A fresh layer of snow had fallen that morning early before the sun had risen to warm the ground. The world outside the quiet mansion was cover in a blanket of sparkling white. Pine-bows hung from the ornate railings of the two-story porch and wreathes were hung in every window and on every door. Red bows accented the beautiful yuletide decorations.
Carriages and guests cluttered the narrow driveway that circled the large pond out in front of the mansion. Laughter and gleeful greetings were exchanged as old friends gathered to celebrate the holiday spirit. Presents and ornaments were collected as each guest entered into the foyer. Ornaments were taken into the conservatory and presents were sent directly to a large table in the ballroom.
He waited at the base of the stairs for his one certain mystery guest that no one but he knew was coming. A smile and a warm word were offered to each attendee as they passed by, even if he did not know them personally. Many were guests of his father's, but that was no matter to him at all.
A ceiling-high pine tree was situated in the center of the conservatory. Each guest that brought an ornament was ushered to that grand room to place their contribution on the tree. Red and white candles were scattered in a disoriented pattern amongst the perfect bows of the great tree. Christmas music echoed through the entire mansion from the organ in the ballroom as guests were then directed to the festively decorated room.
Wreathes adorned every window and pine-bows were hung over door and window frames. Not an inch of space was missed in the decorating of the spacious ballroom. Even the chandeliers held silver and gold tinsel on their arms to reflect the candle-light. The best china was placed upon a pure silk table cloth for a dinner that would commence at midnight just after the unmasking of all of the guests.
As was tradition for the host to greet, he took on the duty as his father was attending to business dealings in the south parlor. He waited patiently and diligently for the lady of his heart to make a grand entrance into the foyer. His heart jumped each time a lady would enter through the grand double doors. But the chimes of the clock tolled each hour she was delayed and he continuously stood unwavering from his position.
Guests had been arriving for hours and hours since the noon chimes had rung through the foyer. Hundreds of guests had poured through the front doors and mingled down to the ballroom after greeting him on the stairs, yet she had not shown her face. He knew she had been invited, and he was sure of it because he had delivered the letter to her doorstep himself.
The grandfather clock against the wall chimed the time of five o'clock. He had been waiting for most of the day for his beautiful stranger, but still she had not shown. He was then requested to join the guests in the ballroom by his father. He regretfully complied and slowly made his way down towards the festively cheerful ballroom.
He immediately took his seat at the large banquet table carefully avoiding eye contact with any of the guests. A servant brought a glass of wine for him to sip as he waited for his mystery guest. His father could not tell why his son was so preoccupied with thoughts other than those of the beautiful young ladies at the gala.
As the hours slipped by without even a hint of any late arriving guests, he proceeded to finish off another bottle of wine. His only thoughts were of her and all he wanted to say of their plan to wed that spring. His hopes were for his father's approval, but somehow he felt as though she would never arrive in time. His only companion aside his thoughts at that moment was the wine which waited patiently in his glass.
He had sat at the table all evening turning down every conversation and every young lady who requested a dance. He was waiting until she arrived for he wished to be seen with no other woman but her. His father was quite discontented with his actions since he had denied the lady his father had wished for his to marry.
As he drank more wine and watched the guests in their cheery states, the chiming of the clock echoed seven o'clock. He was content only in the fact that he had made his point to his father that he had found his true love. At least he hoped his father could see that. But even though he loved her-and she knew as well as he did-she still had not arrived for the yuletide gala.
The footman outside waited in the cold for the arrival of any late guests. He rubbed his hands together to keep the warmth alive in his fingers. He looked along down the lane to see if any other carriages were traveling that way. He saw nothing more than the white snowflakes that had again begun to fall that evening.
He turned away to open the door and enter the warm mansion to escape the cold weather. He knew he could see the lane through the foyer window so it was feasible to wait inside. Just as he turned his back to the lane, the familiar sound of clattering horse hooves came from the distance. The footman turned quickly to see the approaching carriage seemingly materialize out of the snowy mist over the lane.
A white carriage pulled up in front of the mansion just as the sun was slipping down underneath the cemetery hill behind the mansion. As the carriage halted, the footman stepped down from the stairs of the mansion and opened the door for the passenger to exit the extravagant conveyance. As he opened the door, a slender female arm covered up to the elbow with a rose-pink satin glove was stretched out for support. He instinctively held on to it and assisted the lady out of her carriage.
Another soft hand held onto the rose-pink satin skirts that layered below a delicately trimmed bodice. White lace edged each skirt, as well as the fitted sating bodice and sleeves. As she stepped down onto the landing that lay before the steps, her long dark brown hair trailed over her shoulders in exquisite ringlets. She wore a mask that concealed her identity just as the rest of the guests had, but she was different. There was a supernatural beauty surrounding this strange woman as he released her hand to allow her to ascend the stairs to the open door of the mansion.
