by Catrin Achrya

Too bloody soon,” I thought when I heard the noise. If the cow dropped her calf now, it would be dead. Then I heard it again and realised that it did not come from the byre, but from upstairs.
There was a scream and a crash next to me in the kitchen: the scullery maid had dropped the kettle, luckily not on her bare feet, and was blathering something about the Bloody Duke coming to look for his missing cloak.
Cook shouted at her to mop up the mess and gave her something to think about besides ghosts. I rushed upstairs to find out what was wrong.

He was standing in the doorway of one of the guest rooms, still making those terrible noises, only less loud. I looked past him... and saw the bed.
The young girl lay there, naked, dead, mutilated.
His daughter, from what I gathered.
His eyes were clenched shut, he was breathing heavily; now and then those moans returned.

When I was a little girl, we had a red-and-white bullock. One day the boy did not brake the cart on the downhill run: it hit the bullock and turned over. The boy jumped off, ran away and did not come back for a week. I remember the bullock lying there with two legs broken, making awful helpless noises, until my father came out and cut its throat.
The city gentleman was moaning just like that, his face completely dry, his eyes screwed shut.

I touched his elbow in the crisp, white linen shirt sleeve. His eyes did not open, his face was still turned towards the bed, but he groped for my arm. When he found it, he clutched at it.
I put my other arm behind his back, turned him around bodily and led him out of the room. He did not resist, just put one foot in front of the other, letting me lead him like a blind man.

Careful of the threshold,” I said.
I led him into the corridor and to the other guest room, where he had slept.
“Armchair, in front of you,” I said.
He groped for it, found it with my help, turned around and sat down heavily.
His breath was still jagged and panting, but the moans had ceased.
I poured some wine from the decanter on the table and pressed the glass against his hand. He took it, drank it down in big, loud gulps and, passively, let me have the empty glass back.
"Thank you," he said in a flat, toneless voice.

He sighed and something in his face - changed. All colour drained from it, the lips stiffened into a narrow slit, and his eyes opened. They focused on the grey, sparingly powdered wig on the toilet table.
He supported himself on the arm rests and stood up like an automaton. Slowly, stiffly, he went to the mirror and put the wig on his head. His back seemed to go even stiffer as he pulled himself up to his full height. Before I could come closer and offer help, he had shrugged into his coat.
"Lock the room," he said. "No-one must touch anything. There will be an inquest."
He left the room, I heard him walk down the stairs and towards the stable.

During the inquest, he was just one of the earnest men in sombre clothes and grey wigs who came to the inn, examined, pointed, questioned, took notes, nodded or shook their heads, and rode off again.

On stormy November nights, with the wind keening around the northern corner of the house, I can still hear those frightful animal sounds – and see before me his blind, broken, tearless face.