“All right, Mr. Gladfield,” Miss Devereaux said as Bamforth cleared away the breakfast plates the next morning, “it’s time to keep your promise. Tell us the history of Reyhome Castle.”
Henry leaned forward in his chair. Even though, as he’d said yesterday, the house’s history made no difference to his experiments, he couldn’t help but find himself curious.
Gladfield settled back in his chair, seeming to enjoy prolonging their suspense. “Very well. You’ve all been remarkably patient,” he said. “The history of Reyhome Castle began in 1846. Francis Reyer had made his fortune in timber, and once he felt the hand of age upon him, he decided to marry. As fate would have it, he settled upon a much younger woman for his bride, a Miss Martha Hargrave. For the first year of their marriage, the couple lived in New York while Reyhome Castle was built. The house was intended as a summer home only, except things began to go wrong.”
“What happened?” Jo asked eagerly.
“Nothing terrible at first.” Gladfield sipped his coffee. “Reyer had always been somewhat paranoid, but never to an extreme—just enough to keep him sharp in business. But with such a young, pretty wife, he began to display jealousy toward any other man who met her socially. He seldom allowed her to leave their New York home, and never without his company. She couldn’t even see her cousins without his presence as chaperone. And as soon as Reyhome Castle was finished, they moved here on a permanent basis.”
“I suppose this far out in the country, he believed there would be fewer temptations for his wife,” Henry suggested.
Gladfield nodded. “No doubt. In due time, the family was joined by two more souls: a boy and girl who were the delight of Mrs. Reyer. Alas, their arrival marked the beginning of Francis Reyer’s descent into madness.”
Miss Devereaux’s flowing skirts rustled as she shifted in her chair. “Madness?”
“Indeed.” Gladfield watched them over the edge of his cup. “Reyer became completely unhinged. He barred even the few visitors they had and fired every man on staff, including his own valet. Supposedly, he became convinced the children weren’t really his and flung the most horrid accusations at his wife. His paranoia became so extreme, he withdrew a small fortune from the bank to have the money on hand. That way, he wouldn’t have to leave the house even for a few hours.”
Miss Prandle shivered. “His poor wife. And children.”
“Trapped in a house far from anyone else, with a lunatic in complete control of their fates,” Gladfield agreed. “Inevitably, things ended badly. One day Reyer lost what little grip he retained on sanity, took up a knife, and swore he’d kill the children, as he was certain they weren’t his. His wife died on the second-floor balcony, in front of the schoolroom, trying to save them.”
So Vincent was right—the stain on the floor had been blood. Henry suppressed a shiver.
“Once he was done with her,” Gladfield went on, “Reyer went into the schoolroom. The tutor was badly wounded in the defense of her charges, but to no avail. He murdered his little son and daughter.”
“How terrible,” Henry said, but it came out a horrified whisper. This was far worse than anything he’d imagined. Perhaps it would have been better not to know after all.
“The handful of remaining servants fled in terror,” Gladfield went on. “Within a few hours, a group of local men returned, determined to overpower Reyer and take him to face justice for his crimes. They were too late—Reyer hanged himself, either from remorse or as a final phase of his lunacy, who can say? Reports vary as to where his body was found. Some say in this very room, dangling from the chandelier above our heads.”
Henry glanced up reflexively. The dark iron seemed suddenly, unspeakably sinister. Jo let out little gasp, but she seemed more fascinated than frightened. “Where else?” Henry asked.
“The top of the tower is the other place Reyer might have done himself in. The fortune he’d supposedly kept on hand was never found. If it existed at all, the men who discovered the body probably took it.” Gladfield shrugged. “By the time of the deaths, the house had been occupied for less than ten years. After, it passed into the possession of Reyer’s sister, newly married to my father. As my parents already had a country home, they rented the property to friends for the summer. The friends remained for less than a month, reporting cold spots, figures glimpsed in mirrors, and other things which left them deeply uneasy. They finally departed when the head maid fell down the servants’ stair to her death. They were convinced a ghost had pushed her. The house has lain undisturbed since.”
Silence lay over the room for a long moment. Then Miss Devereaux asked, “When?”
“Pardon me?” Gladfield asked.
