Almost a Perfume
As they climbed the stairs to the attic, one of Ms. Nolen’s old records could be heard.
Lies! You're telling me
that you'll be true.
Lies, lies, that's all I ever get from you.
Lies, lies, I can't believe a word you say.
Lies, lies are gonna make you sad someday.
Some day you're gonna be lonely but you won't find me around.
Lies, lies, breaking my heart
Emma and Clarissa both hummed along with the old tune.
“Are you hooking up with Colin?” Emma asked abruptly.
“Oh, well, maybe, we could be?” Clarissa hedged. “I don’t know. He’s so experienced and I kinda feel out of my league. I don’t know if I can trust him when he sweet-talks me.”
“He gets around, that’s for sure,” Emma told her.
“I know, that’s why I’m not sure he’s being truthful when he tells me that he’s never met anyone like me, that I make him want to be the best man he can be.”
“The best man he can be, wow, that does seem a little over-kill,” agreed Emma.
“But he seems so sincere,” Clarissa told the older woman.
“You be careful,” Emma warned her.
They were at the top of the stairs and Emma was opening the door. As soon as they stepped into the high-arched attic area, Emma looked around and said, “This is different. This isn’t the room I was in.” Damn, I must have been totally looped.
They were standing in a large attic storage room, wooden floors, a single window with a simple cotton curtain looking out to the front of the building. It was complete with metal shelves loaded with large translucent plastic boxes clearly labeled with such things as “X-mas decorations” and “Halloween” and “dining room linens.”
There was the rocking chair but little other furniture. There were no beds, no little side tables, no braided rug. Except for the rocking chair, the room was totally different.
Emma had begun to set up a camera turning it to monitor the rocking chair. She turned on the EVP and data logger.
Clarissa looked at Emma, questioningly. “This is the attic room I went into. Did you go into another room?”
Emma shook her head. “I’d taken a sleeping pill and washed it down with some wine the night before. I’m pretty sure this is the room I went into, but it doesn’t look like the room I was in. I saw two small beds and some little nightstands. There was a braided rug and the rocking chair in the middle of the floor. It was where I saw. . . “ she stopped.
“You thought you saw Rumach Goldark?” Clarissa asked gently.
“Yeah,” Emma admitted. “I heard him call my name, turned and there he was. He was standing right there and looked as solid as that rocking chair.” She shook her head again. “What happened to you?”
“I came in here,” Clarissa shared. “I don’t know why, but I was drawn in. The room looked like it does now. I went and sat in the chair. I began to feel like someone was standing behind me. I felt a hand on my head that stroked my hair. It wasn’t scary, just kinda unnerving.”
Emma picked up the EVP recorder which she had turned on earlier. “We want to make contact with anyone who is in this room. We don’t mean you any harm. I’m Emma and this is Clarissa. We just want to talk with you. Is Rumach Goldark in here?” she asked and waited.
“Did you touch Clarissa’s hair?” she followed up with another question.
“Did you kill your wife?” Clarissa asked.
Emma looked at her. “You jump right to the chase, don’t you? Well, let’s go for it.” She turned back to the room. “Were you and Belle French lovers?”
“Is there a curse on you?” Clarissa asked after a pause.
“Good question. Let me follow up,” Emma said and asked, “Did Cora curse you?”
There was a long a long pause. “How do we break the curse?” Clarissa finally asked.
“Is there anything else, you want to tell us?” Emma asked as her final question.
The two women stood moments longer and waited.
“You feel anything?” Emma asked Clarissa.
“Nope. Nothing registering on these meters. Maybe if we leave the camera up and filming we might see something,” Emma suggested. “Let’s go.”
The two women left the room.
It was after they closed the door that the rocking chair began to move.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
The team had been out on the estate. With some help from Mr. Nolen, a big, strapping blond guy, and his ladder, they were able to get some mistletoe from the tall trees. He also came up with four old iron keys With Ms. Nolen’s help they were able to find some angelica and hazelnuts. She also gave them an old pillowcase and Rory and Millie cut it up to make six inch squares. They stuffed the squares with the plants, added a key and then added salt. They tied the bags up with some red ribbon that Ms. Nolen had given them to use.
“These were originally called asofoetida or acifidity bags after a truly nasty smelling herb that was often put into the bags to repel illness and evil spirits. We’re making them without the asofoetida,” Ms. Nolen instructed the group like they were fourth graders. “It’s old voodoo magic.”
“Do we wear these around our necks, put them in our pocket, hold them in our hand?” Rory asked.
Ms. Nolen shrugged. “Usually spirit bags are worn around your neck,” she shared. “If you hold them in your hand, you might drop them. If they’re in your pocket the angry spirits may not see them and could do you harm before they were repelled away.”
“You aren’t scared, working here?” Millie asked her.
Ms. Nolen, who had told the group to call her Mary Margaret, shrugged. “Sometimes. . . a little. Mainly in the Red Room. I always try to be very respectful of Miss Cora or whoever, whatever is in there when I go in and I just take care of the housekeeping. The other places in the house are fine, but I don’t always feel like I’m by myself.”
