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Secrets on the Walls (Book 1)

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Chapter Two

England, 1897

Birds welcomed spring with a cheerful song that glided about, and a gentle breeze played with the garden’s flowers. Cypress trees surrounded the garden and rose vines draped over its bricked walls. Wrought iron arches led to the Montgomery mansion which sat on a hill overlooking the countryside. The sun sat behind the rolling hills, turning the grass into fields of gold.

Lady Emma Montgomery and her young grandchildren, Suzette and Sophie, were gathered around a table in the garden’s patio. The three were enjoying tea and pastries while taking pleasure in the warm weather.

Emma sat at the end of the table, pouring Darjeeling tea for herself. She wore a lavender dress with a floral pattern stitched into the fabric. Her gray hair was wrapped in a bun, and pearls adorned her wrists and neck.

Suzette and Sophie dressed in a similar fashion, but their dresses were a lighter shade and bows were fastened around their waists.

Suzette, who was reaching her fourteenth birthday, had long auburn hair tied back by a blue ribbon. Her green eyes lit up when she took a bite out of a pastry, and she dabbed her lips with a napkin.

Sophie was two years younger with shorter auburn hair that drooped at her neck. She too was careful while eating as she wiped off stray crumbs from her dress. However, she found the chance to hide a biscuit to save for later. When Suzette finished with her pastry, she cleared her throat and smiled at her grandma.

“Grandma, may we go to the park after tea?” she asked with politeness laced in her voice.

Emma set down her cup, which clinked delicately on the saucer. “Have you two finished your studies?”

Suzette and Sophie exchanged nervous glances and dropped their heads.

“I take that as a no?” Emma assumed.

The sisters quietly nodded their heads, gloom riddled their faces.

Emma pursed her lips. “It would be a shame if we weren’t able to get out of the house during such a beautiful day. Do you girls think you could finish your studies by the next hour?”

Suzette and Sophie once again exchanged nervous glances.

“Likely not...” Suzette admitted.

Emma observed her granddaughters with sympathy. The girls sat almost hunched in their chairs, and their arms slumped at their sides. After some consideration, Emma smiled and clapped her hands. “Girls, you have my permission to take a break from your studies. It’ll be my treat.”

Sophie squealed and bounced in her chair. “Really? Oh, thank you, Grandma!”

Suzette frowned at her sister’s immaturity and turned to Emma. “What about Ms. Plumlee? Wouldn’t she be displeased?”

“She’ll understand when I talk to her. After all, you two deserve a break, but you must continue your work tomorrow. Does that sound good?” Emma kept a warm smile to assure the girls.

“Yes!” Sophie exclaimed without hesitation.

“Wonderful. Now, what shall we do at the park?” Emma asked.

Suzette gave in as she said, “Reading by the lake would be quite nice. I do want to finish my book.”

“I’d like to feed the ducks!” Sophie declared.

“Those are lovely options,” Emma commented.

“Do you suppose Grandpa could come?” Sophie asked.

“Sophie!” Suzette shushed, scowling at her sister’s question.

Emma cupped her cheek. “It’s not a good idea for your grandpa to go outside in his state... though, I do wish that he could.”

“Oh,” Sophie sulked, but then said, “When he gets better, we can all go to the park together. Can we do that?”

“That would be nice…” Emma trailed and pressed back into her chair. Her dimmed blue eyes brimmed with tears, and she shifted her gaze to nothing in particular. Suzette passed Sophie a stern look before facing her grandma.

“Grandma, if you don’t want to go to the park, we don’t have to,” Suzette said.

“No, no, it’s fine. I really do want to go out for a bit, and I know you girls do too,” Emma said.

“We could go for a walk in the country. The park can wait.”

Emma tilted her head. “Are you sure about that?”

“Yes.”

“Mmm, what about you, Sophie?” Emma asked.

“That’s all right,” Sophie answered, a hint of disappointment evident in her soft-spoken voice.

Emma inhaled and picked up her cup. “Mmm, let’s finish our tea then.”

The sisters nodded in agreement and continued their meal. Emma observed them for a while and then faced one of the mansion’s windows. She could vaguely spot the sunken figure of her husband sitting in his wheelchair.

Lord Hugh Montgomery was in a catatonic state, but no one knew exactly why. He could still twitch a couple fingers, blink, and even pass a subtle smile, but that was the extent of his movement. The elderly man’s figure appeared smaller in that wheelchair, as if he shrunk into it. It was hard for his remaining family to see him in that state. They all tried to convince each other that he would return to his normal, cheerful ways soon enough. Unfortunately, he had been that way for months now.

