the clock, and she had last been seen a little after lunch.  We had just sent the footman over to Hartley House to enquire if she had stumbled across their land, and I was standing at the gate, watching after him as he went, when up came our dog, straight to where I was, holding in his mouth Emma’s little doll – still with its bell, which gave out that tiny chime…I had no breath left in me, with calling her name and traipsing the garden, and the sight of this  poor little toy in the animal’s mouth made me close to fainting;  Bess and Jacob were nearby, fortunately, or I should have quite fallen. Toby began whining and pawing at my gown, all this time holding the blessed toy in his mouth, and turning his head constantly. Jacob it was who suggested we follow the dog – indeed I needed no persuasion, and we fairly ran after the animal, who led us across the field, through the copse at the bottom, and onto the hill behind – and there, under the old oak , on a slope, we finally discovered  Emma, asleep, her bonnet half off, and her book beside her. Jacob blessed the day with such warmth as if she were his own, picked her up and carried her back. Toby has been rewarded by having the bell tied to his collar on special occasions – and I shall keep the bell in memory of this day…’

*

1926

A discreet tinkling, a sigh, a murmur and everyone paused briefly.

‘Oh well,’ said Mrs Leveton, ’I can get some more from Woolworths – it is a shame though, such a pretty colour…’ She gazed down at the mosaic of ruby and gold glass, then bent to pick another small globe from the large cardboard box beside her.

The Levetons had started decorating for Christmas earlier than usual – and a few of their hapless friends had been inveigled into helping out, including Julia. She had volunteered – or rather, Aunty Iz had volunteered first, only to find she was unable to go at the last minute – so Julia offered to help out, and found herself invited to join the house-party.

‘She is a dear, but she does tend to lose things rather easily; I think you would be good at finding them for her – and do take this over for her ….’Aunt Iz  gave Julia a parcel tied up with a deep green ribbon. ‘I am sure you will have a lovely time – and you know Geraldine and Tommy alreadyeve, so you can catch up on old times.’

Julia trundled across to the Levetons in the careful custody of Brenton and the family car in time for lunch, and spent much of the afternoon unpacking decorations, arranging mistletoe and  holly, and finding lost objects: silver spoons down the backs of chairs, cousin Maud’s necklace, the morning newspaper ….There was a merciful lull towards four o’clock – various errands and invitations were recalled and Julia was left briefly with a brimming teapot and cup in the large drawing room with the now resplendent tree and a roaring fire.

It was warm, she was tired and drifted off comfortably for a few minutes. Her dreams were brief and muddled, involving a large black dog, a sleeping child and a small bell, chiming gently in the background. She awoke suddenly, convinced that the bell was real – indeed, so vivid was the dream, it left a fading impression of the bell still sounding its singularly light, gentle chime. There was even a lingering certainty of the black dog, padding gently away through the door. Julia blinked and looked again – surely there had been a shadow moving just out of sight, across the open door?

Mrs Leveton chose that moment to hurry in, anxious and flustered: ‘Oh dear, oh dear, now I know I had them in here not a moment ago…’

‘What would that be, Mrs L?’

‘My glasses, dear.’

‘They  aren’t the ones on your head, by any chance, are they ? ‘

Mrs Leveton felt about and breathed a sigh of relief. ‘You are quite right – I am getting too forgetful in my old age.  I must go and find Lucy…’ And off she went again.

Lucy was Mrs Leveton’s youngest niece, home from a brief, unsuccessful visit to Geneva and waiting to be presented next season. Pale, fair, dreamy, fond of animals and books and not inclined to talk, she put Julia a little in mind of cousin Bunty; without perhaps the aplomb.

Julia sat a while, admiring the tree with all its mixture of old and new. Mrs Leveton took great pride in her festive decoration, and rightly so.

A dog wandered in through the door and lay down in front of the fire, in a very relaxed, familiar way, and looked at Julia enquiringly. A magnificent animal, long-haired, a black mix between labrador and retriever, with a little bell attached to its collar which chimed gently with every movement.

‘Hello – you must have come with new guests – I’m sure I haven’t seen you before,’ Julia murmured at the dog. The animal continued to gaze at her, then suddenly placed his chin on his front paws, keeping a watchful eye open. The bell chimed again; it sounded familiar and Julia couldn’t help a tiny shiver trickling down her back. How strange to dream of a black dog with a bell before actually seeing it. Or perhaps he had already wandered in while she had been dozing and somehow entered her sub-consciousness.

Geraldine and Tommy, the Levetons’ daughter and son, were now out in the hall, arguing about holly and garlands. Julia went out to see what else she could do.

