[op_liveeditor_element data-style=””][text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left”]Ginger bought tickets for a private first-class compartment made from polished mahogany and lit with shiny brass lanterns. The seats were upholstered in olive-green though Ginger wouldn’t have minded if the padding was a tad thicker.
Haley, comfortable in her customary tweed suit, sat across from Ginger, her nose tucked in a medical textbook. Boss was curled in a ball on Ginger’s lap, snoring softly. The gentle rocking of the carriage had lulled the small dog to sleep in minutes.
Haley nibbled on the tip of a strand of curly dark hair which had escaped its faux bob, a bad habit Ginger had scolded her for on more than one occasion.
“Why don’t you get your hair cut properly?” Ginger said.
Haley snorted. “With curls like this? It would be a nightmare to manage. I’d look like a chimney broom.”
Ginger’s gaze returned to the passing landscape before her, pastoral scenes of open fields dotted with farmhouses and small villages comprising of red brick houses.
The whistle blew, casting a billow of grey smoke across the moody autumn sky. Soon they would arrive. A wave of anxiety washed over Ginger and she placed her perfectly manicured fingers over her chest. Similar to when she had arrived at Hartigan House, Ginger braced herself to face the memories of her late husband, Daniel. The last time she’d visited Bray Manor, she’d been with him.
The train slowed as it chugged into the station.
“Bossy,” she said as she clipped his leash onto his leather collar. “We’re here.”
The train came to a stop, and Haley snapped her book shut and stuffed it into her handbag.
“Interesting reading?” Ginger asked.
“ABO blood groups. Scientists are learning a lot about blood analysis now.”
“That is interesting.” Standing, Ginger smoothed out her autumn jacket, adjusted her hat and pushed one side of her short bob behind her ear.
Ginger hired a porter to remove the suitcases and hat boxes from the overhead racks. The doors to the platform opened and they stepped off into a small crowd of travellers, some going and some coming.
“I’ll wave down a taxicab,” Haley said, arm extended. A rickety black motorcar, at least a decade older than the taxicabs in London and barely more than a horse carriage on wheels, stopped in front with a skid and a wake of dust.
The porter and the driver each opened a rear door allowing Ginger and Haley to climb in and then tied up the luggage in the back. Ginger leaned forward and instructed, “Bray Manor, please.”
The shock absorbers of the old taxicab were in need of repair, and the ride through Hertfordshire was bumpy. Ginger doubted the old thing even had inflatable tyres.
In the distance, cows and flocks of sheep dotted the low-lying hillsides. The darkening skies opened, wetting the road. Worn wipers scratched across the windscreen.
Eventually, they turned a corner, and Bray Manor came into view. The massive stone structure stretched out along green gardens. The rain darkened the red roof. Several chimneys belched smoke. The hooded attic windows bulged like watchful, sinister eyes.
Haley shivered. “I think I believe Ambrosia now.”
“It’s much less ominous looking in the summer,” Ginger said.
The taxicab driver parked near the entrance. Ginger paid him and then, with Boss in her arms, hurried out of the rain to the front door and rang the bell. A five-tone chime could be heard, and the wooden door soon opened to a serious-faced bald-headed butler on the other side.
Ginger didn’t recognize the man. He was new since she’d been here last.
“Hello, I’m Lady Gold. Dowager Lady Gold is expecting me.”
“Of course, madam,” the butler said. “Do come in.”
A damp Haley followed, rain dripping from her hat brim. The butler’s lips twitched in barely concealed disapproval.
Bray Manor was vast, making Hartigan House feel like a doll’s house in comparison. Felicia’s voice echoed as she crossed over to her new guests.
“Oh, Ginger, you made it! I’m so glad you’re here!”
Felicia Gold was what the rags called a “bright young thing.” Just twenty-one, her skin was porcelain smooth, and her straight-cut chiffon dress shimmered with the kind of energy that Ginger missed. Felicia had a teardrop-shaped face with eyes that reminded Ginger of Daniel, without, of course, the dramatic eye shadow and mascara Felicia wore.
Ginger embraced her sister-in-law. “It’s good to be here.”
“And Boss came, too,” Felicia said, patting the dog on the top of his small head. “Perhaps you can sniff out our poltergeist.” Boss let out an agreeable whimper and licked the top of Felicia’s hand.
Felicia turned to Haley. “Nice to see you again, Miss Higgins. So good of you to come.”
“It’s a pleasure,” Haley replied.
Turning to her butler, Felicia instructed, “Wilson, do take Lady Gold and Miss Higgins’ things to their rooms.”