“Have you ever seen a ghost?” Rory asked her.
“I’ve seen Belle a couple of times, but only in the distance. I’ve never spoken to her and never seen her close up. I’ve never seen any other spirits.”
“You said the house has been blessed before?”
“Oh my, yes,” Mary Margaret replied. “We’ve had a Catholic priest, a pagan priest, a shaman from one of the local Native American groups. I’ve considered calling in a voodoo priestess, since Cora was supposed to have been a practitioner and most people think that she’s the controlling focus of the haunting, but we just don’t have too many Mambo priestesses here in New England. ”
“Well I know Dr. Swan has done some studying and work down in New Orleans and on Rose Hall Plantation in Jamaica,” shared Rory. “She’s very respectful of the religion and might know somebody.”
“Well, if it turns out you can’t help me, I guess I’ll have to ask her for a recommendation,” Mary Margaret said.
Emma was waiting for Leroy to do a preliminary run with the new attic EVP’s. She’d pulled out the diary.
Belle had pulled herself together. She had decided to deal with her feelings in a mature, adult manner.
What choice did she have?
She was not destined for Rumach Goldark. She needed to understand this, accept this.
The man was married to someone else.
This dark, glorious, complex man was married to someone else.
Early the next morning, she had quietly returned to her room, washed her face off and combed out her hair. She twisted it up on top of her head and then changed into a different skirt, a light blue one, and another white blouse. She had a white apron she had put on over herself to prepare for a full day’s work. The previous day’s clothing she put into a hamper than she and Ashley shared; there was now a housemaid who was assigned the laundry chores.
Belle then crept back down stairs, grabbed a bowl of oatmeal and then went right to work sitting in her place in the library. She was sipping a cup of tea when he came in.
He was dressed in light brown pants tucked into his black boots, a cream colored shirt and a dark brown vest. He had left the shirt open at the neck which gave him a somewhat disheveled appearance. He might have been contrite, but at a second glance he somehow still managed to look haughty and arrogant.
He glanced at Belle and then looked away. She didn’t say anything to him. What was there to say? Several times, it seemed to her, he acted as if he wanted to say something but he never did.
They worked in silence until right up to lunch. Belle had finished her routine work and, without speaking to him, she went upstairs to get the book she was reading. She figured it would be better company than Master Goldark.
As she walked up the stairs, heading towards her attic room, she heard Madame Goldark call out to her.
“Belle, darling, I could use some help, please,” Cora called her from her bedroom.
Belle had always disliked Madame Goldark’s bedroom: the red was stifling, the furniture too heavy, the perfume too cloying, the large mirror with its distorted image too disturbing. She entered the bedroom, “Yes, Madame. How can I help you?” she asked as submissively as she was able to manage. It wasn’t Cora’s fault that Belle was in love with her husband.
“Oh, darling,” Madame Goldark stretched in her chair. “Please. Ashley hasn’t gotten up yet. I’m sure she’s so tired with that baby almost being here. I need some help dressing.”
“Of course, Madame,” Belle told her.
Cora stood and slipped off her robe. She was dressed in a thin finely embroidered chemise. She handed Belle her corset. “Help me dear,” she said and Belle slipped it around the woman and began lacing it up. Belle couldn’t help but notice that Cora had marks down her alabaster neck and shoulders that looked like small bruising and there was more bruising along her arms that would match with a man’s grasp.
Cora noticed her looking at the bruises. She turned her head and said in a whisper, “After he fixed my mirror, Rumach insisted on staying last night. He’s a rather demanding lover when he’s in the mood and does tend to get a bit carried away.” She paused and then added, “It’s all very exciting but quite overwhelming. I can tell you, having been married before, that Rumach is an excellent, attentive bedmate, always wanting to be sure the lady enjoys herself. Not all men are like that, you know.” She ran her fingers thru her lustrous red hair, pulling it up onto her head. “Last night he was . . . extra attentive, actually quite exhausting.” She gave Belle a throaty laugh and a little conspiratorial smile.
Belle bit her lip and finished with the corset. “Madame, what else can I help you with?”
Cora picked up an elegant red silk dress and slipped it over her body. “Fasten me, would you dear?”
Belle complied, connecting the tiny buttons up the back of the couture dress which fit the woman like a second skin. Belle felt like a little, inexperienced country girl next to the woman.
I am a little inexperienced country girl, she told herself.
Cora went over to her dressing table which was covered with tiny vials of ointments and unguents and perfumes and such. She perused the bottles and then selected one that was dark green, “Oh, darling, I keep forgetting to give this to you. I meant to get it to you earlier. You know how I like to mix up special elixirs for people. It’s probably my only talent,” she gave Belle a brilliant smile. “Well, I know how you like rose and lavender scents. I put this together expressly for you.” Madame Goldark handed her a murky liquid. “You can use this on your hair, your body, it’s especially refreshing to splash it on your face. Like a light fragrance, almost a perfume. I hope you like the smell.” She gave Belle another sweet smile, “I hope you wear some every day.”
