Book: Restless Spirits

Previous: Chapter 16
Next: Chapter 18

Chapter 17

 

Henry spent the rest of the night drifting in and out of sleep, stretched out on the floor with his head pillowed on Vincent’s shoulder. When dawn finally struggled through the heavy clouds outside, he awoke to an aching foot, sore neck, and stiff back from the hard floor.

“Do you think it’s safe to go out?” he asked.

“I hope so.” Vincent’s face was drawn, and the flesh beneath his eyes looked bruised.

Henry sat up, wincing at his many pains. “Did you sleep at all?”

“I thought it better to keep watch. Just in case. How is your foot?”

Henry unwrapped the makeshift bandage Vincent had put on it last night, made from the bottom three inches of his nightshirt. Thankfully the shard hadn’t been too large, and although the wound hurt, it didn’t appear serious. “It won’t be comfortable to walk on, but I’ll manage.”

“Good.” Vincent sat up as well.

Henry turned to him. “Vincent...thank you. For everything. You saved my life last night. I shouldn’t have run out of the bedroom, I know, but...”

Vincent smiled at him, wry and affectionate all at once. “It’s not in your nature to let anything bad happen to Jo if you can help it.” He reached out and gently brushed a strand of hair from Henry’s forehead. “It’s one of the things I like about you.”

Henry swallowed against a sudden constriction in his throat. Not certain what he could say—what he should say, or not say, really—he leaned in and kissed Vincent with all the tenderness he could muster. “I don’t want this to end,” he admitted.

Surprise flashed across Vincent’s features before they eased into a grin. “Neither do I. After we finish things here at Reyhome Castle, we’ll talk.”

“Agreed.” Henry sat back. “So how are we to finish things here, as you put it?”

Vincent sighed. “I don’t know.”

“I expected you to suggest we leave.”

“I’ve changed my mind.”

“What?” Henry turned to him in shock. “Do you exist just to be contrary? You’ve been arguing for us to leave the whole time, and now—now—you argue for the opposite?”

“I know, I know.” Vincent held up his hands for peace. “Hear me out. The night before last, when Lizzie used psychometry on the maid’s hairbrush, we came up with a theory about Reyer and the house.”

“What theory?”

Vincent wrapped his arms around his knees. “He built Reyhome Castle as a prison for his wife and children. We think it’s become a literal prison, not only for them, but for the spirit of anyone else who dies here.”

A chill having nothing to do with the cold air walked up Henry’s spine. “Explain.”

“The spirit of the maid seemed trapped. Lizzie and I think Reyer is keeping her—and presumably his wife—from moving on.” He looked around the room. “I’m not sure about the children—I haven’t sensed them, but it’s possible Martha is keeping them hidden somewhere, masking their energy with her own. I hope not, but I can’t discount it.”

Henry’s heart sank. “And you want to free them.”

Vincent rubbed tiredly at his eyes. “Martha saved us from severe injury last night. Possibly death. I can’t abandon her—abandon any of them—knowing they’re still trapped here by the ghost of a madman.”

“Does it have to be today, though?” A sudden thought occurred to Henry. “What if we both refuse to continue? We’ll tell Gladfield we’re willing to return in a month, when things have settled down and it isn’t the anniversary of the murders. If we insist, there’s not much he can do. We’ll regroup, decide what to do, and return ready to finally put the ghosts to rest.”

“You have a point.” Vincent grinned suddenly. “And if Gladfield agrees, you’ll have your excuse to see me again.”

“Do I need one?” Henry asked a bit archly. Was that what he wanted—to be constantly looking for some reason, some excuse, to see Vincent? True, they lived in different cities, but the railroad made visits practical, at least on occasion.

Could such an arrangement even work, or was he fooling himself? Was it better to agree that they’d enjoyed one another’s company, then part ways? He’d worried before about what people would think if he associated with a medium, but...

But to hell with them. Had he worried what others would say when he’d agreed to let Jo stay with him, when he’d openly acknowledged their relation? Devil take anyone who thought to tell him who he could associate with.