Her eyes were like chips of green ice, and there was no mistaking the low urgency in her voice when she spoke. “When did the murders and suicide occur? The date, sir.”
Gladfield smiled. “The twelfth of January. The anniversary is tomorrow night.”
~ * ~
“We need to leave. Right now.” Vincent’s heart drummed in his chest, and waves of alternating hot and cold washed over him. Lizzie was saying something, but he couldn’t hear over the sound of screams and mad laughter. Breaking glass. He tasted rot and slime on his tongue. If he turned his head just a little, he’d see Dunne staring back at him with sightless eyes.
“Vincent?” A hand landed on his arm. He jumped and found he’d risen to his feet without even realizing it. Henry stood beside him, blue eyes staring worriedly up. “Are you well?”
Of course he wasn’t well. His knees trembled, threatening to give way. Every instinct he possessed screamed at him to grab Henry and Lizzie, and run.
But Henry didn’t understand—his puzzlement said as much. Bitter laughter welled in Vincent’s throat, but he choked it down. Instead, he turned to Gladfield. “You have no idea the sort of danger you’ve put us all in, do you?”
Gladfield frowned severely. “I suggest you watch your tone, Mr. Night. Your savage blood does not excuse such behavior.”
Henry drew in a harsh sip of breath as if he meant to protest.
“Vincent, sit down,” Lizzie ordered before Henry could speak. “Forgive my colleague, Mr. Gladfield. He didn’t mean to speak sharply.”
Vincent wanted to object. To tell Gladfield to go to hell and take the house with him. But doing so would only end with him being thrown out.
And wouldn’t it be for the best? He’d have an excuse to walk away. One absolving him of all guilt when it came to the fate of those left behind.
“Yes.” He sank back into his seat. “Forgive me.”
“What Mr. Night meant to say,” Lizzie went on, “was, while most spirits are entirely harmless, save for giving the occasional fright to the unwary, such isn’t always the case. There are instances when spirits can become violent and do injury to people, mediums and ordinary souls alike. Given the death of the maid—”
“Which may have been an accident,” Henry pointed out quickly.
Lizzie arched a cool brow at him. “Given our circumstances, such an assumption is dangerous to make, Mr. Strauss. If the ghost of Reyer walks these halls, if it has killed once already, we are in peril.”
“If,” Henry said. Leaning back in his chair, he folded his arms over his chest, radiating skepticism. Vincent clenched his fists and tried to resist the urge to grab the man and shake sense into him.
“Do you think Reyer was the ‘he’ referred to in the spirit writing?” Miss Strauss asked.
Lizzie nodded. “I think it likely. It seems to me his wife may have been trying to warn us, both through her writing and her appearance to Mr. Strauss.”
Gladfield set his coffee aside. “What do you suggest?”
Lizzie glanced briefly at Henry, then back to Gladfield. “Reyer is not a spirit any of us want to encounter. My advice to you is to end the experiment immediately, begin packing, and have us all on the train south by nightfall.”
Vincent sagged in relief. Lizzie agreed, so his alarm hadn’t just been a product of the fear that had stalked him for months.
“Are you saying you refuse to conduct a séance to try to exorcize Reyer’s ghost?” Gladfield asked.
For a long moment, Lizzie didn’t reply, the struggle clear on her face. No doubt she thought of the five hundred dollars, of all the things the money could buy. Of saving the shop, the last thing they had of Dunne.
Her shoulders slumped fractionally. “Yes, Mr. Gladfield. It’s simply too dangerous.”
A surprised grin slowly spread across Henry’s features. “You’re forfeiting the contest. I’ve won!”
“Are you insane?” Vincent turned to look at him full on, and the sight of elation on Henry’s face was like a blow to his chest. “Didn’t you hear what Lizzie said? What I said? Even with your ghost grounder, we can’t risk this!”
Henry’s smile faltered. “I...”
“Mr. Night.” Gladfield wasn’t pleased with him, not at all. Right then, Vincent didn’t particularly give a damn. “Perhaps you don’t understand what’s at stake here. This is a very valuable property, and I mean to have it exorcised. One of the best times for contacting a ghost, unless I am mistaken, is the anniversary of its death, which is why I chose this week for the contest. If Mr. Strauss is willing to make the attempt, he shall, without any further interference from you.” Gladfield’s annoyed gaze moved to Henry’s face. “And Mr. Strauss, don’t get ahead of yourself. You’ll have your five hundred dollars only when—and if—you dispose of the ghost.”