The guests had coupled off and joined in the dancing that was progressing throughout the ballroom. Just as all of the other yearly galas held at the mansion, there was no short turnout of attendees. Bright skirts with layers of silk, satin, and lace rustled amongst the taps and shuffles of the highly polished boots. Women and men alike wore extravagant masks to conceal their identities. No detail was overlooked in any dress of any guests that had come to celebrate to yuletide spirit that night. The gala was fated to last in memories forever.
Just as the cheerful music grew louder, one of the many servants sauntered past the table and refilled his glass with wine. He paused from his thoughts to give a nod of thanks to the young man as he turned away towards the kitchen. Everywhere he looked laughter and immense joy clouded away the thoughts of despair from his mind. His eyes trailed amongst all of the women still searching for one guest who had not arrived.
He turned back to his wine glass as it sat lonely on the table. He had already lost count of how many minutes he had waited and how many glasses he had drank, but he did not care. There was one thing he wanted and she was no where to be found. He quickly downed another glass and dully turned back to watch the guests. The organ music grew louder and more joyful as his eyes sifted through the crowd.
A glittering presence at the top of the ballroom stairs grasped his attention from the corner of his eye. The dark brown curls framed her face amongst the soft pink rosebuds woven through her hair. She stood as an angel waiting for the gates of heaven to open to her, as the crowd seemed to part. Dancers twirled and shuffled across the ballroom floor as she slowly descended the staircase towards the blue-green marble floor.
He gradually approached the steps through his blind captivation only to reach out a hand as she reached the bottom. She immediately took his hand and allowed him to escort her directly into the crowd for a festive Christmas waltz. No one would know her under her mask, but he could not mistake her spectacularly charming eyes.
As she drew closer into his arms, a beautiful cascade of dark brown perfumed curls traced against his face. He breathed in the precious scent of the fresh rosebuds as his hand softly caressed the satiny fingers hidden by her gloves. He was in disbelief of the beauty that was his, and he was sure there would be no objection when he announced their decision to marry.
Women had come and gone through his life for the last five years, but never before had he actually loved any of them. Many of those other women were just mere acquaintances that he had acquired in the city on his numerous visits. He was an exact duplicate of his father in every respect; except for love. His father had never loved any of the women that had left a mark on his life. Even his wife was never given any hint of love.
The mining industry had turned his father into a money hungry and power-loving man. His once-gentle disposition had grown into a money and power needy dictation in his mind. As he watched his son with this mystery guest, his heart slowed and his blood ran cold. In his mind, this lady would end everything he had built for himself and his son.
His father stood by the mantle with a harsh glare of hatred in his eyes. The new beauty that had wandered her way to his son's life was destroying his plan for domination in the mining industry. In his mind, his son was slated to wed the daughter of the highest official of the mining government of the area. He had no knowledge of this strange young woman, but he hated what she could do to his riches. He would not stand that hellish thought any longer than he had to.
His father's diabolical rage broke through his calm demeanor. The butler passed slowly as a tiny package was dropped into his hand by the father. No orders were given as all was already understood by both of them. The stakes were highly bided against him, but there was no way he would allow his son to marry a stranger.
The butler slipped off down a small side hallway to add some of the contents of the tiny package to a bottle of wine. The white powder dissolved instantly as it touched the deep red liquid. With the plan in action, the aging mine owner was ready for any possible event that could come of the evening.
A knife was tapped against a crystal wine glass as his son stepped up onto the landing in front of all the guests. A thanks was given for their attendance and joyful praise of the season as he announced his greatly held secret. He introduced the mystery lady as his one true love and his wife- to-be. A stab flew through the father's heart as he heard the words spoken by his son. Words that would seal his fate from the extensive riches of his desire.
His plan would work and he knew his son could still be saved from a grave mistake. He nodded subtly to the butler who returned a passing glance as he filled the wine glasses. The father took to the steps to offer a toast and a blessing to his son. All the while watching to be sure the glass of his newly announced daughter-in-law-to-be was filled with the correct wine for the occasion.
The toast had been made and all of the guests raised their glasses with well-said wishes and drank their wine. Organ music rolled its way through the ballroom again bringing with it the rustling of silk, satin, and lace. The cheerful notes rang out loudly into the night and yuletide guests drank and danced their nights fill.
Dancers twirled and stepped about as the happy newly-engaged couple took the center of the floor. Laughter rose above the organ music as midnight drew near. He was as happy as any man could be and more as he was now engaged to the love of his life and his father was allowing it.
He looked into her eyes as they danced in each other's arms. Those beautiful heaven-given blue eyes that could cost any man his every drop of composure with one look. Gorgeous eyes that were now possessed by him alone. No other man would ever know the passion that she could convey with those sunrise-ocean eyes.
