Invites my steps, and points to yonder glade?
- Alexander Pope, Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady
The Siege of Caerlaverock, 1300
The Wars of Independence were bloody and brutal, laboured and lengthy. Forces that held allegiance to King Edward slaughtered the Scottish. They showed no mercy; it was not a word they understood. A swift and painless death was for the lucky but more often it was torturously slow for those taken in battle. The King's army was unstoppable; they had even stolen the Stone of Scone, a revered icon to the Scots as a symbol of religious and ceremonial ancestry dating back centuries.
Lying in a strategic spot was Caerlaverock, a strong castle built to control the southwest entrance to Scotland, which in these times was the waterway across the Solway Firth. Its position close to the English border guaranteed it to be in the centre of the action and, in the year 1300 King Edward led a force of 87 knights and 3000 men to lay siege to Caerlaverock. In their midst was a ruthless knight, Hugo the Terrible, who urged the army on to slay their northern foes in one scene of brutality after another. Siege engines brought from Carlisle, Roxburgh and Lochmaben soon forced the surrender of the 60-strong garrison of the castle, and Hugo The Terrible instructed that the captured be hanged alive from the castle walls, where they remained on display long after their unbearable deaths.
The carnage that followed along in the shadow of Hugo the Terrible lasted many years as the tide of the Wars ebbed and flowed with the advantage shifting from one side to the other. His name was spewed from the lips of every Scotsman with contempt one moment and then in the next it was whispered in huddled groups filled with fear. His reputation would live forever in the annals of this bloody time.
It was in 1332 that another battle was fought along the hillside of Castle Caerlaverock in defence of the King of Scots. The castle was again taken by force and valour and demolished to the ground. But with it fell Hugo the Terrible, struck down in battle by a youth of no more than 15.
As he lay mortally wounded on the expansive rise surrounding the castle he repented none of his wicked deeds and could only curse the Scots with his very last breath. As he lay dying on the battlefield he saw the youth raise his sword up high over his head and the glint of the cutting edge flashed in his eyes before it plummeted down to sever his neck. But the boy's sword was not so sharp as it might be, and he did not make a clean cut into the warrior's neck. As blood pumped from the carotid artery and its branches, the tracheal cartilage, muscles and ligaments lay exposed and still attached to his head. With another swift and fierce blow to the evil knight, his nerves and vertebral column were cut and his fiendish eyes were now unseeing and his mind unaware that his head was rolling down the slope of the hill. The blood-spattered face of the victor registered pride whilst he watched it gather speed as it tumbled away; then shock and pain replaced it as the blade of an English knight impaled him from behind. He fell forward, landing on top of the headless body of Hugo the Terrible. Both were forever stilled on the mount of Castle Caerlaverock.
The Solway Coast between Gretna Green and Dumfries, 1906
A young boy, not more than seven or eight in years, was running down the hillside to reach the path that cut through the centre of a golden field of tall grass. He had been out in search of wild raspberries, the fruits nearly finished for the season, and his hands were stained with the juice of those he had eaten. As he rushed down the slope with one foot falling quickly in front of the other he conjured up images of the bedtime stories his father had told him about the ancient battles fought on this very ground. They had been bloody wars between the English and the Scots. He took little steps to stop himself and began to look around on the ground for any sign of the soldiers who had died here. All he saw was red clover with their purplish flowers, pink dianthus and rocks. Just then he felt an exceedingly cold breeze pass over him and a dull pain in his neck. His hand reached up and at the same moment, he felt as if he were not alone. But looking around he saw no one else on the hill, and as he was in a hurry, he rushed the rest of the way down and past the unharvested crop that swayed in the breeze, for the sun was setting and tonight began the celebration of Samhain, or the Celtic new year. Beginning on the evening of October 31, it was a festival that would last three days.
This was the first time he was to celebrate All Hallows' Eve, for his parents had never before travelled to their property in Scotland at this time of year. Off in the distance to his left stood the ruins of Castle Caerlaverock, which tonight would be the scene of bonfires and merriment by the villagers. Beyond it, and sloping gracefully down the rolling hills as far as the eye could see were the unending young saplings of his fathers' plantation.
He rushed through the main entrance of the large modern house that had been built by his grandfather, only to be cornered by their housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds.
"And just where do you think you're going Master Fitzwilliam?" He was caught by the sleeve of his tweed jacket and led behind the stairs to a large tiled room off of the kitchen. The house was in the process of being updated already, for Edwardian England was just learning of the convenience of indoor plumbing, and while the kitchen was equipped with new sinks and his parents had a remodelled bathroom with running water, there was not one yet finished for him to make use of upstairs. A fire had been lit in the hearth and in the middle of the room stood a large copper tub. The steam rising from inside told the boy that his fate was indeed sealed. "Strip!" he was ordered, and as he peeled off each piece of clothing, Mrs. Reynolds handed them to a maid to be taken away for laundering.
The servants paid little heed to the boy in the tub, rushing in and out in an effort to complete their tasks. They did not want to fall behind and risk missing out on the festivities later tonight. As he bathed, in came the old caretaker of the property, Mr. Wickham, to speak to the housekeeper. Before he turned to go, he leaned down next to Fitzwilliam and sent shivers through him with his words, "Lad, be careful for it is the time when the Otherworld can reach into ours and the spirits of the dead will try and possess the living." His breath was foul and his teeth were stained from tobacco. "Protect yourself at all costs from the evil that will be free to walk the earth tonight," the old man cautioned as he shook the string of garlic around his neck.
"Quiet, old man, you'll frighten the boy," Mrs. Reynolds hushed him.
The little Master contradicted her. "Oh no he won't." But it was too late to hear any more; the caretaker had been shooed from the room.
Mrs. Reynolds accompanied Fitzwilliam up to his room; enlisting a footman to come and assist the boy in his dressing, for the young master did not have a valet of his own. Mrs. Reynolds stood outside the dressing room door and attempted to answer a never-ending flow of questions from him about the Scottish myths surrounding All Hallows' Eve. The old man had stirred his curiosity. She told him of the local custom of using silver to kill werewolves and wearing garlic to ward off evil. She spoke of the Scottish inclination to clairvoyance. When pressed, she told the lad that many Scots see the dead before they die. He failed to understand this so she explained that those who are going to die soon appear before those with the knack and that this ability was not considered a sought-after gift, but one to be dreaded. Being a Scot herself, she could not dismiss it all so easily as fantasy, and her answers were guarded. There were those in her own family known to have been visited by those about to depart to the hereafter.
Legends of magical fairies stealing or possessing the bodies of babies, and tales of shape-shifting witches, ghosts, and family curses, not to mention their famous lake monster, were all touched upon while the lad finished dressing, and had his hair brushed and his shoes laced.
Quite unexpectedly there was a noise behind her and Mrs. Reynolds turned to see the old caretaker, Wickham, standing in the doorway to Master Fitzwilliam's room. She admonished him for his presence in the private quarters of the house, for it was not for those such as he to be upstairs. He only stared at her as she repeatedly asked him why he was there. As she approached the foolish old man to escort him out, his image dissolved.
Master Fitzwilliam had heard her, and being the curious child that he was he had peeked around the corner to see what it was all about. However, he saw only Mrs. Reynolds walking towards the empty doorway, talking to the non-existent Mr. Wickham.
"What is it?" he asked as he went to her.
"Nothing lad, nothing," she answered in a far-away voice. Before she could hustle him back to his dressing room, both adult and child smelled the distinct odour of stale tobacco and garlic in the air.
Later that night, after all hearth fires in the house had been extinguished and, as was custom, burning torches lit from the great bonfires started new fires; the men circled their homes and lands with these torches to obtain protection for the coming year. As Fitzwilliam watched this spectacle from his window upstairs, there was an almighty scream of such terror that it made his skin crawl.
He saw his parents, dressed in formal evening clothes rushing from under the portico to a crowd that had gathered off towards the outer buildings of the estate. He raced downstairs in his dressing gown and out the door, not wanting to miss anything. As he approached the crowd, his stomach fell and a cold chill spread over him. For there, illuminated by a dozen torches, was the caretaker Mr. Wickham, hanging by the neck from the tall branch of a heavy old tree. He was swinging in the breeze, a trickle of blood was running from the corner of his mouth, and his neck was bent at a most peculiar angle. Down on the ground, under his feet, was the broken necklace of garlic that Fitzwilliam had seen him wearing earlier. It had not been enough to keep the evil spirits away from him this night.
Suddenly the firm grip of his father was upon his shoulder and the next thing he knew he had been placed in Mrs. Reynolds' care; she immediately led him off to bed, but as soon as she had gone, he took up his position once more by the window, transfixed by the scene below, not moving until the Dumfries Constabulary had taken the body of old Wickham away on the back of the civil ambulance, which was a horse-drawn cart.
Fitzwilliam Darcy slept little that night, holding tightly in each fist a garlic bulb that he had taken from the storeroom, keeping a vigilant watch over the shadows in his room for the evil spirit that had taken the caretaker.
The Darcys never again spent All Hallows' Eve in Scotland.
Dumfries, Wigtownshire, Scotland 1928
The train to Dumfries had arrived nearly thirty minutes early and Eliza Bennet found herself standing on the platform of the neat little station next to her sister, vainly looking for signs of a greeting party. Scanning the village, an eighteenth century whitewashed windmill stood out amongst the rolling green landscape. The glint off an automobile grille on the horizon caught the corner of her eye; relief spread over her as an exotic 1928 Hispano-Suiza H6B took shape, travelling towards them at some speed, the light tan paint offset by burgundy trim on the luxury vehicle setting a striking contrast to the variegated greens of the surrounding countryside. It was a marvellously pricey automobile of incredible beauty, specially ordered by Fitzwilliam Darcy from the Paris factory at Bois-Colombes. The French plant employed the most respected coach building artisans and they crafted the most desirable of all Hispano-Suiza models.
