THE HAUNTING OF HILLCREST MANOR book 1

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Chapter 3

Darkness had fallen when Elizabeth finished her dinner, sitting back watching out the window of the many shadows that were cast by the large oak trees outside. The forest fascinated her for some unknown reason. She could see the fog starting to form around the base of the trees giving them a very eerie appearance. This place was so desolate in comparison to London, she thought. Rising she made her way over to the door. She wanted to know whether she was to be locked in again or did the Baron respect her wishes and keep it unlocked. The doorknob was cold to the touch but it turned, not locked. Thank goodness she thought, to herself. She hated the idea of being locked in her room like a naughty child. Feeling more at peace she decided to change into her night dress and hoped that whatever that was last night in the hall wouldn’t come back. She was so tired from the lack of sleep the night before she climbed warily into bed falling asleep almost immediately.

Hours later Elizabeth woke with a start. There in her room was a shadow coming closer to her bed as she sat up. The room was like ice but she ignored the cold. Staring at the shadow until it was close enough to almost touch. It was the same spirit she had seen in her bedroom in London. It became brighter as it stood next to the bed. It was definitely a child. She had seen enough spirits over her life to be able to tell the difference between adults and children. What did it want from her? How could she help it? She didn’t feel any kind of threat from it. “I so want to help you,” she said, “but I don’t know how. I don’t know what you need me to do.”

Suddenly loud banging was heard from the hallway. Like someone was pounding a heavy object against the walls. The sound became deafening as Elizabeth put her hands over her ears. Louder and louder the sound came thundering into her room. She couldn’t stand it much longer, immediately the child-like spirit disappeared when the banging began. Elizabeth let out a loud ear piecing scream when the noise became intolerable. Why couldn’t anyone else hear this horrific noise? Was she the only one in the house that heard it? Or did everyone else just ignore it and pretend that it didn’t happen. She didn’t know, but what she did know is she couldn’t take it anymore. Jumping out of bed she ran to her door and opened it. Stepping out into the hallway she looked both ways but couldn’t see anything. The pounding stopped the moment she opened the door. Going back into her room she picked up her candle and went back into the hallway hoping to find the reason for the noise. Carefully not to make a sound she slowly made her way to the next set of doors in the hall. She tried them but they were locked. Deciding she had had enough for one night she went back into her room. The temperature was normal now so she knew the spirit had gone. Upset and shaken by the experience she sat down at the table to look out at the forest.

Squinting her eyes she thought she saw someone in white going into the forest. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Who in their right mind would go into that forest alone and at night? Especially since the Baron forbid anyone to go there alone. Should she go after the person, or was she just having another very bad nightmare? She didn’t know. All she knew was this was the strangest place and had the strangest people in it that she had ever been before.

The next morning Louise came as she did the day before and placed her breakfast on the table. “Rise and shine, mum. The day is a wasting. You also don’t want to keep his lordship waiting do you?” She said, with a smile.

“No, no. I sure don’t want to anger him again,” she laughed as she got out of bed. “Louise, can I ask you something?”

The housekeeper put the breakfast tray on the table and turned toward Elizabeth. “Of course you can, mum. Is there something troubling you?” She asked, knowing full well what was upsetting the new governess.

“This may sound silly but, did you hear any noises last night?” Elizabeth eyed the woman carefully trying to read her expressions.

“Ah … what kind of noise are you referring to, mum?”

Elizabeth now felt very stupid. Maybe she just dreamed it all. Being away from home for the first time or maybe only she heard it because of her ‘sensibilities’. “Oh its nothing, I didn’t mean to alarm you … I think I’m just anxious to meet Sarah. Is she feeling better today I hope?”

“I don’t know, mum. She doesn’t ever speak so I never really know what she’s feeling.”

Elizabeth stared at Louise. “You mean Sarah cannot speak at all?” She asked, seriously. “The Baron never told me that his daughter was mute.” That could explain a lot about her actions. Especially when people were concerned. How sad for her she thought. “Was she born that way?”

“No, mum. It happened when she was in the accident with her mother. Her injuries were very extensive.”