After another round of hunting for misplaced mistletoe and ribbons, it was time for drinks, followed by dinner; most of the other guests were to arrive later over the coming weekend, and Julia welcomed the comparative peace and quiet of a small gathering, in spite of Tommy insisting on winding up the gramophone and demonstrating his own version of the Charleston.

All went on pretty well the next day until just after lunch when there was a mild attack of panic – Mrs Leveton, on looking over the Christmas Tree suddenly emitted a genteel squawk. ‘The bell!’ she gasped, quite shocked. ‘Now, how could I have forgotten the bell …’ She started rummaging about in the semi-discarded decoration box, increasingly frantic, until she gave up and sat down.  Geraldine and Tommy sat on either side of her, looking anxious. Julia peered inside the box. ‘Is it very small?’ she asked.

‘It was from a child’s toy, and we always hang it on the tree every year; only now it’s not there…oh dear oh dear, what will Freddy say…’

‘Oh come along now mother, you know the old man doesn’t fuss about such things,’ offered Tom cheerfully. ‘If that’s all you’re worried about…’ Julia noted however, that he looked about the room with a faint hint of.. uncertainty? Even nervousness?

The fire was still billowing valiantly away, and yet the light and atmosphere in the room had somehow changed. Mrs Leveton’s anxiety was contagious. Julia got up and started hunting around the room. Tommy followed suit, leaving Geraldine to encourage their mother with suggestions. ‘…some more boxes in the attic, perhaps, or slipped down between the cushions..’

Julia’s curiosity grew with this concern over what might otherwise be considered a mere trifle, and, wary of further upsetting Mrs Leveton, waited until the suggestion was made to look further afield – as they tramped upstairs towards the box-room, she put a few questions to Tommy who was most forthcoming, if a little scathing.

‘Yes, it came off a doll one of the old man’s ancestors had; family tradition maintains it should be hung on the Christmas tree every year… something to do with a child getting lost and found. There’s a myth about not losing the bell, or things will happen, some such rot. Can’t say I believe in all that sort of thing, myself – nor does the old man, either. Oh well – if it will put the mater’s mind at rest – and here we are…’ He turned the handle to the box-room.

They had searched for the better part of an hour when the question was raised as to where Lucy was; she had not been seen, it transpired, since breakfast. Nobody had observed her leave the house, nor was she in her room or downstairs. Before another two hours had passed, Mrs Leveton was in a state of nervous collapse.

‘It’s the bell,’ she kept whispering, ‘I know this is because I’ve lost the bell …’ and she pressed a handkerchief to her mouth.

Geraldine took charge and persuaded her mother to lie down. ‘It’s exhaustion, mother, we’ll find Lucy, I’ll get Mrs Heron to make you some chamomile and you have a rest…’she escorted her upstairs, leaving Julia and Tommy to continue the hunt.

‘Cousin Lucy, you may have noted, is inclined to dream,’ commented Tommy, ‘I am wondering whether it is worth trying the Gallery as well.’

The Gallery was a lesser used part of the house, occasionally opened up in the summer for larger parties. From its original purpose in displaying the family portraits, to acting as an extended lumber room for the detritus of the intervening Victorian period, it now sat in semi-gloom, draped in spectral dust-sheets and to all intents and purposes in a state of hibernation.  Tommy and Julia decided it would be more efficient to split up and so it came about that Julia found herself in a rather remote corridor at the far end of the house, gazing somewhat hesitantly into its depths.

There was still light enough to see to the end of the corridor; that bluish light which comes when the sun decides he has had enough for one day and changes for drinks. There were shadows growing on the walls; half-tables, small chairs, the occasional standing plant pot – and the dog. He was standing at the far end of the corridor – and when he moved, she could just hear the distant delicate chime of the bell around its neck. He padded soundlessly round a corner, pausing briefly to look back at Julia, as if checking that she was coming too. She followed without a word, the sound of the bell leading her down another, narrower corridor, a couple of steps down and … Julia stopped and peered. There was a crack of light under the door on the right. She approached slowly, suddenly aware of her heart thudding. What if… what if… and a dozen or more doubts and queries flooded her mind. She knocked gently. Was there a rustle of cloth, of movement? She turned the door handle as quietly and gently as possible and looked inside.

It was a bedroom – the furniture belonged to another age – yet had been kept in good condition. Dust had not been allowed to make its home here, nor cobwebs their corners. Queen Anne and the Georges still held sway in the dressing table, chairs and small book case while the bed … was occupied. A girl with pale skin, pale hair, in her apricot dress and deep blue jacket lay on it, lost in reverie. Julia stepped forward and gently shook the sleeping Lucy. A book slipped from the bed and landed with a plunk on the floor; she noted briefly it was a collection of fairy tales. Lucy’s eyes flickered open and she let out a soft, startled ‘oh!’. She sat up slowly, and raised a hand, which she looked at briefly in puzzlement. She was holding a piece of cloth, half wrapped around something small that gleamed. Slowly she opened her hand and they both looked down at the small bell nestling in the cloth.