The wide white walled tyres, now dusted with the ruddy dirt of the unpaved road, were barely touching the ground as the motorcar flew towards the station with the power of its 8-Litre engine.
Fitzwilliam Darcy liked to drive fast.
In fact, most aspects of his life recently had been white-hot with excitement and high life. It had begun by living vicariously through his flamboyant cousin on a trip to Europe. Then it had taken a most agreeable turn.
Darcy was in the enviable position of having more money than he could ever hope to spend and he had stepped out of character and used some for his personal pleasure this past summer. That didn't mean the man was irresponsible; far from it, he had dutifully and prudently managed with excellence the matters of the family estates both in Derbyshire and Scotland for many years, the interests of his and his sisters' being foremost upon him.
But the mental stress from all work and no play had built up to such a degree that his cousin, the Colonel, had intervened and persuaded Darcy to summer with him in Europe, as the Colonel had not been there since the war. The unmarried women of high society and their parents hotly pursued the cousins. Fitzwilliam and the Colonel found themselves with no lack of invitations; they were always a sought-after addition to anyone's table. The men were opposites, and the Colonel quite regularly found himself in the centre of an admiring group of ladies while Fitzwilliam was content to watch the proceedings from a table in the corner. But, the reserved nature of the man in no way discouraged the appreciative glances and open flirtation of women wherever they went.
Their tour had included all the Grand Cities; but it was the South of France that had captured Fitzwilliam Darcy's spirit and heart. In more ways than one.
While on the Côte d'Azur, he had met an English rose who was unlike any woman he had ever known. They had collided into each other, literally, wandering along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. She had been observing the sunbathers reclining on their deck chairs along the stony beachfront; he had been observing her. He stopped and waited patiently while she continued walking and bumped into him.
His eyes met hers and the sparks that flew sailed right into his heart.
Introductions were made and, as she was with her sister, the two ladies finished their stroll escorted by the cousins; an invitation from the gentlemen to sit and have coffee was accepted. He discovered the sisters had spent the last month touring the museums and archaeological sites of Greece. In silent agreement, the gentlemen indicated to the Victorian elegance of their lodgings along the Promenade, the Hotel Negresco. The palatial building dominated the skyline and overlooked the blue Mediterranean. They suggested that the company of the sisters for dinner and dancing there that evening would be delightfully received and, when the invitation was accepted, his fate was sealed.
From the first night he found her personality had more effervescence than a bottle of Bollinger. She glimmered like a rare gem and her radiance attracted Fitzwilliam in a way he had never felt before. He wasn't the only male captivated by the vivacity of Eliza Bennet, but Fitzwilliam used the silent body language between men that said to steer clear of this beauty, for she was taken.
After their first evening together he spent hours on his terrace facing the dark sea, as sleep was impossible for him
And as he got to know her, he found everything about her appealing. Her petite frame was a striking contrast next to his and her heart-shaped face, framed by a dark wavy bob, was like that of a china doll. She had a smoky voice that was a half-whisper. She preferred her Dunhills in a long holder, bluffed at cards better than any man he knew, and wore her skirts scandalously short.
She was a modern woman in every way.
It was on the terrace of the Negresco that she had mesmerized him, when, in the wee hours of the morning, she executed a shimmy to rival Josephine Baker. Her bubbly laughter had filled the dance floor that night. When he took her out to the beach they threw away their shoes and sat on two of the deck chairs watching the sunrise. Before he escorted her back to her own hotel, he had kissed her. And with that first kiss he knew: he was going to marry her.
Her name was Eliza Bennet.
Standing next to her sister, Jane Bennet considered it amazing that they were in the southwest of Scotland waiting for Mr. Darcy and the Colonel. Well, it is amazing that I am here. She found it perfectly reasonable that her sister should be asked to join the house party for the week.
After all, Fitzwilliam Darcy had pursued Eliza from practically the first moments of their acquaintance. He had repeatedly requested that they extend their stay in Nice, which they eventually did, and when they travelled up to Paris, the cousins had accompanied them on the train. They had escorted Eliza and Jane around the city and on their last night had taken them to a cabaret in Montmartre, the most unabashedly romantic district of Paris. The cabaret circuit of Paris was known for a sophisticated blend of sex and satire, and the sisters had been treated to an eye-opening evening that ended with a performance by Maurice Chevalier in his trademark straw boater and bow tie.
Eliza's last glimpse of Fitzwilliam was through the window of the train leaving the Gare Saint Lazare. She had cried all the way to Dover. But, once back in England furious correspondence had been exchanged back and forth, and Eliza had a contentment settle over her that Jane had never noticed before. And, the light in her eyes shone brighter than she could ever recall.
"There Jane! That must be them," Eliza was saying as she grabbed her wrist. The form of the car grew larger and they could see that the top had been lowered. Two men were sitting in the front. "Are you excited?"
"Not in the same way you are." Jane hadn't had a summer romance. But, she had been thrilled at an invitation to join the party and was especially looking forward to study the ruins of Castle Caerlaverock; medieval history was her passion.
"Jane! Doesn't the prospect of seeing the Colonel again interest you?"
"He can do a mean Charleston and his Rudolph Valentino impression is hilarious, but you know there's nothing between us but friendship."
The car pulled up and stopped at the gate of a low picket fence and as the driver got out, Eliza shouted "Fitz!" She took a few steps forward and he met her as she stood on the platform steps. The first thing she noticed was his clothes. How different they are! He was wearing dark tartan slacks, a tie in the same pattern and a navy jacket. He looked splendidly countryish and Eliza could have swooned from the effect he had on her.
He squeezed her hands and seemed unsure of what to kiss, but being the intelligent man he was, quickly opted for her cheek and whispered in her ear. "Eliza! You're here at last!" Their eyes met and he could not pull away. "How beautiful you look."
She spoke low so only he could hear. "Fitz, you have not changed a bit, trying to win me with your free-flowing compliments." Then she added, "You don't look half bad yourself!"
They broke away and he greeted Jane as the passenger of the car approached them. "I'd like you to meet a good friend of mine. Eliza, Jane, this is Charles Bingley." Before them stood a most amiable looking man, in both features and disposition. He was nearly as tall as Fitzwilliam, displaying a pleasing build and relaxed nature. Fitzwilliam presented Eliza first and then introduced Jane. "Charles, this is Jane Bennet, Eliza's sister and partner in crime on many occasions."
Jane blushed at his teasing allusion to some of the antics that they had gotten up to while in the Côte d'Azur. As she acknowledged the introduction, Charles was heard to say to Jane, "I dare say Miss Bennet, Fitzwilliam has not stopped talking his time in Nice. I must admit to kicking myself soundly when he told me of the fun you all had for I declined to join him and stayed in London slaving away at my desk." He took her bag and then lightly touched her elbow to lead her to the car, "What do you say? Will you take pity on me and favour me with your undivided attention while you are here?"
Jane took an immediate liking to this appealing man. "Pity you Charles? I doubt that you've needed pitying a day in your life."
Fitzwilliam led Eliza over to the far side of the car, blocking the view of onlookers at the station. He closed his hands around her arms and pulled her to him. "Tell me you missed me."
She looked up at his face memorizing it all over again. "I missed you Fitz. So much it hurt."
"You aren't just saying that because I told you to?" he asked her as he leaned down closer.
"What do you think?" came her reply as she tipped her face up to him.
His answer wasn't in words; he proceeded to kiss her with more feeling than was proper at a train station.
With the bags secured, they all piled into the automobile; Jane and Charles in the back and Eliza to the left of Fitzwilliam. He turned the vehicle around and began to drive back down the dirt road, this time at a much more reasonable speed.
"Fitz! What's wrong with your motorcar?" Eliza teased.
"I spied it travelling much faster coming down this road a few minutes ago." He gave her a devilish grin when he heard her remark and put his foot down on the pedal, causing the ladies to grab onto their hats and leaving a trail of laughter behind them in the billowing dust that floated airily towards the ruined walls of Castle Caerlaverock.
Kympton House, The Estate of Fitzwilliam Darcy, overlooking the River Nith, Scotland, 30 October, 1928
Kympton House was ideally situated to take advantage of the views over the River Nith. As the Hispano-Suiza crested the last hill and came down the lengthy drive to the house Eliza and Jane enjoyed one breathtaking outlook after another. They had been informed along the way that many of those invited to the estate were not due to arrive until the following Friday, when they were expected to partake of a relaxing weekend shooting pheasant and roe deer and fishing for trout. The Colonel had been delayed on business most pressing in London and wouldn't arrive until then. For the next few days it would be the four of them, along with Charles Bingley's sister, Fitz's sister and a party of her 14 year-old girlfriends on holiday from their public school.
As the motorcar stopped next to the portico, a man in working clothes approached and waited to remove the baggage. His gaze was fixed on the ground, and he seemed determined to avoid eye contact with everyone. Fitzwilliam gave him instructions as to which bags belonged to which Bennet, and he shuffled off without ever raising his head. Wickham did, however, manage to see two pairs of very shapely feminine legs.
Eliza and Jane did not travel with their own ladies' maids, and as such, one of the upstairs maids in Fitzwilliam's employ saw to their needs as they settled in. Jane had popped her head around the door to tell Eliza she was going downstairs to meet Charles and have a good look over the selection of books in the library.
Eliza stood at the window and looked out across the striking panorama. Unaware that Fitzwilliam was observing her from the doorway, his perusal of her with a longing eye was lost on her. Two black Scottish terriers, perfectly groomed and exceedingly polite, came trotting up and began to sniff her shoes. Merriemuir and Moorscot liked visitors.
After giving the dogs a friendly pat, she leaned against the corner of the window seat, fiddled with her long strand of pearls and gave him a direct look. "Well?" she inquired with that husky voice of hers.
"Well what?" he began as he crossed the room to reach her.
"Well, I liked my greeting at the station, but I found it too brief. What would you say to something with a little more kick?"
