“Oak walls. Ah, my soul! It has come soon!”
A traveler is caught out during a storm and is warned, by a fellow traveler, against seeking shelter from the old, dilapidated inn. They move on to a more welcoming refuge, where the helpful traveler gives the other a manuscript that will explain his warnings against the inn, which he calls a ‘charnel house’. The story itself starts out in 1775, during the unrest of the American Revolution. Edwin Urquhart visits the ironically named Happy-Go-Lucky Inn with his new bride, Honora; they only stay one night but it is enough to show Mrs Truax all is not well with the couple. Mrs Urquhart, while veiled, seems unwell and unhappy, and Edwin seems falsely jovial and uncaring of his wife’s comfort; he seems more concerned with an inexplicably large box he has brought with him. Edwin makes a tour of the available rooms and insists upon the least favorable one, the oak pallor with its stuffiness from disuse, because it’s on the ground floor and easier to move his great big box into.
In the night both the landlady and Burritt, her man-of-all-work, are wakened by a strangled shriek coming from the oak pallor. They investigate and both occupants of the room claim all is well.
The couple leaves the following morning and this would be the end of it, except for two things: Honora seems strangely happier and more energetic, and Burritt claims the big box was markedly lighter that morning than it was the night before. Both he and Mrs Truax can find nothing to account for these two changes and that makes them uneasy.
Sixteen years pass, and a new guest makes a startling revelation about the inn’s oak parlor, a revelation that causes Mrs Truax to reflect back on that long ago night of the Urquharts’ stay. From there, the story turns to the past, to the events leading up to the couple’s arrival at the inn, and then back to the present as the long-brewing consequences of that time come to a disastrous conclusion.
The story is told from the perspectives of different characters, through letters and journal entries, but all in the first-person POV. The manuscript given to the traveler is really Mrs Truax’s journal, with her own observations, but also includes letters from other characters, and in these letters are observations from other characters; think nesting bowls.
I liked this book more than I thought I would, and would’ve liked it even more if not for the overwrought, heavy-handed writing and the melodramatic characters. It also has a few paranormal elements, is not much of a mystery, and the plot is very contrived. Ah, fun stuff!