Belle took a whiff of the liquid. It was delicious smelling, exactly what Madame Goldark had said, rose and lavender, Belle’s favorites. She curtsied. “It smells lovely. Thank you, Madame,” she accepted the potion, taking it in her hand. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Oh, just show your thankfulness by wearing it. I did make it especially for you because I knew you would appreciate it. Not just anyone can wear such a light innocent floral scent, but I do think it suits you,” Cora turned away to pick up and put on a fine gold chain with a single ruby pendant. “I’m going to join my husband for lunch, dear. Thank you so much for your help.” Belle knew she had just been dismissed. She took the bottle and returned to her room. She opted not to go right back down stairs, knowing that Goldark would be sharing lunch with his wife.
She didn’t want to, didn’t have to look at them. . . together.
That would be too much.
She sat in the rocking chair, enjoying the light that came through the single window. She read through her book and realized when she turned the page that she hadn’t understood a word of what she had read. Goldark would soon enough be expecting her back in the library and she hadn’t yet had anything to eat, so she put in a page marker and stood. She was about to leave when she remembered Cora’s gift, but when she reached for the potion to splash some on her face, she knocked it over, spilling the liquid out, the smell filling up the room.
She cleaned up the mess and then, not wanting Madame Goldark to think she hadn’t appreciated the gift, she filled up the bottle with water. It wasn’t quite as dark but there was still some fragrance left in the potion.
She crept down stairs and got herself a small lunch, then returned to the library to her duties.
Goldark was already back in the library. He had pulled the curtains together, leaving the room in dim light. He was still stonily silent and had flopped in his chair. He would glance over at her from time to time.
“Miss French . . . Belle,” he finally began.
She turned to look at him, keeping her face expressionless, “Sir?”
“Cora had me to her room last night,” he began. He ran his fingers through his hair. He sat in his chair by his desk. “She said that she just wanted to share a meal with me . . . and for me to tighten a screw on that damn mirror.”
Belle sat quietly, listening.
He acted like he was about to talk, then stopped, then started, then stopped. “Belle, after I drank some of her wine. . . I don’t remember. . . the next thing I remember . . . is waking up. . .” He closed his eyes. “Belle, I woke up in her bed. I think . . . I believe . . . that she put something in the wine. I would have never stayed in her room if I was just drunk. And it would take much more than one glass of wine to get me drunk and it would take much more than me being drunk to get into that she-devil’s bed. There had to be something in the wine. Something that made me black out. I felt the same way when I woke up and found that I had married the witch. Both times, I’d just had the one glass and then I had the devil’s own headache both mornings.”
“Sir,” Belle began and he looked up at her. She sounded quite formal. “You are married to the woman. You don’t have to explain why you spent the night in her bed.”
He vaulted up from the chair and walked over to her. He jerked her chair around and put his hands on the arms of the chair and, looming over her, began in a harsh whisper, “Yes, I do. I had just spent time telling you how beautiful and desirable you are and you, you, who are so much braver than I am, you confessed your love for me. For me to go into Cora’s bed after what we have shared. . . . Belle, I wouldn’t do that . . . not if I were in my right mind.” He dropped to his knees in front of her. “Can you ever, ever forgive me?”
Belle considered. She was surprised at his words, at his actions. He certainly seemed genuinely contrite. And she had seen enough of Cora’s herbalism to know she was quite capable of drugging the man.
“She told me,” Belle began. “She told me that you’d insisted on staying last night.”
”She lied, Belle. The woman lies all the time.”
Emma considered. Cora might be lying. Rumach might be lying. Belle certainly wanted to believe the man. Well, hell, Belle believed she was in love with him. Emma knew how that felt. To be in love with a lying scoundrel.
She thought about Belle.
She thought about herself.
She thought about Neal.
Maybe being a smooth-lying jerkweed ran in the family.
Of course, it was always possible that the man was being honest. Maybe he had been drugged.
She didn’t know if she believed Rumach or not.
She didn’t know if she believed Neal or not.
She wanted to.
Oh, sweet Mary, she wanted to.
Just meeting up with him again had stirred up feelings that she thought she had burned and buried. The man just sparked feelings.
Maybe she should tell him about Henry. He had a right to know.
Instead she went to see Leroy.
He shrugged. You be the judge. I just went up and got the camera and found this.” Leroy showed her footage where the rocking chair had begun rocking.
“Nice,” Emma said. ”So that’s the first evidence we’ve got that something may actually be in the attic. Anything else?”
“You can listen,” Leroy told her. “This is where you asked ‘Is Rumach Goldark in here?’”
“Did you touch Clarissa’s hair?”
“Did you kill your wife?”
“Were you and Belle lovers?”
“Is there a curse on you?”
“Did Cora curse you?”
“How do we break the curse?”
“Is there anything else, you want to tell us?”