When he reached her he took the string of pearls from her hand and used them to pull her against him. "Did you have something like this in mind?" He inclined his whole body into hers, dropped the pearls, and grasped her behind her neck and the curve of her lower back.
He drew her to him with a gentle strength that Eliza found irresistible.I've missed this. She let herself go and forgot about everything but him. They embarked on a passionate embrace that they both had longed for since last seeing each other in France.
Fitzwilliam found that kissing Eliza was almost hypnotic; she could mesmerize him so completely with the sensual teasing of her lips. As he drew her into his mouth, her tempting taste and exotic feel carried him away to a place where he lost all sensibility. A woman had never kissed him quite the way Eliza did.It's engagingly provocative. It left him with an unquenchable thirst for more.
He loved it. And he loved her.
As they broke apart he looked into her elfin face framed by her dark hair. Her eyes were shining delightfully and her luscious lips were upturned rather mischievously. "Yes, something just like that, Fitz."
Eliza gestured to the castle off in the distance. "Jane is keen to see it. She is scouring your library right now for any references to it."
"The castle was the site of some bloody confrontations by the English and the Scots. That hillside holds a lot of secrets," he said, following her gaze across what was now a peaceful setting. "There are many who swear that ghosts from both sides roam the fields."
She looked at him with more than a little doubt, and he merely shrugged his shoulders. "My father told me the stories of the battles there when I was a boy. They scared me to death."
"I can't imagine that, Fitz."
"Well, I was just a little boy then," he said lightly as he let his index finger trace over the outline of her lips.
She kissed it and gave him a lusty look. "Thank goodness you're all grown up. I have a lot of ideas about what I want to do with you, but babysitting is hardly one of them."
"Eliza!" he said with complete approval in his voice. With that the couple continued to reacquaint themselves for some time until they heard giggles behind them and saw a group of adolescent faces staring at them from each side of the doorway.
"Georgiana!" he began, whereby the rest of the group pushed a tall slender girl forward. She was red-faced and still laughing, egged on by her friends. She had never seen her brother in such a situation before. Fitzwilliam introduced her to Eliza, but Georgiana barely got out a polite reply before she rushed back to her group of friends. Momentarily they were running down the hallway like a herd of African buffalo.
Fitzwilliam shook his head at his sister's abandonment of her social duties. Eliza grabbed his hand and started pulling him to the door. "Fitz, don't be too hard on her. She's with her friends." Then she lowered her voice an octave and it was even sultrier, "I think they enjoyed the show."
"I'm not trying to give anyone a show, Eliza." Then he added as he slipped his arm around her waist, "Later this afternoon, let's you and I take a walk, together...alone. What do you say?"
Eliza knew the best way to spend an afternoon. She said yes.
Luncheon had not been a formal affair. Georgiana and her school friends had been out roaming the riverbank, enjoying an afternoon talking about all the boys from the school close to theirs.
Caroline Bingley had made an effort to get to know the Bennet sisters, despite the fact that they were clearly a notch below her socially, and, it appeared, monetarily as well. Why, they don't even travel with a maid. Jane Bennet seemed nice enough, but Caroline was lost when the conversation between her brother and the young lady turned to the treasure trove of information they discovered in the library about Castle Caerlaverock. They're getting along a little too well to suit me.
Her attention wandered over to Fitzwilliam and his friend. She found her an unusual match for Fitzwilliam, for Eliza was nothing at all like Caroline. "So Eliza, what do you do to occupy your time?" Caroline quizzed the young lady, only to discover that she was an assistant in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum. Much too clever for a woman.
Caroline cringed at the thought of such tedious work. "Surely you have other interests?" she asked. Eliza disclosed that she had campaigned ardently for the Equal Franchise bill, passed the previous spring, granting parliamentary vote to women at the age of twenty-one instead of thirty. She is exceedingly progressive.
"Are you interested in Women's Suffrage?" she asked Caroline.
"Oh, I don't have the time for any of that nonsense."
"What do you do, Caroline?"
Caroline could only reply that she spent a good deal of time visiting friends and that her calendar was frightfully full, especially during the foxhunting season that had begun but a few days ago.
Eliza's brows rose with this comment. "Indeed? So you are game to rise and dress up for a ride at 6 o'clock in the morning only to chase defenceless foxes through the fields?"
"Hardly! I rise after the party has set out for the morning and greet them when they return."
"Oh, then I see you miss what is considered by many as the best part. Tell me, do you have someone who relates all the details regarding the killing of the fox to you over your morning tea?"
"Eliza, I get the distinct feeling that you do not approve of foxhunting. It is a time-honoured British tradition."
"So was beheading prisoners in the Tower, Caroline," Eliza gave her a smile just then that couldn't be considered exactly derisive, "and from the fox's point of view it is very much the same thing."
Caroline made a judgement about Eliza Bennet. Definitely too candid for polite society.
Fitzwilliam had stood back listening to their exchange with much delight. Eliza's lively arch charm was like a bright beacon that lit up the room with wit and cleverness. He had known that Caroline would be in over her head when she began the inevitable interrogation of Eliza. I was right.
Charles made the suggestion that the group take an afternoon walk up to Castle Caerlaverock, as Jane's passion for viewing the castle had been expressed to him.
"What a marvellous idea!" Eliza exclaimed, looking over to their host. "Fitz? Wouldn't that be ducky?"
But Caroline barged in to have her say. "Oh, Fitzwilliam doesn't want to go up to that tumbling down pile of stones, do you? Why, you can't even get across the moat. The drawbridge is missing! We'll stay here!"
Smiling right at Eliza he said, "There's nothing I'd like better, and there are actually two moats at the castle. The outer one is dry but I know that a makeshift footbridge has been laid that will allow us to pass over the inner one."
Caroline was confused. What's gotten into him? Fitzwilliam has never been all that interested in going up there before. She thought she'd better tag along and see if she could figure out what was going on. "Wait until I get my wrap," she sternly instructed the group.
Jane and Eliza decided to wear something more suitable to climb around a six hundred year-old castle. Eliza was quick to change and she met Jane down the hall in her room. "So what do you think of Charles Bingley? He seems a swell fellow, Jane."
Jane was very quiet while she hunted for her jacket. She slipped it on over her knitted top and smoothed the linen fabric. "I suppose he is tolerable."
"Oh Jane, please, he's a living doll. Why, I guess he owns a large estate not far from Fitzwilliam's, in Derbyshire. They are sheep men, Jane!" She sniggered at this joke.
"Eliza, I found out within five minutes of meeting Charles Bingley that his interest does not lie in sheep." She thought for a minute and told her, "His sister seems like a flat tyre, don't you think?" Then, she remembered something. "Come down to the library with me. I simply have to show you what we found." She threw Eliza's hat over to her, and they hightailed it downstairs.
"What a gorgeous room!" Eliza exclaimed when she stepped inside. It had nothing to do with the décor, although that was lovely, especially the Indian brass collectables and the tall potted palms. She was referring to the books. The floor-to-ceiling shelves were filled with volume upon volume of every kind of book imaginable.
Jane drew her over to an oval mahogany table where several heavy books were scattered about, opened to various pages. She pulled over an especially thick volume opened to an illustrated page. Turning it around so Eliza might see it clearly, she pointed to the drawing.
After looking at it for a moment, she exclaimed, "Oh my heavens!" Then she looked at Jane, openly flabbergasted. "Is this a joke?"
"Of course not. Charles and I found it earlier." They were staring at a drawing that depicted a battle defending the King of Scots at Castle Caerlaverock. The inscription below the picture identified a fierce-looking knight wielding a large sword as Hugo the Terrible.
It was Hugo who drew their attention, for he bore a striking resemblance to Fitzwilliam. The likeness was clear; he could have been Fitzwilliam's father, or his brother, or even him.
The man himself walked in, and Eliza insisted he have a look immediately. "Is there some lineage in your family that connects you to this fellow?"
"Not that I'm aware."
"But you look so much alike," she insisted.
He thought it was a bunch of baloney. "This engraving," for on closer inspection they saw that was what it was, "was made only a hundred years ago. Unless this Hugo the Terrible lived a very long life, the person who made this could not possibly have known what he looked like." Fitzwilliam studied the page and added, "See! It says right here, he died in 1332, in battle on the hillside of Castle Caerlaverock. Besides, I don't think he resembles me at all."
Eliza was frowning at him when he grabbed her hand. "Come on, the castle is waiting!" The three of them found Charles crossing the immense foyer, and he fell in step with them. On the top step of the portico Merrie and Scot sat next to each other, waiting to be invited along by their master. The group of girls could be seen making their way in the general direction of the ancient castle. One word of approval from Fitz was all it took for the dogs to shoot off and run after the girls.
As they began to leisurely walk in the same direction, there was an urgent call from behind them. "Wait for me!" Caroline shouted as she hurried to catch up with the group who slowed for her. "Charles," she admonished her brother, "how dare you not wait for me!"
"I didn't think you wanted to come."
"Of course I did," she answered him looking at Fitzwilliam. She abruptly stopped in front of them and blurted out, "What in God's name are you wearing?"
All four in the group looked down at their own clothes, then, the men understood her question was directed to Eliza and Jane.
"Trousers," was Jane's short answer. She and Eliza had bought the pleated, loose fitting pants in Nice. They were the very latest in fashion and extremely practical for sporty activity. She exchanged glances with Eliza and they both looked at Caroline who was still staring openly at them.
"You should try them sometime, Caroline. They are awfully comfortable." Eliza suggested.
"You won't catch me in a pair of men's trousers," she huffed, and walked on ahead of them.
Eliza nearly choked on her laughter. She felt Fitzwilliam squeeze her hand tightly and turned to see his face adorned with a naughty grin. They both had the same thought, but Eliza did something about it. With a quick glance to insure she was not being observed, she let go of his hand and slipped her own into the side pocket of his trousers. Then she gave him the most innocent look she could muster, setting him off in a fit of laughter. She started groping around and was disappointed that the first thing her hand wrapped around was a smooth metal object.
