“It’s a shame we couldn’t have gotten here sooner,” Henrietta murmured, a glass of cognac grasped tightly in her hands.
“Yes, it must have been a terrible few days for you.” Clive leaned forward and looked directly at his cousin, Wallace.
“Days?” Wallace answered sharply. “It’s been a terrible few weeks. No, make that months. A year. Oh, bloody hell. The whole thing has been miserable.” He gestured absently around the darkened drawing room where he and his wife, Amelie, were seated on an old-fashioned horsehair sofa near the fireplace, the only source of light in the room save several small lamps emitting a soft glow at the other end of the room. Clive and Henrietta sat across from them on leather wingback chairs, their faces partly in shadow.
Sadly, despite an urgent telegram from Wallace informing them of a sudden, dangerous decline in his father’s health, Clive and Henrietta had not arrived in time to say good-bye to Lord Linley, who had passed away in his sleep some two weeks ago, nor had they even made it to the funeral.
It had taken time for Edna, Henrietta’s maid, to be well enough to be released from Lariboisière Hospital in Paris and in a fit enough condition to travel. And then there had been the whole awful business in Strasbourg to wrap up between the funerals for Claudette and Valentin and the settling of the baron, who took the news of his adult children’s deaths very hard indeed.
“Darling, there’s nothing more we can do,” Clive had responded to Henrietta’s musings on the train back from Strasbourg to Paris. “And we must get on to Castle Linley. Already, I fear we’re too late.”
“Let’s just hope they will release Edna.”
“Well, if they don’t, we’re simply taking her.”
Henrietta said nothing to this, knowing that the whole situation was a sore point with Clive. After a rather heated discussion, they had decided that while they traveled to Strasbourg to make the various necessary arrangements, they would leave Edna under the watchful eye of Pascal, the young French servant who had just weeks before helped them escape Château du Freudeneck and the Nazi contingent who had been guests there. Poor Edna had been accidentally shot in the shoulder during this misadventure and was still much too weak to travel, so Henrietta and Clive had finally elected to trust her to Pascal.
As it turned out, upon their return to Paris, they discovered that Pascal had indeed been faithful in his duty, according to Edna, anyway, and that, additionally, she was pronounced well enough to finally be released, her arm in a sling, with firm orders that she maintain complete rest, with no exertion under any circumstances. Given this rather severe prescription, the Howards felt obliged to share their first-class train carriage with the two servants, who sat opposite them, Edna resting her head on Pascal’s shoulder as she slept.
Edna, poor thing, seemed to be not only overly grateful for the kind attentions showered upon her by the Howards, but, likewise, extremely embarrassed. She continued to apologize for her condition every couple of hours, which, Henrietta could tell, only served to further annoy Clive.
“Nonsense,” Henrietta had said to the girl repeatedly. “It’s us who should be apologizing to you, dearest. Think nothing of it. You’re going to get better now. You’ll see.” She had tried to say such things confidently, though she had thrown Clive a worried glance more than once on the journey and prayed daily that the girl would indeed be eventually restored to her former self.
Clive, despite his annoyance, or maybe because of it, had so far said little about the incident, but Henrietta knew he was much disturbed by what had happened, realizing as much as Henrietta did that poor Edna could very easily have been killed. It was he, actually, that upon finally reaching Castle Linley, arranged with Mrs. Pennyworth, the housekeeper, and Mr. Stevens, the butler, that Edna be given the sick room, which was a pleasant room on the ground floor with its own fireplace and a big window looking out onto the grounds behind the estate. It was a room normally reserved for servants who took ill with some form of contagion so that they did not spread it to the rest of the house. Obviously, Edna was not contagious, but Clive did not approve of her having to traipse up to the third floor where the other servants were housed in some dim, probably cold attic room. Mr. Stevens and Mrs. Pennyworth were likewise given strict instructions to provide her with three generous meals a day and to keep her fire burning round the clock, despite the fact that it was August, lest she catch a chill and further worsen her condition. Edna was mortified when she discovered these elaborate arrangements made for her benefit, but her protestations fell on deaf ears, at least as far as Clive was concerned.