“Grandma?” Suzette called, bringing her grandma back to reality. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, my dear.” Emma chuckled, waving a hand dismissively. “My mind does love to wander off. Now, let’s finish up quickly so we can take our walk.”

**

“Sophie, Suzette, would you two mind telling your grandpa what we found on our walk?” Emma asked during dinner.

The sisters sat on one side of the table while Emma and Hugh were on the opposite. Servants passed by to deliver more food or to take plates away. A caretaker was helping Hugh eat with a tube, an act that was hard for the girls to watch but they wanted their grandpa to be present for dinner.

“We found a frog!” Sophie remarked with a delightful ring in her voice.

“I believe it was a toad,” Suzette corrected.

“No, it wasn’t.”

“If it has bumps then it’s a toad.”

“Grandma, was it a frog?” Sophie asked.

“It was a toad, dear,” Emma answered, cutting through her steak and taking a bite from it.

“See?” Suzette gestured a hand.

“Never mind, I’m calling it a frog.”

“But it’s not—”

“I found the frog by a pond and wanted to catch it, but it kept jumping away from me,” Sophie remarked.

“You were bothering it.”

“I wanted to hold it for a second.”

“It did not want to be held, and you did not know where it had been. Honestly, Sophie. Grandma, I cannot believe you allowed her to chase after it,” Suzette argued. She cut her steak in a hasty manner, but stopped when she was a centimeter away from scratching the plate.

“There’s no harm in a little fun, dear,” Emma remarked.

“I suppose, but Sophie could’ve tripped in a puddle of mud and Ms. Plumlee would’ve given her quite the scolding.”

“She gives us enough scolding already, but I was really close to catching the frog,” Sophie mumbled, poking her food with a fork.

“It was a toad,” Suzette corrected, rolling her eyes.

“But the frog was too fast for me so I stopped and was completely out of breath.”

“And since you were so tired, we had to end our walk early,” Suzette said dryly.

“I’m sorry,” Sophie said with slouched shoulders. “Could we go on another walk tomorrow?”

“We have our French exam tomorrow and that will certainly take a while,” Suzette reminded.

“Oh…” Sophie’s voice lowered to a whimper and Suzette sulked, sharing a similar sentiment.

“Should I tell Ms. Plumlee to delay it for another time?” Emma asked.

Suzette pursed her lips as she pondered, but ended up shaking her head. “No, it’s best to get something done sooner than later. Besides, the exam shouldn’t be that bad. You’re good at French, Soph.”

“I suppose it will be fine…” Sophie considered while she kept playing with her food.

“You’ll do wonderfully, dear,” Emma praised. “If you don’t pass, you simply have to try again another time, no harm done. No matter what happens, we’re still going on our walk.”

“But will we have time?” Suzette asked.

“I’m sure we will, do not worry, my dears.”

“All right.”

“Grandma, what was a topic that was difficult for you to learn?” Sophie asked out of curiosity.

“Hmm, I might have to think of that,” Emma said before something came up. “Oh, my mother wanted me to learn Latin. It was far too confusing and unnecessary.”

“But French is necessary?”

“Most certainly!” Suzette suddenly said with much enthusiasm in her voice. “It’s one of the loveliest languages in the world. Gentlemen want to court women who know French.” Suzette sighed and cupped her hands together. “I can imagine it now—having sweet conversations with my darling as we stroll through the park accompanied by our loyal dogs—”

“I thought you were allergic to dogs?” Sophie pointed out.

“I am, but it doesn’t mean I can’t own a few. Remember our dear old Crumpet?”

Sophie’s eyebrows knitted together. “Of course, I remember him, but the reason we had to give him away was that you couldn’t stop sneezing. So, if you were to bring dogs to a park, you would have to bring a handful of handkerchiefs. It wouldn’t be romantic if you sneezed every few minutes.”

Suzette groaned at her sister for being right. “Very well, I won’t bring the dogs, it would be troublesome if they try to chase a squirrel anyway.”

“It would be funny though.” Sophie giggled.

“No, it would be improper.”

Sophie’s amusement dropped and she turned to her grandma. “Didn’t you tell us that you disobeyed some rules, Grandma?”

“Yes, I was quite the troublemaker in my youth,” Emma answered, a hint of mischief in her voice. “Still, I wouldn’t advise engaging in what I’ve done, but it’s better to do something different every once in a while. Doing the same old thing every day can get tiresome, but don’t tell Ms. Plumlee that, she would be very displeased.” Emma pressed a finger to her lips and smiled. Suzette and Sophie smiled as well.

“Did Grandpa know that you were a troublemaker?” Sophie wondered, leaning closer to the table.