He nonchalantly removed her hand and playfully wagged his finger at her for being such a naughty girl. She beamed up at him and unscrewed the silver flask, taking a tiny taste of single malt before she offered it to him. The flask was so small that after he had his taste, it was empty.
Castle Caerlaverock, 30 October, 1928
Exploring the grounds of the ancient castle was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, for everyone save Caroline. After the group had traversed the empty moat she had been the last to hesitantly cross the makeshift bridge across the second one. The woman then spent all her time pacing around what had been the triangular inner courtyard of the castle. She was amongst the remains of some sophisticated residences dating from the 1600's that were a very fine example of the classical Renaissance style. When Jane tried to point some of this out to her, she brushed her aside and sat down on a pile of stones, carefully adjusting her skirt so it did not rise up past her calves. Caroline's viewing was finished for the day.
Eliza and Jane both watched her and came to the same conclusion. What a wet blanket!
The rest of the group intermingled and took in the views around the ruins, including the guardrooms off the towers next to the entrances. From there they discovered a doorless cellar that had at one time apparently been accessible only from a trap door above, suggesting it had once been a prison. Fitzwilliam gave Georgiana a stern look of warning, as if he might consider such a fate for her if she didn't behave. She just laughed and went off with her friends to search for bits of pottery or glass waiting to be discovered.
All the floors of the castle had been of wood, long since rotted away with time, and now only the strong walls, which bore witness to the centuries of both gruesome battles and peaceful interludes, remained as vigilant guards of the medieval site. Even one of the towers had not been able to stand the test of time and was in ruins.
Fitzwilliam had instructed his butler to arrange for afternoon tea to be brought to the foot of the hill where they would relax after their excursion. He had requested Wickham do the loading and drive the footmen down. The party saw a tent being raised and tables with full service being set by two men in dark suits. The servants set out urns, china and trays with food. It was enough for the hosts and their guests to call a halt to their explorations and head back down the hill for refreshment.
It was breathtaking to sit under the shade of the tent with the castle in view, its pale russet stones, moss-covered and battle scarred, set against the evergreen foliage of the Scottish landscape. Except for the castle, no other structure stood in the surrounding countryside; only Fitzwilliam's house could be seen off in the distance. Enfolding the castle along the rolling hills of the terrain on one side was commercial Sitka spruce with remnants of mature Scots Pine. The open fields were scattered with belties, black Galloway cattle that earned their name from the white stripe around their middle.
As she eyed Castle Caerlaverock Eliza thought out loud. "You know, someone should establish some kind of agency that will take over safeguarding the nation's heritage. There must be hundreds of properties that are in need of rescue and repair."
In the hope of showing Fitzwilliam the shortcomings of such a forward thinking woman, Caroline quickly said, "Eliza despises all else but attaching herself to causes. She shall now save all of the old castles in Scotland and will take pleasure in nothing else!"
"Caroline, I take pleasure in many things, but if someone does not take up a worthy cause when it presents itself, an opportunity is missed."
"Well, I can't see where a few old relics are any more important than the vote for women or a few foxes."
Before Eliza could respond, Fitzwilliam said, "I'm not so sure that this particular cause will be so enthusiastically greeted."
Caroline smiled smugly, assuming he agreed with her about piles of old stone, women's rights and small mammals. "Tell us why Fitz."
"The ghosts, of course." Everyone in the party turned at looked at him. It was the last thing that anyone, except Eliza, might have expected to come out of Fitzwilliam's mouth. He had already mentioned ghosts to her today.
He looked around at them all and, satisfied he had their attention, rested along the edge of one of the tables. All the schoolgirls gathered around, for, in fact, they were of the opinion that Georgiana's brother was something of a dish.
He began with some tales of the legends that lived in Scottish lore. It was for the benefit of the girls, to stir them up before All Hallows' Eve. They were enraptured, and he had their undivided attention.
Fitzwilliam spoke of the local belief in werewolves and that many sightings had been made in these very woods behind them. Eliza saw all the wide-eyed girls look around as they chewed on their sandwiches. He moved on to the faeries that played merrily in the toadflax during the day while, in the dead of night, they crept away to steal the babies of the local villagers. Eliza smiled inwardly; she sensed that the girls were enjoying his stories. He told them that the Celts believed that black cats were people who had been changed into animals because of evil magic, and that he knew of a haggard old witch who lived in the marshes on the way to Dumfries that had such a cat as a companion, called a familiar. He had heard it said that she could also turn herself into a black cat when the situation suited her, such as on All Hallows' Eve. Eliza watched him; he was definitely in his element and she shared in his delight of teasing the girls.
He gestured to the castle behind them. "It's believed by the villagers that the ghosts of fallen warriors haunt these fields, and that the spirits of the dead, who were hung alive from the walls, still roam the castle seeking revenge for their deaths."
The girls were clearly taken with the handsome Fitzwilliam, but, as he spoke of clairvoyance and the deep-seated beliefs amongst the Scottish, he sounded more earnest and the girls grew serious with his mood.
Caroline raised her doubts. "It is all superstition and nonsense, to see the spirits of the dead, and believe them to walk the earth. What a load of rubbish!"
"The battle between sceptics and true believers runs hot and heavy, making it very difficult sometimes to make a clear judgment about such matters. I'm just telling you what I know from Scottish folklore and personal experience."
He was pressed to explain by Jane. "And what experiences have you had with all of that?" but Fitzwilliam merely shook his head in reply, unwilling to share his childhood memories.
A cold wind came through the clearing, surrounding all those present, but on this day it had not the presence of anything more than a chill from the north; it did nothing more sinister than encourage the party to head back to the house.
Wickham had returned with the truck and was helping to load everything up. He never spoke a word, keeping his head down and his chin tucked into his knotted tartan scarf. He kept away from everyone in the party, and, when he got in the truck, he looked off in the distance while waiting for the footmen. When they appeared to be ready to leave, Caroline indicated she had no tolerance to walk all the way to the house, and she got in to ride back.
As the truck pulled away, Eliza noted the strange manner of the labourer. Fitzwilliam took her hand, and, as they were trailing behind the rest of the party walking back to the house, he told her what he had kept from the others.
"George is an odd one. His family has an unusual history with us. Samhain is not a good time of year for him."
"What is Samhain?"
"It takes place tomorrow, on All Hallows' Eve, the Celtic New Year celebration. It begins on the evening of October 31st and traditionally lasts for three days, and is one of the two greatest Druidic festivals. Samhain marks the end of the light half of the year and the beginning of the dark half."
"What happened, Fitz?"
"His grandfather was the caretaker here when I was little. He met with some unfortunate circumstances."
"Whatever do you mean?"
"He was found hanging from a tree on the first night of the Samhain festivities."
Eliza gasped. That is dreadful.
"I remember watching it all from my bedroom window. I was petrified. He had scared me earlier in the day with his stories about evil spirits walking the earth on All Hallows' Eve. I was sure they had got him." Fitzwilliam had not spoken to anyone about the events of that day and night, but it was as vivid and real as if it were yesterday.
"What was so strange about it all was that our housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, had been talking to him at the door of my bedroom that day, but then he disappeared. She was very upset by it all."
"What do you mean, he disappeared?"
"I mean he was there one minute and, poof, gone the next. It was just like the Scots believe, a spirit of the soon-to-be dead visiting before they move on. Then, when he was found hanging from the tree, I was frightened out of my wits. It must have upset my parents too, for we never came back here for the holiday. In fact, strangely enough, I think this is the first time I have been back since then."
Eliza said lightly, "Well, Fitz, you big strong man, I expect you to protect me from all this business."
"You can count on it. You're safe with me."
Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth followed behind Jane and Charles, taking their time as they wove in and out of the rows of spruce. Further ahead, the girls could be heard as one big chattering group.
"I'm afraid this isn't quite what I had planned when I asked you to take a walk with me."
Taking in the fresh scent of the pine and crisp autumn air, Eliza replied, "It's been a wonderful afternoon. I haven't minded sharing you."
He pulled up short; the others in the party had disappeared ahead. They stood in a thick carpet of dry needles under the weighty branches of the trees that stood like rows of brave soldiers lined up on the battlefield. The trees acted like a screen to hide the lovers away. The Scotties were happily sniffing the ground.
With a crooked finger under her chin Fitzwilliam tipped her head up to see under the brim of her hat, which she wore well over her eyebrows. He pulled her close and showed her what he felt deep inside with a kiss that was tender and loving.
His arms felt as if he might never let her go. "I can hear your heart," Eliza said after a moment of silence, as her head rested against his chest.
"Can you? Tell me what it's saying."
Eliza surprised herself when she lost her nerve and didn't answer.
He looked down at her and cradled her cheek with his hand. "No idea? Then let me tell you. It's saying, 'Eliza, I love you.'" She smiled dreamily up at him; he imagined that look upon her face when they were more intimately sequestered away.
"I love you too, Fitzwilliam."
"What would you say if I asked you to marry me?"
This question brought a familiar impish gleam into her eyes. "You'll have to be more direct than that if you want to find out."
"Eliza, I love you with all my heart. Will you honour me by consenting to be my wife?"
"Do you love me with a passion?"
"A flaming one."
"Do you imagine me fulfilling all your desires?"
"My dearest, I will gladly show you all that is in my imagination. It will fulfil us both."
"Do you want me as the mother of your children?"
"Ah, you see, when I look right here," and he came very close as he peered deeply into her eyes, "these flecks of golden colour that shine in your eyes are our children smiling out at me." That was enough to bring tears welling up in her eyes. As she blinked, one ran down each cheek. He kissed them away. "Tell me these are tears of joy."
"Of course, and its all your fault, Fitz. I've never been happier in all my life."
"Then Eliza, please, answer my question."
She kissed the end of his nose and said unequivocally, "Yes!"
