What it does then makes Bella
shake with involuntary excitement.
For slowly this being glides to her.
Its fingers touch her.
Chapter Nine — Spirits
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I
n more recent years of having to work with servants, no one can express shock quite as Miss Hooper manages to achieve.
Astonishment, disbelief, a hint of a devastating expression of: ‘Oh my goodness!  What fate has brought me to deal with this.’
Such is for young Tom to observe this Monday pre-noon as the dear companion and assistant to her Ladyship opens the doors of their chambers.
“You!  You are a boy!”
Tom looks around himself.
McBride intervenes.  “I had to get the lad, show him where you are.  The women are all busy.  It’s his job by rights anyway to bring up the bath water, as he agreed with the Squire.
Now if Miss Hooper could see into Tom’s heart, past the undisguised leer upon the young man’s face, she would know that for all his ways, Tom does have respect for the gentry, especially Ladyships, special respect for Ladyships being as they are ladies after all.
Seven-Waters lake is where he happens to swim and often, just before stripping off his breeches, he will weigh the merits of finding a Ladyship popping her head up from doing some fine dipping underwater.
His choice would be that she not have any clothes upon herself, swimming in the natural being best quality, that something a Ladyship would consider.
If the need might arise where somehow a Ladyship finds herself in the water needing help, and Tom was by chance this person deemed to rescue her, he would not hesitate to pull off his clothes and give that help, even to taking off his under-britches.
It would only be right, her Ladyship not having a scrap of clothing upon her body and all.
Seven-Waters lake is a fair size pond at the far end of the farm. Tom has been pulling off his clothes, britches and all, and wading in for as long as he can remember.  He is a fair good swimmer.  No Ladyships have been by Seven-Waters lake, not yet at least, but he’s always having the thought that one might.
“Miss Hooper.”  McBride stands there exasperated.  “Are you going to let us inside?”
“No!  No!  It is impossible.  I cannot allow a young gentlemen within.”
“But you asked for bath water!”
“Where are the women!  The women!  Why are there not women here with bathwater?”
“Miss Ackrim is changing the bed sheets.  Lucy is with Miss Annabell and Miss Adams!  Meg is assisting with the laundry. The buckets are here now.”
Miss Hooper lowers her eyes to very briefly stare at the two toilet cans.  “Oh!  You must leave the toilet cans here.
Leave them right where they are.  I will carry them inside.”   McBride is not going to argue.  “If that is your wish, Miss Hooper, that is what we will do.  Two more cans we will be bringing up.”
“Please knock so I will know they have arrived.”   McBride pushes Tom away from the door.  “Another day, Tom.”  
Despite Lucy and her evenings spent with the lad, for which he has great reservations, McBride is not so old he cannot remember how when you just come to service, naked women expectations and what have you.
Miss Hooper clutches her heart as the two males descend the stairs.  She begins to drag the two cans inside.
Miss Hooper is not good with anything of weight, and as picking them both up is impossible, dragging turns into some heaving, and then wheezing, a fit of coughing which results in a definite creaking of the back.  Miss Hooper is now almost in tears.
“Where are the girls,” Constance asks when the cans at last arrive. Lady Middleton already positioned in the waterless hip bath, with Shapanzi seated in his royal basket by the window, Miss Hooper can only sigh.  “The girls have not brought the toilet cans today, Lady Middleton.  A young man is with the butler.”
An enjoyment of Lady Middleton’s bath is to have the warm water poured from the spout over her.  The two girls, each holding up a bucket, will do this.  Today however, without the two girls, Miss Hooper is attempting to raise one can high enough as her Mistress lies back, eyes closed. “Spray it over me, Gladys.”
Miss Hooper is able to position the can at the lower side of the hip bath, but even exercising the last moments of her strength she cannot raise the can to Lady Middleton’s shoulders.  There is nothing to be done.  “I must just pour it into the centre, your Ladyship.”
“Oh!  I told Ronny he didn’t have enough staff.”
Tilting first one spout, watching as the trickle begins to fall into the bath, Miss Hooper then proceeds to do the same with the second can. The second can lowered to the floor is then placed sideways, sat upon.  Breathing heavily, “Two more toilet cans being brought up, Lady Middleton.   I am not sure...”
Constance knows when she is beaten.
“Gladys, have the men when they return bring the water in here.  You will cover me with a bed sheet.  Leave the end where my feet are uncovered for them to pour in the water.”
At a knock, by the time Miss Hooper has rushed to open the apartment door, the two have already descended the first hallway steps.  Miss Hooper calls out.  “I cannot do it!”
Returning, McBride first, Tom following, Miss Hooper gives a high pitched, “Lady Middleton...”  and can only bring herself to gesturing.
The two lifting the cans, there is a sudden: “Wait!  Wait!  I must make sure Lady Middleton has not disturbed her covering.”
