Chapter 25. Out into the Light, On into the Night.
In the space of half an hour they removed the body from its tomb. Miraculously, considering the challenges involved in the whole endeavor. Troy had to dash out and up to get a sheet, which involved the process of going up a flight, picking out a sheet, and then coming at a breathless pace all the way back and under. Then there was the swift and yet painstaking process of slipping the sheet under the brocade-wrapped body. After that, they endured the determined procession out of the catacombs, bumping uneasily into the walls and each other and agonizing over their fragile charge every step of the way.
To their surprise -and relief - nothing malingered in the passages in a sulking fury over their actions. No colder than colds spots. No fouler than stale pockets of subterranean air. And no lights went out inconveniently. They did pause so that Hugh and Jeremy could shine lights on the carved entrance while Troy took some quick digital pictures of it.
As they neared the long, main vault, where Lady Mary Segrave should have rested in the first place, they heard voices speaking in both determination and excitement.
"Where shall we place her?" said Jeremy.
"Mum and Cassandra were looking for a site when I left them," said Troy, "but that does not sound like them."
They paused to listen. The voices seemed quite close, as though they had gathered just ahead for some sort of conference, and yet also as though they were speaking across time and the sort of distance that only Death could breach.
"What shall be done?...All is lost...not over...I see them!"
Portia and Denis exchanged looks.
"What do they mean by 'all is lost'?" Jeremy whispered.
"The key is whether we are listening to the past or to the present," said Denis. He nodded at the remains swaddled in their protection. "What we are doing may have unlocked Balgair's memories."
"As though it doesn't have enough to reminisce over already," sighed Troy. "Let's get a move on. I had enough of claustrophobic spaces for one day."
By the moment they edged out from around the pillar into the far corner of the crypt, the voices had withdrawn into silence. Whether to avoid being overheard or simply dissipated into the past, no one could say. Happily, the voices they heard now were quite distinct and familiar...and of the Living.
Travers left them no room for doubt. "There they are!"
If he hadn't been helping to bear Lady Mary's fragile remains, Jeremy would have done a little dance of sheer joyous relief. He settled for a grin so wide that his face ached.
"It is so very good to see you, Travers," said Denis. "There were moments when Jeremy and I feared that we would never see light again."
Ellen and Cassandra peered round the central pillar down the aisle at the figures solidifying back from the shadows.
"Do you have Balgair's Matriarch?" said Ellen.
"We do, Mum. Did you call - ?"
"Farley did," said Cassandra. "He and two from his team are en route as we speak."
"I took pictures of the old entryway down there. I figured he would want a look."
"You know he will," said Ellen. "Now bring our Lady this way. Lawson said he was bringing a container to store her in for the time being. In the meantime, she can rest atop this tomb."
The instant they had set their shrouded burden upon the flat slab belonging to a knight, they folded back the sheet ends over its reverently engraved depiction. Ellen and Cassandra pressed closer, but not so close that they blocked out the light pouring down from the chapel lamps above.
Troy gestured. "He had her wrapped in bed curtains. They look to me like an original version of the forty-year old reproductions upstairs."
Ellen peered especially close. "The pattern certainly is very similar." She frowned at the binding cords. "You would have thought they'd use plain cords, but no, again household cords, possibly from the bed...or from the windows or something like. No matter. This is not what I expected." She stepped back.
"I thought he would have buried her out in the old monastery ruins or bricked her up in a wall somewhere," said Cassandra. "I kept expecting to uncover her while we were doing restorations."
"Be grateful he buried her at all," said Troy.
"After what he did to her," snapped Ellen, "it was the least the bastard could do."
"What happened down there?" said Cassandra.
"Lord Robert didn't want us to leave," said Jeremy. "He drained our batteries and kept us cornered in the dark." He shuddered. "It was too dark down there."
"I expect so," said Ellen. She gave hi a reassuring smile.
"So now what?" said Hugh.
"We wait for Lawson and his teem to arrive," said Ellen, "and in the meantime, let's eat."
They all hesitated. Their eyes lingered on Lady Mary's body.
"She'll be fine where she is. No one will disturb her here," said Ellen. "Come on."
A subdued sort of bustling ruled over the old farm trestle table in the kitchen. Fresh coffee and tea had to be made of course, but the rest of the feast was more than adequate and consumed nearly their completer attention even as they consumed it with eager bites and hearty gulps.
Mona and Ellen kept the cups filled while everyone served themselves, passing around the serving bowls and plates.
