I am just a poor boy.
Though my story's seldom told,
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, Such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
Emma had ridden with Leroy out to the house singing along with The Boxer with Simon and Garfunkel and Leroy.
She was thinking of the strange, tenuous relationship between delightful, energetic Belle and the caustic, enigmatic Mr. Goldark. Belle had waxed on in the diary regarding the man’s library and his kindness toward her when she had chipped one of his china cups after he had made an outrageous statement. It seemed to her that Goldark didn’t know quite what to make of the smart, forthright young woman. And as for Belle, it was as if she was beginning to see more depth to this powerful man, but was still wisely leery of him. Emma didn’t quite trust the man’s intentions toward the young woman.
Emma was also considering her strange encounter with the pretty brunette. The woman had in no way seemed to be a ghost. Of course, Emma acknowledged, she really didn’t know what a ghost would actually look like, if they even existed which she doubted. The consensus was they would be transparent and. . . uh . . . floaty. The woman she had met was solid and moved about on two legs like any person.
As she and Leroy rode out to the house in a comfortable, companionable silence, Emma realized that this was one of the many reasons she liked Leroy. She could ride with him for miles with neither of them saying anything, with neither one getting offended.
But this time Emma broke the silence, speaking up, “Leroy, you’ve been quiet. Hear anything this morning on those tapes?” she asked the taciturn tech man, referring to the baseline tapes from the recorders she had left in the three “infested” rooms of the house. If there were entities, then when her people attempted contact them, the number of odd sounds should dramatically increase; otherwise it would indicate that the house was in a hot spot for ambient airwaves.
“Yeah, I actually did. I’ll have to get you to listen to it. I didn’t pick up anything from the dungeon or the Red Room, but there were some interesting sounds coming out of the library.”
Leroy knew better than to tell Emma what he thought he’d heard. So often these sounds were so garbled that you could hear just about anything, anything you wanted to hear. Someone telling you what they had heard would impact on what you would think you heard. The phenomenon was called pareidolia, the tendency for people to overlay sense into something that was vague or didn’t make sense, so people would hear “garble garble” but translate it as “gabled garden” or some such thing that made sense to them. With visual stimuli the process was called matrixing and it was what made people see faces in wood grain, in rock formations on Mars and on potato chips.
“The recording was pretty clear,” he told her.
They had pulled in at the house probably about an hour before the rest of the crew would be coming along.
“I can listen now,” Emma told him.
“You sure you want to?”
“Leroy, you’re scaring me. You’re acting strange.”
He pulled a face, “All right. All right.” He motioned her to the back of the van and into one of the equipment stations. “Here, put on the earphones.”
Emma complied. She listened.
She took off the earphones and looked at Leroy.
“That is pretty clear. Any more like that?” she asked him.
“No. Just that one clear comment.”
Emma nodded and pulled herself up and out of the equipment chair to head on into the house.
She stood outside looking at the place. “You are a pretty spooky place, aren’t you?” she said. This place was going to one tough nut to debunk.
She thought about the voice on the tape, a woman’s voice, a clear woman’s voice, a voice coming out of the library.
Pareidolia, my ass.
Emma knew she would have some time before the rest of crew came in. She opted to sit in the library and continue reading the diary which she had taken to carrying in a backpack.
Belle had been very nervous at the prospect of meeting Madame Goldark but right now that was not on her mind. Right now, she was bent over a mound of paperwork. Surrounding her were multiple piles of papers and ledger books. She was still working in the library but, because of the warm fire, had been able to remove her coat and the burlap blanket. She had spent the morning at one of the two large tables that were in the room looking over Master Goldark’s financial books and was astonished at the extent and magnitude of his holdings and interests. He was indeed very, very rich. There was land, a good portion of the shipyards, five large ships, numerous smaller boats, including some fishing boats, and any number of investments, along with his rental properties and a number of personal loans he had made that were being repaid. There were multiple ledgers, one for each venture area. She also found a ledger detailing household expenditures.
Belle was also amazed at the complete lack of organization and random filing that the man had going. His record keeping was atrocious.
He had interrupted her perusal about mid-morning, requiring tea. In the small room where they had had their breakfast laid, she went back to the small wood burning stove with a tea kettle already set upon it. She looked around in the sideboard cabinet and deep inside, behind a shelf-door, she found some tea and some tea strainers. She measured out some tea, put it into a strainer and then slowly poured hot water into the cup. She allowed it to steep and then strained it. She knew there were other servants in the house and she suspected one of them had the responsibility of keeping that little stove stoked and keeping water in the kettle, although she had not yet seen anyone besides Master Goldark and the carriage driver. Apparently most of the staff was on Madame Goldark’s schedule. Not the best way to run a household of this size.