As Miss Hooper departs, the wording does give some thought to Tom.  Her Ladyship must already be in the bath?
For McBride, the front house do some surprising things. Lady Middleton’s fondness of having water poured over her is one such precious fancy that McBride has always been somewhat in awe.  Meg and Lucy, as they explained to Missy, never pour the whole toilet can, half first gets poured into the bath, then half over her Ladyship.  Still, it is a wonder.
With the buckets, as the two step inside this mystery, that’s how Mr. McBride and Tom get to see her Ladyship in her boudoir, seated within her bath.  There is the covering, and all they get to see of importance are the toes, but for Tom, with no amount of speculating, did he ever think he would get to see a Ladyship in her bath.
It is not exactly the same as rescuing one without her drawers, stranded as she might be in Seven-Waters lake, but he does think it has merit.
“I never thought I would see a Lady in her bath, Mr. McBride,” Tom laughs, shaking his head as both trip back down the stairs.
Constance is enjoying the luxury of the warm water. “Gladys, we have a few more days, a fortnight at best to spend here.  Then Ronald and myself, and yourself and Shapanzi will be going away. We will cruise on a ship, tour the Mediterranean.  Then we will take a look at the Alps.”
Constance pauses.  “I had thought of touring the Alps first, but Ronald suggested if we are aboard ship we can petition the Captain to marry us.”  Constance’s voice is barely a whisper: “We will have these apartments redone while we are away, incorporate them into Ronald’s rooms.
“You will have your own suite, Gladys.  I will have the new bath chambers installed for Ronald and myself, and a bath and a fully functional commode with its own water taps and drainage will be placed in your suite.  Will not that be fun!
“No more hip baths for me.  No more sharing a bathroom for you.  Half of the time we will be up in London at our house.  “You know how I love London during theatre season.”
Miss Hooper mumbles an approbation.  She is not sure whether she should comment.  She cannot say that she is overwhelmed with astonishment.  The Squire, she expected to do the honourable thing.  It appears that he has.
But then her heart takes hold of her.  “Shapanzi!”  she calls to the the small royalty who decides to take a stretch upon his cushion. “Did you hear the news.  We are going on a cruise in the Mediterranean sea. We will be walking in the Alps.  “Lady Middleton is to be married to Squire Bexfield.  Isn’t this all so exciting!”
“Our town house in Crouch End will do for us, Gladys.” Constance is so happy to be talking about this.  “Ronald has said he has no objections to being there.  Percy’s is one of the few remaining large houses in that area of North London, but the Fox’s will not move and neither will the Woodgates, Cynthia has told me.
“And Percy’s house by the woods is protected from the developments.  Especially I would say now with the change of name they seem to be serious about not encroaching into the park area.”
Constance, noting the slight modification in expression, due no doubt to a recent incident between Shapanzi and a ruffian dog when Miss Hooper and Shapanzi were taking a walk, places her hand gently upon Miss Hooper’s arm. “I brought this to show you.”  She swivels around, reaches for the travel magazine on the stand by the bath, holds up the guide to a page where details of the ship’s passage is given.
“Ronald has provisionally made reservations for us.  The schedule of stops the ship will make, so exhilarating to be out in the sea breezes.  After the cruise at least a month in the Alps.  The late summer will be delightful.  Warm!”
“Lady Middleton
“Yes dear,” Constance stretches out as much as she can in the hip bath.
“Lady Middleton, I have a question.”
“Yes dear.  Hand me the rose water will you.”
“Lady Middleton.”
“Yes dear.”  Refreshing scented drops are dotted about the face.
“Lady Middleton, what do you think of apparitions?”
“Apparitions, dear?”
Apparitions are not something Constance expects at this moment, but Gladys is Gladys, she does have a changeable way at times.
Miss Hooper picks up a bottle of oil warming by the fire.
“Let me smell it dear.”  Constance does so love this wild rosemary and blue lavender mixture.
“Lady Middleton, I understand your visits here at the manor reach back to your college years.  Have you heard of a Keys family?”
The shock!  “The Keys family, dear.  Why do you ask?”  Constance holds up the oil bottle, stares through the blue of the decorated glass.  She hands the bottle back to Gladys.
“Shapanzi and I,” Miss Hooper looks to Shapanzi, who, in his royal basket, definitely has pricked up his ears.  “We were led to a gravestone while you were in church, yesterday.  “An inscription upon the stone, I was fortunate to have a pencil with me.”  Miss Hooper fumbles in her pocket.  “I have written the words in my memory book:
Here lies Ezekiel Ely Keys born 1842

Rachel Sara Keys born 1843

Caroline Mary Keys born 1860.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream. TheWE.cc
All who died suddenly at Wadding Cottage in terrible circumstances July 10, 1878 Anno Domini.

