By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton
Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Germany began bombing London. Children were being taken to safer quarters in the country. Among other things, the natural history museum’s collection of mammals was being evacuated to a place of safety. The museum and Major Lockwood had reached agreement that the collection could reside in the expansive Lockwood Manor. With most of the male staff off to the war effort, 30-year-old Hetty Cartwright was to accompany the animals and see to their care and upkeep. Several of the specimens had real scientific value as one of the few remaining of that particular species.
In its heyday, Lockwood Manor had required 35 full-time servants for its operation. Since Mrs. Lockwood and her mother had been killed in an automobile accident, most entertainment in the house had ceased and the number of servants had dwindled. Only Major and Lucy Lockwood remained as permanent residents.
The war effort also had an effect, as servants left to work to meet those needs. The net result was that even with the preserved animals on the first floor, there were many rooms on the upper floors whose doors were kept closed, as they served no current purpose.
Lockwood Manor was old. With the many empty rooms, it had an eerie feeling about it. No wonder ghost stories circulated about. The most common was the Woman in White, the spirit that haunted Mrs. Lockwood when she was alive. As she aged, Lucy’s mother often seemed to lose track of reality; when she did, the Woman in White was usually involved.
Hetty Cartwright had not realized the size of the task she had been assigned. Shortly after she and the animals had arrived, the jaguar had disappeared without a trace. Animals seemed to be moved about on many evenings. And the Major had insisted that the rooms be unlocked for the party he was giving for the area military officers. Add the fact that the old house allowed in rats and all manner of pests, and the specimens were under constant attack. As a result, Hetty felt she was under constant attack.
That feeling wasn’t helped by the Major’s personality. To say the least, he was brusque and quite unsympathetic to Hetty’s concerns. He saw the animals as an extension of his own collection and as helping to bring Lockwood back some of its former glory. Although Hetty was quick to call attention to each new concern, she dreaded each encounter.
Over time, Lucy and Hetty became fast friends. The women were about the same age, and neither had succumbed to societal pressure to find a husband. Despite his idiosyncrasies, Lucy was devoted to her father. This was difficult for Lucy, as she felt the Major was somehow at least partially to blame with the problems she was having keeping proper care of the animals for the museum. She carefully avoided the subject of the Major with Lucy. However, when she had occasion to accompany Lucy into the Major’s office, the missing jaguar was there among the Major’s trophies. When confronted about this, he simply blew Hetty off, saying the jaguar was in the house and safe.
By this time, Hetty was thoroughly frustrated with Lockwood. There were clearly strange goings-on in the night, and the animals seemed in danger from several directions. Hetty wrote the museum’s administration and said different quarters would have to be found for the duration of the war.
As it turned out, there was a logical reason for what was happening to the animals at Lockwood and even for the strange happenings in the night. Perhaps the old mansion wasn’t haunted — or was it?