Book: Restless Spirits

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Next: Chapter 7

Chapter 6

 

Over breakfast the next morning, Henry told the others about his ghostly visitor.

Miss Prandle dropped her fork in her eggs, one hand fluttering over her chest in horror. “Dear heavens! I would have been frightened to death.”

“It offered me no physical harm,” he assured her.

“Still, perhaps Jo would like to stay with me,” she said. “I’d simply die if something appeared in the room and I was alone! And she could help me with my hair—I had an awful time with it this morning.”

Noting the rather fixed look on Jo’s face, Henry said, “I may need to conduct experiments at any hour of the night. I’d hate to wake you should I require Jo’s assistance on short notice.” He certainly wasn’t going to let Miss Prandle treat Jo as some sort of servant, there to fix her hair or lay out her clothes or whatever else the woman was used to having maids do for her.

“Oh. Of course.” Miss Prandle deflated, but didn’t argue. Night, however, cast him a curious look.

“What is your plan of investigation for today?” Gladfield asked as Bamforth topped off his coffee.

“Jo and I will set up instruments in various parts of the house, for the monitoring of phenomena,” Henry said. “I must ask no one enter the area once the equipment is in place.”

“How inconvenient,” Miss Devereaux remarked, sipping her coffee.

“But necessary to prevent any tampering.”

“I’m sure we’ll all be able to restrain ourselves from touching your equipment,” Night drawled. “No matter the temptation.”

Night lounged back in his chair, nothing on his plate but a piece of dry toast, as if breakfast was simply too much effort to put forth at this hour. The green coat was back, paired with a striped vest and dark trousers. Henry’s thoughts flew back to the scene on the bed, the feel of Night’s weight beside him, the masculine smell of his skin.

“Better to ensure a fair test whose results cannot be disputed,” Gladfield said. “Where do you propose to set up your instruments, Mr. Strauss?”

“Three places.” Henry’s voice scraped slightly coming out, and he cleared his throat. Across the table, Night gave him a little smirk. “Mr. Reyer’s bed chamber, the schoolroom, and the base of the servants’ stair on the first floor. Those should give us a good start, I would think. If you would like to accompany us, Mr. Gladfield, I’d be happy to give you an explanation of what I intend to do.”

“Excellent.” Gladfield rubbed his hands together happily. “And what of our mediums? Miss Devereaux, shall you and your colleague do any investigating of your own?”

She exchanged a glance with Night. “We spoke before breakfast. I intend to traverse the grounds outside, in case the spirits haunt the gardens or outbuildings as well.”

The scene outside the bay window wasn’t promising: overcast and gray, with a layer of old snow blanketing the ground. Henry’s estimation of Miss Devereaux increased. Whether a fraud or not, she was at least committed, to brave such miserable weather.

“As for Vincent,” she went on, “with your permission, Mr. Gladfield, he’ll search the basement, attics, and tower.”

“Go anywhere you wish,” Gladfield said with a wave of his hand. “As long as it isn’t one of the bedrooms occupied by another guest, you are all free to venture as you will.”

“Do you mind if I accompany you, Mr. Night?” Miss Prandle asked.

A plate rattled as Bamforth, who was cleaning up, let it slip from his hand. “Sorry,” he said, snatching it quickly.

Night glanced at him, then back to Miss Prandle. “Your company will be most welcome. If nothing else, it will lighten the dreariness of the day immeasurably.”

Henry ground his teeth together. The man was an utter devil! First he flirted with Henry, and now with Miss Prandle? Well, at least Henry knew none of Night’s innuendos were to be taken seriously.

And he wasn’t disappointed by the fact. Not at all. It wasn’t as if anything could possibly have come of them. Henry was far too canny to the wiles of mediums to be taken advantage of again.

No, he wasn’t disappointed at all.

~ * ~

“Well,” Gladfield said a short time later, “I must confess, I’m quite fascinated as to all of your little gadgets, Mr. Strauss. I anticipate seeing them in action.”

They stood within the bedroom which had once belonged to the master of the house. While Gladfield spoke, Jo moved around the room, quietly remeasuring the cold spots they’d located the day before and recording her findings.

“None of these instruments are of my invention,” Henry said, although Gladfield’s praise warmed his insides. “But the use I intend to put them to is, I believe, novel. Before utilizing the Electro-Séance, we must confirm the presence of spirits.”