May they rest in peace.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream. TheWE.cc
“I believe this is correct.” Miss Hooper after reciting the words on the gravesite becomes silent.
“Why does this have special meaning to you, Gladys?”
“Please excuse me, Lady Middleton.  My mentioning ‘apparition.’ I would say definitely some apparitional light came upon Shapanzi and myself at the gravestone.  This light seemed to focus around the name, Caroline Mary Keys.”
Constance’s thoughts have become anything but settled.
A dread!
A name she has kept buried for so many years and now it is here again, just when she is speaking of Ronald.
“Gladys, that name is quite disturbing to me.”
Miss Hooper stares at the lady in the hip bath.  “Then I will speak of it no more, your Ladyship.  Neither myself nor Shapanzi.”  Miss Hooper picks up the slab of mottled soap.  “Let me lather you, your Ladyship.”
“Gladys, this is most sacredly private.  I need your word.”
“My word, your Ladyship?”
“That which I am about to tell you, give me your word that you not speak of it to anyone!”
“My word is given, your Ladyship!”
“You have brought this matter to me and I cannot deny it.  I have denied it.  Long have I staved off mention of Caroline’s name.  In all faith, my soul will not allow me to do so now.  Caroline Mary Keys born 1860.”
“That is the gravestone inscription, your Ladyship.”
“She was barely seventeen, Gladys, when I knew her. She was assisting as teacher for the Mandalmane estate. She also worked some evenings here at the manor.”
Miss Hooper is quite concerned at Constance’s blanched, frozen expression.
“A house on the moors, that is where she lived, Gladys. A house at the edge of the Mandalmane Estate land.  A house built more than a hundred or so years past.  Who knows when.  Nothing is beyond that house, only the heath.”
Constance begins to tremble.  “She told me she had lived upon those moors before.  I asked her what she meant. She had memories of some very ancient time, long past, Gladys.  “A child had been taken from her.  A priestess had crushed its skull so that it would not live.  The child was from evil, the priestess had said.”
“Oh!”  Miss Hooper puts her hands to her head.  “I don’t...”
“We met upon the moors.  I was on my horse.  She was sitting with her feet in a stream. Now she had another child just born. That was the last time I saw her.
“I first noticed her at the manor during a weekend party Ronald’s father gave.  Ronald was seriously entertaining the idea of asking me to marry him, I knew that.  The reason I was spending so much of my time at the manor. Ronald major and Zona had already accepted me as their daughter.
“Ronald was working under his father at Biddiford but his position was not fully secured and I believe that is what held him off. George had come down from college as he was doing most weekends.  We never questioned his reasoning for we had done the same just a few years earlier.  Henrietta and Arthur were here I remember.  A pleasant visit that were becoming rare for they were often overseas.”
Constance eerily begins to laugh.  “They all came that weekend, friends from college days: Phyllis Ashburton, Dick Sanguin.
“Caroline was sixteen.  Her father was giving no further payment for her continuing education; I don’t know why. Ezekiel I understand was a stubborn man; once his mind was set he couldn’t be persuaded.
“Caroline heard mention the Manor was seeking some part-time employment at the weekend.  She came to Zona with her request to work.  Zona agreed which allowed Caroline to continue at the estate school.”
Constance looks beseechingly at her companion and friend.  “You do understand, Gladys.  This cannot be told.”
Miss Hooper stares across at Shapanzi.  “It is our secret, your Ladyship, Shapanzi and I.  It is locked with us.”
“George told me he was in love.  I was the only person to whom he could confide, he said.  After Caroline had been taken home, he would ride out to the moors and she would join him.  Caroline had a curiosity about life.  A need for answers.  George also is that way.  George told me he had spoken to Caroline, that she knew he confided in me.”
“It is time to get you out of the bath, M’lady.  The water is getting cold.”
“Yes!”  Holding Gladys’ hand Constance manages the difficult task of getting out of the hip bath.  Draping a towel over her mistress, the two step across to the dressing room fire.
“Caroline’s father held a very strict interpretation of the Old Testament.”  Constance rubs herself with the towel.
“Ezekiel Keys’ faith is what drove him.  He had become a Christian, his way I suppose of running from a past, from a family connection he did not agree with.  Him and Rachel lived where they did because of it.
“Rachel was also from the bloodline that both Ronald’s grandparents came from, a very highly respected, inner core family I understand.  Ezekiel and Rachel had fallen in love right at the time that Ezekiel was taking upon himself this strict Christian interpretation.  I do not know if I can make you understand. Ezekiel believed the family bloodline from which he came, the wickedness that he now interpreted as their manipulations, he thought he would see the end times because of it.”
Miss Hooper places the dressing-room’s folding screen at the back of Lady Middleton to keep the heat of the fire escaping.
