Not long after I came into my inheritance at Blackdown manor—built a few centuries before and only sporadically inhabited—I woke in the middle of the night and noticed the sound a music box drifting up from the wine cellar. What man in his right mind would leave a music box in a wine cellar? I mused, and upon recovering dressing gown and candleholder, I strode swiftly down the stairs by the shortest path thereto. I did not fail to notice that the shadows were oddly long for a night with a full moon, nor that the trees scratched oddly at the windowpanes, but mindful of what happened to those who listened and looked for too long, I merely quickened my step.
A thorough search of the wine cellar showed that no music box was present, though the sound of it was louder, and still—somehow—from below where I now stood, at the lowest point in the recorded mansion. Of course the place was old, and old largely abandoned mansions, I mused, frequently had a dark history about them, along with a variety of secret passageways. This in mind, it took me only a moment to find an oddly placed bottle which slid back a portion of wall—the mechanism which powered it working smoothly and without rust or hinderance. I noticed the many torches in brackets on the walls, but did not light them as I proceeded downwards, for my candle provided sufficient light to see my hands and feet before me, and besides, my eyes were adjusted somewhat to the dimness.
Down, ever down the staircase behind the wall descended, and ever louder the music box grew. Finally, at last! I thought, the stairs ended in a room—a crypt, in fact—and the music box sound came from within the crypt. Not counting myself incredibly foolish, I lit but one of the torches on the walls and laid my candle down on the other side before heaving the cover off the crypt. My breath caught at what lay inside—no horror, but beauty in the extreme.
Within the crypt lay a maiden, all in white—even her skin and hair and eyes, which seemed lidless, strangely. On her samite-clad chest she clutched a music box—dark and antique, the only thing of color in that tomb—with the fingers of one hand twined around the winding key. The fingers of her other hand held the box with distressing firmness—I could almost see where the wood dimpled under her grip—and the lid of the box was open, giving forth the sound which had awoken me, four floors and an innumerable staircase above her.
“Your pardon, good lady,” I whispered, in the off chance that she wasn’t dead at all. “But your music box woke me from a sound sleep near the top of the manor, and I had to see what gave it.” Insane, perhaps, to be speaking to a woman who had not moved nor given sign that she had noticed me—if she lived—but cautious, and I had read far too many stories of a terrifying bent before bed recently. “I apologize for disturbing your rest, and I shall return to my own now.” So saying, I replaced the lid at a slight angle—for, I reasoned, if she was not dead, she would need air to breathe—extinguished the torch I had lit, and began my journey upward. I checked the hallway clock on the floor below my bedchamber, and found that it was now three hours past midnight. I muttered to myself on discovering this, and plopped into bed with firmness, and let the candle burn itself out, for I fell asleep immediately.
In the morning, when I awoke, I thought upon my nightly wanderings and found partly to my dismay that the events didn’t seem at all strange. On a lark, I went down to check upon the wine cellar and the bottle that I’d found, and noticed that it worked just as I’d found last night—with neither rust nor hinderance—and that behind it was the selfsame staircase I’d seen in the night. I felt no need, however, to check upon the lady—so much seemed like tempting fate—and so I shrugged my shoulders and proceeded to my daily tasks. A letter in the mail arrived, and I remembered that my young and entirely too curious niece was coming to visit. I resolved on the spot to tell her about what I’d found and even to show her the passageway—that she might not think it the ramblings of an old childless man—and to impress upon her that I thought the lady in the tomb was best left to her own devices. Perhaps that, I thought, would prevent catastrophe, I thought, remembering several others of the stories I’d taken to reading at night.
Once I’d eaten lunch, and gone out to meet some of my old business friends and drinking companions, I made a special note to acquire some good-smelling flowers—a mixture of pale purple and white—and arranged them in several tall vases, which I then had delivered to my house. Once I’d gotten home, I carried them all, one by one, down to the tomb—with haste, as night was falling—and commented briefly to the lady that I hoped the purple did not displease her. I heard the faint, but distinct, sound of a winding-key in the mechanism of a music box as I climbed the stairs up from the place, the last vase of flowers being pleasingly placed. I opted, that night, to sleep on a couch in the library, and was glad of it in the morning when I found the purple flowers torn to pieces on my bed, as well as the sheets ripped, the pillows shriven with feathers everywhere, and even the hangings with large rents as of a large and particularly obnoxious cat. Apparently the purple flowers had displeased her mightily.