She hesitantly handed her first effort at tea-making off to the Master. He sipped it and brusquely informed her it was too weak and he preferred some sweetner in his tea.
“I understand, sir. Shall I make you some more?”
“No, just be sure the next cup is stronger and you add some honey,” he informed her. “Are you following my accounting?” he then asked her.
“Yes sir. Your ledgers are standard double entry bookkeeping. I learned the procedure from some of the merchants in town when I was younger and applied it to my father’s business.”
“What idiot taught a girl double entry bookkeeping?” he asked, more to himself than to her.
“I was curious about how businessmen kept track of expenses and payments. Master Lucas who runs the tavern. . . my father was printing up an advertisement for him . . . I saw him writing down sums in a book. I asked him what he was doing and the man explained it to me. I don’t think he thought I would understand, but I did. My father wasn’t keeping any records, so I began to keep track of his money using the system I had learned from Master Lucas,” she explained.
Goldark had listened to her in astonishment. “Incredible,” he finally muttered. “Who taught you to read?”
“Oh, that was my mother. Well, she started with teaching me but died when I just four. My father taught me more so he could have help working the printing press. Once I had some reading skills, I began to read everything I could put my hands upon, so I guess I taught myself,” she gave him a quick smile. She looked up from the table where he had set her down to work. “Sir,” she began, “these letters,” she pointed to one of the large stacks of papers she had found stashed in one of the barrister cases, “they are in no order that I can discern.”
“They need to be,” he told her absently.
“Would you want them alphabetized or recorded by date?”
“Well, I also need a way to be able to locate a letter on a specific subject,” he told her. “I couldn’t think of the best way to file them, by name, by date or by subject.”
So you kept them in no particular order whatsoever in a box. Well then. “A cross index,” she replied promptly. “We file the letters alphabetically, but we keep a listing of common subjects and note the name attached to the letter. I’d also recommend that you keep a second index for the date of the letter.”
“That could work,” he said slowly. “You could do that?”
“I could. It would require regular updating, but once things were caught up, it should otherwise be reasonably easy to stay on top of your information.” Belle had gone back to putting some of the receipts she had found in chronological order. “Now where do you put receipts?” she asked him, ready to present him with a neat stack and wanting to know where to store these.
“In this box,” he motioned towards a large wooden box that was set off in one of the bookshelves. Coming out from the top were slips of paper – another box of random stuff – nothing in order – and, Belle suspected, many of these probably not recorded.
Belle sighed and ventured, “I take it not everything gets recorded?”
“Just as I remember to do so,” he admitted. He waved her off seeming slightly exasperated, “That’s why I needed a clerk.”
Belle rubbed her forehead. This was going to be a monumental task, given the size of his holdings, the number of his holdings, all of his letters, his many receipts, his several ledgers, learning to make tea the way he wanted it.
The lunch break afforded another mediocre meal. They sat in the dining room and pulled their meal off the same sideboard that had served them breakfast. More hard stale bread, tasteless, poor quality meat that was either burnt, tough or both, no fish, no fruit, no vegetables. Belle thought that as poor as she and her father were, she usually was able to give them a bowl of warm soup, often a fish chowder or a bean soup, and good quality bread for the midday meal. She usually had some seasonal fruit on the table that she had picked out of the back yard, apples or pears most often, sometimes grapes. She knew Goldark was watching her and she was careful to school her features into an expression of acceptance. She tried again to brew his tea acceptably, but this time he complained she had let it steep too long, making it bitter and no amount of honey would cover up the tannin taste.
The Master ate his meal in silence and surreptitiously found himself watching her again as she dipped her bread into the tea. His sharp eyes took in her dress, the fabric thinned in places, carefully repaired in others, well cared for, but well past its best days, devoid of lace or ribbon or other feminine touches. He was no judge of women’s fashions, but the dress seemed to be very plain and very out of fashion and, he thought, it did not fit the woman well. He was also all too aware that she wasn’t wearing the corseted boned undergarments that other women, particularly his wife, usually sported under their garments. He remembered well the appealing softness of her body that had pressed into him in the carriage the previous evening. He remembered how she had clung to him, nestling herself against him. It had been pleasant.
Her hair, which she’d had no way to comb today had been freshly twisted around her head. There were numerous tendrils that had escaped and now surrounded her face in tiny corkscrew curls. Most recently, she had placed a pen behind her ear and had apparently forgotten about it while she attended to her midday repast. She certainly had a fresh, innocent appeal. He broke the silence, “You don’t think much of the food, do you?”