‘Aunty gave it to me to clean – she said it needed a polish,’ murmured Lucy, remembering.

It was not until they were half way downstairs that Julia thought of the dog.

‘Of course, now I remember – straight after breakfast, only it went completely out of my head,’ said Mrs Leveton, recovered after her rest. Everyone was back in the drawing room, the fire still burning healthily away, atmosphere once more restored to conviviality. The little bell, now well and truly polished, hung from a low branch, catching the odd flicker of light from the fire.

‘How did you come to be in that bed room, though? It’s hardly ever used.’

‘I’m not sure,’ replied Lucy, a little vaguely, ‘I went to my room to fetch a fresh hanky and then I think I must have gone down the wrong corridor by mistake. I got rather lost, I’m afraid – and then, oh – there was the dog. He was sitting just outside one of the doors. Almost as if waiting to be left in. So I opened the door – and found the room… it was so pretty, and the books were so old…’ She looked as if she would fit better in a Gainsborough than in real life, considered Julia.

Mrs Leveton looked perfectly mystified. ‘But there are no dogs here today, although I think Gregory will be bringing his little pug with him on Monday. I wonder how it got in. We had better send someone around the house to check.’

‘I saw him too,’ said Julia, ‘and he sort of led me to where Lucy was. But he was here yesterday as well.That’s why I thought he had come with an early guest.’

A draught or gust from the chimney must have swept through the room, for suddenly the little bell chimed, and Julia jumped. ‘That was it,’ she exclaimed –‘that was the bell the dog was wearing – I heard it most distinctly.’

‘What did he look like?’

‘Quite big – a hairy,black thing, rather quiet – apart from the bell.’

‘Yes,’ added Lucy, more wide awake than she had yet seemed. ‘I remember the bell, too. It jingled a bit.’

There was a definite pause as Geraldine and Tommy looked at their mother. Tommy gave a low whistle. Mrs Leveton continued to look quite puzzled for a minute – then she said: ’Oh  – do you think it might have been ….’

‘He hasn’t been seen here for a very long time,’ said Geraldine to Julia, by way of explanation. ‘I for one have never seen him – but it sounds like Emma’s dog. Apparently when people, particularly children go missing – he comes and looks for them. I suppose we were not in the habit of getting lost, as children. He was the favourite pet of Emma Leveton – the one the bell belonged to. There’s letters about it somewhere. She was given a doll with a bell on it, and got lost, and the dog found her, by bringing the doll to her mother and then leading everyone back to the little girl.’

‘And it’s always been a tradition to have the bell hanging from the tree – in memory of the dog,’ added Mrs Leveton. ‘ Your grandfather told me to always hang the bell on one of the lower branches, so Toby can brush against it. “But,” he said, “if you ever do forget, no doubt he’ll find a way to remind you.” ‘

There was another pause; they might almost have been waiting for something to happen. Then, with a clarity that made them all jump, the bell gave off its chime. A tiny, delicate sound. They all looked at it, swaying gently from its branch, as if indeed someone had just brushed past it.

Later, Geraldine took Julia to the breakfast room. The portrait over the mantelpiece showed a young girl in white empire dress and large dark hat with a blue feather; the artist had used loose, bold strokes, yet treated the face with a rare delicacy. At her side stood a dog, a magnificent animal, long-haired, a black mix between labrador and retriever, with a little bell attached to its collar.

‘What was his name, again ?’ asked Julia.

‘It is written on the frame – look: Miss Emma Leveton, with her favourite companion and rescuer, Toby.’

Mrs Leveton has never yet seen Toby herself – but very occasionally, she fancies she can hear the bell chime delicately in the distance and comforts herself with the idea that Toby is checking the house to make sure all is as it should be.

10 Responses to “The Bell”

  1. A perfect gost story for the season.

  2. Awesome snippet!! Love the visual and tree description … you put me in the OTHER chair by the fireplace!! :-)

  3. Nice eight! I like that she dreamt of the dog and then he showed up.

    Small note: Labradors are retrievers.

    • Thank you ! And thanks for popping by ! (yes, I think labradors have shorter hair; well, a straightforward black, long-haired retriever then – perhaps mixed in with spaniel or setter…) :)

  4. Nicely done–it created a good visual! I love Christmas ghost stories. Add a dog and it’s perfect!

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