Andrew had long since finished his meal and stood near the windows with his coffee so he could watch for Lawson's van. "'Gloomy weather out there," he commented and then smiled a little, "appropriately enough."
Finally, Mona paused in her bustling to say, "Troy, where did you get that scrape?"
"What scrape?" Troy looked.
"The one right there." Mona pointed at his right arm. "Your sleeve is torn too."
"Oh! So it is."
Ellen headed straight for the cupboard nearest the entryway. She returned with a resilient little battle scarred box. Out came the cotton and the alcohol. "Where did you get that scrape?"
Troy sucked in his breath. That alcohol his mother had just slapped on his arm stung. "When stinky old Lord Robert knocked me down in the catacomb."
Hugh thumbed the table once. "That's right! We forgot, didn't we?"
"I didn't realize I was hurt." Troy watched his mother bandage his scrape. "I figured on a bruise at least."
"It had Denis and Jeremy cornered," said Portia, "until I confronted it. Then it snarled at us until we invoked everything holy to get rid of it."
"And that's when it flattened Troy, on the way out I suppose," said Hugh.
"That explains the severe draft and that peculiar darkness we witnessed in the upper chamber," said Bromhead.
"Oh?" said Troy.
"Something came out of there like the proverbial bat out of hell," said Bromhead. "I'm still kicking myself that we didn't have any recording devices set up down there. Who knows what we missed?"
Having long since had his meal and his much desired scone with jam and clotted cream of course, Geoffrey wandered about the kitchen. Initially, he had insisted on being helpful, so he was allowed to hand out napkins and carry out a few other small chores that didn't run too great of a mess-making risk. That being done and the grown-ups sitting to eat, he fidgeted about waiting to deliver the dirty plates and things to Mona. He tossed Wamba's ball and the Corgi brought it back with his eyes shining and his butt wriggling.
Since Harpur had snatched his meal break at the same time as Geoffrey and shared tea and scones with him for dessert, he stood in the other doorway watching the monitors. He would have been congratulating himself discreetly for not having been down there too, but for the deep, gnawing feeling that something wasn't right tonight in Balgair. This was saying a lot for a place that was already so very disturbed. He couldn't relax, not even to sit down for more than a minute at a time. It took an effort of will not to pace. So, he stood in the doorway where he could watch both the monitors and the others at the crowded farm table.
Now and then, Harpur locked eyes with Cassandra's stalwart, good-natured husband Farley and saw the same uneasiness in his eyes too. Farley disguised his fidgeting behind little tasks and helpful gestures. He kept a close watch on Geoffrey and Wamba's antics. Harpur could tell that at the first sign of trouble, Farley would snatch up his son, throw on their coats and speed him off to safety at the gate house. He exuded wariness to such a degree that Cassandra watched him as much as she followed the conversation at the table. She ate with particular concentration and Harpur suspected that she could drop everything and have her coat on too in five seconds flat if she had to.
"'See anything on the monitors?" Bromhead said.
"Not since those shadows came up out of the crypt before you all came out. Balgair is quiet for now." Harpur met Jeremy's quick glance.
"It's just the lull before the storm" Jeremy said. "Does anyone else feel as jumpy as I do?"
"We all do, dear," said Ellen with a kind look.
"I think I'd feel better if I knew what to prepare for," said Jeremy.
"I think the only santuary left in out at the gate house," said Troy. "Just in case you wanted to know."
Harpur and Jeremy exchanged looks again.
"I was so hoping that the skull would resolve things," said Cassandra.
"I think we found what it didn't want us to find." Troy pushed the remnants of his food around on his plate with one hand, while with the other he rotated the cup, pausing in that only when he took a sip from it. "It fled the crypts, but it hasn't left Balgair. Aside from telling it where it can go and what it can do with itself once it gets there, I'm at a loss as to what more we can do."
"There are ways to evict an unwanted entity." Portia's voice rumbled with fierce intent.
Andrew stirred. "I see head lights. That's Lawson most likely."
"As late as it is," said Ellen, "we should prepare some guest rooms because it will be quite late before they finish."
"We can do that," said Cassandra as she looked to Farley.
"We can." His gaze followed their son though.
"Geoff," Cassandra smiled, "do you want to help Mummy and Dada make beds for the people?"
"Yes!" And with that he ran out toward the stairs with Wamba bounding out behind him.
Farley strode after him.