Things have proceeded smoothly since my discovery. My niece came and went—and she showed no interest in exploring something I’d already discovered, though she did find a cache of immensely valuable silverware consisting entirely of spoons above one of the fireplaces—and I have made certain to water the flowers—always white—before going to bed each night. I have also made certain to sleep in a different part of the house after replacing the flowers when they begin to wilt despite my waterings, and have so far managed to escape the wrath of the lady in the tomb whenever she was displeased by my offering. And I have managed to improve the look of the crypt, somewhat, with white silk hangings tacked to the walls.
It was several months after I learned of her existence, and as I was halfway up the stairs—having replaced one of the vases of flowers—that I heard the sound of something snapping, followed by a distressed wail as of something that should have been long deceased, but which finds itself still earthbound. I hurried back down to the crypt and eased the tomb-cover off—just enough to look inside—and saw with wincing and building terror that the winding key to the lady’s music box had broken off in her hand, and further that her mouth was open in a too-wide O which gaped upon an abyss of infinite blackness, and that her eyes which had been white were now also black and seemed to stare up at me accusingly, as though I had broken her precious instrument.
“Your pardon again, my lady, but I had to see what was wrong. I cannot replace your music box tonight, but please be certain that I will do so immediately after breakfast tomorrow,” I hurriedly whispered to her, and with a sudden premonition, I heaved the tomb cover off entirely, and let it thud to the floor beside her stone coffin. I hurried upstairs with nary a backward glance, and went to the library to retrieve a large stack of books, then to my bedchamber to retrieve warm clothes and many blankets, along with one pillow. That, I reasoned, should make one of the garden benches comfortable—for I saw absolutely no reason that I should remain in the house that night with the lady so distressed. I made certain, also, to put my back to the house that I might not be troubled with seeing her wanderings in the night.
I crept back into the house in the morning with my load of supplies, and found her crouched in front of my antique radio, with her knees pulled to her chest and her broken music box beside her. It had been turned on in the night, and even now a faint voice played from it—some jingle about soap. She stared relentlessly at the box and seemingly also at me when I approached—and I stayed quiet while I tuned the thing to a station which played classical music, which seemed to relax her more than any other station. After breakfast and replacing my books and blankets and pillow, I quietly retrieved her broken music box and went to the house of a man who made and sold similar clockwork devices—for perhaps he could repair it.
I was relieved to find that he could, and that the repair was simple and relatively cheap, considering that the box was—as it turned out—older than his shop and possibly the most valuable thing in the entire mansion. He wondered frequently how its mechanisms hadn’t worn down in the slightest, considering it was so old, and I had no explanation for him. I thanked the man profusely both in words and in buying his most expensive (white) music box, which featured a diminutive ballerina which danced when the key was wound. He was, I thought, very pleased to have my custom, and upon arriving home, I found the lady still transfixed by my radio. She appeared to notice me when I removed her repaired box from the blankets I’d carried it in, and her eyes gleamed brilliantly when I wound its key and it played faithfully. While it played, I quietly turned off the radio and removed the other music box which I’d purchased—somewhat gaudy next to the other, and horribly pale when I set it down next to it atop the radio—but it too played faithfully when wound, and she seemed entranced by the tiny dancing ballerina it contained. I left both open atop the radio and went to prepare myself lunch, and when I returned, I found that both she and the music boxes had vanished.
That night, I heard the two music boxes alternating in melody, and since that night, I have taken to acquiring a large collection of music boxes, and I have shown the lady where it is within the manor—in case one or both of the music boxes she has within her crypt should break again. On some occasions I have found her seated within the room of music boxes, and on these occasions, I have placed a white blanket around her in case she gets cold. I have also not broken my habit of watering and replacing the flowers, though I haven’t yet gotten around to replacing the cover to her tomb.
I almost count it odd that luck has gone my way ever since I got her the second music box. Almost.