Belle hesitated and answered him slowly, “I would think, sir, that you could do better.”
He sat another moment, closely regarding her. “How about I have you look at the household expense ledger and you talk with the cook and see what changes you might recommend?”
Belle raised her eyes to meet his. “Sir, I’m not sure it would be my place. . . ”
He waved her off, interrupting her. “Mrs. Goldark won’t care if you take over this. She’s not much on maintaining the running of the household and would likely be relieved if you would take over this job for her. We’ll ask her,” he said, suddenly looking over Belle’s shoulder.
Belle immediately turned and, saw a beautiful woman standing behind her. She rose.
“Madame Wife, may I present my new clerk, Miss Belle French. She promises to help bring order to that pile of papers in the library,” he said to the woman. “Belle, this is Cora Goldark, my wife.”
“Darling,” the woman first came over to Goldark, wrapping her arms around him and kissing him soundly. She then turned her attention to Belle.
Goldark continued his introduction of Belle to his wife, “Her father owes me money and she seems to have some skills with ciphering. She has agreed to come and work for me as a clerk to help defray some of her father’s debts.”
“As a clerk? Whoever heard of a woman clerk?” the woman said very softly.
Cora then looked the younger woman over closely, taking in her shabby clothes. She smiled. “You poor thing. My husband just snatched you away from your home, didn’t he? No change of clothes, no personal possessions, just barely a chance to say goodbye to your family?” She gave her husband a disapproving look. Goldark slouched, disgruntled, in his chair and turned away from the women.
Belle, very unsure of herself, just nodded. Madame Goldark was a stunning woman, with dark red hair and pale skin. She was dressed in only a form-fitting velvet robe that barely covered her bountiful attributes. Her hair hung in lustrous ringlets around her face and down her back. She looked like she had just risen from bed. A wave of exotic perfume wafted out from her. She moved with the grace of a cat and exuded an air of sensuality that Belle had never before encountered.
“Well, I shall have to get Mistress Giselle out here immediately and we will get you another dress or two. I know that Master Goldark will want you to look presentable, representing his household, whenever you go out.” The lady of the house assured Belle, “I’ll send Billy out today and we’ll get my dressmaker right out here. Now, where did my unconscionable husband have you sleep?” she then asked.
“I put her in the basement and locked the door behind her,” Goldark responded sourly to his wife’s question without looking up.
Another disapproving look, “Are you trying to terrify the poor girl? Or make her ill? My dear,” Cora turned back to Belle, “he’s terrible sometimes.” Cora gave her husband a gracious smile, and then again turned her attentions back to Belle, “If you don’t mind sharing, there should be plenty of room in the attic. You can share with my girl, Ashley.”
Belle glanced at Master Goldark who had slouched in his chair and then gave the older woman a smile, “You are very kind, Madame. I’d very much appreciate a change of quarters.”
“I’d already told her that I was going to have her moved,” Goldark said sullenly from the end of the table.
“I’m sure you did, darling,” his wife reassured him. She fixed herself a plate of food and sat down, “We are very informal here during the day, as you can see. Now, my dear, do you play the harpsichord?”
Belle shook her head, apologetically.
Madame Goldark appeared disappointed, “Do you sing?”
Again Belle shook her head.
“Can you read?”
“Yes Madame, I read very well,” Belle told her.
“Excellent, you can read to us while we are doing our needlework. Do you do needlework?”
“Yes Madame, I can do fine and plain sewing.”
“That’s wonderful.” Madame Goldark looked back at her husband. “I shall be wanting to steal her away from you, darling. Having someone around who can read and do fine embroidery will be such a diversion.”
The man had sat up and narrowed his eyes, looking at his wife. “She’s mine, Cora. You’ll have to find your own woman to entertain you,” he said firmly. “If she has any extra time, she’ll be playing chess with me.”
“Of course, my dear,” his wife was instantly agreeable. “But I will be borrowing her for some clothes fittings later this afternoon. I insist. She’s much too pretty to be going around in such a threadbare dress.”
Goldark waved her off, apparently not wanting to embroil himself in feminine vanities.
For her part, Belle had heard that she was to get something new to wear, which was exciting. But she was also surprised to hear him mention playing chess with her. Her impression had been that he thought her very gender dictated her as being an unworthy opponent and he did not want to waste time on her.
Husband and wife chatted shortly over odds and ends before Belle excused herself to return to the library to continue trying to organize the daunting task ahead of her.