After dining, the girls had hidden away up in an unused room on the top floor of the house. Their minds were full of hobgoblins and ghouls. The low lights in the room only promoted the scary mood they wanted to create. One of them pulled out what was considered illicit contraband: a wooden Ouija board. They gathered around in a circle, balanced it on their knees and began to ask it questions. It started with boys at school and then moved on to the inevitable attempt to conjure up spirits of the dead.
"Is there someone out there who wants to make their presence known?" The mover slid slowly to answer 'yes'. Much giggling ensued.
"Who are you?" With jerky motions the mover began to spell out F-I-T-Z--!
"OK! Someone here is manipulating this," Georgiana said. "Everyone close your eyes. Only one person looks at what gets spelled out." They repeated the question and felt the mover stop and start, and stop and start again. When it moved no more they asked the girl who had been watching it, "Well? What did it spell?"
"It spelled out H-U-G-O." They all fell into fits of laughter. No one knew any Hugo.
Someone asked, "Are you a boy from school?" The answer was no.
"Are you a spirit?" reply, "Yes".
"A good spirit or an evil spirit?" They watched as the mover slowly made its way around the letters and spelled out E-V-I-L.
This gave them just what they wanted; a good fright. "Why are you here?" When the mover spelled out the word 'die' the lights flickered out and all the girls began screaming. It was just the kind of terror-filled fun that they had been after, but by the time they had made it downstairs to raid the kitchen for snacks, the name of Hugo had been long forgotten.
Kympton House, 31 October, 1928, Sometime Before Dawn
Eliza was unaware that her room was half of a pair, divided by a sitting room, in the old style of building. She had not noticed that one of the intricate panels in the wall was actually a door. Before she retired, she stood at the window and looked over to the crumbling form that lurked across the fields. Castle Caerlaverock could just be made out in under the autumn moon. She left the curtains open, slipped under the heavy covers and watched the fire until she fell asleep.
It was the dead of night when the panel inched open and a dark figure stole into her room. He was attired in a smoking jacket and its quilted lapels and cuffs caught the faint light of the fire. Fitzwilliam moved silently across the carpeted floor and stood at the window looking out to the castle. When he turned towards the bed, his eyes glowed with a deep red as if the dying embers from the fire had leapt to life within them. His features hardened as a cold intent spread over them.
Eliza awakened and became aware of a chill in the air that permeated through the layers of covering protecting her. Then, she felt what seemed to be the touch of death upon her face, and, as her eyes popped open, she looked upon the man she loved.
Relief quickly spread through her. "Fitz, you gave me such a fright!" Then she lowered her voice, "You didn't hint that you had plans to visit me." He was bent over her, the current of his breath falling across her. Without a word he eased onto the bed and most urgently began to inundate her neck with a torrent of kisses. Eliza closed her eyes and let herself be overcome by the passion of her fiancé.
His appearance in her room had unexpectedly provoked her in a most welcomed way; her arousal was ignited. The more he touched her, the more heightened her emotional state became, but then, somewhere in the midst of being transported far away from reality, she started. While she found herself unreservedly kissing Fitz back, there was something amiss.
His fierce desire was apparent to the point that it overwhelmed her. His manner had become much more insistent than she would ever expect. Elizabeth was torn. Her mind cleared away the flush of excitement she felt as she tried to think. Fitzwilliam seems not to be himself.
When she opened her eyes she was staggered. Eliza knew she shouldn't be frightened of her future husband, but his appearance was gripping. He was untamed, in both his look and his manner. She sensed his ragged, laboured breathing against her skin as his physical need grew. Deep in his eyes it seemed there lurked an aura of unworldliness. It was primeval. As he lingered just above her throat, a guttural moan of sheer bodily craving escaped from him. Eliza had never before heard such a sound. His open lips brushed against her and she felt the warmth of his tongue meet her sensitive skin. It explored up behind her ear and then crept downwards at an unbearably slow pace until it stopped at the swell of her breasts. Heated kisses were now spread along the length of her chest with an increasingly aggressive display of almost animalistic impatience. Good God! Has his desire for me turned him into a beast?
She gasped in reply to his actions and clutched his shoulders. "Fitz..." she began, not wishing to stop him, but hoping he would not be so aggressive. She could not finish as his mouth seized hers and abruptly silenced her.
She let her anxiety briefly dissolve as the pure pleasure of his seduction surpassed her concerns. He was overwhelming and she once again succumbed to the gratification that his advances produced, but she could not defeat the nagging worry that persisted. What is going on? This is so unlike him. Gathering her wits, she tried with some force to push him away so she could talk to him.
He responded by lifting her with no apparent effort from under the covers and laying her across the top of the huge bed, then rendering her immobile by straddling her. He loomed over her figure and stared down at her as if she were captured prey about to be devoured.
By now, Eliza was breathing rapidly, more from fear than from arousal, for this was not the Fitzwilliam she loved. She was looking questioningly into his eyes, but what she saw was a tainted version of the man who had proposed to her in the forest of spruce trees.
It was his body but not his spirit.
Yet, his body seemed altered as well. She watched him rip off his jacket and the red glow from the fire engulfed his chest. He looked to be bulkier and more muscular than what she thought, and, upon closer inspection, she saw numerous scars upon his arms and torso that seemed to be gashes of some sort.
Eliza was pulled back to the present as his massive hands began to move over her. They started at her shoulders and travelled down, where her loose satin gown was pushed aside. She could feel the calluses upon his palms as they explored her. How very strange. I don't recall his hands feeling coarse. He locked his eyes upon hers before he lowered them to watch his hands stroking her uncovered breasts. With each movement he sent a scorching heat penetrating through her. Her response was akin to being set alight; she felt like a wildfire was consuming her, spreading uncontrolled to the furthest reaches of her body. With all her heart she wished it weren't so. I don't want him to be like this.
It was then that he made her heart stop beating. One of his hands had moved up under her gown and she felt its rough surface creeping slowly upwards along her leg.
He raised his head and bore into her once more with the blazing eyes of a man possessed. She opened her mouth to try and speak, but could find no words. Her eyes tried to draw out the tenderness that she knew was inside of him, but it was lost somewhere within him.
Then, as suddenly as she had been awakened, the weight of his body slumped against her without warning, and his hold on her relaxed.
Their uncovered chests raised and lowered together and after a few moments had passed, she called to him, "Fitz? Fitzwilliam?" She felt him stir and as he raised himself up on one arm, a look of disbelief spread over his face.
"What are you doing here, Eliza?" I don't remember her coming into my room. As he looked around, realization of his surroundings and their state of semi undress turned his countenance to embarrassment. "Eliza, what's happened?"
It was then he discovered his other hand, resting against the smooth skin of her upper thigh. "What the hell is going on?" he raised his voice with some alarm. His eyes expressed disbelief, and he jerked his hand away.
Then, without thinking, he rubbed it along his neck; there was a dull ache around it.
Eliza didn't know how to explain what had happened, for, she herself, was unsure about what had transpired. Has he been sleepwalking? Has he experienced some sort of seizure or attack? She felt sure that he had not been in his right mind when he had been seducing her.
He saw she was somewhat disrobed and thoughtfully adjusted her gown for her. He stayed with her for some time, repeatedly apologizing for what he could not remember while she tried to calm him down. When he finally retired to his own room, neither of them noticed the razor thin red line that had appeared around his neck, but he continued to rub along it as he disappeared through the concealed panel.
Under the cover of the half-moon, on the sloping fields that lay at the foot of Castle Caerlaverock there was a heated clamour of upheaval by the awakened spirits of the dead. The departed souls of the men fallen in valour rose up from their gloomy netherworld and began to clash in a conflict of the ages. As they had done for centuries past the warriors took up their ghostly arms and came to blows with their enemy.
The sounds of a battle fought centuries ago disturbed the peace of land. From the distance, where the ethereal war raged, the clatter of metal against metal could be heard. The shouts of the brave once again thundered across the battlefield. And, the terrifying cries of death, re-enacted by those souls who had done so for time eternal filled the night.
Kympton House, The morning of 31 October, 1928
As would be expected, sleep eluded Eliza after Fitzwilliam left her room. Her mind was racing almost as fast as her pulse had been earlier. It was impossible not to relive the experience of his potent attentions, and she was fascinated that, although it was nothing like she expected, there was a considerable allure to his persuasive bedside manner.
He was pushy, menacing, and almost feral. Completely opposite of his normal temperament.
Fitzwilliam was also confident, strong and decisive. That part definitely warms my muffins!
She stirred within. Eliza! You've got trouble here! This was no time to get turned on by his pre-dawn raid.
Pushing aside her physical reactions to analyse later, she lay in bed and, as the darkness faded with the dawn, tried to sort out what had happened. Every aspect was considered a dozen times and then sensibly assessed yet again, but the best she could do was to fall back on her assumptions that he had been ill or sleepwalking.
The true source of Fitzwilliam's affliction would never occur to her.
As she dressed, tea was brought to her room and she lingered over her cup while she continued to ponder it all. She remained steadfast in her conviction that there was nothing in Fitzwilliam's character that would allow him to behave as he had by his own choice. There had to be some other explanation, because, if he had acted in full possession of his faculties, then the consequences were too frightening to consider.
The sound of his motorcar drew her to the window. She saw it turn from the main driveway and pass the portico before it disappeared out of sight. Gee, he was out and about early. Her wait by the window was rewarded when he returned but moments later, walking towards the front of the house.
As Eliza watched, Fitzwilliam stopped in mid-stride and looked directly up to her window. He could not have seen her standing there, and yet he knew that she was watching him. The eerie tentacles of foreboding crept through her. He stood with his hands at his side. His face was emotionless, but his eyes, alive with a force of their own, consumed her. Even from the distance of the second floor, his dark stare exuded a sinister intent that was unmistakable. It was disturbing in the extreme. What was worse, Eliza could not turn away. She tried, but it was impossible. He held her locked in place as if she were bound by some unyielding restraint. She had a most unreal sensation that a pair of strong arms was preventing her free movement. But of course that is impossible.
Then suddenly he looked to the doorway of the house and vanished under the portico.