“I thought you might require one,” Vincent said. “For your own conscience.” There was something tentative, hopeful, in his dark eyes. “I’m glad to hear otherwise.”

An odd warmth settled into Henry’s chest. He leaned in to kiss Vincent.

“Henry!” Jo cried, her voice muffled. “Where are you?”

They jerked apart. Vincent rose to his feet and went to the doors just as Miss Prandle’s voice joined Jo’s. “Mr. Strauss? Mr. Night?”

“We’re in the schoolroom!” Vincent called up. There came the sound of running feet on the stairs. A moment later, the door opened and Jo came in. “We had a bit of a difficult night, as you see, and were forced to take refuge here. Mr. Strauss injured his foot, and—”

“Henry!” Jo shoved past Vincent and ran to his side, dropping onto her knees. Her brown eyes were wide. “The ghost scared us—banging on the door—but it went away. We didn’t hear anything after, not the mirror breaking or you calling for help or—”

“It’s all right, Jo.” Henry patted her shoulder. “I’ve only a small gash on my foot, which Mr. Night tended to already.”

She stood by anxiously while he climbed to his feet. A sharp pain radiated from the wound when he put his weight on it, but he thought he could at least hobble about. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to dress a bit more properly for company.”

~ * ~

While everyone else retreated downstairs to breakfast, Henry and Vincent went to their rooms to dress and shave. “Do you need to borrow anything?” Henry asked as Vincent sorted through the wreckage of his wardrobe.

Vincent tossed his torn velvet coat aside with a sigh. “No. The rest of my things are intact, just creased from spending the night on the floor. Hopefully our company will be forgiving of my disreputable looks.”

“I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Perhaps.” Vincent held up a wrinkled shirt and made a face. “The clothes are armor, you know.”

Henry cocked his head. He knew he should go back to his own room—he was standing in the doorway in his nightshirt, without so much as a robe, but he couldn’t leave without asking. “What do you mean?”

Vincent pulled a tie from the mess and tossed it over the back of a chair. “Clothes make the man, as they say. If I dress to a high enough standard, those around me see...well, they still see a savage, but a tame one. Depart too far from that standard, and things become, shall we say, problematic.”

“Dress respectably, and one becomes respectable,” Henry murmured. It was something Isaac had said once, in passing. Henry had been too dazed with lust to understand until far too late.

“Precisely.” Vincent turned to him. “Now, if you’ll excuse me?”

“Oh, yes. I’m sorry.” Henry quickly stepped back to let Vincent shut the door. “I’ll see you at breakfast.”

He returned to his room and opened the wardrobe, pulling out his own clothing for the day. Still, what Vincent had said—what Isaac had said—itched at the back of his mind. Obviously he didn’t like how people judged Vincent by his skin the same way they did Jo, but there was more to it.

Perhaps it was just the memory of Isaac. Someone who had pretended to be something he wasn’t. Not at all the same as what Vincent was doing.

But someone in this house had tried to kill Henry. Unless Reyer had dispatched some unknown squatter in the walls, one of their company was also pretending to be what they weren’t.

Vincent said Miss Devereaux had valid reasons for not wishing to share a room with the other two ladies. And true, there hadn’t been any attempts at trickery last night, but perhaps she’d sensed the ghost was active and wisely chose to stay her hand.

The packet the detective had sent him. Henry had forgotten all about it in the chaos following the Electro-Séance.

When he’d engaged the detective, he’d been certain he was coming here to meet a pair of frauds no better than Isaac. He’d hoped to show up on the doorstep, brandishing proof and clearing the way for his own triumph.

Instead, Vincent had ended up saving him from injury or even death. Had become a friend, and...well. Maybe more. A lover, certainly.

But it would do no harm to look at what the detective had sent. Despite their long friendship, Miss Devereaux might still have tricked Vincent. Henry would be doing Vincent a favor if the detective had indeed uncovered something questionable about her.