“I do believe something early in his childhood caused his turning to Christianity.  He had to make sense of it as Ronald major and his father had to make sense of it. But the faith he took upon himself was the most severe of teachings.  That came from George. Caroline had told of this I gather to George.  All of the Old Testament, little if nothing from the teachings of Jesus.
“George should have taken Caroline and fled.  When his parents passed he was to inherit half the manor.  It was not money, I believe, for both Zona and Ronald major would have given him support.  There was some weakness in George.  George was flirtatious.  When he met Caroline, that I believe ended.  But we all...we were all young.  None of use knew what we were doing.”
“I had occasion to see Ezekiel Keys coming in his trap to pick up Caroline.  Ronald and I were taking some evening air at the back of the manor and I can see Ezekiel now tearing down the tradesman’s driveway.
“He pulled up right outside the kitchen entrance.  He did not know we were observing him.  He was in such a temper, very harsh he was with Caroline.”  Constance gasps.  “My! I did not want this to come up now.”
“Lady Middleton!”
“Why now, Gladys?  Why, when Ronald and I are just getting together again.”  Constance slips into the gown Miss Hooper is holding, walks across to the dressing table, seats herself before the mirror.
“Caroline even at seventeen was very childlike.  It was her nature to dream.  I have to tell you this, Gladys. George had truly fallen in love with Caroline.”
“We were at the manor when the news came.  She was still teaching at the estate and they asked if we had seen her.  She had not been at home for three nights.  Then a piece of clothing was found by Leatherleaf waters.  The clothing could not be identified as Caroline’s but those are truly dangerous waters.
“The look of horror in George’s eyes.  There was only me he could speak with.  He could not stop from crying.
“I wish I had not been riding on the moors that day.”   Distraught eyes stare at Miss Hooper through the dressing-table glass.
“It was as if fate had decreed I should meet the girl. She was seated by the stream.  Fingers playing in that moor stream.
“When the tale came that Caroline had become trapped and fallen to the mire waters, I like George thought she had died.  I believe he wondered if she might have committed suicide.  Then, there she was, seated by the stream.  This was after George had sailed, after he had arranged military employment in India.  I got off the horse. I could not believe it was Caroline at first.  She began to cry.  She had heard that George had departed. It was him that she had come back to see, to tell him she now had a child.
“The baby had only been born three months previous. I asked where the boy was being kept.  It was being cared for by a family who had taken her inside, finding her upon its doorsteps.  She dare not bring the child to her father’s home.  She would return to this family.  She had no choice.
“I solicited her story in as greater detail as she could supply.  I intended to write to George.  I had the notion that we could send her to India to be with him.  This was just two days before the fire in which she and Ezekiel and Rachel died.
“Two months had gone by and she had seen no blood. It was not only the fear of her father, but the shame of her being exposed at the estate school that made her flee.
“She had thought to cross the moors, but she feared the crossing. She had never journeyed more than a half a day beyond the house. She had no knowledge of that which was north of the Moors.  She decided to take the road to the Bay, and further if that is where she must go.”
Through the dressing-table glass, Constance studies Miss Hooper. “A piece is stored in the jewellery box that I wish to show you. The larger box in the trunk, Gladys, if you would fetch it.”  The trunk placed against the far wall, Miss Hooper searches for the rosewood jewellery case mixed among linen.
“Thank you my dear,” Constance takes the box, places it upon the dressing table before her.  “It began after her day at school, the journey.  Instead of going home, her walk took her the opposite way.  Not to attract attention she kept always among the trees, and when occasioned through the fields.  It was early September and by the time she arrived in Weatherby all was dark.
“She did take the road, once past Weatherby, for that was all she knew.  Ahead, a girl came into view, a girl who also was walking.
“Lydaan, Caroline called her.  The girl spoke with a broad country accent that was not Devon, and Lydaan was how she seemed to speak her name.  She had been brought out in a carriage from Biddiford that evening.  This was how she made her money.  The gentleman had said it was a fine evening for them both to take a drive.  When they had stopped and he tried his way he had been too rough. Lydaan had clawed his face to get away.
“So there the two girls were.  I can see them now as Caroline had described them, walking in the moonlight, Lydaan and her, on foot all the way into Biddiford.
“The girl took her to where she was staying with two others.  Oh, my, I see Caroline sobbing as she tells me this.  She had been at Biddiford almost two months sharing the room with the three girls.  She had taken up needlework, for Lydaan had helped her with this, guarding her in some sisterly fashion from that which she was doing.
“One night Caroline returning from her employment, the door slightly ajar something made her hesitate to go inside.  She could hear the two girls who shared with Lydaan and herself talking.
“One of the girls was saying a man named Sid had asked about Caroline.  He had a fancy for girls who were with child, and would like to lie with her.  Caroline heard one girl laughing, ‘Sid will show ‘er the ropes.’ ‘Yes, but what if she don’t want,’ the second girl asked.  ‘Then ‘er b’tied. Sid’ll give good money to ‘ave ’er tied.’