Wilson began hauling Haley’s suitcase and Ginger’s bags upstairs. A second trip would be necessary, perhaps even a third.
“Grandmama is in the drawing room,” Felicia said, waving for them to follow her. “She’s just dying to tell you all about the ghost.”
“Do you actually think Bray Manor is haunted, Felicia?” Ginger asked.
“Logically, no. But this old place is so dreary, especially when the weather is poor. The way the wind whistles through the windows, it’s easy to let the imagination go wild.”
The drawing room was lost in the Victorian era. Thick curtains framed tall windows, a lush Turkish carpet—immediately claimed by Boss—sat on the wooden floor in front of an elaborately designed fireplace. Plush furniture with smooth, curving wood trim encircled a long oval tea table. Wallpaper, in a green and gold geometric design was covered, ceiling to floor, with framed paintings of various sizes. It hadn’t changed in ten years.
As if Ginger had stepped into the past, Daniel was there, sitting in the chair with the pincushion back, the legs of his well-pressed tuxedo suit crossed languidly, a pipe gripped with one confident hand. Ginger remembered that they had dressed for a hoity-toity event with the Duke and Duchess of Berkhamstead, and how Daniel’s jaw had grown slack when she entered, his eyes glistening with pleasure as he took her in.
“Mrs. Georgia Gold, the most beautiful of women.”
Ginger had smiled at the use of her new legal name. She’d shed Georgia Hartigan that summer of 1913 when they wed. Ginger was a pet name given to her by her mother.
“Oh, Georgia. Thank goodness you’re here.”
Ginger snapped back to the present. An elderly white-haired woman in a high-collar blouse and a brown, floor-length velvet skirt, sat on the edge of a green, velour high-back chair. Her brass-top walking stick was propped up beside her. She wrung a white lace handkerchief between wrinkly, aged-spotted hands. Ambrosia often reverted to the use of Ginger’s Christian name when she was wound up.
“Hello, Grandmother,” Ginger said.
The older woman didn’t waste a moment for pleasantries. “I just can’t bear it any longer. Not only are strangers continually underfoot, now this. A poltergeist! I’m barely mistress of my own home!”
Ginger and Haley sat on the settee.
“Oh, hello Miss Higgins,” Ambrosia said as an afterthought. She didn’t share Ginger’s enthusiasm in bringing the lower classes into their confidences, especially foreigners.
“Hello, Lady Gold.”
Felicia rang the bell and ordered tea.
“Strangers underfoot?” Ginger asked. “What do you mean by that?”
“I’ll explain,” Felicia said as she sat in the vacant chair next to her grandmother. “As you know, Bray Manor has been under considerable financial difficulties.” Felicia kept her gaze averted at these words. Everyone in the room knew that Hartigan money had been keeping Bray Manor afloat since Ginger married Daniel. And Ginger had been reticent to pour more of her inheritance into what appeared to be a perpetual money pit.
“Well,” Felicia continued with a smile, this time locking her gaze on Ginger, “I came up with a plan. Bray Manor is a large dwelling with many unused rooms—why not rent them out? A short advertisement in the local paper produced many takers. In fact we now have three associations that meet regularly; the knitters’ circle, the stamp collectors, and a gardeners’ association.”
Ginger was impressed with Felicia’s ingenuity. “What an ingenious idea,” she said.
Ambrosia knocked her walking stick on the floor. “It is not an ingenious idea. It’s sordid and dreadfully humiliating. If we’re that hard up, we should just let the place out and move elsewhere.”
“Grandmama,” Felicia said with a tinge of impatience. Ginger had no doubt the two of them had discussed this topic ad nauseam. “We’ve tried that. No one wants a big house like this.”
Ambrosia snorted and stared out of the window. “Still, I can barely raise my head in public. It’s like living in a museum with strangers plodding along, staring, and making comment. On my things.”
“We’re no longer in Victorian times, Grandmama,” Felicia said, her tone haughty. “We live in the modern world now. Scandals are perfectly screaming.”
Ambrosia huffed. Ginger found it interesting that Ambrosia had let Felicia go ahead with her plans. As the matriarch, she could’ve stopped her granddaughter if she really wanted to. Ginger grinned. The dowager always liked to put on a good show.
“Next we’ll be letting out Livingston Lake,” Ambrosia muttered. “Every Tom, Dick an Harry cluttering the jetty.”
Haley followed Ambrosia’s gaze. “Jetty as in a dock? Is there a lake nearby?”