Henry retrieved the sealed packet from the bottom of the wardrobe. Sinking down on the edge of the bed, he tore open the envelope and shook out the contents.

When he read the first lines, he wished he’d never remembered the packet at all.

~ * ~

Thanks to the destruction of the dining room, breakfast was served around the fireplace in the grand hall. Vincent accepted coffee and a few slices of toast from Bamforth, but found himself too tired to have much in the way of appetite.

“Bamforth and I had quite the restful night,” Gladfield said, spooning jam liberally onto his toast. “Fascinating how the ghost isolated the sound of your troubles from the rest of us, Mr. Night.”

Vincent glanced automatically at the stairs. Where the devil was Henry? He didn’t seem like a man to spend a great deal of time on his toilette. What could be keeping him in his room? “I would call it troubling, rather,” Vincent said.

“Agreed.” Lizzie held out her cup for Bamforth to refill. “For a spirit to have such control over its environment is highly unusual.”

“Mr. Strauss and I discussed the matter.” Vincent set aside his untouched toast. “We feel—”

The sound of slow, measured steps on the stairs distracted him. Vincent rose to greet Henry, then stopped. Henry’s face was deathly pale, and he clutched a sheaf of papers in his hands.

“Henry? I was just telling Mr. Gladfield about our discussion.” When Henry made no reply, he asked, “Is everything all right?”

“No. No, it isn’t.” Henry finally met Vincent’s gaze, and his eyes were hard and cold as the glass lenses of his spectacles. “Mr. Gladfield, I’m afraid we’ve been taken in.”

What was Henry talking about? Vincent took a step toward him, hand lifted. “Henry, what—”

“Don’t touch me.” The vitriol in Henry’s voice hit Vincent like thrown acid. “I know. I know everything. All your lies.”

“Explain yourself, Mr. Strauss,” Lizzie ordered, rising to her feet.

Henry’s grin was a ghastly thing, without humor at all. “Was it you who tried to kill me with the chandelier? It was, wasn’t it? And if I’d died, Mr. Night would have claimed it the work of a spirit. Since I didn’t, some other lie was necessary.”

“What the devil?” Vincent exclaimed. “Henry, you’re talking nonsense.”

“Am I? Why should I listen to a word you have to say, liar?” Henry clutched at the sheaf of papers like a man clinging to flotsam in a storm. “When Mr. Gladfield arranged our little contest, I asked him for the identity of the medium I would face. He told me there would be two and gave me your names. I assumed you were frauds, so I hired a detective to find you out even before we came here.”

No. Oh no. “Henry,” Vincent started.

“Shut up.” Henry didn’t even look at him now, all his attention focused on Gladfield. “The information didn’t come in time, and when Bamforth so kindly brought my mail from the station, I thought it unnecessary. I thought Mr. Night and Miss Devereaux had proven they possessed real psychical talents, and didn’t bother to look through the detective’s findings.”

No. No, no, no.

Gladfield’s brows drew together. “What do you mean, man?”

Henry swallowed, his throat working hard. “Everything they’ve told us has been a lie.”

God. Oh God. He’d been going to tell Henry the truth last night. Just before the damned spirit started pounding on the wall. “Th-that isn’t so.”

“Isn’t it, Mr. Night?” Henry brandished the papers. “Oh, but wait, Night isn’t even your name, is it?”

It was, though. One paid for and hard-won. But even a glance at Henry’s face killed any hope Vincent might be allowed to explain.

Henry made a show of adjusting his spectacles. “Vincent Watkins, alias Fast Vinnie, alias Red Knife, alias Vincent Night. No record of birth, but the police first came across you in the Bowery, age seven. They encountered you again, I see, and again—petty theft, pickpocketing, and my favorite, ‘solicitation of unnatural acts.’”

Vincent wanted to close his eyes and hide. Or maybe the opposite—maybe he wanted to scream it didn’t matter, none of it mattered. Because Dunne had come along and taken him away from it all, made him whole. Let him become the person he’d been meant to be.