“Yes, believe it or not, it was one of the reasons we got married.”

“Really?” Sophie gasped while Suzette stared wide-eyed.

“Yes, your grandpa didn’t care that I broke some rules, rather, he admired me and treated me better than my own parents.” Emma’s hand curled around her husband’s. She gave the hand a gentle squeeze, and presented him a longing look as if awaiting a response. Unfortunately, Hugh simply sat there, quiet as ever with the occasional breaths that passed his chapped lips. His eyes couldn’t even find hers.

Emma inhaled and, akin to her husband, blanked out as well, staring at nothing in particular while the sisters bore concerned expressions.

“Grandma?” Suzette called.

Emma broke from her stupor, tossing a hand to her cheek. “What? Oh, oh, excuse me, I didn’t mean to drift off like that. I’ve been doing it a lot lately, haven’t I?” She chuckled, but it sounded empty.

“Are you feeling well?” Suzette asked.

“Ah, I’m getting old, that’s all. Please don’t worry about it,” Emma said, but Suzette wasn’t convinced. Regardless, she didn’t say anything, but she didn’t return to eating either. She sat there rigid while Sophie bounded in her seat.

“Grandma,” Sophie piped in, “could you tell us about the evening dances you’ve gone to when you were younger?”

“Yes, certainly.” Emma’s eyes lit up. “Everyone wore such beautiful dresses, and the nights were so enchanting…”

Despite how passionate Emma sounded as she delved into the topic, Suzette remained troubled. Sophie on the other hand, strengthened the conversation with additional questions and delighted comments. That all seemed to put their grandmother in a brighter mood…

**

Sophie pulled over the sheets from her bed and slipped herself into it. She sighed with glee as she placed her head on the cool pillow, and reached over to click off the oil lamp on her nightstand. She closed her eyes, but it didn’t take long until another light source interfered.

Sophie glanced over to see Suzette reading a book. She sat adjacent on top of an identical bed, but the only difference was that the blanket was a light shade of blue while Sophie’s was pink. Suzette hummed to herself as she was engaged in her reading, her bright green eyes sparkled with intrigue. Sophie on the other hand, groaned in protest.

“Do you have to read now?” Sophie asked in a tired voice. She released a brash yawn to get on her sister’s nerves, but Suzette ignored her.

“I’m at a really good part.” Suzette waved a hand to brush her sister off, but Sophie groaned once more.

“The light’s bothering me.”

“Then turn around.”

“That’s not going to help. You do this almost every night and it’s always so distracting. Why can’t we get separate rooms?”

“Don’t you hate sleeping alone because of the nightmares?” Suzette reminded.

“…Yes,” Sophie admitted in a timid voice, “but I think I can handle them now.”

“So, you don’t want to sleep in the same room as me anymore?”

“No, I…I don’t know…” Sophie racked her head from side to side while she pondered. She huddled herself within the sheets and squeezed herself into a fetal position.

“If you’re unsure, then you should probably stay here,” Suzette insisted. “Besides, it’ll be a hassle moving all your things to another room, you have over a hundred dolls.”

“No, I don’t…it’s around twenty-six.”

“That’s still quite a lot.”

“Well, you have over a hundred books.” Sophie pointed out. “And you haven’t even read half of them yet.”

“I would if I had more time to read them,” Suzette said. “How about this, give me a few more minutes with my book and then I’ll turn the light off.”

Sophie pursed her lips, but she tossed her head back onto the pillow with her back to her sister.

“Fine. A few more minutes.”

As Suzette continued to indulge in her reading, there came a knock at the door. The door opened and Emma’s head poked through. She carried a candle that emphasized the wrinkles on her face, and the placidity in her faded blue eyes.

“Evening, my dears,” she greeted and stepped into the room. The train of her nightgown trailed behind her, and a nightcap topped her head. “I’m not bothering you, am I?”

“Not at all,” Suzette said as she closed her book.

“Good. I wanted to say goodnight to you girls.”

Sophie tilted her head and twisted a strand of hair. “You just said goodnight to us a while ago.”

“I know,” Emma said, “but what’s wrong about saying goodnight twice?”

Sophie giggled. “Nothing at all.”

Emma set the candle on a desk and approached her youngest granddaughter. She bent over and planted a kiss on her forehead. In return, Sophie hugged her. “I love you, Grandma.”

“I love you too, dear.” Emma hugged her back and then went over to Suzette’s bedside. “And I love you too.” She kissed Suzette on the forehead and hugged her as well. “You’re my precious angels, you know that?” Emma asked, taking her granddaughter’s hand.

“We know,” Sophie sung while Suzette smiled, though it was faint.

