I know it has been a long time and I don’t know if this will ever find you but I wanted to warn you that your children are not getting along and that their threats to each other are getting more and more sinister. I’m doing what I can without breaking our oath but it’s just now turned quite murderous and my hands are bound in the matter. I think you would be proud of them though, if only they weren’t so ornery. They do you and your heritage well. You should be here. Family drama can be so ugly and this could have quite a gnarly end if no one intervenes. I hope this letter finds you and that we will be graced with your presence soon. Margery sends her love and hopes you are well.
A shadow flit into a dark alley, flattening against the damp, rough stones of the wall on one side. For quite some time it didn’t move and perhaps it was all a fancy of the imagination, for the shadow blended so well that it was almost impossible to see. But no! It slowly bent forward as whoever it was peered down the street it had just quit. The slight and cloaked figure receded back into the shadow and leant back against the wall, tipping its head back in relief as rain dripped down in dreary plashes around the tall riding boots.
A sudden crash echoed from somewhere out in the damp drizzle, followed by a silence more eerie than comforting. The dark figure tensed, waiting for further sound or motion. Its hand went to its side, as if feeling for a weapon, but whatever it had been, it was gone now. With a nearly inaudible curse, the figure, like a dark demon of misfortune, slipped away back down the lonely street, swift and soundless.
Dozens of bright, vibrant couples moved in perfect harmony over the dark surface of the ballroom floor. In the adjoining room, long tables have been set, though they have already been pillaged by the gentry who now dance merrily away. There were others, older men and women whose dancing days were over, gossiping away as they watched the lively scene before them. Maids and men in-waiting wove in an out among the people, trays of champagne and other little delicacies balanced lightly in their expert hands. One of two large sets of double doors leading to the balcony had been swung open, letting in the cool, if not slightly damp air, to fan the hot faces of the dancers. Every now and then, a young man would impulsively pull his partner out onto the broad balcony beyond and whisper sweet nothings into his lady’s ear as they both took a rest from the rapid revolutions of the dance. They never stayed out long though, for no sooner were they out then the rain drove them back in, all laughter and smiles as they rejoined the rest. In fine weather, the couples may have wandered down the wide steps from the balcony to the small courtyard below.
Being a townhouse, it was quite a modest courtyard, with neatly trimmed grass, several beds of fine roses, a small, currently dry fountain, and two benches. But even so, it was magical, giving the impression of being at one of those big country estates.
But it was raining and dark, and the magic of the courtyard was swept away by the autumn winds. These chilly winds were why they kept one set of doors closed, those nearest the elderly and the tables of food. Even so, some had begun to complain of the draftiness and chill and declared that someone was bound to catch their death this night if the doors weren’t shut.
“What a pair they make!” one rosy rotund woman said as she fondly watched a couple fly about. She blinked her small button eyes and set one chubby hand a top the other of her chubby hands.
“Has he not spoken yet to John about it?” this from another plump, vibrant lady, sitting to Mrs. Setherton’s right. The Lady Gillingham by name, a wealthy woman who had never seen fit to marry herself but enjoyed marrying off everyone else.
“Oh no, at least not that I am aware of.” Mrs. Setherton smiled benignly at the happy couple as they whirled by them.
“And then there is Master Clifford and young Miss Eltsworth?” a Mrs. Dempsey observed, “He seems quite smitten and they’ve been together the entire season. I daresay they will be wed by Christmas.”
“Yes,” Lady Tennyson sighed. This last woman was the mother-of-the-bride, and this was her daughter’s wedding day.
“Yes, quite. I’d forgotten. He looks very well this evening.” and Mrs. Setherton turned from the first couple to the second. A very handsome couple indeed.
“But what is this?” Lady Tennyson declared as she espied a rather distressed maid rapidly making her way over to her mistress.
“What is wrong, Maggie?” Lady Tennyson asked mildly as the maid approached with large limpid eyes, politely dipping a curtsy, “You look as if Rogers has been telling you ghost stories again.” and Lady Tennyson and her company laughed lightly.
“Excuse my interrupting, my Lady, but we heard a strange sound from upstairs and no one has half a will to go and see what made such a sound.” the large eyes and paper white skin testified to the truth of this.
“My girl, it is probably Rachel changing the linens. It’s about that time. Or Dolly escaped from the kitchen again, and got lost in some room with the door closed behind her.”
Maggie, shook her capped head, “Rachel is just as puzzled and frighted as the rest of us, and Dolly is sleeping peacefully on the hearth. I checked.”
Lady Tennyson turned to her guests and smiled amiably, not wishing to alarm them in any way, “I told them these late night ghost stories would catch up with them. If you will excuse me a moment.” and she turned to follow the distraught girl.
It was probably just on of the lady’s maids preparing the bride’s things to leave on her honeymoon. Or Grandmama turning in for the night. But now the servants were saying it wasn’t coming from any of the rooms, but from the attic.
Lady Tennyson was not disposed to trek up to the attic to uncover the culprit, but neither was it necessary. She still had one male servant not working the tables or serving. Peterson the gardener. He was sensible and good with wild creatures, for now the lady of the house suspected that some animal had found its way into the garret.