“Oh my god! No wonder she never wants to leave this place. People can be so very cruel. Why, I don’t know. Anyone that’s different, they view as inferior and subject to their ridicule and the butt of their jokes.” Elizabeth was speaking now from experience. The way people treated her because she was different. Her heart went out to this poor little girl, first losing her mother in the accident as well as her voice. Never to be able to speak again would be a terrible burden on anyone, especially a child. “I sure hope I can meet her today. I know we could be best of friends because I know what it’s like to be ... different.”

After finishing her breakfast, Elizabeth made her way downstairs hoping Sarah would be there today. But her excitement was short lived for she only saw the Baron.

“I take it Sarah isn’t feeling any better today?” She asked, disappointed again not to be able to meet her.

“Actually she is feeling a little better today so if you’re ready, I’ll take you up to her room so the two of you can meet. We can’t stay long, you understand.”

“Oh yes, I understand more than you realize.”

“I know Louise explained to you this morning that Sarah doesn’t speak.”

“Yes, she did. But that doesn’t bother me at all. I just feel … bad for her. To go the rest of her life not being able to speak with anyone would be extremely difficult to bear. I just hope I can reassure her that it doesn’t make any difference to me. We will find our own way of communicating, I’m sure of it,” she said, with confidence.

“There’s one more thing you need to know about Sarah. She cannot walk. She will be bed ridden the rest of her life.”

Elizabeth masked her expression so not to upset the Baron, but she never dreamed Sarah was an invalid.

They went to the second floor together to Sarah’s bedroom. Before entering, the Baron told Elizabeth that they will stay only for a few minutes just so they could meet because he didn’t want to tire Sarah out to much. She agreed.

It was nothing like Elizabeth could have ever imagined. There sitting in the bed was this very frail young girl, her face pale and drawn, her eyes almost empty looking. Her hair was long and stringy needing to be brushed badly. Her shock was so apparent that she opened her mouth to speak to the young lady but nothing came out. She just stood there, staring at her.

“This is my daughter, Sarah. Sarah, this is your new governess or companion if you like.”

The girl just stared back at them with no emotion at all.

“Would you like for me to brush your hair, Sarah?” She finally said, recovering her composure.

“NO, NO, NO!” The Baron interjected immediately. “Sarah doesn’t like being touched by anyone. It would be wise of you to remember that!”

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. It won’t happen again I can assure you. I just thought she might like ….”

“I think we have stayed long enough for today.” Taking Elizabeth by the arm he escorted her out of the room. As they walked back downstairs he explained that since the accident, Sarah refused anyone to touch her in anyway. If they did, she would go into a seizure.

“How awful that must be for her. Oh my god, that poor child, what does she do all day?”

“She likes being alone most of the time, but does appreciate it when someone comes to visit her. But only for a short time.”

“I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I know I must sound like a cold hearted man, but this is just how things are. She’s been like this and is getting worse ever since the accident. I thought hiring companions for her she would improve, but none of them stayed long enough even just to get to know her.” He shook his head. “I just don’t know what to do anymore. That’s when I started having those dreams about … you. They had to mean something. Especially when I met you, you were exactly like the woman I kept dreaming about. I told you that the day we met.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“You seem so different than any other woman I have ever met. Has anyone ever told you such a thing or am I just imagining it in my head?”

Elizabeth looked at the Baron, feeling sorry for him and his lose. What a burden to have to carry the rest of his life. Maybe this is the time to tell him that she’s clairvoyant. It could make him feel better and not keep blaming himself for the accident. He wasn’t even near the carriage when it went out of control. It may even help with communicating with Sarah.

By this time they had made their way out on the terrace, at the far end was a table and chairs nestled under the branches of a large apple tree that was growing nearby. “Where are my manners, would you like to sit down and maybe have a cup of tea with me?” He asked, with such sincerity that she couldn’t say no.

He pulled the chair out for her to sit and then took the chair opposite hers. He rang the bell that was sitting on the table and Louise came out immediately.