Cassandra set her cup and plate in the sink and followed them. "If anyone needs us, we'll be in the southern wing's guest floor." Her voice drifted back as she climbed the stairs. "This place feels strange tonight."
"That is Lawson's van out there," Andrew announced.
"Right!" Troy seized his plate and cup and in two long strides deposited them in the sink. "I'll show him in."
Andrew followed, just in case his help would be needed, which was usually the case.
Travers still sat meditating over his coffee. "In the classic sense of laying a ghost," he said at last, "what we have done should have done the trick and yet the house feels like a powder keg with a lit fuse."
"Where he was confined is obvious," said Bromhead. "The oubliette along with his head."
"The head may have been a coincidence," said Travers. "We know that they found an oubliette below the North Tower and it gave them a devil of a time until they 'laid' it in a ceremony."
"But there was no specific reference to Lord Robert's ghost," said Bromhead, "only a frightening, murderous entity."
Travers nodded. "Whis if they did not entirely lay here, they expelled it for certain to that other oubliette in the old fortress."
"Portia has referred to 'allies'," said Bromhead.
Portia set her cup down. "Lord Robert is not alone and what accompanies him empowers and feeds off of his rage."
"More than one," mused Travers. "I've begun to form a theory. Tell me what you think." He looked from Portia to Denis, both of whom nodded.
"To start with, Lord Robert's ghost has been here in Balgair all along," Travers said.
"I was wrong," said Portia, "about his presence being merely residual. Denis was right - that he lingered here, although he was aloof."
"It required provocation to bring him out," said Denis.
"That which came back from its exile in the other oubliette he needed also," said Denis, "for it empowered him."
Jeremy sat frowning all the while. "What if...?"
They looked at him.
Undaunted, Jeremy said, "What if the oubliette was not an oubliette after all? What if it was a chamber connected by tunnels with a similar chamber in Balgair?"
"There are no records of such tunnels," said Ellen.
"They may have collapsed long ago," said Portia, "before the 16th century."
"Closed to the Living, but to the Dead they remain open," said Denis. "They may come and go according to habit."
"Or whenever they need to," said Bromhead.
"So it is possible that when that entity was driven out, it merely went out to the other place and waited," said Ellen.
"Lurked is more likely," said Mona.
The outer door opened.
Troy's bold voice carried through first. "If you want, I CAN take you down there now."
"We're drooling at the prospect." Lawson stepped into the kitchen. "Good evening, Mrs. Molbride."
"Good evening, Mr. Lawson," she said.
Just inside the kitchen, he paused to motion to the two young men carrying their equipment cases. "You will remember Norham and Howsman. They are my resident experts at handling remains and archaeological forensics."
"We've been sorting out all of the bones from the oubliette this summer," said Norham.
"I've actually been cataloging the ephemera found with the bones. I've been busy dating things," said Howsman.
"It was good of you to come on such short notice," said Ellen. "Would you like coffee or tea before you get started?"
"We're fine for now, I think." Lawson exchanged quick looks with Norham and Howsman. "But I hope that won't prohibit us from begging for some later."
"Just let one of us know. It's going to be a long night, so someone should be able to help. Oh! And we are preparing some guest rooms for you for much later."
"Oh. Thank you. We appreciate it," said Lawson as Norham and Howsman bobbed their heads in agreement.
"Follow me then," said Troy.
They filed through the kitchen into the house. Andrew brought up the rear just in case he was needed.
Mona eyed the neat stacks of dishes and rather artful scattering of cups in the deep sink. "Andrew and I should stay too just in case."
"I was hoping you would say that." Ellen smiled. "Did you want to prepare one of the guestrooms?"
"No, but thank you. Considering how unquiet Balgair is likely to be tonight, I think we'll stay down in the old housekeeper's rooms." She jerked her thumb toward the glass paned door behind her. "We've never heard so much as a mouse scuttle down there."
"Make yourself at home then." Ellen placed more dishes in the sink.
"I should like to see Lady Mary." Travers pushed away from the table. "Coming?"
"Absolutely." Bromhead shot to his feet. "Coming, Jeremy?"
"I'd rather take my turn at the monitors."
Harpur shrugged. "Fine. I'll go and pay my respects to her Ladyship." He shoved his hands in his pockets and slumped off in the general direction of the Chapel. He did not look back to see how very swiftly Jeremy took his seat at the table. He didn't have to. The chair creaked abruptly enough.
Bromhead was still grinning and shaking his head as he caught up with Travers and Harpur.