Pascal, on the other hand, presented a more difficult challenge in that there wasn’t anything in particular for him to do. He offered to work in the stables, as had been his role at Château du Freudeneck, but Mr. Triggs, Linley’s head groom, seemed oddly put out by this suggestion, nor did Stevens seem very enthused about having him join the household staff, as it would take far too long to train him, especially considering that none of the servants apparently had even a sliver of extra time with which to do so. But neither could Pascal just be allowed to lounge about, eating and drinking at his leisure while the other servants worked, so Clive, to avoid any further disquietude, appointed him his valet. But only for the time being. He would certainly, Clive warned, pointing a finger in the young man’s face, not be assuming this role back at Highbury, the Howards’ palatial home back in Winnetka, Illinois.
Poor Pascal had readily agreed to this new assignment, though he was quick to remind his new master that he had absolutely no notion regarding which jacket was which, or shoes, for that matter, or grooming, or the tying of ties, or the adjusting of button studs or cufflinks, or really any such thing. Clive had merely sighed and said that he would teach him.
“Honestly, Clive,” Henrietta had scolded once Pascal had scurried from the room assigned to the Howards for their duration at Castle Linley. It was the Peacock Room, designated as such presumably because of the intense aquamarine of the papered walls and the very large vase of peacock feathers dominating the desk in the corner. The last time they had visited, they had been given the Rose Room, which, Henrietta had quickly decided after a brief perusal of the Peacock Room, she slightly preferred. But this was no time to be particular. “You’re forever declaring you have no need of a valet in this modern age, and yet all you’ve done to Pascal is berate him.”
“Darling, I wouldn’t say berate. I merely pointed out to him that a top hat is not required for a dinner at home. That should be rather obvious, at any rate from the Hollywood films he claims to so admire.”
“You did live through the war, remember?” She folded her arms. “I’m sure you had some young lieutenant or someone or other who served as your valet of sorts. Pretend that someone is Pascal and have a little mercy. He’ll learn if you give him a chance.”
“The term would be ‘batman.’ And, yes, I see your point,” Clive had said, pulling at his chin. “All right, I’ll try. Would that make you happy?” His face relaxed into a grin as he folded his arms loosely about her waist.
“Yes, it would.” She kissed his nose, and he leaned his forehead against hers.
“I’m sorry about your uncle,” she said softly.
“Poor old Montague. Sad that he never recovered after Father died.”
“Yes, what a shame. Two brothers in the space of a year. Heartbreaking, really. First Valentin and Claudette,” she murmured, referring to her newly discovered distant relatives, “and now the two Howard brothers. So much death.”
Clive pulled away and reached into his pocket, his fingers deftly finding his pipe.
“And speaking of death,” Henrietta said, stepping away and looking around the room, “why does this room resemble a mausoleum?” Thick black crepe covered all of the mirrors and paintings in the room. “It’s rather ghastly, don’t you think? I mean, I know we’re all in mourning, but this seems a bit extreme.”
“It’s an old Victorian custom,” Clive said through gritted teeth that held his pipe. He struck a match and lit it. He puffed deeply as he tossed the match into a nearby ashtray. “One is supposed to cover all the mirrors in the house and draw the curtains or the spirit of the deceased may find himself trapped inside the glass.” He exhaled a perfect ring of smoke. “There’s another one, I think, that says that if you see yourself in a mirror in the house of a recently deceased person, it is thought that you will be the next to die. Thus, the drapery serves a double purpose, you could say.”
“That’s ridiculous! I feel sorry for Lady Linley, of course, but this is all so unnecessarily morbid. And how am I to dress?” Henrietta gestured at the covered mirror of the ornately carved cherrywood vanity in the corner, two cherubs on the legs poking out from beneath the cloth. Clive merely grinned and annoyingly shrugged his shoulders.