“But you saw one yourself last night!” Gladfield exclaimed.

“I believe I did,” Henry agreed. “However, the possibility remains it may have been an extraordinarily vivid dream. Or even a bit of trickery—not to suggest I think such is the case here,” he added hastily, remembering Night’s unexpected kindness. The man might be a cad, but he was a cad who’d offered to make a trek to the kitchen in the middle of the night just to fetch Henry tea. “However, the point of the Electro-Séance is to rely solely on scientific measurements, rather than human senses. A thermometer has no imagination to run away with it, after all.”

“True, true.” Gladfield drew a cigar case from his pocket and set about lighting one—without asking for Jo’s permission, as he should have done in the presence of any lady. “And what would you consider evidence of a spirit?”

“Cold spots whose presence cannot be explained by drafts or other phenomena,” Henry replied, forcing himself to disregard Gladfield’s rudeness. Chastising the man would only risk costing them the contest, after all. “Electromagnetic fluctuations without a lightning storm or electrical wire to account for them. Highly localized changes in barometric pressure. I may devise other tests in the future, but for the purposes of this contest, I will consider any two of these sufficient evidence to proceed with the séance. When it comes to the séance, an area with higher evidence of spirit activity would be better than one with lower.”

“Such as your bedroom?” Gladfield said.

“It’s one possibility.” Jo had returned, so he asked, “What have you found?”

She grinned, her eyes bright. Although she’d been interested in constructing and testing their equipment in the shop, their current circumstances seemed to have awakened a true investigatory zeal in her. “The cold spots we recorded yesterday are still there.” She held out the notebook for him to examine her findings. “All of them within a degree or two of our original measurements.”

“Good work,” he said, and her smile grew wider. “Now, let’s set up the Franklin bells.”

They dragged a table to the center of the room and began to set up the apparatus on it. “What will these do?” Gladfield asked, drawing closer. Cigar smoke wreathed his head.

“In simple terms, it will alert us to any changes in the room’s electromagnetic field.” The device consisted of a wooden stand with a pair of small bells hanging from it. Wires were attached to both bells. In between the bells was suspended a metal ball approximately the size of a grape. “One of the wires will be grounded to the lightning rods on the outside of the house,” he said, indicating the right hand bell. “The other will be left exposed to the atmosphere. Any change in the electromagnetic status of the air—say, if a thunderstorm were to approach—will affect the electrical charge on the bells, causing the ball to swing back and forth between them.”

Gladfield scratched the side of his head. “I must say, this is all quite beyond me. What does it have to do with ghosts?”

“Spirits give off—or are—electromagnetic fields. It’s one of the reasons they’re disrupted by other forces such as sunlight.” Henry carefully adjusted the wire before stepping back, satisfied. “Thunderstorms in January are exceedingly unlikely; therefore, if we hear any of the bells ringing, we can safely take it for evidence of spirit activity in the vicinity. However, there is one other precaution I wish to take. The starch and thread, Jo?”

Jo pulled a box of powdered starch from their bag and handed it to him. “This will make certain no one is able to sneak into the room and interfere with the bells,” he explained. Going to the window, he shook out a line of starch. When he had finished, Jo ran a thread across the window, about a foot above the sill, securing it to either side with a bit of wax. Now no one could enter without breaking loose the wax.

“Do you imagine Miss Devereaux means to climb up the outside of the house and come through the window just to interfere with your experiment?” Gladfield asked with a laugh.

“Of course not.” Henry gripped the box of starch more tightly. A bit puffed out, leaving a streak of white on his tie. “But this must be done as thoroughly as possible. I don’t want to give any doubters an opening to declare our experiments invalid.”

“An excellent point,” Gladfield agreed, although Henry suspected he still thought they were being paranoid. “Continue on.”

Henry and Jo sealed every window and the fireplace before leaving the room. Once outside, they sealed the doorway as well. “There,” Henry said. “Now all we have to do is keep an ear out for the bells. At least the open center of the house means the sound should carry well.”

“Indeed. If I hear them, I shall alert you at once,” Gladfield said. “Thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Strauss. I’ll leave you and your able assistant to your work.”

He departed, and they made their way to the schoolroom. This time, Henry brought a barometer with him, and he and Jo took readings at various points in the room. He’d spend the afternoon taking measurements in other parts of the house, once the Franklin bells were in place and ready.