"Should we go too?" said Denis.
Portia eyed the doorway the others had used. Then her gaze roved over the kitchen walls as though trying to locate a sound. She sighed at last. "I could use some fresh air. A quick march around Balgair's perimeters would do me some good. My head feels foggy."
Denis nodded. "Moi aussi. Allons-y."
At last only Ellen and Mona remained and they clung to every little sound of mortal activity that drifted back to them. Otherwise, that vast house would have oppressed them with its uneasy stillness.
"Aren't you going to have a look at Lady Mary?" Mona said.
"Oddly no. I think I prefer to remember her as I've seen her on her perpetual strolls, not as a corpse."
"Ah," Mona nodded.
"Let's get a start with the dishes, shall we?"
"Turn on the radio. I need sounds about me all of a sudden."
Mona crossed the room. There was a tiny 'click' and Schumann filled the corner.
"Turn it up please."
Schumann filled the room.
Ellen smiled and turned on the water.
"They have brought you into the light, my Lady." Brother Alfred stood gazing down into the crypt. From his vantage point the chapel's lights flowed past him to rest upon a shrouded figure.
Lady Mary stood opposite him. She gazed at the wide entrance, but not down into it. Instead, she held back, her hands pressed to her stomach. "After all this time...these many lost years, I am found," she whispered.
Lady Cecelia crept closer for a peek. "Oh!" she smiled. "I was afraid for a moment,but it seems that you are wrapped in an old brocade curtain."
"A curtain?!" She rushed to the edge for a look. "My fine French curtains? I brought them with me to our marriage bed. He knew how well I loved them."
"Perhaps that is why he used them for your shroud," said Brother Alfred carefully. In all those ages, he had never seen their gracious and grave Lady Mary lose her temper or become something other than melancholic. "What is a more fitting gesture than to wrap you in what you cherished?"
Lady Mary made an impatient sound. "My Lord Robert knew full well what he was about when he tore down my fine curtains for my winding sheet. My marriage restored to him his proper station in life and the estate to support his rank, and yet how little regard he held for Balgair itself. It was nought, but a possession to exploit. He cherished nought but his own ambitions and the fulfillment of them. My fate at his wrathful hands is fair proof of that."
"Those who unleashed this fresh misery upon us have returned, I see," Alfred said.
"Is it entirely proper for them to expose your remains to light?" said Cecelia.
"Whether t'is so or not, they are doing it." Lady Mary sighed.
Cecelia gazed about them and drew her wispy, memory of a shawl closer about herself. "Mr. Heaton and the rest - they have not returned."
Brother Alfred gazed off at the walls. "The pursuit continues...The battle has not yet begun."
Perry and Mahmoud leapt out of the right pew.
"Let us go find them and we shall report their progress," Perry said.
"You shall stay well out of it," said Lady Mary, sounding more commanding than usual. "The forces of darkness are voracious and I will not have you fall prey to it."
"Not Lord Robert nor his stinking cohort can harm us, my Lady," said Mahmoud.
"And yet the Living may fall victim to an attack," said Brother Alfred. "We may need the pair of you to act the harbinger of danger ere this night be done. Stay here that you may do a good service for goodness' sake itself."
"Stay we shall," said Perry as Mahmoud nodded.
Lady Cecelia wrung her hands. "What are they doing?"
"Undoing the knots it seems," said Brother Alfred. "This endeavor may take some time."
"After so many ages," said Lady Mary, "what matters a few hours more to any of us?"
Their vigil assumed a patient silence.
Farley hung up the bedroom phone. The intercom light went out. "Your Mum says Lawson brought two other men with him. They've all gone down to the crypts."
Cassandra finished adjusting the coverlet. "So, two more rooms then. Let's do the one across the hall and the one next door." She pointed toward the head board and the wall beyond it.
Farley nodded and took the room keys out of his pocket. Holding them snug against his palm kept the intrusive jingling to a minimum. Whenever they spoke to one another they kept their voices low whether from a desire not to disturb the silence or to avoid attracting any attention, neither could say. Perhaps both. Either way, the couple worked in efficient, nearly complete silence.
For their parts, Geoffrey and Wamba occupied themselves close by. Geoffrey explored the guestrooms' many drawers and cabinets. Wamba sniffed around, inspecting nearly every drawer and compartment the little boy explored.
Now and then, he pointed out some object and asked, "What's this?"