Eliza wasn't the only person to witness the unusual behaviour of Fitzwilliam; his handyman, Wickham, was working under the portico and looked up to see a depraved spirit etched upon his face. Knowing this was the day when the usual barriers between the living and the Otherworld thinned and stretched, allowing contact between human beings and the spirits of the dead, he gave a touch to the garlic necklace he wore in reassurance of his own safety from such evil.
As Eliza stood immobile at the window there was a slight rattling of the glass in the candlestick lamp sitting on the table next to her. Her hand, resting along the edge, had begun to tremble. She pressed her hands together and began to pace the room.
She took some moments to gather her wits. What in heavens name is going on around here? Surely she was imagining it all. No doubt the sun was in his eyes as he was looking up trying to see through the window. It might account for his actions. Possibly. He was trying to see if she was there and kept staring. Maybe.
Eliza swallowed an ominous lump of warning that was lodged in her throat. Even so, she could not completely dismiss the idea that he had been controlling her.
A light knock upon her door made her jump out of her shoes. She was appalled to find that she was afraid it might be Fitzwilliam. I must collect myself. This is ridiculous!
She opened the door to Jane's smiling face and concealed her anxiety as best she could. Jane took no notice as she swept past her, too interested in telling her sister about a number of the attractive qualities of Charles Bingley that she had become acquainted with the previous evening. Her admiration was apparent, and Eliza set aside her silly notions about Fitz to wish for her sister the romance this autumn that she had missed out on over the summer.
Before they made their way downstairs to breakfast Eliza broke the news of Fitzwilliam's proposal. The heartfelt joy her sister gave her went some way to lifting her spirits.
The dining room was set for those in the party to come and go from the morning meal as each was inclined, and Eliza and Jane were the last two to have breakfast. Charles joined them as they lingered over a last cup of tea. "So Eliza, where is Fitz this morning?"
A guarded look hid her earlier thoughts as they came rushing back to her. "I believe he was out early. I haven't yet seen him." Just then Merrie and Scot were seen running past the open doors of the dining room, their nails clicking along the polished hallway. "Ah, maybe we have an answer. He must be in the library."
Eliza excused herself, leaving Jane and Charles to discuss options about how they might spend their day. She saw that Fitzwilliam was in the library and hesitated before approaching him, but the dogs trotted up to her, and Fitzwilliam's attention was diverted to the doorway before she was fully composed.
When he saw her he smiled cheerfully. He saw in her face betrayal of the unrest churning inside her, and he immediately went to her. Taking her hands he cleared his throat loudly and asked her with no little concern, "Are you alright this morning Eliza? Let me tell you again--" but he was hushed by her.
"No more talk about last night, and no more apologies." She smiled up at him, attempting to ease them both. Then she took a frank assessment of his appearance. He seems perfectly normal.She appraised his hands and noted they were strong and smooth, as they had always been. Eliza could see nothing in his countenance that would suggest he was ill or acting out of sorts in any way. The man who looked so compassionately at her just now was the Fitzwilliam she loved.
Eliza heard the words that enveloped her heart with joy the day before. "I love you." She gratefully accepted his embrace. It was important they both confirm the affection of the other. As he held her so protectively, Eliza knew she had been very silly with her worries upstairs.
I have nothing to fear in Fitzwilliam. Everything is fine.
Eliza felt much better and was more than a little ashamed of herself. I'm a foolish woman with an overactive imagination. She asked him what his plans for the day were. He was to meet his manager out in a far section of the spruce plantation, where the trees were more mature. "Might I join you?" He would have it no other way.
Just then he stuck his finger inside his collar and ran it around his neck.
"Is something wrong Fitz?"
He didn't want to draw attention to it, but it pleased him so to see her concerned over his well being that he confessed, "Damn, my neck aches."
Eliza exclaimed loudly upon seeing under his collar. In its angry redness the skin looked to be rubbed nearly raw and Eliza imagined it quite sore. "What's happened?"
He cleared his throat before answering, "I don't know; it hurts and my throat is very prickly."
She made him loosen his tie and unbutton his shirt. The bright red welt had formed in a ring completely around his neck. She hesitantly touched it, and he winced. "Perhaps we should call for a doctor." Eliza now believed that Fitzwilliam's peculiar behaviour could be put down to an illness.
He wouldn't hear of it. "We aren't about to waste the day waiting on the doctor. After we meet with my manager, I think we should spend some time in the village. It's very quaint. You'll love it."
"Only if you'll tell me if you start feeling worse."
Although he couldn't know it, he made a promise he was certain to keep. "You'll be the first to know."
Charles and Jane were trying to find Caroline but came across Fitz and Eliza. Both couples agreed to meet in the village at an appointed time and place for lunch. They continued the search for Caroline and found her reclining in the sunroom. The wireless was tuned to a jazz selection by Miff Mole and His Little Molers. Her foot tapped out the beat as she read the August addition of 'Nash', flipping idly past the advertisements for Kellogg's cornflakes, Bird's custard and Ovaltine. Her eye had been caught, though, by an ad for a seaside home in Sussex. She studied the sketch and barely looked up to decline an invitation to accompany the couples on their outings. Lastly, Georgiana and her friends were hunted down and found to be back up on the third floor. This morning they were searching through old trunks of clothes in search of costumes to wear tonight and had no interest in joining in an excursion to the village.
Before they left, Eliza suggested Fitzwilliam apply some ointment or cream on his neck to ease his discomfort. She also persuaded him to use something in an attempt to help his throat. His voice seemed to be getting scratchy. He excused himself and obediently rubbed peppermint oil around his sore neck and gargled with an extract of the inner bark of the oak tree. Neither seemed to do any good, but when he met her in the foyer he lied and told her he felt much better. This produced a radiant smile on Eliza's face. It was just the way he preferred to see her.
Nothing was out of the ordinary on the drive across Fitzwilliam's property or during his discussions with his manager. Eliza would have been loath to admit she had been watching him with a keen eye. She was happy to conclude that he was his usual self. All is indeed back to normal.
Except for the poor man's neck, which she noted with some concern, he rubbed with increasing frequency.
Before Fitzwilliam had finished his business, the truck from the estate came down the path, and Wickham slowed as he approached them. He jumped out and brought a note over to Fitzwilliam, then waited. As he stood unobtrusively to one side Eliza saw that concealed under his wool scarf appeared to be a chain of...garlic?! Her opinion of the man as rather odd was reinforced.
Whatever the note contained had clearly upset him; he thanked Wickham but gave him no other instructions, so the man simply drove the truck back the way he came. Cutting his business short, he led Eliza over to the motorcar and told her, "I'm sorry; we're going to have to change our plans. I must go visit someone who lives outside the village. I'll explain on the way."
Once they were proceeding in the right direction he began to speak, but was frequently interrupted by his irritated throat. "Mrs. Reynolds was our family's housekeeper for longer than I can remember here at Kympton House. She is quite old now, and hasn't worked for some years. She is well taken care of, and we stay in touch." He seemed to want to gather his thoughts, and they drove in silence for a while. When he continued it was with a voice full of worry. "She has asked for me to come to her on a matter of some urgency. I'm concerned she's fallen ill."
Eliza got the distinct impression that his old housekeeper meant a great deal to him. "I hope that's not the case Fitz."
When they arrived at her cottage, a neighbour met them outside. Before ushering them in, she told them Mrs. Reynolds had experienced a fit of some sort in the middle of the night and seemed to be rapidly deteriorating as the morning progressed. The doctor had been around, but pronounced there was nothing to be done for her but to make her as comfortable as possible. Mrs. Reynolds had repeatedly insisted that Mr. Darcy be summoned and had only quieted down when the neighbour complied.
Fitzwilliam and Eliza entered the small room at the back of the cottage. Mrs. Reynolds lay in her bed, with a view across the moor to occupy her mind. The room and the moor, however, seemed to be far away from her thoughts, and it was some moments before they were acknowledged.
She turned her head with a laboured motion, and her eyes could not focus on her guests, for she had to meekly ask, "Fitzwilliam Darcy? Is that you in the shadows?"
There were no shadows in the room; the sunlight spilled through the wide window and made the room quite cheery. He stepped forward and bent over her frail figure so she might see him. Clearly upset by her appearance, he replied with a cracking voice, "Yes it is. Is there something we might get you Mrs. Reynolds?"
It took much effort for her to hold a conversation; she had to keep her comments short and to the point if she were to tell him what he must know. "No. I must talk to you."
"You need to rest my dear lady," he told her.
She insisted. "You must know what I saw."
Fitzwilliam had to lower his head very close to her to catch her voice as it was drained of all strength. "It was a vision. I saw the dead." Her eyes widened in fear and she began to tremble.
"Please don't upset yourself. I remember very well the day it happened. It was a long time ago."
As Fitzwilliam talked in soothing tones to the old woman, Eliza's admiration for him steadily grew. His kindness was apparent and, more than that, it was genuine.
"Please Mrs. Reynolds....," but she cut him off.
"Hush boy and listen," she scolded, but a choking fit took hold of her and it was some time before she could continue. He made her try and drink some water and looked to Eliza with a worried expression.
When she began again it was with a valiant effort. Her voice was suddenly clear and strong. She sat up slightly and became very animated. "I was visited by the dead. Last night. It was in the middle of the night. There is no mistake. A death will take place today." She fell back against the pillow and tried to regain her failing strength. It was impossible; she had used up the last of her resources to try and warn him. She muttered as she began to fade away, "Someone will die, someone will die..."
Fitzwilliam watched as her eyes closed and he prevailed on her to tell him. "Who will die, Mrs. Reynolds? Who?"
But it was too late; she had slipped away and with her went the knowledge of who would be visited by the Grim Reaper.
They waited with the neighbour until the doctor returned; Fitzwilliam arranged for Mrs. Reynolds to be placed in the care of the local undertaker, Mr. Pluggston. He expressed his wish to see to the arrangements for her burial, as she had no other family. The doctor assured Mr. Darcy he would pass along his request to Mr. Pluggston on his behalf.