Henry glanced at Vincent, uncertainty in his eyes. For a moment, Vincent let himself hope Henry realized what a terrible idea this was.
Then Henry’s shoulders went back. “I intend to, Mr. Gladfield. We’ll conduct the Electro-Séance as soon as I can put my equipment in place. This house will be free of ghosts by sundown.”
~ * ~
“Pardon me, Mr. Strauss,” Bamforth said from the doorway. “A man just came from the train station—he delivered this packet for you.”
Henry stood in his bedroom, straightening his collar in the mirror. He and Jo had spent the last two hours moving their equipment into Reyer’s bedroom, which seemed the most likely place to summon the spirit, given the activity noted by the cold spots and the Franklin bells. Having finished all the preparations, he had retreated to his own room, determined to look his best for his moment of triumph.
Miss Devereaux had helped prove the case for the weakness of the human element, and had done so without any prompting from him. The way to victory was now clear. He had only to operate the Electro-Séance effectively, and the five hundred dollars would be his. He’d convert the repair shop into a full laboratory where he could invent ever better ways of bringing the spirit world under control, banishing superstition and fear to the dusty past where they belonged. Jo’s future would be secure.
Best of all, the Psychical Society would be forced to admit he’d been right all along. Perhaps they’d even beg him to become society president, a post he’d regretfully have to decline, as his work would keep him far too busy.
Yet his triumph came at the cost of Vincent’s loss. Its shadow prevented him from savoring it as he should have.
Vincent. The genuine alarm on his face had given Henry pause. He’d said something last night about a death. But of course the medium hadn’t seen the Electro-Séance in operation, didn’t realize how powerful it could be. Once he did, he’d surely come around to Henry’s side. He’d see science could make things safe, realize he’d been fighting for a way of life that brought harm instead of helped.
“Thank you, Bamforth,” Henry said, taking the mail. Bamforth nodded and left, shutting the door behind him again.
The large envelope weighed heavy in Henry’s hand, and a quick perusal revealed it was the packet he’d been expecting from the blasted detective. Not much point in looking at it now, as it was too late to be of any use. Still, there might be something of interest...
A sharp knock sounded. “Henry?” Vincent demanded. “Are you in there?”
Curse it. Henry hurriedly tossed the packet onto the bottom of the wardrobe and shut its door. “Yes—come in.”
Vincent strode purposefully into the room. The medium’s copper skin was flushed, and his black brows drawn down. “Are you insane? Didn’t you hear anything we said? Or have you convinced yourself we’re a pair of frauds, no better than Isaac?”
Henry stiffened at the anger in Vincent’s voice, as well as the mention of Isaac. “I might have believed you a fraud at first, but I don’t think so any longer,” Henry replied, fighting to keep his voice calm. “And yes, I heard you.”
“You just don’t believe us.”
“I didn’t say that.”
Vincent shut the door and crossed the room. Henry stepped back, his shoulders colliding with the wardrobe. Vincent took advantage, hands closing on Henry’s arms, pinning him against the wooden doors. “Listen to me,” Vincent said. Their thighs brushed together. “You wish to prove your gadgets can dispel a haunting? Do so. But not this one.”
Henry stiffened. His heart beat faster at Vincent’s closeness, and he cursed the treacherous organ. “I’ll not turn my back on five hundred dollars without good reason.”
“Good reason?” Vincent’s hands gripped his arms, almost tight enough to bruise. “What about your cousin’s safety? Miss Prandle’s? Bamforth’s?”
“I understand you’re concerned. I’ll take every possible precaution, I swear.”
“People have died trying to exorcise violent ghosts.” Vincent’s lips pressed together as if to hold in the next words. “My own mentor among them, and he knew more about the spirit world than I will in a lifetime.”
As Henry had suspected—the death Vincent had mentioned did play into his reluctance to accept Henry’s assurances. “Tell me,” Henry said. “Please.”
Vincent’s eyes lowered as if he couldn’t bring himself to meet Henry’s gaze. “Do you know what a medium is? Really?”