“Caroline fainted.  Lydaan must have come in at that moment finding her upon the stairs.  Fated it seemed to be that this one should help the second.  Once the truth came out, Lydaan said she knew of a Quaker woman who took in girls with child.  She took Caroline there that very night.
“Caroline remained in the Quaker woman’s home for the rest of her time.  She gave birth to a baby boy weighing more than six one-pound bags of sugar when he came out, Caroline said to me.  I can see her smile now. George, she wanted to give name to him. George, for his father.”   Constance, now extremely agitated, gets up, walks to the window.  “Then the story takes another strange fork.”  She stares out at the driveway.
“Some dispute with a neighbour.  A florin had been stolen from their house and they came to the Quaker woman accusing one of the girls she was keeping of doing it.  The girl denied taking the florin but they were going to have their revenge.  The Quaker woman’s house was attacked during the night.  Just three days after Caroline’s baby was born.”
“It was with torches they came, Caroline told me.  A rabble of men and boys. The girls were all screaming. The house was burnt clear to the ground, Caroline was told afterwards, but she never saw what had happened.  She remembers coming to a house where she had stopped on the doorstep so the baby could get to her breast. She had unfolded her clothing and it was then that the door had opened.  Caroline said she did not remember anything that happened afterwards.  She awoke three days later.  A servant woman was feeding her baby.”
Constance walks back to the mirror, sits.  Miss Hooper picks up a silver hand mirror, holds it so Constance can see the back of her hair.
“It has to be high today, Gladys.  I don’t know if I can go out there for the croquet game, this has so disturbed me. But I did want it high.  A few ringlets at the nape.  Don’t bother a lot with it.”
Then Constance continues: “The house where she had been found sitting on their step, the family took care of her, Caroline said.  The mother insisted they found her on their doorstep by an act of God and she wasn’t to think she was beholden to them.  But all her thoughts now were upon George.  He should know he was the father. Caroline believed he would take her away, marry her, that they would live together the baby and the two of them.”
Constance sits forward on the dressing table chair.  “I do not know if I can tell you the rest.”  Moments she stares through the glass.
“I buried the memory.  I have covered the shame that I attach to myself.  It was there by the stream that Caroline spoke of Ezekiel Keys.  ‘He has said that God will punish us all.  He says that I have shamed God and that the family must pay for my sin.’
“Caroline burst out sobbing.  She was lost. George was in India.  All she had was the family who had her child.
“‘I do not think that I sinned.  We did love,’ the girl said.
“Then she pressed the locket into my hand.”
Opening the blue, velvet-lined jewellery casket, sifting through the box, Constance finds the piece given to her twenty-two years past. Sighing, she holds up the thin silver necklace and locket for Miss Hooper to see. “George had made a present of it to her.  I imagine it was without writing so that her father would not question it.
“Caroline even smiled at me when she gave it to me. She asked that I keep the locket until such time George would come back from India.”
Miss Hooper opens the small locket.  Inside was empty.
“I do believe now that Caroline never expected to see George again.  I should have taken her into my care.  I thought of Ronald and his parents.  I could not imagine what they would say.  I thought if I wrote to George, that would be time enough to take her from the family that was keeping her child.”
Miss Hooper places the locket back in the jewellery box.
“It is a simple thing, m’lady.  Will you wear the tartan for the game?”
Constance takes the locket out of the box, clutches it in her hand. “After the deaths I became hysterical, Gladys.
“How could I know that two days on Caroline with her parents would be dead.  Ronald said it was the Tempest woman.  When Ronald put Abby Tempest away as a mad woman, somehow I knew it was not her.  Could it have been Ezekiel in his madness, punishing the three of them for Caroline’s sin?  Could it have been Caroline herself that caused the fire?
“‘Take it,’ Caroline shouted.  ‘Take it, and leave me.’ She picked up her shoes, wandered off along the edge of the stream.
“I hear her.  I hear her voice from the water still now.
“‘He says that I have shamed the family.  That I have shamed God.  That all must pay.’ ”
. . .
Bella as she looks from the window of her room has a bird’s eye view.  There is only one gable at the back of the house.  When you stare up from below it is an ornamental feature for the only servant’s room on the second floor.
No one knows why the triangle gable would be placed as such, for it is more to the north than the south of the building, nor why, as Bella has decided, her room is placed partly over the servant’s living room and partly over the butler’s room.
The back second floor stairs going only to her room, its entrance is also somewhat mysterious.  The bottom door is more to the south, tucked between large walk-in cupboards, servant’s storage closets used for sheets and varied linen and everything else those who live at the back chose to bundle onto the many deep shelves.
The second floor wooden stairs are quite steep to climb. There’s a space between the steps greater than usual. With no carpet, more than once Bella has tripped.  Some of her shoes are all right but others slide off the wood. With the view and the privacy she wouldn’t trade the room.  She likes being up here with the door shut and away from it all.
