(Note – this is part 2 of a two part chapter. Part 1)
A hand fell heavily on my shoulder.
“Hey Gill, having trouble finding them?” It was Bill’s voice.
I was looking into an empty black space, no people were visible, no woman and no children. I turned to look at Bill. There was only him there, no other men.
“Uhm yeah, Bill. Coming in from the bright outside my eyes just didn’t want to adjust. I’m still a bit blinded.”
“Here they are.”
Several garden rakes, a hoe, a spade and a yard rake were leaning against the wall just inside of the entrance to the main building.
“Oh, I must have walk right past them. No wonder I didn’t see them. I was looking over there.” I pointed past were the woman and children had been, into the dark far corner of the building.
“Here, I’ll grab a couple,” he said. “You take the rest. Let’s go, the air in here is unhealthy.”
We grabbed the tools and walked out into the sunlight. The welcomed warmth helped me to clear my head.
“You know, Bill,” I said as we approached the shed, “I saw something back in there, something…”
His face went ashen. I could see Sean looking through the shed, as if he didn’t see us or hear me, but I know he did.
“Uhm, what did you think you saw?” Bill asked. I could tell by his voice that he knew already.
“Oh, it must have been nothing. Nothing. My imagination playing tricks on me.”
“That place does have a way with the imagination.” He laughed, but it sounded fake. “The floor creaks and groans and makes all sorts of noises. And the pests in there, scurrying around and such. Sean’s the best shot on the East Coast, he really should take care of them. Yeah, that’s what it is, the wind, creaks of floor boards and stuff like that.” I could tell he didn’t believe it, that he knew exactly what I had seen.
“Anyway, Bill,” I said, “thanks for rescuing me. I just couldn’t see where the tools were.”
“That’s fine. I should have been more specific. Anyway, Sean, why don’t you show Gill the house while I get some stuff ready out around the yard. The reason I brought him up here instead of one of the kids is that he’s real interested in the old mansion. Go ahead and quench his curiosity a bit and give him the nickel tour. I’ll join you guys in a few minutes.”
“Sure, but don’t stay out here by yourself too long. Not a lot for you to do today. Anyway Gill, come on, let’s take a quick tour.”
We walked around to the front. He stopped at the door and turned to me.
“Have you ever been inside?” I started to open my mouth and he laughed. “Not a fair question, I know. Don’t worry, I won’t call the police or shoot you or anything. Everybody in town has been in here. During the day or at night?”
“Did you see Martha?” I nodded. “Middle aged woman or corpse?”
“Both. And..” I wasn’t sure if I should say anything about the teenaged Martha.
“They say she does that, appears as a middle-aged woman and then she rots away if the people aren’t scared enough.”
“What does she think of you?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve only been in after dark once. I was about 17 and my dad wanted me to meet her. She just watched me with a frown. She turned into the corpse and I didn’t leave. So she shrugged her shoulders and said something like, ‘You act like you own the place.’ I told her my father did. She then said something like I was welcome if I was a good Goode, but if I was a bad Goode, she’d make sure I never returned.” He laughed. “I guess I must be good because I never saw her again.”
“Does everyone who comes up here see her?”
“Oh, no, no, of course not. I’ve bumped into some that haven’t and many that don’t even believe she exists at all. I’ve seen some who saw her as a shadow. And then others who heard her voice but didn’t see her. I think different people have different sensitivities to these things.”
“Have you been talking to Izle?”
“Ha! I’ve had her talk at me several times, but I don’t have time to listen to her. From what I’ve heard, a lot of the people who come up here don’t’ really see anything, but get scared anyway, like group psychology. They’re supposed to be afraid, so… Anyway, isn’t this wonderful?”
We were in the dining room. I had thought it looked fantastic at night, but during the day it was even better. The antique furniture was marvelous, but the wall paper is what really drew my attention, as it did at night. It was almost a mural, though I could tell it was on paper and not drawn onto the plaster. There were abstract designs mixed in with a pastoral scene. The detail was fascinating.
“This isn’t the original, unfortunately. When my family first bought this from the town, they decided to renovate. Martha had different ideas. They ripped all of the paper off of the walls in this room. Luckily someone took a few pictures and some scraps of the prettier parts survived. There were also many drawings in the Martha Goode collection. It was in the late ’20s or early ‘30s that they found an artist willing to take it on. The artist actually lived out here and legend has it that he collaborated with Martha’s ghost to get all of the details right. Some great stories about this place…”
“I’m sure there are.”
“Let’s go out this way into the kitchens.”
The house was fascinating. Most of the furniture was original and what wasn’t, was an almost exact replica of furniture that had been in the house but was in too bad of condition to stay. Only a few pieces were generic period reproductions. Almost the entire master bedroom suite was composed of the reproductions. Martha rarely entered them and even left the windows open when the servants weren’t looking, as if she wanted to destroy her father’s room. Many of the floorboards in that room had rotted and most of the furniture was destroyed.
Martha kept to only a few rooms after her brother moved out and condensed more and more as the years went by. She used the main saloon that was on the right side of the main entryway to entertain guests. Not that there were many guests. She also had her private study. She used the same bedroom that she had used as a child for her entire life.
There was something about Martha’s bedroom that fascinated me. It looked like a child’s room, and yet parts were very adult. I was about to turn to continue the tour, but something pulled at me like a magnet. I scanned the whole room again, trying to find the “hot spot” that was drawing me in.