In truth, Henrietta was a bit disturbed by these superstitions. It was clear, however, that Clive didn’t believe in them, so why should she? She marched over to the vanity and gripped the black crepe. She looked over her shoulder at Clive, who was leaning against the bedpost now, his arms crossed with his pipe in one hand.
“Aren’t you worried about what might happen?” she teased, the edge of the cloth balled into her fist now. “Normally, you’re overly keen.”
“Not in the slightest.” He took another puff of his pipe, his eyes amused.
A flicker of her old rebelliousness coursed through her then, and she yanked the cloth from the mirror and bent to stare into the glass. “There, I’ve done it!” She gave her auburn hair a toss.
“I see that.” Clive shifted slightly. He looked so handsome in his brown tweed suit. “Now, come here and lie down.” He gestured toward the big four-poster bed. “I’ll examine you for any ill effects.”
“Don’t be silly, Clive,” she said, holding back a laugh. “We haven’t time for that, you naughty thing.”
“That’s what you always say, and then we do. And anyway, isn’t this supposed to be our romantic second honeymoon? Though I think the Nazi chase back in Strasbourg may have irrevocably put an end to that notion.”
Henrietta tossed the black crepe gathered in her arms onto the end of the bed and went to him, lacing her fingers behind his neck. “Nonsense. We can still have a romantic honeymoon here. Don’t you think?”
“That entirely depends on you, darling.” He slyly raised an eyebrow.
“Well, you did promise to someday return me to the fairy bower. Remember?” she asked coyly. She was referring, of course, to a place somewhere on the grounds near a little creek where Clive and Julia had played as children during their summers at Linley. Clive had shown it to her on their original honeymoon trip and had proceeded to begin shamelessly undressing her there—in the open air!—only to be interrupted by none other than Wallace, sneaking through the woods on what they had suspected at the time to be some sort of nefarious outing.
“Minx,” Clive whispered, kissing her lips. “Don’t tempt me, or I really will throw you onto this bed and have my way with you.”
“We haven’t time, Inspector.” She pulled away from his embrace but traced his lips with her finger. “Wallace is expecting us below.”
“Very well.” Clive sighed. “If anything can put a damper on romance, it’s Wallace. I can only imagine his mood, as he is rarely what one would call pleasant, even under the best circumstances.”
“Clive,” Henrietta reprimanded. “He’s suffered a great loss. We’ll need to be patient.”
“I suppose.” He held his arm out to her. “Shall we?”
Henrietta looked across the darkened drawing room now at Wallace. “Well, at least he’s at peace,” she offered hopefully.
“Who? Father?” Wallace shook himself from staring at the fire. “Yes, I suppose so,” he said begrudgingly, “but what about the rest of us? A terrible mess is what we’re left with.”
“Is it really so bad as that?” Clive asked.
“I’m afraid it is. I’ve spent these last weeks trying to sort through Father’s rubbish pile of papers. He was horribly disorganized, which is rather a surprise given his military disposition. Churchwood has been of little help.”
“His solicitor. Or secretary, or something like that. Little beetle of a man. Always creeping about, simpering this and simpering that.”
“Wallace!” Amelie scolded in a heavy French accent. “You are most ungenerous. Monsieur Churchwood has been very helpful.”
“Yes, helpful in explaining that the estate is horribly shipwrecked. No hope at all of salvaging it, old boy.” He glanced over at Clive, one eye squinted shut. “It’s the end of Castle Linley, I’m afraid.”
“So, Uncle Montague was correct in his dire predictions, then.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Wallace snapped. “Some sort of backhanded jab at me?”
Amelie took his hand and squeezed it, but Wallace pulled it away.
“Of course not, Wallace. Don’t be such a twit. You married for love, as did I,” Clive said, glancing at Henrietta, “and that’s the end of it. Can’t be helped.”
“God, why did Linley have to die?” Wallace groaned and braced his head in his hands. “He would have been so much better at this than I.”