Gesturing to her neck, Eliza silently communicated to Fitz about discussing his neck ailment with the doctor. He shook his head indicating he was not willing to submit to an examination at present. With that they bid the doctor and the kind neighbour goodbye.
Eliza had been bursting to ask Fitz about what the woman had meant. She had pieced together that she was the housekeeper he had told her about yesterday and that she had another vision; this one so upsetting that it sent her to her death. Lord, I wonder what she saw. As soon as she thought it she frowned. Now I'm beginning to take all of this as fact and not the fantasy it must be.
One thing was real. Between his unusual behaviour and the old woman's death, the warm hospitality of Fitzwilliam's house party had turned into something of a chilling get-together.
Fitz sped back towards his estate, and he was coughing so much that Eliza decided it best not to ask him questions and force him to try and talk. He kept his eyes on the road and one hand on the wheel, but reached out and held her hand with his free one. She stole glances at him and noticed his mood had become dark. He was stony-faced and grim. It's no wonder. He has just witnessed the death of his housekeeper. They pulled up in front of the house and he stopped the car but made no move to get out. He was squeezing her hand so tight that it hurt. His attention was absorbed in the sight of Castle Caerlaverock off in the distance.
Without warning he jumped out of the car and began to walk off in the direction of the ruins.
"Where are you going Fitz?" she called to him. He continued walking away coughing and rubbing his neck. "Fitz?" She thought to follow him but vetoed it nearly straight away. Perhaps he needs time alone.
Wickham was standing off to the side watching as Mr. Darcy strode off through the fields, and his friend went into the house. Without a second thought, Wickham followed at a safe distance behind Mr. Darcy.
Kympton House, The afternoon of 31 October, 1928
Eliza found the house seemingly empty and wandered about before being found by Merrie and Scot. They joined her as she roamed around until they all ended up in the library. She scanned several titles and then was drawn over to the table where all the books from yesterday lay open. With a mind only half concentrating on the words, she glanced at the pages. Then she cried loudly, "Oh my God!" and scared the dogs.
She looked more carefully at a page and re-read part of a paragraph:
...and it was during this siege of 1332 that the great knight known as Hugo the Terrible was slain in the battle on the hillside of Caerlaverock Castle, his head severed by a fierce blow to his neck.
Eliza felt as if the room had turned into a snowy scene in the deepest of winter. She felt icy cold. More than that, a terror like she had never experienced began to take hold of her rational mind. She looked around the comfortable room, taking in the dogs resting once more in the sunlight that was pouring through a corner window, but the peaceful scene was lost to her.
One thought kept tumbling over and over in her head as she stared at the engraving of Hugo the Terrible that so resembled Fitzwilliam. His neck.
Fitzwilliam's long strides had taken him through the fields and to the hillside below the castle. He was now lost in a task that consumed him. He searched the ground thoroughly, fully engrossed with his work. He did not notice a figure observing him from the edge of the closest trees.
As Wickham watched Mr. Darcy, he grew apprehensive. The man was acting very strange. He was searching madly on the hillside. At first Wickham assumed he must have lost something on the outing of the previous day, but then the rambling curses of the man drifted over to where he lay hidden, and he knew his worst fears were confirmed.
"Where is it?" Mr. Darcy was shouting over and over with his grating voice. He was kicking the grass and pacing all around. "Damn the Scots! Their cursed ways have tainted these lands!" Wickham fingered his garlic chain nervously.
The demon that was in him had only one thought. It continued to rant through Mr. Darcy's mouth. "Where is it? I cannot fight without my head! I need it!" Wickham drew back into the trees and listened as he continued to rave. "The castle must be taken. The Scots will be slaughtered. Where is my head?"
That was enough for Wickham, who ran all the way back to the house, taking the long way around under the protection of the trees. He was convinced that a spirit let loose to walk the earth on All Hallows Eve had possessed Mr. Darcy.
"Eliza, where were you and Fitzwilliam? We waited in the village for ages." Jane found her sister lost in thought, sitting at the table with the open books around her. As she approached Eliza, she immediately became concerned. "What has happened?"
Not wishing to sound foolish, Eliza elected to only tell Jane about Mrs. Reynolds death. She mentioned that the woman had called for Fitz before she passed away, but the whole business about seeing the dead was left out.
"Oh Eliza, how awful!"
"Fitz was upset, as you might imagine. He's gone out walking in the fields."
Jane interpreted the low mood in Eliza's voice as one of disappointment. She's feeling rejected. She took hold of her sister's hand. "Eliza, you know that men are not the best when it comes to dealing with emotions. I dare say Fitzwilliam would prefer to be on his own while he goes through the worst of his feelings." Her sister nodded.
"What is it, Eliza?"
She desperately wanted to tell Jane all she thought, but to do so would sound utterly foolish. I know that. Yet, she was so scared, she wished for someone to confide in. "Jane, Fitzwilliam isn't feeling well. He has a sore throat and neck. I'm afraid he isn't quite himself."
"Then, you must be there for him. You will be exactly what he needs."
Eliza still frowned. That's what I'm afraid of.
Georgiana and her friends were out in the unseasonably warm afternoon, relaxing in the gardens at the rear of the house. None of her friends saw Fitzwilliam watching them from the corner of the house, but Georgiana sensed something and looked behind her. She had to look twice because she couldn't believe her brother was standing rigidly still as if in a trance. Why is he staring at us? She cocked her head. Are we doing something he would disapprove of? She was about to get up when he abruptly turned and walked away.
Eliza was about to suggest that they might go out to look for Fitz, as he had been gone a good long while, but, just then, they heard footsteps in the hallway and he entered the spacious sitting room.
"Fitzwilliam! Wherever have you been to this afternoon?" Caroline was pleased to see that he had spent several hours away from his special guest. It fortified her hope that there couldn't be any serious attachment between them.
He gave the offending woman a contemptible look and a snappish reply that was only enhanced by his gravelly voice. "I have been out searching the fields."
Caroline's eyes were as wide as the indigo moon. "Oh, well..." She assumed he meant he was inspecting some of his spruce groves.
Merrie and Scot had come up to greet their master, but when they got within a few feet of him, they changed course and hid behind one of the sofas.
"Fitz?" Eliza began and as he faced her she let out a piercing, "Fitz!" She rushed towards him and reached out for his neck. Her hand was seized before she could touch him. He held it suspended between the two of them.
With a low growl, his chilling words matched the foul look on his face. "Don't touch me until I tell you that you may." He smiled wickedly at her and spoke in a solemn tone; no one else in the room could possibly hear. "My strength must be saved for the battle."
Eliza felt like she was looking into the soul of the devil as she stood silently staring up at him. Fitzwilliam has changed. Again. She bit her lip as she considered the evil gleam in his eyes, directed right at her. He was holding her hand tightly in his grasp and once again she could feel that their smooth surfaces had grown rough and calloused.
"My anxious vixen. You must be patient, and wait until after the castle has been taken. Do not fret. You will be the one who pleasures me tonight when the Scots have been hung high from the castle towers. You are the one I have chosen."
Eliza's mouth dropped open in disbelief. Well he certainly gets straight to the point.
Then Jane broke the mood when she came rushing up. She saw what Eliza had screamed about.
"Fitzwilliam, you're bleeding." He permitted her to examine his neck. His collar had scarlet spots stained all around it. Blood was seeping out of the abrasion that circled his neck. "You must see to this."
"I cannot be bothered. I must go and prepare to fight." Jane looked to Eliza and then everyone in the room looked around at each other. They all had the same thought. What the hell is he talking about? Fitzwilliam ignored them all and stared out the window at Castle Caerlaverock.
Charles had become concerned listening to the odd talk and thought it best to step in at this point. "Fitzwilliam," he began but his friend did not respond. He moved to where he would not be overheard by the others and told him, "Your behaviour suggests that you might be ill. You're injured and need to attend to your neck. You won't be able to fight otherwise."
"Yes! My neck! It must be repaired so I may fight!" Now this man before him made sense. He must be English to speak so reasonably. "It has been seriously injured. Can you fix it?"
Charles went along with this. "Most certainly I can fix it. You'll feel much better as soon as we attend to it."
"You make a wise alliance, good man. I am in a position to see that you are handsomely recompensed for your efforts." Fitzwilliam looked Jane over approvingly and told Charles, "You need only name your desire."
Charles ignored his inference. "Why don't we go upstairs?"
"Can I see the castle from there? I must keep watch over it."
Charles nodded and moved towards the doorway. "The view is best from my room."
"Then lead me to your quarters." As Fitzwilliam walked out he turned to Eliza, Jane and Caroline and told them harshly, "You will wait here until you are summoned." He had rendered them immobile; they hardly dared to even take a breath.
His eyes lingered dangerously on Eliza sending the most primitive of communications through more than his visceral attitude. She felt a flaming heat sear through her. This is unbelievable. Not now, Eliza!
As soon as the men had left the room, Caroline began accusing Eliza. "What have you done to Fitzwilliam?"
It took Eliza a moment to change gears and give her attention to Caroline. "Whatever do you mean?"
"I mean that he has never acted like this, and, until you and your sister arrived yesterday, he was perfectly normal."
"What I've done with Fitz is none of your business. And, whatever may be wrong with him has nothing to do with me."
"Well, I can't say you are a positive influence on him when evidence to the contrary is staring us in the face."
Before her sister could say anything more, Jane stepped into the fray. "Squabbling will do him no good, the poor man is ill. The exact nature of his affliction is pure speculation at this point."
Eliza stood solemnly between the two of them. I know what's going on, but you would never believe me. "I need a drink and a ciggie." She poured herself a double and plopped on the sofa. With a whiskey in one hand and her long cigarette holder in the other, she mulled over the unbelievable events of the last few hours. The burning end of her cigarette sent a slender whiff of smoke spiralling up to the ceiling.