“Oh, it’s no animal. Too big.” Maizy, yet another servant, said as she wrung her small hands in excitement, listening as the steady footsteps of Peterson faded away above them.
Lady Tennyson turned to Maizy, curious, “And why do you think that?”
“Oh, we heard it, clattering and stumbling around, like a mad drunkard or a clumsy thief.”
The lady’s gaze narrowed, “Now really, Maizy, you’ve gone quite far enough. It’s bad enough you had to pick Lady Regina’s wedding celebration to let this sound alarm you. Do we not hear countless sounds we cannot account for?”
“Not like this one.” and Maizy said it with such sincerity that Lady Tennyson began to wonder if there really was something to it all. Something to be concerned about.
“Perhaps I’ll go find Sir Tennyson.” and Lady Tennyson lightly tapped Maizy’s shoulder before going to find her husband, rather afraid she’d sent the good old Peterson into more danger than she’d thought.
A large object fell to the balcony with a soft thud. As it happened, it was on the side of the balcony with the closed doors. It would seem the thud had gone unnoticed by the gathering within, for the festivities continued undisturbed. The object, the rather crumpled form of a human, moved slowly, up to one elbow, only to have the elbow buckle and to collapse back to the ground. A sharp gasp escaped from the form and it didn’t attempt to move again as it slumped over and remained very still, rain pattering all around it.
Then there was the sound of someone approaching the open double doors. A man’s steady tread and a lady’s light gait. Their forms were already silhouetted against the light as they approached the balcony. The shadowy figure once again tried to rise and this time got well up on its feet before the man emerged, holding the door as he waited for the woman to pass through. The hooded figure did not facing the newcomers, but leaned heavily on the parapet facing the courtyard below.
“Oh, excuse me, I didn’t know anyone was out here,” a deep male voice spoke in apology as the man suddenly realized that he and his lady love were not the only ones out in the rain, “Come Miss Lennords,” and he put out his arm to lead the lady back into the bright noisy room.
He turned once more to nod to the stranger, and that is when he happened so see it—a puddle on the stones that was darker and thicker than rainwater. Blood. He turned immediately back to the dark figure.
“Are you hurt?” Grave concern laced his voice as he approached the figure he had earlier assumed was a lady from the party, wrapped up in a hooded cloak to enjoy the soft rainfall without endangering her health.
The figure did not respond immediately. But when the sound of a lady’s skirts ruffled as the woman stepped back out to see why the gentleman had turned back, a pain-choked voice broke out, “Don’t let the lady near.”
With that and the weak attempt to ward her off, the figure collapsed again.
The gentleman, because he was a gentleman and a clever and bright one too, understood at once and quickly blocked Miss Lennords way. Also aware of the urgency of attending the drenched and wounded soul, he called for some friend of his who was just then passing within earshot.
“What is that you said, old chap?” the jolly young man said as he walked up, his eyes aglow from the combination of champagne and dancing.
But the gentleman was preoccupied again, quietly asking the young Miss Lennords to step away, explaining very briefly that there was a wounded vagrant on the balcony and that he needed to tend to him. She left without a fuss, the very thought of wounds and poverty making her feel quite ill.
After she was well on her way, the gentleman drew his friend over and nodded out to the balcony. Unfortunately, the general attention was also being drawn in that direction too. No one was clamoring over as of yet, but the gossipers had gone relatively silent as they observed the two men looking out at the balcony.
What was out there? To be sure, Lord Damian Derriloes looked quite stern and serious as he told Mr. Lionel Wrayworth something in an undertone, nodding dubiously towards something on the balcony. But what was it?
The gentleman called Derriloes glanced hurriedly around the room, taking in the situation. How would he get the stranger through here without causing undue alarm and distress? He also didn’t want to traumatize the stranger any more than he already was. Well, there was really nothing for it, what must be done must be done, and there was really no other way. He nodded curtly to his friend Wrayworth and together they walked back out into the darkness.
The stranger lay as before, drenched and bloody, crumpled and unmoving. Wrayworth was down on his knees before the form in an instant, gently prodding the shoulder, saying quietly, “Sir, you’re all right now. We will take care of you. What happened? Where are you hurt?” and other such comforting and reassuring phrases.
Derriloes did not join him in his attempts to rouse the fallen soul. He was actually looking over the edge of the balcony, rather curious. How had the stranger managed to get here? And why? Had he been out in the courtyard? Had he come for help? Seemed odd to come through the back like this. Derriloes was beginning to wonder if they should be so ready to welcome this stranger into their host’s home. What if this was a criminal? What if it were a trick?
Derriloes suddenly put firm hand on Wrayworth’s shoulder and shook his head, silently motioning him to back off.
“What is it? We need to get him inside and dried up and warm. And he’s bleeding out. He needs a doctor. But he won’t move. I’m quite concerned.” he turned back to the figure whose hooded face had fallen against the stone.
Derriloes was concerned, but for a far different reason now. It didn’t make sense. He looked around again. Who was this and how had he gotten here? And why was he so unresponsive now? What was this stranger up to?
Wrayworth was gently shaking the form again and whispering to himself, “I think we might be too late,” when Derriloes suddenly reached down and pulled the hood away from the shadowed face, turning it so that it fell into the light coming from the ballroom behind them.