September 17th – The Festival of Hide and Seek

Mrs Jessam Derilley was what folk would once have termed a ‘lady of leisure.’ She spent many a day looking for idle pursuits, flitting from one fleeting interest to another. For most of 1634 she was interested in literature, becoming obsessed with several different authors, never finishing any of their works. For all of 1635 she took up crafts, focusing in particular on the shaping of resistant materials like wood and metal. She half finished a brooch from silver, and her chair never quite got that fourth leg.

It wasn’t that she was bad at any of the projects she began, merely that she lost interest quickly when some new thing floated into view. One project she did finish was her long box. It was precisely two metres long fifty centimetres high and seventy centimetres deep, made from sturdy teak. She spent about three weeks measuring and cutting all the wood; it was so precise that when you closed the lid there were no gaps at all. She was so proud of it that she never found anything good enough to keep in it, so she kept it up in the aptly named box room, along with various other pieces of craft detritus.

The Derilley family called that room the ‘box room,’ but in most Buentoilliçan households of the time, it would have qualified as a master bedroom, as far as size was concerned. They were pretty damn rich, as it goes, and their house, named Turnstall Manor, was palatial. Nowadays the space has been divided up into thirty three moderately sized flats’ perhaps that gives some sense of how large the space was. Today that space will once again feel as large as it once did, as each and every home within the complex will be opened up to all the other members of the complex, for one enormous and glorious game of hide and seek.

Some people are just plain bad at hide and seek. They panic and jump under the table, or under the bed, or just put a blanket over themselves and hope for the best. Patience is probably part of it, too, you need to be incredibly patient to be any good at hide and seek. On the other side of the scale, there are those who are brilliant at it, finding ingenious ways to bend the space around themselves, restricting their breathing so they cannot be heard. Jassam Derilley’s daughter, Catmyn, was famously ones such person. Hide and seek was her favourite game and she was stubborn enough that no matter how long you called to say you gave up, she stayed hidden. This was, frankly, fairly annoying for everyone else, even if Catmyn enjoyed it, and it wasn’t too long before everyone refused to play with her.

Quite often there were people visiting the house, staying over for a few days. Family, friends of the family, and some business associates of her father, Malpheus. It was one of the latter group that Catmyn accosted, and persuaded to play hide and seek with her, on this day in 1638. At this point her mother was trying to find something to distract herself from completing an economic thesis. She’d been putting some paintings in the (now burgeoning) box room, and had left it unlocked. The visitor to the house knew nothing of Catmyn’s stubborn ways, and gave up quickly, thinking she would come out eventually. He called, half-heartedly that he gave up, then went to get a drink from the cabinet and forgot all about it.

At dinnertime, when Catmyn was nowhere to be seen, he remembered the game suddenly, and a sigh of frustration swept across the table. They sent a servant to find her whilst they ate, but they couldn’t see her anywhere. It was nearly 10pm when they started looking in earnest. Catmyn had been dead for three hours. It took two days for them to find her body, lain inside her mother’s long box, which was so well made that when the lid was closed, as it was for the child to remain hidden, no air could get in or out. The girl died of oxygen starvation, and it was probably quite a peaceful way to go; she would have passed out long before she even realised she was running out of air.

It wasn’t long before this rather macabre story made its way into that great repository of macabre stories; the folk record. Slowly, the story became a parable about negligent mothers, about the corrupting influence of wealth, about the laissez-faire attitude and decadent excess of rich Buentoillitants. Ghost stories began popping up around the Manor, and other similar large houses, which bizarrely laid claim to being the ‘true’ progenitor place of what was now an urban myth. The modern game of hide and seek that tears through the family homes of Turnstall Manor was suggested in this context, rather than that of the original sad and gruesome story. It is a way of claiming the story, and the history of the place for the residents. It’s a way of saying: that happened here, in this very building!

The longbox is still held in the house to this day, although the wood has now warped a little, and two holes have been drilled in the sides, to stop anyone accidentally re-enacting those terrible events once again. It sits pride of place on the stairwell of the third floor, where the box room was once located. If you are having real trouble finding your quarry, the best thing to do is stand beside this box for a few minutes in silence, and the ghost of Catmyn will allegedly show you the way.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Deputation
  • The Wheeze Festival
  • The Festival of Careful Surveyors