And then I noticed it. On the wall over the bed hung a print of an angel. It didn’t look like the modern or Victorian idea of an angel. For one thing, it was a male, not female, like most modern angels. It was almost scary, not comforting or inspiring and definitely not beautiful. The print itself was out of place in the house. I could tell that it was cheap, and it seemed a little tacky. All of the other art work in the house were originals and of the finest taste. The idea of a picture of Elvis on black velvet hanging in a room full of Rembrandt’s came to mind. The mounting and framing job also weren’t very good. There were lumps and folds in the print. I thought something must be behind it to make it bulge as it did.
“Is that original?” I asked, pointing at the print.
“Yes.” Sean laughed. “We would have long ago trashed this, but Martha seems to dote on it, even now, so it stays. The story goes that it would be put in the rubbish during the day and Martha would rehang it at night. Can’t imagine anything half as ugly…”
We continued the tour and Sean told me more about the mansion’s main occupant. Martha was born in the mansion the first day it was occupied and she died in it. After she died, nobody ever lived in the mansion again. For almost half of that time, an astounding 95 years, she lived completely alone, with her servants living in another building. She was a solitary, odd woman, but she rewarded those close to her.
She did little that was “fancy”. As she grew older she ate with her only remaining servant in the kitchen. The last couple of years, when the servant came only once a week, Martha prepared and ate her meals alone, never leaving the kitchen. But there was one luxury she afforded herself; she often sat in the ballroom, dreaming.
The ballroom took up the entire third floor. It was beautiful. I knew the very rich used to have ball rooms, having visited other old mansions, like the ones down in Rhode Island, but this was different. It was older than most that I had seen.
“One thing you have to remember about my family,” Sean said, “and in particular Jonathan, is that they needed to show their social status. This was true, of course, because of their Boston relatives, but also for the other rich people in New Hampshire. I’ve had many visitor tell me that everything Jonathan did was wholesale robbery from the Barrett’s over in New Ipswitch. Actually, it was more that they were both trying to accomplish the same thing at more or less the same time, it’s just that Jonathan was a few years behind and so learned some lessons. Thomas, though, gave little thought to social status and wanted to tear the ballroom out and put space that he felt was more useful, such as another library or servants’ quarters.”
I walked around, imagining a grand ball, and was happy that Thomas didn’t get his way. In my mind I danced around the room. I could hear the music playing. I could almost see the musicians.
“Hold on,” Sean said, “I think I hear Bill. I’ll be back in two seconds. I just need to let him know where we are.”
I continued to dance and the people around me became real. I stopped in front of a beautiful lady. I knew instinctively that it was Abigale. I bowed to her. She smiled. For a tiny fraction of a second her head exploded, as if struck by a heavy iron bar. I gasped. She vanished, but for another fraction of a second I thought I saw Jessica standing behind her. Or was it Martha as a teen?
“Hey Gill, isn’t this just great?”
I turned around. Bill was entering the room, smiling at me. I walked towards him.
“I just love this room,” he said. “I know my Jess loved it even more than I did. I brought her up here a couple of times with Sean’s dad. She danced and danced and danced until we had to leave. She once told me she wanted to stay here forever and just dance. She must have been twelve or thirteen at the time.”
Bill looked around the room as if he was actually still watching his preteen daughter dance.
“Have you always done the yard up here?” I asked.
“No, no, though I occasionally did an odd job on the weekend, even when I was a kid.” He looked sheepish. “Seems Sean’s grandfather, the third Thomas, caught me trespassing once. As punishment, he put me to work. He liked me, so I did odd jobs for him and his son, George. I forget, I think that’s the third George, is that right? I always get them all confused. Anyway, I did odd jobs for the older Goodes off and on up until Sean took over, a few years back. I was retiring about then and I asked Sean if I could do the trimming and such. Starting up here us kind of the official kick off of my business.”
Sean laughed. “Bill here is almost as much a fixture as Martha.”
“That’s so odd, I’ve talked to Lyndsey and Jessica about this place several times and neither of them mentioned that you work here.”
“I don’t talk about it much. I’m sure Jess remembers being in here, but I doubt if she remembers why. And I’m sure I never once told her I come up here to work every week. I mean, I’ve only been doing it a little while. Of course I never enter the house unless a family member is here.”
“Sure you don’t,” Sean said with a wink.
“Honestly. To tell you the truth, I don’t want to meet up with any spooks. I had enough of that as a teen.”
“I can see why Jessica liked this room so much,” I said.
“Even after those trips she still thought about it for years. She read as much as she could out of the library. I don’t want to embarrass you, but she used to say she wanted to have your wedding reception here and had me promise I’d ask the Goode’s if we could use it.” I knew I was turning red. “But that didn’t last long. She stopped talking about it and you, really. It was never suggested she have a ball with Nate. I think it was a stretch that he even did the bridal dance with her. He’s a big hulking thing, but has zero grace.”
“Well, Gill, if you ever do marry one of Bill’s lovely daughters, just ask and I’m sure I can arrange to have you use the room. There’s no electricity, so it would be by candlelight.”
“Now that would be romantic, wouldn’t it Gill?”
“Yeah Bill, it would.”
“We ought to be heading out. I have other places to visit. I’ll drop you off on my way through town.”
“Sure, sounds good.”
I straggled a little behind as Bill and Sean left. When I reached the door, I could hear the shadow of music again. I turned around. For a brief moment, I saw Abigail and the middle-aged Martha smiling as they watched Jessica dance around the empty room.
When they vanished, I followed the two other men down the stairs.
Bill and I mostly small-talked all of the way back to my house. Part of my mind was still dancing away in the Goode’s ballroom.