To which Cassandra would reply, "That's Great Aunt Thomasin's button box", or "Great Uncle Nicholas' spare shaving set", or a box of old letters", or "that's a diary, dear. Best put that away. Those secrets don't belong to you."
To which Geoffrey would reply, "Oh." And then his curiosity quest through the neglected drawers would resume.
As Farley and Cassandra prepared to leave the room, Geoffrey re-opened a particular drawer. "Mummy?"
"May I take the buttons with us? I want to look at them."
"Only if you promise to put them all back in the box."
"And don't let Wamba eat any of them," said Farley.
"Oh!" Geoffrey looked at the bright-eyed Corgi, who waited expectantly beside Farley. "I won't."
"Then you may bring the button box," said Cassandra.
Smiling brightly, Geoffrey took the elegant, old chocolate box out of the drawer and hurried after his parents. He clutched the box tightly to his chest when Wamba sniffed at it, intrigued by its ghostly aroma of sweets, eaten nearly a century ago, and of Great Aunt Thomasin's younger perfumed self.
"You can't have these, Wamba. They belong to Aunt Thomas." Geoffrey moved to the other side of his father and marched toward the next room, where his mother already stood, bed linens in her embrace.
Wamba followed him, sniffing at the subtle aroma trailing after box.
"Here." Farley pulled out the chair form the dressing table. "Play with the buttons here."
Geoffrey set the box atop the dressing table and clambered into the chair.
Wamba sighed and patrolled the guest room, sniffing out its memories too.
Farley and Cassandra drew back the dust sheet and carefully folded it between them.
"So, whose room was this?" Farley set the dust sheet aside and reached out to take the end of the bottom sheet from Cassandra.
Cassandra glanced around. Here and there stood or hung some object, silent memorials to past residents. It was hard to say however whether these objects belonged there or had been placed there to decorate otherwise unprepossessing chambers.
"Both rooms were Cousin rooms or Niece and Nephew rooms, excess relations, visiting relations, and as the direct family tree has dwindled over the past century, these rooms are for guests. No blood ties required to stay." She grinned at her husband.
"I could tell. These are the blandest rooms of the lot," said Farley. "They feel almost as generic as a hotel room, only more genuine."
"And scarcely haunted at all, which must be a blessing." Cassandra sighed and finished tucking in the bottom sheet and waved its end out for Farley to catch.
"Perhaps this is where we should stay the next time we stay for the night."
"We just might, but the plumbing could use some improvement."
"On second thought..." he grinned.
"Mummy, come look at this button. It's sparkly."
"Coming in a moment, sweetie. Set it aside for me."
"We mustn't forget to set out fresh towels in the bathrooms," said Farley.
"Right." She finished tucking the sheet in on her side and began smoothing out the sheet.
Farley stepped off to the side. "Excuse me, Wamba. Don't let me get in your way." He took up the folded blanket and shook it open.
Wamba took to bouncing up and down trying to catch the ends of it.
Farley chuckled and played with the Corgi while Cassandra finished smoothing out the sheet and folding it down.
"Mummy. I found a ring."
Farley and Cassandra exchanged looks.
"Oh?" said Farley. "Let us see it."
Geoffrey held it up high, higher, as far as his arm could stretch. "See it?"
"May I have it to show, Gran?" Cassandra held her hand out.
"Will Aunt Thomas mind?"
"No, dear. Great Aunt Thomasin won't mind. Now, show me that pretty button too." Cassandra held out the ring to Farley and gave him a meaningful look.
Farley's brows arched as he examined the ring too. "This is very old. Tudor period?"
"'Could be," she said. "My, that IS a sparkly button." She held it up to show Farley too. It too was old, although not quite as old as the ring.
"Where did Great Aunt Thomasin find her buttons?" said Farley.
"I'm beginning to wonder." Cassandra peered into the box. "She seems to have been quite the magpie."
"Wamba, that bed is not for you," said Farley.
The Corgi bounced toward him across the mattress.
"You're a handful, Wamba," said Cassandra. "We need three of you."
Geoffrey giggled. "Wamba's playing on the bed."
Farley scooped the squirming dog off the bed and set him on the floor beside Geoffrey's chair. The ring he handed back to Cassandra. "That's a signet ring of some sort."
"I want Lawson to see it and verify it's age." Cassandra pocketed it.
"He might be able to make out the engraving on the inside too."
She nodded. "Let's finish up. Mum needs to see Great Aunt Thomasin's button box."