Ginger motioned to the long narrow windows. “There’s a rather large pond out the back.”
Ambrosia twittered. “It’s a small lake. Bray Manor does not have a pond.”
Ginger smirked at Haley. “My mistake. There is a rather small lake out the back.”
Haley strolled to the closest window and peered outside. “I see. How fortunate.”
“Renting out the lake is a splendid idea, Grandmama,” Felicia said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “That would be one way to get the men together. I could invite my single female friends over and we could ‘fish’ for husbands.”
“Such cheek!” Ambrosia said. “See what I put up with, Georgia? An insolent child and strangers in my home.”
“Come now, Grandmama,” Felicia said. “You find it convenient, too.” To Ginger and Haley she explained, “Grandmama is a member of the knitting circle. They meet here at Bray Manor.”
Ambrosia harrumphed. “One has to do something to keep occupied. Besides the parish is damp and draughty. My joints ache when I’m there, and quite frankly, I don’t enjoy the smell.”
The maid returned with a tea tray in hand and placed it on the elegantly engraved sideboard. Starting with Ambrosia, she delivered cups of tea one by one. She then put a plate of biscuits on the low table the women encircled before leaving them once again.
Ginger sipped her tea and placed the cup on its matching saucer. “So tell me about this ghost, Grandmother.”
“It’s quite dreadful,” Ambrosia said. Her teacup rattled against the saucer. “My nerves are shattered.”
“Things . . .” Felicia hesitated. “Small things began to go missing.”
“Theft?” Haley asked.
“I thought so at first, but then the items would turn up again, but in places where they don’t belong. Like flower arrangements in the cloakroom. Framed pictures off the wall and on the floor. The staff are quite flustered.”
Ginger frowned. “It sounds to me as if one of them is having fun at your expense.”
“They wouldn’t!” Ambrosia insisted. “My servants are loyal.”
Felicia nodded. “I tend to agree with Grandmama. I just can’t imagine any one of them stooping to do such a frightful prank.”
“Any new staff members since you started renting rooms out?” Ginger asked.
“That would quite defeat the purpose of earning money,” Ambrosia said, sitting stiff in her chair. “The staff is capable of cleaning one or two extra rooms.”
“What about Wilson?” Ginger asked. “How long has he been with you?”
“Wilson’s been the butler here for six years,” Felicia said. “Our previous butler fell ill.”
“When did the ‘poltergeist’ start to manifest?” Haley asked. “Would it be around the time the associations began meeting here?”
“There is a corresponding coincidence,” Felicia said.
“Does the ghost strike on the same day of the week?” Ginger asked.
“No, that’s the strange thing,” Felicia said. “I made a note of it, myself. I wondered if a member of one of the associations was involved, but it seemed to happen on any given day.”
“I’d like to see the membership lists,” Ginger said.
“I thought you would.” Felicia walked to the sideboard, opened the top middle drawer and removed a file. “This has the names and addresses of all association members meeting at Bray Manor and telephone numbers for those who have a telephone.”
Ginger accepted the file. “I’ll take a look at this later. When is the next association meeting?”
“Tonight,” Felicia said. “The Knitters’ Club. They meet every Friday.”
“And the other associations?” Ginger asked.
“The stamp collectors on Tuesdays. The gardeners on Wednesdays. Oh, and, this is so exciting!” Felicia shook her shoulders and smiled with enthusiasm. “We are hosting a charity dance tomorrow night, here at Bray Manor. You’ll still be here for it, won’t you?”
“It’s to raise money for the Croft Convalescent Home,” Felicia’s eyes sparkled. “To help those poor soldiers who’ve returned to Hertfordshire with grave handicaps. Give them a leg up and that sort of thing.”
“We were going to catch the evening train,” Ginger said. “I have my shop, and Haley has her studies.”
“Oh, too bad,” Felicia said slyly. “I’ve been walking out with someone. I thought it would be fun to introduce you.”
“Walking out?” Ginger said. “With a gentleman?”
“Perhaps we can meet him earlier?” Ginger said.
“Oh no,” Felicia said with a glint in her eye. “If you want to meet him, you’ll have to come to the dance.”
“Grandmother,” Ginger said. “Do you know who your granddaughter is talking about?”
“No,” Ambrosia said, her expression sour. “The child won’t tell me. Young people these days are simply outrageous. I’d never have dreamed of behaving in such a disrespectful manner in my day.”
“Well,” Ginger said, her curiosity piqued. “I do love to dance. And it does sound like a great cause, doesn’t it Haley?”[/text_block][/op_liveeditor_element]