A slow composure of sleep began to descend upon her as the bridal waltz echoed along every inch of the ballroom. Her cheerful mood gradually slid down as the cloudy world of exhaustion consumed her. He stopped and steadied her as she began to waver with unbalance. Fear rose in his eyes as her delicate body slumped into his arms.
The dancing paused as horrified guests slowly ended their waltz, but the organ music played on. Calmly stationed by the fireplace casually sipping his wine, the father watched contently as his plan unfolded. His son knelt gradually with the greatest care as he laid her down onto the blue-green marble floor. Her breathing slowly ceased as her head laid into his shoulder.
He tried in vain to coax back her conscious state as her energy slowly slipped away. Her gentle body went limp against him as her spirit cascaded away. He cried out in pain as he stroked her perfumed ringlets. Tears filling his eyes overflowed and stained his cheeks with loneliness and anger.
He looked to his father for condolence and help, but he received nothing more that a vengeful glance. There was no denying what he then knew was true as he realized why his love had been taken away. His father's own foolish actions and selfish desires had driven the devil to possess him and destroy love. Blind hate and raging anger clouded out any sympathies that had remained in his mind.
With cheeks stained by pain and tear-filled eyes, he lifted the lifeless body of his one true love. He carried her up the ballroom stairs and through the foyer. Stair after stair passed under his feet as he trudged to the attic with the limp body of his beloved in his arms.
He laid her gently with the greatest care into an old chair that sat by the window. Tears of sorrow and hate streamed down his face as he kissed her forehead one last time. He placed a red rose into her hand and turned to an old trunk beneath the window sill. He swiped his arm across the top sending the miscellaneous items crashing to the floor.
He flung open the top with the furry of a scorned man and he rabidly began to dig through its contents. He pulled a rope from near the bottom and quickly knotted a loop at one end. He pulled the chest to the middle of the room and stood on top of it. Quickly he knotted the rope around the rafter-beam. The noose-loop was then fitted around his neck as he stepped from the lid of the chest.
All this he completed with sorrow and love in his eyes as he never thought of anything else than rejoining his love on the other side. He was so blinded by his prospected loss that he never noticed the faint beating of her heart. As his life was strangled from his body, she slowly awoke to consciousness. Her eyes fluttered open only moments too late to see his last mortal breath.
She stretched her arms and blinked her eyes to regain vision in the dark. Her movements sent the red rose tumbling softy onto the attic floorboards. She glanced down at the rose as it lay against the background of the wooden floorboards. As she reached down to lift the rose, lightning lit the sky outside the window which cast a strange shadow across the floor.
Her eyes planed upward and she was met with the sight of his strangled corpse hanging down from the attic ceiling rafters. She immediately screamed and turned running from the room as lightning illuminated the slightly swaying corpse. Not once did she cast a backward glance towards the room as she dashed down the hallway.
Her screams echoed loudly through the expanse of the mansion. She never saw the railing coming as she sprinted towards the foyer stairs. One look back was all it took. Her eyes only diverted for one fatal moment and her fleeting body fell over the staircase railing.
The guests herded up to the foyer and screams of shock and sorrow were expelled from the women in the crowd. The father stepped through to the front of the mass of people. A smile momentarily graced his face as he saw what he wanted to see. His son was now free to marry into more wealth in the mining industry. But then as the butler descended the main staircase the dream turned into a nightmare.
He was approached by a solemn butler who calmly informed him of a tragic turn in events that could not be controlled. There were no words he could find to make everything alright. A wave of fear and guilt swept over the aging mine owner as the reality of his own selfish deeds flowed into his conscious mind. By way of his own foolish actions he had destroyed more than he had ever thought possible. He had broken hearts, damned love, destroyed his only son, and instilled his own demise.
Contemplation of all reality drove his mental stability over the edge. He blurted out a broken yowl as tears of guilt pored from his eyes. He dropped down to his knees in from of his guests and confessed to every aspect of his selfish plan. The women cried out in sorrow and the men shouted in anger as each step of his diabolical plan was revealed. No reasons could hold enough truth to explain any rational thought of why a man would do the worst expecting the best.
His sorrowful confession fell upon def ears as none of the guests could listen to his words. In a newly churned fit of rage he slowly stood, only by leaning against a side-table, to walk off into the conservatory. As the guests began to disperse leaving the mansion in silence only the clattering of horse hooves and the shallow squeals of carriage wheels could be heard in the midnight sky.
The mansion was enveloped in silence as the candles burned down their wax. While the full moon slowly rose above the cemetery on the hill, the grandfather clock in the foyer began to chime the hour of midnight. As the chimes echoed through the empty mansion a gunshot shattered the silence and left all the emptiness in the tranquility of death.
As legends fall on Christmas Eve, at midnight's stroke the mansion relives that tragic event. When the old grandfather clock echoes the time broken hearts return to life. Cries of loneliness and screams of pain shatter the night. But as the chimes toll midnight through the aging trees a shot rings out into the dark sky.