Hever House burned on April 3rd 1928. No-one ever knew what started the conflagration, be it accident of intent. My family, being its owners down a long and dark ancestral line, had some reason for regret at its loss. To all reports it was beautiful, an architectural wonder, far in advance of the buildings of the time. It burned too bright, my grandfather used to say, and so in the end it had to burn.
But it burned even before then, or so I understand it. Long before the raging beauty of resolute flame arched magnificent out of its highest windows, in its depths it stoked fires of a different kind.
My great great uncle owned Hever House. He was an artist, and one of some repute. In the manner of all those artistic, he had his little ways, including that he refused to paint anywhere but within its walls. All the moneyed of society would come to have their portraits done, and none had any complaints. But the monied in society rarely do – then or even now. They walk in a kind of unseen safety, defended then by pedigree and dollars, and now by only the latter.
But the artist painted others, less financially fortunate. I believe the stories, knowing my family even now. How children and young adults would go to him but never emerge again. They say enormous, complicated, twisted paintings of youth adorned his walls. They say they were of paint but also blood. They even say that in the paint itself were the grindings of pure bone. My uncle’s art, a god giving new life to those taken.
I like to think one of the lost was cared for by someone, that someone noticed the loss of at least one. And I like to think that maybe they set the fire, reducing the monstrous artistic vision, and the artist himself, to dust. I don’t like my family, or my heritage, and it would be sweet to know Hever House fell that way, in the end. Not just an accident, not just a strange twist of fate.
I shall never know, but when I view photos of its devastation I do fancy I see the myriad vengeful ghosts appeased and the artist trapped, burning still, in the flames he so richly deserved.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2016