As Wallace’s older brother, Linley Howard was supposed to have been the future Lord Linley and heir of Castle Linley, but he had tragically perished on the Somme. Wallace, on the other hand, had survived the Great War, but not without cost. He had come away with not only a bum leg but a bitter, sarcastic disposition that so far had not softened over time, as everyone had hoped it might.
“Don’t say that, Wallace. That’s not true,” Clive put in. “The estate was in trouble long before you came along. Has the will been read?”
“Last week, in fact.”
“Well, as usual, Father, with his damned pigheadedness, has routed us. He’s left the whole of the estate to Mother for her lifetime, which is admirable, to be sure, but not very forward-thinking.”
“Wallace,” Amelie said softly.
“I know, I know. I’m sure he thought he was being kind, but leaving the estate to Mother only furthers its ruin. Churchwood claims he advised otherwise but that Father wouldn’t listen.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Henrietta said, looking quizzically from Wallace to Clive.
“He’s referring to the death duties; am I right?” Clive directed his question at Wallace, who nodded grimly.
“It’s an inheritance tax.” Wallace took a long drink of his cognac. “The new owner of the estate must pay a sizable portion of the estate’s value in tax, which is bad enough. But then when Mother dies, the whole thing will be taxed yet again. Father could have willed it directly to me, thereby avoiding at least one taxation. Even if we had been able to scrape together the money to pay one duty, we’ll never be able to pay two. No, I’m afraid we’re utterly ruined.”
“Well, there must be something that can be done, surely?” Henrietta looked pointedly at Clive.
Clive cleared his throat. “Yes, of course. I can telephone my assistant, Bennett. But I do warn you, our cash flow is likewise a little light these days, especially after Father’s dealings with what turned out to essentially be the mob. But perhaps we can sell something off. Julia’s been writing to us about some Texan who wishes to purchase one of Father’s paintings for an exorbitant sum. I’m sure I could convince Mother, given a little time.”
“Yes!” Henrietta perked up. “What a good idea.”
Wallace shook his head. “No, Clive, Linley can’t keep ciphering money off of Highbury, or your mother’s private fortune, if we’re being brutally blunt. And anyway, selling a painting, unless it’s the Mona Lisa, won’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s needed. We’re talking about thousands of pounds!”
“Goodness,” Henrietta exclaimed.
“Well, we don’t possess the Mona Lisa, of course, but we do have some rather valuable works,” Clive said stiffly.
“I’m not trying to insult your precious art collection, Clive; I’m just saying, what’s the point of shoring up a sinking ship? It’s just putting off the inevitable.”
“What about selling the London house?” Clive suggested.
Henrietta opened her mouth to protest this idea, having fallen in love with the beautiful row house in St. James during their recent time in London, but she quelled it, sensing that this was not the time to voice her opinion.
“Yes, I’ve already made some inquiries. It might be enough to at least pay the death duty
for now, allowing Mother to stay here until she passes, but that’s it.”
“Then I either sell bits of this place off, such as the Upper Forty, maybe, or the Dowager’s House—it’s empty at the moment, though technically Mother should have moved there once Amelie and I came back, but it seemed a waste. What need have we of all this space? Plus, as you know, I don’t give a fig about tradition.” Wallace stared into his now-empty glass. “Alternately, I could sell the estate in its entirety or donate the whole bloody thing and avoid the tax altogether.”
“What about your idea of turning it into a home for shell-shocked soldiers?” Clive asked.
Wallace let out a deep sigh. “I obviously don’t have the money to start it myself, and, turns out, there’s not so many such soldiers about anymore. Most of them have shot themselves.”
“Wallace!” Amelie exclaimed.
“Apologies,” he said bitterly, glancing briefly at Henrietta, whose own father had tragically met his end this way. “No, my new idea is to donate the whole thing to the Fabians or the Democratic Socialists. Both are in need of a headquarters, and this monstrosity is perfectly situated. Unfortunately, though, I’ve mentioned this one too many times in front of Mother, and she’s horrified at the prospect. And worried that she’ll have to leave her beloved Linley.”