They set up the second set of bells, once again sealing the schoolroom against any possible intrusion. Once they finished, they descended the servants’ stair to the first-floor landing, where Night had sensed a spirit the day before. Or tasted it, or whatever he did. What a bizarre ability to have—or claim to have.

How were Night’s investigations proceeding? Or was he investigating the person of Miss Prandle instead?

It was an unworthy thought, at least in regards to Miss Prandle. Henry banished it quickly from his mind. He needed to concentrate on his scientific work, not on the infuriating Mr. Night.

The remainder of the starch outlined a wide strip around the landing, but there wasn’t enough to coat the descending steps. “Blast,” he said. “Jo, will you get another box from our supplies while I finish affixing the thread in the passageway?” The blockage would no doubt inconvenience Bamforth, who would have to detour through the grand hall to perform his kitchen duties, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Of course,” Jo said and sped up the steps like a gazelle. Henry shook his head and turned back to his work. If only he had half her energy.

God, that made him sound old. Barely a decade her senior, and yet it felt as if a chasm separated them.

Had he done the right thing, bringing her here? Making her his assistant in the first place? He hadn’t known what to do when she showed up on his doorstep two years ago. What did he know about raising a young woman? Was he doing the right thing by encouraging her to learn about machines and math, or should he steer her toward finding a suitor? Surely she’d wish to marry someday...or would she? Just the thought of broaching the topic of male attention made him feel faint. He’d worry about it later. Possibly much later.

He needed to return his mind to work. A thread of just less than waist height would keep anyone from stepping over it without disturbing the seal, and the starch on the floor would show if anyone crawled beneath. Crouching down, he attached one end of a thread to the wall with wax—

Jo’s scream echoed down the stairs.

~ * ~

Vincent descended from the attics with Miss Prandle. Cobwebs clung to his coat, and he brushed at them ineffectively. “Nothing but shadows and spiders,” he said. “But at least we know now.”

Just as they reached the third-floor landing, a young woman’s scream split the air.

Vincent leapt down the last few steps before his brain even registered that the shriek belonged to Miss Strauss. She stood near the stone chimney piercing the balcony from the grand hall below. The discreet door beside it, leading to the servants’ stair, hung open. As for Miss Strauss herself, she stood frozen, her arms drawn in tight, her eyes wide with fear.

“Miss Strauss! What happened?” he asked.

She flung herself into his arms with a frightened sob. Startled, he caught her. Her body trembled with fear, and her teeth chattered. “Have you been harmed?” he asked urgently.

“N-no.” She pulled just far enough away to blink up at him. “The mirror on the wall—by the chimney.”

The glass now showed nothing but their forms and that of Miss Prandle hurrying up behind them. “What of it?”

“I’d come upstairs to get something, and as I passed by the mirror, I looked up and—and there was a woman standing behind me!” Miss Strauss bit her lip. “She was unearthly pale, and her head just lolled to one side, like her neck was broken!”

The spirit he’d sensed at the bottom of the stair? Perhaps a maid had fallen and suffered a snapped spine?

“Jo!” exclaimed Strauss, bursting out of the door leading to the stairs. “Are you all right? I—”

He stopped when he saw his cousin in Vincent’s arms. For an instant he went even paler than usual—then spots of angry color appeared on his cheeks. “Unhand her at once!”

Vincent’s mood turned sour. He released the girl and stepped back. “I wasn’t the cause for her scream.”

“I’ll let Jo be the judge of that,” Strauss snapped, putting a protective hand on her shoulder.

Of course Strauss had only seen him as a savage redskin manhandling a young woman. Why had he ever imagined Strauss would view him differently?

“I’m all right, Henry,” Miss Strauss said shakily. “I only saw something in the mirror.” She repeated her story to her cousin.

“You poor thing,” Miss Prandle said. “You should go to your room and rest.”

“No.” Miss Strauss straightened her back determinedly. “Thank you, Miss Prandle, but I have work to do.”

She certainly didn’t lack for backbone. Still. “Miss Strauss,” Vincent said, “if I may, I have some exercises to help calm your mind. Spirits are notorious for feeding off the energy of young persons your age, and—”

“Absolutely not!” Strauss exclaimed. His eyes flashed angrily behind the lenses of his spectacles, and he took his cousin’s arm as if he meant to drag her bodily away from Vincent. “Jo doesn’t need some mediumistic hocus-pocus.”