Henry pushed on. Relentless. Digging the blade in farther. “Apparently, by age fifteen, you were part of a group conducting fake séances. You would cover yourself in starch powder and appear as the ‘spirit guide’ Red Knife.”

“Henry,” he tried again, but his voice cracked helplessly.

“You’re a fraud.” Henry’s tone left no hope of reprieve. Vincent had been judged and found wanting. “None of your so-called ‘clairgustance,’ or whatever ability you claim, can be trusted. All of which puts a very different aspect on this haunting, wouldn’t you say?”

“Henry, no!” Vincent’s eyes widened. “This house is dangerous! You’ve seen it yourself—”

“In your company, Mr....Watkins, was it?” Gladfield asked, and the edge to his voice might have cut glass. “Who is to say what was part of your act or sleight of hand, and what wasn’t?”

God. This couldn’t be happening. Vincent held up his hands. “Please...be reasonable. Just listen for a few moments.”

“I think we’ve heard enough out of you,” Henry replied. “And your partner as well.”

Vincent’s heart contracted, and he exchanged a quick, panicked look with Lizzie. “Please,” he said to Henry. “I’m begging you. Don’t do this. I’ll go. I’ll leave right now, and—”

“Your partner.” There was no mercy in Henry’s eyes, only hurt. Betrayal. “Elizabeth Devereaux. Or should I say Edward Dabkowski?”

Vincent closed his eyes, heard hisses of indrawn breath all around.

“What?” Gladfield demanded, the word cracking like a whip.

“See for yourself,” Henry said. “Or, if the detective’s word isn’t good enough, perhaps one of us could make an examination...”

“Go to hell,” Lizzie snarled. Vincent opened his eyes, saw she’d risen to her feet, eyes wild with fury.

Silence. Utter, shocked silence. On the outside, anyway. Inside Vincent’s head, there was nothing but the crash of their lives coming apart, the pieces raining down around them. Nausea clenched his gut, and he swallowed against bile.

Bamforth had gone pale, and Miss Prandle looked both revolted and shocked. Miss Strauss didn’t seem to know what to think, looking between Henry, Lizzie, and Vincent. But Gladfield’s face had flushed a deep, ugly shade of red, and his hands clenched into fists.

“What depravity is this?” Gladfield growled.

“Did you disguise yourself as a woman, hoping no one would suspect you of attempted murder?” Henry asked. “Or did you have some other motive?”

Lizzie’s lip curled in disgust. “You overestimate your importance to me, Mr. Strauss.”

Gladfield took a threatening step toward Lizzie. “I ought to thrash you for exposing my niece to your—your filth!”

Vincent moved between them. “Mr. Gladfield—”

Gladfield struck him, a hard blow to the face which left him reeling. Blood filled his mouth where the corner of his lip had split against his teeth, but he swallowed it, afraid spitting would be seen as a challenge. Henry let out a startled cry, and Lizzie shouted, “Don’t! We’ll leave; we’ll leave!”

“Uncle, stop.” Miss Prandle caught Gladfield’s upraised hand before he struck Vincent again. “Let them go. They aren’t worth sullying your hands.”

Gladfield slowly lowered his fist. “You’re right, Wilma.” Casting a glance of searing hatred at Lizzie, he said, “Get your things, and leave this house, right now. The both of you. And if I find you’re still in your shop when I return to New York, I’ll have you before the magistrate.”

God. They weren’t just going to lose the contest. They were going to lose everything.

Lizzie made for the stairs, her head held high like a queen’s. She didn’t bother to glance in Henry’s direction. Vincent did though, and for a moment their eyes met. Hurt and grief filled those blue eyes along with a little bit of shock, as if he couldn’t believe Gladfield had actually struck Vincent.

How naïve. Almost as naïve as Vincent had been, thinking they might have had a chance for something more.

“Congratulations, Mr. Strauss,” he said as he passed by. “You’ve won. How very pleased you must be with your victory.”

Then he was past and up the stairs, and anything Henry might have said in return was lost behind him.

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Next: Chapter 18