“But surely you plan to wait until she . . . until she passes?” Henrietta suggested.
“If I can manage it.”
“When is the tax due?” Clive asked.
“Hmmm. Not long.”
“Mother doesn’t know of course, but I have an estate agent coming round tomorrow. A Mr. Arnold. A bit of a pest, really. Damned pushy, but I suppose they have to be that way. Says the best thing would be to knock the whole thing down and build a council of smaller houses. That or put up a factory.”
“Surely you’re not entertaining that, are you, Wallace?” Henrietta exclaimed.
“I wish I weren’t. But who else is going to buy this thing? All of the old estates are coming down these days. No one can afford to keep them up, much less pay the death duties every generation. Arnold is of the opinion I should sell the whole rather than slice off bits. I don’t know what to think, honestly. It’s either this or donate it now and have Mother move— possibly into the Dowager’s House if I can exclude that from the sale.”
“Or sell the London house.”
“Or sell the London house,” Wallace agreed, “though that’s unlikely to happen that fast.”
“I’m afraid I’m horribly confused.” Henrietta looked pointedly from Wallace to Clive. “And it all seems so sudden,” she added.
“Well, it is sudden, but I don’t have a choice. I have to do something. There’s apparently no money in the coffers at all.” Wallace stood up, limped to the sideboard, and poured out another cognac. “God knows when the servants have last been paid. What’s left of them anyway. Most have run off. Gotten better jobs in factories. Can’t say I blame them, really. It’s a good thing you’ve brought your own.” His voice was grim. He hobbled over to where Clive was seated and topped up his glass.
“Yes, I’m sorry they’re not more help, Edna being laid up as she is.” Clive shifted uncomfortably.
“What the bloody hell happened, anyway?” Wallace asked. “Servants being shot? You being chased by Nazis? Is this all true?”
“Yes, we’ll explain it all later.”
Wallace tilted his head. “As you wish. The other guests will surely love to hear all about it. God knows they must be bored out of their minds. Why they’re hanging on here, I don’t know.”
“Wallace,” Amelie said gently, “zey stay out of consideration for your mother after your father’s death.”
“If they were really all that concerned, they’d bugger off.”
“Other guests? Who else is here?” Clive asked. “I wasn’t aware.”
“Well,” Wallace said with a sigh as he sat back down on the sofa, “there’s Mother’s brother, Uncle Rufus. He’s only recently back from India. Between stationings, so he says, and therefore a bit homeless at the moment. I think he’s trying to use the situation, meaning Father’s death, to his advantage. Seems damned unwilling to leave. Brought his irritating son, Phineas, along. Remember him?”
“Cousin Phineas?” Clive’s brow furrowed. “I think the last time we saw him, he was just a baby.”
“Well, he’s not a baby now. He’s all of eighteen, and he’s nothing but a rotter. Thinks it’s immensely funny to play practical jokes on the staff. That might pass in India, but it’s damned reprehensible here, especially now, with Father barely cold in his grave. I’ve had words with him and Uncle Rufus, but neither of them seemed to take a blind bit of notice. And if they weren’t enough, there’s Miss Simms, also a nuisance.”
“Who’s Miss Simms?” Henrietta asked.
Wallace took a long drink. “She’s Mother’s latest interest. A pet project. She appeared a couple of weeks before Father died and has since managed, even in that short space of time, to wrap Mother around her little finger. A perfect vulture.”
“For what purpose?”
Wallace gave her a withering look. “The usual reason. Money.”
“But I didn’t think there was any money.” Henrietta blinked rapidly.
“There isn’t. But Miss Simms doesn’t know that. Or maybe she does. My guess is that she wants Mother to will her the estate.”
“What?” Clive asked incredulously as he eased himself back in his chair and crossed his legs.