Vincent drew himself up. “I’m trying to help.”

“Keep your ‘help’ to yourself. I know how your sort operates, and—”

“Mr. Strauss!” Miss Prandle exclaimed. “Control yourself. This is my uncle’s guest you’re insulting.”

As if she hadn’t insulted him last night over dinner, with her careless comment about his ability to speak English. Or earlier today in the attics, when she’d guilelessly asked if he knew Buffalo Bill Cody.

“No matter, Miss Prandle.” Vincent bowed to her, careful to keep the heat seething in his chest from showing on his face. “I’m going to finish my investigations of the tower. If you’d be so good as to stay with Miss Strauss, it would put my mind at ease.”

Before Strauss objected, he turned on his heel and marched to the main stairs, leaving the group behind him.

~ * ~

Once Night had vanished, Henry turned back to Jo. “Now that he’s gone—”

“You—you cur!” Jo glared up at him, her lower lip thrust out pugnaciously. “Mr. Night was trying to help me, and you came charging up like some overgrown bull.”

What could he say? That he’d seen before how men took liberties with Jo that they would never consider with a white girl? And although it seemed he’d been mistaken in his initial assumption, Night’s offer to help calm her mind put him back on his guard. Wasn’t that how Isaac had begun?

“These mediums are nothing but fakes,” he retorted. “Any concern on his part was just an act.”

“You don’t know that! Miss Prandle, you saw everything.”

“Yes, and I agree your cousin isn’t being at all fair to Mr. Night,” she soothed. “Still, there’s no reason to harangue poor Mr. Strauss.”

Of course Miss Prandle had come in on Night’s side—she was no doubt as swayed by his charms as Jo. “I know how these mediums behave,” Henry said. “Mr. Night is probably some sort of cad. You shouldn’t be alone with him again, Miss Prandle.”

She let out a long sigh. “Mr. Strauss, with all due respect, I have far more experience with cads than you. Our family is rather well off financially. Do you imagine my station fails to attract suitors of rather dubious character?”

He didn’t want to admit it, but... “I suppose it would.”

“Let me reassure you, Mr. Night might play the rogue, but it is no more than an act.” She patted Jo on the shoulder. “Besides, it was your cousin who flung herself on him, not he who clasped her first.”

“I was frightened,” Jo said, shamefaced.

The last of Henry’s anger drained away. Perhaps he hadn’t been fair to Mr. Night after all. “I’ve behaved like a beast,” he said. “Forgive me, Jo.”

“I’m not the one you need to apologize to,” Jo said. “I believe Mr. Night indicated you could find him in the tower?”

“Oh, I’m sure he wouldn’t want an interruption,” Henry said hastily. At her look, he sighed. “Very well. I’ll go to him at once, if it will make you happy.”

He descended to the first floor, where the only entrance to the tower lay to the east of the front vestibule. The tower door stood open for the first time since they’d come to Reyhome Castle. Henry stuck his head cautiously inside, hoping to spot Night right away.

Of course he didn’t. The servants hadn’t gotten around to cleaning out the tower, and cobwebs and dust filled the simple stone interior. An iron stair clung to the walls, spiraling up into darkness above. For some reason, the tower had been built without windows, and the only light leaked down from the open platform high above. If only he’d thought to bring a candle.

“Mr. Night?” he called tentatively. The still air swallowed his words, giving him not even an echo in return.

Well, there was nothing for it but to start climbing. Jo would hound him if he didn’t offer his apology. And...well. He had been unduly hard on the man, perhaps. Would he have been as resentful of Night if he wasn’t so accursed handsome and flirtatious? So much like Isaac?

It didn’t matter. Henry thrust the memories away and began to climb the steps. Even the ring of iron beneath his shoes seemed oddly muted, as if the tower resented any loud sounds.

Cold air flooded from above, stirring his hair and biting deep into his bones. He should have worn his overcoat, but he’d forgotten the top of the tower was exposed to the elements, save for where the pointed roof offered some small protection.

Something brushed against his sleeve. Just the wind, curling down from above.

Wasn’t it?

He froze in place, acutely aware of his heartbeat. Uncanny silence surrounded him, broken only his ragged breathing. He might have been the only one left in the house.

Maybe he was. Perhaps everyone else had fled something terrible.

A floor below him, the tower door slammed shut.

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Next: Chapter 7