“We’ll be playing chess, sir?” Belle asked him when he sauntered back into the library. Belle had been taught by Mister Benjamin Franklin and he had pronounced her an excellent player. She felt confident of her skills in making at least an adequate showing.
Goldark looked at her, as always unnerving her with his icy scrutiny. “Let’s see what you’ve got.” He directed her over to the chess board. “Ladies first,” he allowed her to sit on the white side of the board and she made her opening move.
“I prefer not to waste time with idle pursuits,” he informed her, his eyes studying her closely as he made an answering move. “We should make a wager.”
Belle was at a loss, unsettled by his suggestion, “Sir, you know well enough my resources. What is there for me to wager?”
“Besides your virtue?” he said off-handedly with a slight smile. “I would propose that should you win, I will reduce your father’s debt to me by . . . let’s say ten dollars.”
Belle nearly gasped. Ten dollars was an enormous wager! She had nothing to put up that was worth that much.
“Sir, I do not know the quality of your play. I cannot risk having ten dollars added on to my father’s debt should I lose,” she told her employer as politely and humbly as she could manage.
“I wouldn’t ask for that,” he assured her, his voice soft and seductive. And for the first time Belle was uncomfortable being alone with the man, seeing him not just as her employer, but as a man, a handsome, almost charming man. What was he going to ask of her?
He spoke kindly and slowly, “I would ask that you read to me . . . from a volume of my selection . . . and this is important . . . with no commenting, no questions, no chattering for, say . . . an hour.”
“Just read to you, sir?” she asked, surprised by this forfeit.
“Without any other talking,” he said sternly.
“Done sir,” Belle said blithely. Either way, she felt she would win.
It was about a quarter of an hour later, when Master Goldark pushed the table away. “Enough of this. I’m tired,” he announced. “And we still have a lot of work to do.”
“But sir, my estimation is that I shall win the game in three more moves. Do you concede?” Belle asked him.
“I don’t concede, but I . . . I retire.” He seemed irritated. “I will allow you to take ten dollars off your father’s debt since I am too busy to finish the game.”
“You are very generous sir,” Belle had to smile to herself. She had no doubt that she had beaten the man, but he wasn’t going to allow the game to be finished and he wasn’t going to concede.
Rumach Goldark glared at his little clerk. The saucy little wench had just beaten him at chess! Well, she was rather pretty and distracting.
Yes. Yes, that was what had happened. He’d been distracted and there were a few careless moves on his part, a few lucky ones on hers. It wouldn’t happen again.
“If we find time to play again . . .” he began slowly.
“If we play again, I think we will need to make my forfeit five dollars off your father’s debt,” he finished.
“And a half-hour of reading to you?” Belle questioned.
“No, I still want the entire hour,” his tone brooked no argument.
“Very well, sir,” Belle acquiesced. She did her best to hide her smile. He wasn’t willing to play for ten dollars against her. He’d only wager five. He couldn’t, wouldn’t admit she was a good player.
But he had adjusted the wager so that it would cost him less if she won.
It was enough.
“Your wife seems very nice,” she hazarded a comment later in the afternoon.
“She’s a witch.”
“Sir?!” Belle stopped what she was doing. Was this another one of his jokes?
“She’s a witch. She has put me under a spell, otherwise I would have done away with her long ago,” Master Goldark said without any trace of humor.
Emma had closed up the diary and, with the others expected in at any time, she headed on up to the attic.
“Leroy, I’m heading to the attic,” she called through the walkie to her techman, still waiting in the van. Emma has almost gone up without telling anyone where she was going, but ten years of investigating had taught her to be careful. Let people know where you were. She had wanted to check out Clarissa’s impression and see the attic room, which had not been part of the Ghost Tour. Mary Margaret had no information on the area except that it was used as storage and might have been used as servant quarters in the distant past. Emma found her way up through some back stairs, going through a clean, white painted door into the attic area. She found the light switch and tried to flip on the light but nothing happened. Damn. She turned on her ever present flashlight.
Casting the light around, she found herself in a sparsely furnished room with two narrow beds on each side of the room, two nightstands with wash basins, another one of the large braided rugs in the center of the room and a rocking chair. This place didn’t look like it was used for storage. It looked like it was used as a spare bedroom. Where were the boxes of Christmas lights that she was expecting to see, the clear plastic boxes labeled ‘dining room tablecloths?’ She wondered if she had gone to a wrong section of the attic.
“Looking for something, Emma?”
Whirling around, Emma dropped the flashlight. She had just looked into the face of Rumach Goldark.