A few more days, Bella comforts herself, then wedding will be over.  They will be back to their little cottage in St. Pancras and he will get over it.  She hasn’t found anything.  It’s an impossible task anyway, he should have known that.
The house is so big, so many rooms.  Some of the draws in his father’s private study are locked and she doesn’t know how to force the drawers.  That’s where if anything letters or a document might be.
She doesn’t deceive herself, he will sulk, he will be angry with her. But with the newly married couple going away, Lawrence will not be staying on.  He will be glad to be gone from here.  Get back to his London gambling.
She has never had illusions over the money.  He would be playing with the toffs.  A few hands and it would be all gone.
She’s checked through what she can.  She’s had duty cleaning his father’s legal room and the library, which she was fortunate in having.  Nothing in his study room.  In the library boxes, bills and receipts that went back thirty years, older than Lawrence.  She checked through those carefully taking a lot of time.
She’s curious herself and she’d like to give him what he wants. She’d watched him last night at the do and he’d barely glanced at her.
She shudders, a hint of alarm coming over her.  You get these stirrings, these hopes, and then when little if anything comes of it, life is taken out of you.  When they do get back will it be the same? She does love him.  If he chooses to leave her she would not stay in London.  She’d go back be with her father on the farm.  Her father would welcome her help and her company.
But she pushes these thoughts away.  An emptiness comes over her and she cannot handle it.  Bella closes the door to the small room at the top of stairs.  It’s time to get back to the kitchen and all that’s going on.
Taking a few steps down the curving steep stairs, the prong on her shoe buckle not secured in its eyelet, has her shoe slipping away from her.
One hand clutching at the wall, nothing to hold onto, she leans back, presses the full weight of herself against the wall.
It all happens so suddenly.  As her body slides down the wall, the wall behind her has moved a little.  The chamber stick in her far hand, still alight but sputtering, she places the stick upon the steps.  An opening!
She can feel cold air.
First she needs to buckle her shoe properly.  That done, she feels around the opening.  Then she pushes against it. It moves.
Astonished, Bella crosses herself.  She’s read in penny magazines big old houses have such places.  Some are made for priests to hide, but also secret passageways to rooms.
She picks up the stick still flickering, placing her hand around so it doesn’t flicker too much.  Whatever this is looks very large.
Placing the stick again on the steps, climbing inside, it frightens the life out of her because she falls inwards.  But there is a floor a bit down from where the door is situated.  It’s as dark as death inside.
Leaning back out the hole, she reaches for the candle.
Dust everywhere.  Everything she touches covered in dust.
What to do, she thinks as she brings the stick inside. There are boxes stacked one on top of the other by the far wall. Moving the stick around as she walks, an iron contraption, some kind of iron stairs, winds upwards. Perplexed at whether to come back later, coughing with the dust, she decides to go see what is in the boxes.
One box has its lid taken off, then another.  All the boxes are now around her on the floor.  She takes out old servant’s clothing, nothing like anyone today would wear.
Moving her hands, feeling into the deepest part of the boxes, nothing but soft cloth.  Disappointed she decides to leave it for now.  She can come back to them later.  The iron steps perhaps has more interest.
The steps creaking uneasily, she climbs to a door at the top.  She turns the knob, pushes it open.  Holding the stick up, all around the room moons and half-moons, clusters of celestial bodies painted on the walls.  Lines are drawn from one body to another.
The whole room appears as a map of the firmament.
Bella is now fixed in shock for off to the side, watching her is a sheen.  So many times on the wharfs along London has she seen these.  London is filled with them. Like wax figures they appear sometimes, but wax statues that move.  Many look like ordinary people.  This one does.  It is a girl.
Backing towards the door, she has forgotten about the iron casket. As she falls, her head knocks against the metal edge. Bella groans. A thin trickle of blood runs down her face.  In horror she hears words being spoken, words she hears but doesn’t hear, words in her head.
. . .
“Knocking wooden balls through iron rings with wooden mallets!”  A little past two on a lazy Monday afternoon, the four are ready for Croquet, a game for them that had begun twenty some odd years past.
“Henrietta was not very good, like me,” Arthur smiles. “It was always one or the other.  One of us would sit out, reading our latest digest from work.”
“Were they interesting,’ asks Constance.
“Depends upon who was composing the digest.  Some came with quite bright asides.
“Still do.  Assassinations — all kinds of duplicity — you have to have some comments that cause a chuckle. Couldn’t get through the day without.”
Arguing around the drinks table, four chairs inside the bandstand, for viewing and shade and sustenance, to be decided now is the bisque.
Ronald gets two, agreed by the other three.  Constance gets zero, the best player by far.  George asks for nine, which causes some consternation, he gets four.  Arthur they take pity upon, giving him six, if he should choose to take that many extra turns.