Emma patted Suzette’s hand, collected the candle, and moved back over to the doorway. She stood by the doorframe for a few moments that seemed to linger, but the sisters couldn’t complain. Finally, Emma took the door handle and her soft smile glowed from the candlelight.

“Goodnight you two,” she told them in a gentle voice.

“Goodnight,” the sisters chorused.

When the door closed, Sophie turned to her sister. “Can you turn the light off now? It’s been a few minutes.”

Suzette ignored Sophie’s request as she frowned at the door. She waited for Emma’s footsteps to fade away before she asked, “Do you think Grandma’s alright?”

“Maybe she’s simply tired,” Sophie released a loud yawn and cupped her mouth to cover it.

Suzette’s lips twisted about as she contemplated. She drummed her fingers on the book which would’ve annoyed Sophie, but instead, the younger sister leaned in until she was at the edge of the bed.

“Sue? Are you the one doing alright? Perhaps it’s you who’s acting odd.”

“I’m not, it’s just…” Suzette ceased the drumming and she pushed herself into the headboard.

“Never mind, let’s go to bed.” Suzette placed her book on the nightstand and turned off the oil lamp. Sophie stared into the darkness, facing the direction of her sister’s bed. She decided not to dwell on Suzette’s words as she drifted to sleep.

**

The next day, Suzette and Sophie were engaged in a game of chess. They sat near their grandpa who resided by a window, his head tilted to the garden. Aside from the steady ticking of a baroque clock, the only sound was Suzette knocking over another chess piece, causing Sophie to whimper in retort.

“I don’t like this game anymore, Sue.” Sophie planted her head on the table and stuck out her bottom lip. Suzette on the other hand appeared smug with a glint in her eye. She toyed with one of Sophie’s defeated pieces to extend her pride.

“You simply need to concentrate better, this is a thinking game,” Suzette remarked.

“But it’s boring,” Sophie whined and pressed her cheek into the tabletop.

“Would you rather be studying?” Suzette reminded in a somber tone of voice.

“No, but can’t we do something else? Knitting perhaps?”

Suzette’s face scrunched up with repulsion. “I’m not good at that.”

“Well, I’m not good at chess!” Sophie lifted her head from the table and threw out her hands.

“Shh, not so loud,” Suzette shushed.

“I wasn’t being loud, I’m just saying that I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“Alright, here,” Suzette gestured to the chessboard, “I’ll give you a chance to take out my pawn. You can use your bishop.”

“That’s the one that goes diagonal, correct?” Sophie poked the bishop with a delicate finger.

“Yes, and so my pawn is in your bishop’s path.”

“Oh... are you sure you want me to do this?”

“Yes.”

“If you say so…” Sophie slurred and used her bishop to win her sister’s pawn, but now Sophie’s bishop was in the way of Suzette’s knight. At the acknowledgment of this, Sophie stared at Suzette with apprehension.

“You’re going to take my bishop, aren’t you?”

“Indeed, I am,” Suzette sung and the glint in her eye returned.

“That’s not fair.”

“You should’ve been more aware of your surroundings and not listen to your opponent.”

Suzette knocked over Sophie’s bishop and snatched it away.

Sophie shot up from her seat. “How mean of you, Sue! I’m not going to listen to you again if you’re just going to trick me.”

“See, you’re learning!” Suzette clapped her hands. “Sit down and let’s keep playing.”

“I don’t want to keep playing!” Sophie argued. “You’re being mean and if Grandpa could speak right now, he would say that you’re being mean too!”

Suzette’s enjoyment disappeared at instant. “Don’t say that, Soph. I’m sure he would find this all amusing. Now please calm down and sit. You’re acting immature.”

Sophie slumped back into the chair and muttered, “You act immature too.”

“What was that?”

“I said that you act immature too,” Sophie remarked in a louder tone. “Just now when you stole my piece and had that mean look on your face.”

“I was happy, am I not allowed to be happy?”

“No, but you didn’t have to be so mean…”

“I wasn’t being mean—”

“Yes, you were.”

A deep frown settled on Suzette’s lips and she leaned back into the chair. She crossed her arms and glanced at the unfinished game before her.

“I wasn’t trying to be mean, Soph, I was just having fun,” Suzette said, “and I want you to have fun too.”

Sophie poked at another one of her pieces. “It’s hard to have fun when this is so boring…”

“Well, let’s make it fun,” Suzette suggested. “Why don’t we make a new game out of it? Create something new?”

“Like what?”

“Hmmm.” Suzette scrambled the pieces around, black and white mixed together. Before the elder sister could continue, however, the parlor door swung open. Suzette retracted from the mess she made while Sophie sunk in her chair.