“She’s the head of some ludicrous charity in London. The Ladies Association of something or other. She’ll no doubt tell you all about it; though I warn you, don’t give her a chance. You’ll never stop her once she starts. Oh, Miss Evie Simms comes off as pleasant enough, but she doesn’t fool me. Why else would she be hanging around these past months instead of slaving away for her cause in the hovels of London, or wherever it is they do what they do? It’s bloody obvious. To everyone but Mother, that is. Miss Simms has quite attached herself to her, like a veritable lamprey.”
“That seems a bit farfetched, Wallace.”
“Which part? That she’s a lamprey?” He grinned.
Clive shot him a look of irritation. “No, that your mother would will the estate to her. It’s an absurd notion.”
Wallace shrugged. “You never know. As I’ve said, I’m afraid I’ve made the mistake of mentioning perhaps one too many times my plan to donate the whole thing to the Socialist cause, which throws her into a right state. It’s my own bloody fault.”
Clive cleared his throat. “How is Aunt Margaret? How is she holding up?”
“She is not well,” Amelie answered. “Lord Linley’s death was a great shock to her.”
“Yes, she’s quite frail these days, not to mention confused.” Wallace exhaled deeply. “One day she seems quite lucid, and the next she thinks it’s 1912 and that Father’s up in his study. She even sometimes asks where Linley has gotten himself to. It’s terrible.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Henrietta asked, thinking about how similar Lady Linley’s mental state seemed to Baron Von Harmon’s, and in some ways her own mother’s. Is this what it meant to grow old? “We certainly don’t want to add to your burden,” she said sincerely.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I asked you to come. I very much want your advice about the estate. I—”
He broke off, then, at a noise at the other end of the room. It sounded distinctly like a little cry or maybe a moan. The group turned almost in unison to locate the source, which turned out to be Lady Linley herself, her old-fashioned long white nightgown and flowing robe making her resemble a sort of ghostly figure.
“Mother!” Wallace exclaimed, standing up. “What’s wrong? What are you doing down here?” He hurried over to her.
Clive stood as well, buttoning his suit coat, and followed at a reserved distance. Having arrived late, he and Henrietta had yet to greet Lady Linley.
The old woman reached out a paper-thin hand and gripped Wallace’s coat sleeve. “Did you not hear that?” she asked timorously.
Wallace let out a little sigh and closed his eyes for just a moment, as if gathering strength. “No, Mother, I did not. Why did you not ring for a servant? You shouldn’t be down here. You’ll catch your death.”
“I did ring, but no one came,” she said absently and then looked over at Clive. She stared at him for several seconds, as if trying to place him.
“Hello, Aunt,” Clive said gently, drawing nearer. “I’m terribly sorry about Uncle Montague.”
“Is that you, Clive?” she warbled, taking his face in her hands. Tears were in her eyes. “You’ve come, have you? Oh, maybe you can help us.”
“I’ll do my best, Aunt Margaret,” he said, kissing the folds of her wrinkled cheek.
“Did Wallace tell you?”
“Yes, yes, he did, Aunt. Terrible business, this, but we’ll come up with a solution, I’m sure. Nothing to worry about.”
“But it is worrying. No one is safe here anymore.”
Clive threw Wallace a quick glance and then looked back at Lady Linley. “What do you mean?”
“Why, the ghost, of course,” she said softly, as if afraid some supernatural entity might hear. “Did Wallace not write to you?” She scowled at Wallace. “I specifically asked him to write to you about it.” Her voice was one of irritation now. “It’s most troubling, Clive. Surely, you can get to the bottom of it, can’t you?” She gripped his hands tightly.
Clive glanced again at Wallace, who merely shrugged with an I-told-you-so look.
“I’ll certainly do my best, Aunt Margaret. Not to worry.”
Henrietta, who had remained seated with Amelie by the fireplace, rose now and silently joined the little group. She was shocked to see how old Lady Linley looked, her frizzled white hair peeking out from underneath her Victorian nightcap.
“You remember my wife, Henrietta?” Clive asked, gesturing toward her.