George is laughing, stating his handicap has ranged anywhere from nine to his best play at, he cannot remember.
“You were getting better I distinctly remember when we last played.”
“When, Ronny!”
“George be a sport.  Please your brother.”
“I will.”
The Squire wins the toss.  “Which colour!’
“Blue of course, darling.”
The Squire has black, Arthur gets yellow, George, red.
George who has the option of first ball defers.
On the court, the Squire taps, taps, in the air with the mallet.  A slight tap, the ball slowly, slowly, stops.  Ugh!
“Just the beginning, darling,” Conny calls out to him.
“Just the beginning.”
The play passing to George, they all call, “Back George!”   before he even gets to the ball.
Ronald yells, “It’s not a mallet’s length from the first hoop.”
George aims his stroke through the first hoop, succeeds.  A collective groan.
As is usual in George’s play the unexpected occurs. Across the court Shapanzi runs, scoops up George’s ball in his mouth, or at least attempts to scoop up the ball.
Slightly too large, the young one yelps, scampers back to Miss Hooper making hysterical gestures.
“Well deserved performance,” the Squire shouts.
Where the moved-by-dog-ball should be placed becomes a contention, but the game proceeds.
As George continues his playing, Constance reaches for the back of the Squire’s neck to massage.  “What did you think of the Vicar’s sermon, Arthur?”
“I think one every vicar in the country should give.”
“The miracle part.  Saint Walburga’s night tonight, fairy class stepping forth: Feeorin is it, Banshee, Sprite, ghosts, who know who else, Will o’ wisps, Elven, Mound sidhe, Woodnymph.”
Arthur laughs.  “Ireland tiny Leprechauns with hats they must have upon them, don’t forget those.”
“Jack’s lantern to bring the light, remember George?” the Squire calls out to his brother.  “Mater always put food out:  Chocolate vinegar cake, baked hard.  Biscuits made with mushroom, sponges filled with lavender.”
“Don’t forget the touch of scraped silver,” yells George from the court.
“Yes, but do any of you believe there are such things?”   asks Constance.
“Helping my local preacher with exorcisms.  I’ll believe anything,” answer Arthur.
“Have you been helping with exorcisms?”  asks Ronald.
“Yes!  Henrietta and I became involved when the diocese exorcist refused doing them.  He could no longer take the demons, he said, and I don’t blame him.  The Bishop took in a Roman priest and we began to assist him.  It frightens me.  I now know what demons can do.”
“There really are demons?”
“Yes!  They penetrate our Earth existence, especially if we call them.  Bel’s Fire is one such time they consider being called. Tonight!”
“From where,” asks Constance.
“They call it ‘The Kingdom.’
“Is it a kingdom?”
“I suppose it might be.  I do not know.  I am not a demon.”
“What do you do in these exorcisms?”  asks the Squire.
“One thing we were doing, which I had no idea we would be doing, is move towards the demon’s domain.  A half-way between their world and ours.
“What was Henrietta’s contribution to the exorcism,” asks Constance
“She believes in the trained mind.  Her family teaches that. Demons seek people who through incantations, or simply imbibing, becoming intoxicated with no restraint. Alcohol or opium or some other substance causes weakening of the mind, places us under a demon’s control should we be susceptible.  It is important not to engage them with play.
“Henrietta used a sound.  She would chant this silently. In the fields she would sing the sound.  I have heard her. It was a daily occurrence for her.  She tried to get me to practice it, but I never have.”
“The sound,” asks Ronald.
“A very ancient sound.  In some way Henrietta thought our English word Human came from the use of the sound. Human has both Latin and Greek ancestry, ‘man’ in Latin, ‘same’ in early Greek.  Henrietta said the origin was much earlier, a far golden age.  Hu is the word she used.  She would extend the word so it would sound like ‘Huuuuuuu’ or ‘Huuuuuuuuuuuuu’ When she did it silently it would be almost without breaking, a continuation that was repeated and repeated.  Singing, it would only end when she ran out of breath.  The Chinese use Hu in their names, but they have forgotten the meaning.
“It is great protection, she said.  All in her family use it. They believe how they have managed to protect themselves. Places a shield around one.  But far more than protection, it builds the inner bodies, the inner frequency bodies, it strengthens them.  She said using this word repeatedly over a long period of time, years, would bring great spiritual advancement.  She even said it improved the mind.  Some Sufi use the word.”
“Sufi?”
“A sect of the Mahometan faith, the Sufi having many sects inside their own umbrella.  Persian mystics, Rumi, Shams and others have preserved the word HU, brought it to our ears.  Henrietta’s family have also kept it in their history.  I suppose because it works.”
“But you don’t use it, Arthur.”
“I never have to any extent.”
Arthur laughs.  “Perhaps now Henrietta can no longer protect me, I should begin.”