“Someone who can sense spirits, of course.”
But Vincent shook his head. “We’re holes in the veil between the lands of the living and the dead. Some are pinpricks, open to receiving vague impressions or the occasional premonition. But others of us...we’re walking, talking gateways, just waiting for something to come along from the other side and use us. Without proper training, we’re vulnerable to possession, psychic sickness, insanity, and a host of other horrors.”
The darkness in Vincent’s eyes tugged at something deep inside Henry’s chest. “I didn’t realize.”
“Many of us end up dead or in madhouses before anyone ever realizes we have a talent in need of training.” Vincent bit his lip in a flash of white teeth. “Lizzie and I were lucky. We both had the same mentor. James Dunne. He was a good medium, but more. A good man. The best I ever met.”
The anger had drained from Vincent’s voice, leaving behind only weary grief. “What happened?” Henry asked softly.
Vincent’s grip relaxed, and he bowed his head. “Dunne and I went to remove what we thought was a simple poltergeist. It had tormented a family, particularly their young son, for months. No one else had been able to help. The ghost was violent. Angry.” A shudder went through Vincent’s slender frame. “But I was confident. I talked Dunne into staying despite all the dangers.”
There was only one way this story was going to end. “Things didn’t go as planned, I take it.”
“You might say that.” Vincent released Henry and stepped back. Folding his arms across his chest, he turned away and stared out the window. Fat flakes of snow drifted past lazily. “When I opened myself to the spirit, it took control of me completely. Not like when Lizzie did her spirit writing, but a full possession. It used my body, my energy, to attack Dunne, and I couldn’t stop it. I was a prisoner inside my own skull. I couldn’t even scream.”
Oh God. Henry tentatively touched Vincent’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.” It sounded inadequate, but what else could he say?
Vincent flinched away as if he couldn’t bear any gesture of comfort. “It killed him. Wearing my skin. Dunne did everything for me, and that was how I repaid his kindness. Believe me when I say I understand the danger this ghost poses to all of us.”
Henry’s breath caught in dismay. Poor Vincent. How must he feel? What horrors must still visit him in the small hours of the night? “You were very brave to come here at all.”
For a moment, Vincent looked surprised, as if it had never occurred to him. Then he shook his head. “I’m not brave. Stupid, perhaps. Desperate, certainly. What good is a medium afraid to channel spirits? I haven’t so much as read the cards for anyone since. I try to be useful to Lizzie, but the truth is, I’m just dragging her down with me. I killed Dunne, and now because of me, we’re going to lose his shop, the only thing we have left of him. Lizzie thought if we won the five hundred dollars...” He sighed. “But the money isn’t worth dying for.”
“Of course not.” Henry moved closer, and this time Vincent didn’t pull away from his touch. “Don’t you see, though? The Electro-Séance isn’t a person. It can’t be possessed. What happened to your mentor—to you—was terrible. Tragic. But I can prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.”
“Maybe you can.” Vincent’s agreement took him by surprise. “But find another haunting to test your theories. A ghost that doesn’t realize it’s dead, or one enacting the scene of its demise again and again—one that isn’t violent, isn’t dangerous. Not this one.”
Henry sighed. “Your experience has colored your reaction. No matter how dangerous or violent this ghost was in life, it still must obey certain principles now. The Electro-Séance—”
“Curse you, listen to me.” Vincent’s expression hardened. “You still think spirits are—are cogs in a machine. Chemicals you can combine and get a known reaction from. But they aren’t. They used to be human—perhaps still are—and they have plans and minds of their own. You think you can call them up and banish them at will, like some sort of party trick. The way Isaac pretended to call up your father on demand. But you’re wrong, dangerously so, and I fear to contemplate who else will pay the price for your hubris.”
“It isn’t hubris to try and help people,” Henry shot back. “As long as you refuse to allow even the possibility of scientific help, more people will suffer. At least I’m doing something to change things for the better. What are you doing except hiding from your fear?”
Vincent’s eyes widened—then narrowed sharply even as his cheeks darkened with anger. “I see. Very well. Good day to you, Mr. Strauss.”
The door slammed behind him, leaving Henry alone in the room.