Lady Linley’s watery blue eyes lit up. “Yes! Yes, of course I do!” She pulled her hand from Clive’s and took Henrietta’s. “You look lovely, my dear. Montague was so very fond of you. But where is your baby?” She looked confusedly around the room. “Did you not bring him?”
Henrietta drew in a quick breath but then felt the comforting pressure of Clive’s hand on her lower back. She bit the inside of her cheek. “No, Lady Linley. I . . . it didn’t take.”
“But I’m sure your mother wrote to me about the baby, Clive,” she said, looking at him now for confirmation.
“Mother!” Wallace scolded. “Enough! It’s late. It’s time we were all in bed.”
Amelie approached and put her arm around the old woman’s shoulders. “Come, Lady Linley. I will help you,” she said gently and pulled her toward the door.
The old woman shrunk a little in defeat, her shoulders rounded all the more now as she allowed herself to be led away. She paused at the door, however, and turned back. “You might ask Amelie, here, for advice,” she called out. “She’s expecting yet again; are you not, dear?”
Amelie did not respond and instead shepherded Lady Linley into the hallway.
Wallace pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m terribly sorry.”
“It seems congratulations are in order,” Clive said tightly, followed by a rough clap on the shoulder. “A third. That’s marvelous.”
“Yes, thank you. We weren’t going to announce it just yet, not with Father and all of that.” His face was uncharacteristically red as he looked nervously from one to the other. “I’m sorry, Henrietta. I told you she was changed. She wasn’t always the best with tact, and now she sadly has none at all.”
Henrietta swallowed hard and made herself smile. “Not to worry, Wallace. I’m perfectly fine. Where are the boys, anyway? Upstairs asleep, I imagine?”
“Yes, you’ll see them tomorrow, no doubt. Shall we call it a night?”
“Yes, perhaps we should,” Clive answered. “But what was all this business about a ghost?”
Wallace exhaled loudly. “As if I don’t have enough to worry about, Mother has now gotten it into her head that the house is haunted.”
“Yes, remember the stories when we were little?”
“A few of them, I suppose.” Clive frowned.
“Well, someone has resurrected these tales, and now Mother is obsessed, which is horribly ironic, considering she never believed any of them in the first place. Thinks that Father is standing by her bed at night, whispering things to her.”
“What sort of things?” Henrietta asked, suddenly chilled. She rubbed her arms and then wrapped them about herself.
Wallace looked at her. “Rubbish mostly. Who knows? It’s nothing that makes sense to me. Come, let’s call it a night. I’m shattered.”
“Yes, as are we,” Clive agreed.
“Well, get some sleep. You’ll need your strength for breakfast. The guests are eager to meet you, and now that you have a Nazi chase scene to add, you’ll be quite hounded, especially, I’m guessing, by Phineas. Might keep him entertained for two bloody seconds. Between him and Uncle Rufus and Miss Evie Simms, you’ll be in for it.”
“I’m sure we’ll manage, won’t we, darling?” Clive said, holding out his hand to her, a forced smile about his lips.
“Yes, of course.” Henrietta took Clive’s hand and squeezed it. “Good night, Wallace,” she said over her shoulder and then followed Clive through the darkened foyer and up the grand staircase, past the larger-than-life portraits of long-dead family members. Henrietta glanced at them, mostly in shadow save for the uneven swaths illuminated by the sconces that flickered every few feet. The pictures looked somber and old, hairline cracks rippling across their paint. Henrietta shuddered. There was a heaviness about Castle Linley now that she hadn’t felt the last time they had visited, when she had been an innocent new bride.
Something had changed.
There was a feeling in the air now that was difficult to describe, and she felt peevish and out of sorts. She shook her head, trying to dispel it. Perhaps it was simply Lady Linley’s tactless reference to her recent miscarriage that was unsettling her, but it seemed more than that. Something was off, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what. Well, she thought wearily as she ran her fingers along the mahogany banister, hopefully things would look brighter in the morning.