“Eight hoops, George” Constance calls.
“Next he’ll be telling us is he’s in training for the Paris games.”
“They’re including women this year at croquet,” says Constance.  “Shall we stop by after Annabell’s wedding, Knobs.”
The Squire laughs, leans over and kisses her.  “Do you think they will be having them!  The whole of Paris in an uproar, I hear.  Not enough space inside the Glass Palace!
“Americans threatening to withdraw.  Dexter, my clerk says they are now calling it the Jeux Olympiques — Olympic Games!  This Baron de Coubertin running around with his International Committee.  Everybody wants a new Olympics, nobody is prepared to pay for it. The Zappas in Greece should be left with it, I say.  That’s where it began, that’s where it should be.”
Shouting and moans erupts from George who has finally failed with his roqueting.
Constance gets up, walks towards the court.
Ronald takes a sip of his drink, pats the chair for George to sit down.
“I have heard Arthur that China is going to erupt again. They say Empress Myeongseong’s assassination was just the beginning by the families.  They want Japan to control all Asia: Korea, China. All that is except Annam and the rest of their Empire out there. They do have a stronghold. With Japan in the East under their control, and Europe merged, which they hope to do in the next decade, they will have the world.  Pater always said they wanted world dominance.  They have no compunction in doing what they do, the stakes are too great.”
“Sometimes they don’t get it right,” Ronald continues softly.  “That new Yerkes Observatory with its 40 inch achromatic is showing some interesting stuff, George. The 49 inch is being shown at the Paris Universal.  My reason for stopping by this summer.  Don’t inform Conny, please.”
“Merrily, merrily let us all sing, and make the old telescope rattle and ring.”  George and Arthur laugh.
“Arthur, inform George about the Americans and these off-planet beings.”
. . .
A scream!  A long scream!  Bella has separated from her body. ‘Your baby?’ Bella’s thoughts sound so hollow. ‘Are you Polly?’
What it does then makes Bella, who she is in this body, shake with involuntary excitement.  For slowly this being glides to her.  Its fingers touch her.
‘Caroline!’ Then the young, delicate girl and all that is around, fade into dullness.
. . .
As I write this in the stream of existence following, I have to declare that I, Henry Arthur Longfellow am the person who in this book is called Hews.
Lying on the bed, that Monday late evening, I reach for the quilt, pull it around me.  Sleep when it had come had not been easy, dreams of morbidity pervading my thoughts.
Where has she gone, my Henrietta, is all that I can think of in my dream now.  Where is she!  Then the doubts come:  Is all that she told me, truth?  Is anything that she told me, truth?
The brass lamp on the side table sputtering, I reach to the bedstand, turn the wick lower, then lower.  I think of her as so often doing the same.  She hated to deal with the wick.
For the want, I shove the bedclothes from me, step across to the window, push the lower frame upwards.  The descending darkness, how it slips around me.
It will not be long now, the wedding.  I will soon be back with my memories.  I do not wish to go home.  I do not have a desire to be anywhere.
As the cooling night air sweeps across me, I know I am lost.  Inside I have no reason to continue.
Then I hear something.
I swing back.  ‘Henny!  Henny!’
As I stare, everything in the room is as it should be. ‘I am trying to speak with you my love.  I do so want to speak with you.’
Then if truth be told, I do hear: ‘Arthur!  Arthur!  You are such a Silly-Billy!’
‘I am a Silly-Billy?’ I answer.
‘I am so pleased you agree.’
I have to laugh.  Tears are pouring from me.  ‘I am making this up! My mind is making you up, Henny. Where have you been!’
‘Everywhere!’
‘Henny, be serious with me!’
‘Yes, my dearest!’
‘No, I mean it, Henny, don’t fool with me!’
‘At my writing desk, my love.  So angry you are with me.  You start to leave the room.  Then you come back. You remember the ardent kiss you gave me?’
‘I do.’
‘I knew we would be together with that kiss.’
‘Henny!  Is this really you.  Is it my imagination?’
‘Henny!  I love you!’
‘You kiss me.  I run madly through the open door into the garden, you chase.  We run and run until we are out of breath.  Quite demurely we cease, by the roses, as if nothing has happened.  “The roses are doing well,” you say. “They should,” I remind you, “the effort I have taken.” You laugh!’
‘Are you here to rescue me, Henny?’
‘From Life?’
‘I do not want to be here, not without you.’
‘Ah!  Such a foolish Silly-Billy.’
‘But I’m afraid, Henny!’
‘Will you run away with me?’
‘I will.’
‘We will go everywhere!  And we will learn much.’
‘Learn!  Will we always be learning?’
‘Do you wish to stop!”
‘No!’
‘You must close the window now.  You will be getting cold.’
‘Henny, come back to me!’
‘I will.’
© Kewe   All rights reserved.