Charles had taken Fitzwilliam up his guest room. Fitz was keeping a watchful lookout over the castle, carefully hiding from the sight of 'the Scottish swine' behind the draperies. All the while Charles had been subjected to a running monologue from him about the battle to come and the revenge to be wrought upon the Scots.
"Do you see my men? They await only my signal for the battle to begin."
Charles looked out across the landscape. "I'm not sure I can make them out."
"There! Amongst the trees! See! If you look closely you can see a siege engine hidden in the grove."
"Oh yeah, now I see them." He persuaded Fitzwilliam to come away from the window long enough to remove his shirt and let Charles bandage his neck. He cleaned it off and wrapped it in gauze.
Charles had quickly come to the conclusion that his friend was suffering from some kind of mental ailment, and he believed it his duty to protect him from the prying eyes of the community until it could be sorted out. That was why he had offered Fitz a drink.
"Has this ale been tasted for poison?" he asked his newest ally, suspiciously examining the golden liquid.
"By my best man," Charles assured him and took a big drink of the whiskey in his own glass.
When Fitzwilliam saw that no foul play came to his new friend, he threw back his glass and downed the entire drink on one large gulp. Then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Another."
Charles complied. This one he took in two gulps. Fitzwilliam walked over to the window to take up his surveillance of the castle once more. "I have the King's ear; one word from me and you will be rewarded handsomely for your help today." We need loyal men like him.
"Which king would that be?" Charles wondered.
"Young Edward Plantaganet, of course. Can you hold your tongue?" Charles nodded. "He has his sights set on France. I suspect he will soon reign over that land." After a few minutes Fitzwilliam began to sway back and forth. Charles went over to him and helped his woozy friend to the bed. He fell face first onto it and was out like a light.
Phenobarbital! Odourless and tasteless. Perfect. Charles knew the narcotic would keep him out for several hours. Enough time to discuss what ought to be done discreetly with a doctor. He left him snoring lightly into the blanket.
The conversation buzzed with opinions. Everyone voiced his or her thoughts about Fitzwilliam's condition except Eliza. She sat in the corner with Merrie and Scot at her feet and remained strangely silent while she chain-smoked.
Finally, Jane turned to her and asked, "What do you think Eliza?"
"Someone should tell Georgiana that Fitz is indisposed and resting upstairs so she doesn't worry." It was an oversight she corrected immediately, doing her best to explain that her brother seemed to have a severely sore throat and that they were going to call the doctor. Georgiana thought that perhaps her friends should dispense with their plans to celebrate All Hallows Eve, but Eliza encouraged her to dress up as they had planned and go out to the bonfires. It will be much better to have them away from Fitz while he suffers this cursed trouble.
While Eliza was talking with Fitz's sister, Charles had placed a call into the village doctor, only to discover he had left on an emergency to Gretna Green and wasn't due back for several hours. They would have to wait to consult with him. He wasn't worried; the phenobarbital would take hours to wear off.
Kympton House, The evening of 31 October, 1928
The cook had outdone herself with a meal that evening that would have served thirty. There was roast pork and beef, a leg of lamb and a shoulder of ham. The girls were anxious to finish eating and change into their scary costumes. The idea of roaming around the bonfires trying to confuse the spirits that lurked in the night by dressing up as the dead was sure to be exciting.
The table was meticulously laid out, as one would expect in a household such as Fitzwilliam Darcy's. The silver had been taken from the vault, the crystal had been shined and the settings gleamed in the light thrown by the candelabras. Everyone was sitting at his or her place; one, however, remained empty. Eliza took it all in with a miserable sigh. It would be perfect if Fitz were here.
As if on cue, he strode in dramatically and stood at the head of the table. He wore an air of authority and impressed it upon all those present by a long, sweeping look around the table.
His appearance was hardly appropriate for the dining room. He hadn't changed into his evening clothes and seemed to have arrived downstairs straight from his bed. His wavy hair, usually combed neatly away from his face, was a riotous mess sticking out in all directions. He was missing his tie and one cufflink, and his shirttail was hanging out. Blood was still oozing from his neck; the gauze bandage was soaked crimson. All in all, he had the fetid look of last week's haggis thrown to the dogs.
The spirit within him still had a fearful hold upon him; it engulfed Fitzwilliam in an inferno of evil that was unmistakable to anyone with the courage to meet his frightful gaze.
Needless to say, all at the table were watching him now.
His attention had been drawn to the meal and without ceremony he took a carving knife from the ham platter and speared a gigantic slab of meat. Ignoring the niceties of china and silver, he began to bite off large sections. The drippings from the pink slice soiled the front of his already ruined shirt. His free hand was in want of activity; he grabbed the leg of lamb as if it were a drumstick at a summer picnic and ripped off a large piece. No doubt his palate enjoyed the variety as he alternated between his selections.
None was more disturbed by Fitzwilliam than Eliza. The sight of his grease-smeared face and dominant countenance did not change her feelings. She loved him no less for what she saw him going through; her only wish was to find a way to make it end.
As abruptly as he had begun to eat, Fitzwilliam stopped. Tossing down the leg of lamb onto a crisp linen tablecloth, he knocked back a full glass of red wine before he declared to Charles, "My armour is missing. I cannot go into battle until I am dressed."
Charles had to think fast. "I believe I saw it upstairs." He hoped to lure him back into the bedroom and perhaps lock him inside.
"If that is the case, it has been stolen. It is of no importance. One of my men will lend me some gear. I still have my sword." As he made for the door, Eliza tried to stop him.
"Fitzwilliam, where are you going?"
His smouldering gaze rested upon her. "To lead my men into battle and retake Castle Caerlaverock." As he drank her in, he told her, "I will perform with courage and endure what I must for England, and, when I return, you shall do the same for me."
She was most embarrassed by this crude remark but tried again to reach him. "But Fitzwilliam..." She was interrupted as he shouted at her.
"I will not answer to any name other than mine own. You will call me Hugo." He marched out and disappeared down the hall, missing the collective gasp from everyone in the dining room.
It was hard to say which had disturbed those gathered in the dining room more, the announcement by Fitzwilliam that he was Hugo the Terrible, or the fact that he had a sword.
Both were cause for swift action.
After Fitzwilliam left the dining room there was a loaded pause as shock spread across the face of each stunned diner. No one moved. No one spoke. No one ate any ham.
Everyone stared at the leg of lamb as the grease soaked into the tablecloth.
The group began to eye each other for reactions. Finally Georgiana asked, with a mixture of suspicion and hope, "That wasn't a Halloween prank, was it?" As quick as a snap of their fingers, Eliza, Jane and Charles took up the idea.
"You're too smart for your own good!" Charles said, a little too loud, but otherwise quite convincingly.
"Your brother is going to be so disappointed you figured him out, " Eliza added, trying to smile cheerfully. "Look, why don't you all hurry up and finish. Then change into your costumes," she gave Jane a look that communicated silently as only sisters could. "Jane and I will come up and help you with anything you need."
Jane finished with, "Oh yes, and, if you see your brother tonight, don't let on you know about his little joke. Just play along with him." Jane nodded her head until she saw the girls one by one appearing more at ease. Soon they were back to their conversation as they speedily finished their meal. The four adults stepped out into the hallway and huddled into a group.
"What are we going to do?" Jane began.
"We have to find him," Eliza answered.
"Then what? He doesn't want to listen to any of us," Caroline said.
"He listens to Charles." Jane said the name 'Charles" with a special inflection and looked at the man with admiration.
"Yes, I'm his ally." When the women looked at him strangely, he told them, "His words, not mine. I can try and get him back upstairs and give him some more phenobarbital. Then we could lock him up somewhere until we can get the doctor here."
Eliza was shaking her head dejectedly. "It'll all be over at midnight. If we can just keep him from harm until then." She was wearing a special dress she had bought just for the weekend. It was sleeveless silk chiffon embellished with intricate beadwork and an asymmetric hemline. Her long drop earrings danced as she moved her head back and forth.
Caroline narrowed her eyes. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Eliza was the only one with the courage to say out loud what all the others speculated to varying degrees. "He's possessed by the spirit of Hugo the Terrible." Even though the idea had crossed Jane and Charles' minds, they looked at her as if she were mad.
"Who the hell is Hugo the Terrible?" Charles' sister was clearly not handling all this very well.
"A knight who fought in a battle at the castle. He was killed in 1332," Jane answered, pushing the ostrich feather boa that had slipped off her shoulder back up.
After the explanation, Caroline spurted out to Eliza, "Are you completely daft?" The same could have been asked of her with the fashion statement she was making tonight. The discover of King Tut's tomb had brought about the fad of Egyptian fashion and she was decked out in a glaring rayon creation whose straight and tubular design did nothing for her tall, lanky figure. Her accessories included snake bracelets that encircled her upper arms and a scarf wrapped around her head with hieroglyphics printed on it. Everyone had the same thought each time they looked at her. She should be a target for use at practice by the Royal Highland Fusiliers.
"Shhhh," Jane said as the girls came rushing by to go upstairs and change. "We'll be right up," she told them.
In a whisper, Eliza told Caroline, "How can you even ask that with what we've seen? It doesn't matter one way or another anyway. Our aim is to protect Fitz and get him safe, however we can, even if we must subdue him. At all costs he cannot come into contact with others."
So, the four being motivated by one common goal each set about their tasks. Eliza was off to instruct the butler to obtain some escorts for the girls on their outing. Caroline, who believed she could simply reason with Fitzwilliam as a 'close friend' once she found him, started searching the downstairs rooms. Jane went upstairs to start helping the girls and Charles went along with her, thinking it prudent to check the upper floors before spreading the search outside the house. He told her as they walked closely up the stairs, "You know Fitz has promised me great rewards for my loyalty. Anything I want!"
Jane gave him the slyest of looks. "Anything, huh?"
As they were all urgently pursuing their appointed tasks, there was a blood-curdling scream that permeated every corner of the house. It came from out of the blue and sent ominous fear surging through everyone.
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