The Montgomery’s Governess, Ms. Plumlee, marched in. She was a scrawny, elderly woman with a mole on her crooked nose. The governess wore dull colors such as browns and grays, which reflected well with the somberness of her crinkled face.

“I thought you girls were studying in the library?” Ms. Plumlee slapped a hand to her hip and perked a gray eyebrow.

“We wanted to keep Grandpa company,” Suzette stated. “Besides, we’ve been studying for hours.”

“You aren’t done until I tell you you’re done! Anyway, Lady Sophie, I believe it’s time for your piano lesson.”

“Oh, right!” Sophie hopped off her chair and dashed to Ms. Plumlee’s side.

Ms. Plumlee pinched her nose. “How many times must I tell you not to run?”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Plumlee.” Sophie bowed her head in shame.

“Let’s move along.” Ms. Plumlee prompted Sophie out the door, leaving Suzette and Lord Montgomery alone.

Suzette glanced at the pile of chess pieces before her. She sorted them all evenly on the chessboard as if they were never moved to begin with. While doing so, Suzette hummed a little song to herself, but it didn’t alleviate her mood. She thought back to Sophie’s words to her, and something in her chest ached from it. When she finished, she jogged over to her grandpa. Suzette placed a gentle hand over his.

“I wasn’t mean to Soph, was I?” Suzette asked, despite knowing that her grandpa couldn’t answer. Instead, Hugh’s finger twitched in response, and Suzette took that as a yes.

“That wasn’t my intention,” Suzette stated. “As I said, I was just trying to have fun…that’s all.”

Hugh’s finger twitched again and Suzette took note of his glassy gray eyes. They maintained focus on the garden.

“I’ll apologize to Soph after her lesson,” Suzette confirmed. “Speaking of, let’s head over to the piano room.”

Suzette took the handlebars of the wheelchair and rolled Lord Montgomery out of the room.

**

Golden light slipped through the Palladian window and spilled onto the floor, bathing the grand piano in its warm glow. Pasty keys jingled a soft, heavenly tune as ten fingers waltzed down the old instrument.

Sophie’s face was calm; there was no evidence of tension while she played. The room was hers and she tamed it well, providing a peaceful ambiance. The sun adorned her petite figure in a halo of light, and caused the pearls on her necklace to glisten. Her smile also appeared to glow as she continued to compose her lighthearted music.

The piano room was furnished with opulent pieces of furniture that surrounded the grand piano. Oil paintings decorated the gilded walls, and the windows revealed the mansion’s garden.

Suzette and Ms. Plumlee sat at a couch while Hugh stayed by one of the windows. They listened to Sophie’s performance, but then Suzette whispered in Ms. Plumlee’s ear: “May I see if Grandma would want to join us?”

“No,” Ms. Plumlee hushed.

“But Grandma loves listening to Sophie’s performance. She hasn’t been well lately, and I’m sure the music will cheer her up.”

Ms. Plumlee huffed. “Fine. But if her Ladyship doesn’t want to join, leave her be.”

“Very well.”

Sophie continued her composition while Suzette exited the room. Suzette strolled down the hallway and the charming sound of the piano followed her. The music was quiet, but rung sweetly in the air. The light from the windows was now a deeper shade of gold with tinges of brown as they highlighted the paneled walls.

Suzette continued her way down the long hallway until approaching an archway. She entered the foyer where two crystal chandeliers hung from the high ceiling. The floor had a checkered design with the accommodation of a blue carpet covering the double staircase.

At the top of the staircase was a painting of a gazebo. The painting filled much of the wall, and it practically glowed by the foyer lights. Suzette proceeded up the stairs and down the hall where the piano could still be heard.

Finally, Suzette halted at a pair of double doors at the end of the hall. She knocked it and the door creaked open. Suzette stared into the darkness that leaked out from the room. Her body stiffened when the piano stopped and her ears met a terminal silence. Suzette held her breath and eased into the room.

There were no windows in the chamber, so Suzette had to rely on the light from the small candle on the nightstand. The light trailed to the bed and Suzette could distinguish her grandmother’s motionless body lying above the sheets.

“Grandma?” Suzette asked in a whisper. She leant out her hand and gasped at the unusual cold touch of her grandmother’s face.

“Grandma? Grandma, please wake up.” Suzette took her shoulder and shook it. But her eyes were closed and her features were calm. Suzette’s eyes then trailed to Emma’s right hand. There was a silver goblet curled in her loose fingers, containing remnants of red liquid that had stained the sheets.

Suzette reached for a pulse, but when she felt nothing but the coldness of her grandmother’s skin, she screamed.

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