“Can I help you, sir?” She asked, wondering why they were just sitting there on the terrace. No one sits on the terrace.

“Yes, Louise, please bring us a cup of tea and maybe some crumpets, if there are any made.”

“Right away, sir.” She said, speeding off to do his bidding.

“Baron, why … “

He cut her off in mid-sentence. “Elizabeth, please call me Nicholas. We don’t need to stand on such formalities here. This is my home.”

Elizabeth looked at him, almost seeing him, really seeing him for the first time. She blushed because no man had ever asked her to call him by his given name before.

Louise was back with the tea and crumpets and left as quickly as she came. She didn’t know if she liked seeing the two of them together but if things were supposed to happen … so be it.

There was a long silence when Elizabeth cleared her throat before speaking.

“Nicholas, there’s something about me I need to tell you. I’ve never told anyone before. But I think it’s important that you know.”

His eyes met hers when she was speaking, wondering what she could possibly be talking about.

“I might as well just blurt it out, I don’t know really how to tell you this but … I see … spirits.” She held her breath, hoping he didn’t think she was crazy or mad like everyone else did.

He thought seriously about what she had just told him. Now it made sense. Why she had come to him in his dreams, or could she do that? He didn’t know much about clairvoyants, he thought they were called. But he did hear stories about them and the crazy things that they would say they saw. Impossible things. Could it really be true? Is she one of those people?

“If this upsets you, I will pack my bag and go back to London tomorrow.” She said, somewhat despairingly.

“No, I want you to stay. Maybe you were supposed to come. I don’t know. My life has been so strange ever since I started the dreams and so on.”

“You know you’re the first person to ever except me, knowing what you now know. I didn’t even know there was a name for it until I met the old gypsy woman. She explained it to me.”

“So … you really see spirits?” He asked.

“Yes. I’ve been seeing them my whole life. I believe my grandmother also could see spirits, but she never told me anything about it. I just observed her many times speaking to a ‘light’ that others didn’t see. I would ask her about it but she would just tell me she would explain everything to me when I got older. But she died a year later and never told me anything. I had to figure most of it out by myself. And as I’ve said before, the old gypsy woman helped me understand my ‘gift’ so to speak.”

They could feel a change in the weather, the wind started to pick up and the sky turned a dark gray, the clouds were moving quickly now.

“I feel a storm moving in,” Elizabeth said, as she viewed the ugly color of the sky. Storms were not abnormal for this part of England. Most days were gloomy with an occasional sunny one. People who lived here were used to the sudden change in weather. A strong gust of wind came out of nowhere, hitting the large apple tree they were sitting next to, causing a large branch to crack and hurl toward them. It hit Nicholas with such force it knocked him out of his chair, landing on the hard stone floor of the terrace. Blood came gushing out from the large gash on his forehead. He laid motionless with the branch still lying across him. The dishes that had been on the table were now scattered all around Nicholas, broken beyond repair.

Elizabeth jumped up, her hair had come loose from its pins and was flying in all directions as she tried to get to Nicholas. She had never felt wind this strong before. She started yelling for the servants to come at once to help the Baron.

The strong gust of wind stopped as quickly as it started leaving Elizabeth stunned by the damage it had done. She tried to move the large branch that was lying across him but it was too heavy for her.

The servants came racing out of the house and were able to lift the branch off of Nicholas. His eyes were now starting to open, blinking a few times before they opened completely. He could feel the blood pouring down his face. He definitely needed stitches to close the gaping wound.

Elizabeth placed a cloth napkin over the gash to try and stop the bleeding.

“We need a doctor right away,” she yelled.

“Mum, the nearest doctor is a half a day’s ride from here. We must take care of his wound ourselves.”

Elizabeth was shocked that there was to be no medical help coming. “Let’s get him inside, immediately.”

The servants helped Nicholas up and they made their way into the house. He sat down on one of the kitchen chairs as Louise retrieved her sewing box. Threading a needle she proceeded to stitch up his head. Once she finished she viewed her work with satisfaction. “You’re very lucky your lordship, that all you needed was a few stitches. It could have been much, much worse.”

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