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Authors: Elizabeth Mansfield

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There was threatening rattle of chains, but the candle remained swinging through the air in an arc-like motion.

“Very well, then,” Nell said firmly. Grasping the pitcher in both hands, she crossed in her bare feet to the window enclosure. She reached out a hand to fling open the sheer curtains when a hideous wail stayed her. The sound made her courage flag, although it did not altogether fail. Without pulling back the curtains, she tossed the contents of the pitcher directly at the candle. To her astonishment, the flame remained lit. It was as if the candle were an illusion through which the water passed without effect. “Good God!” she gasped and backed away.

“Aha!” came a low, triumphant voice. “You
are
frightened after all!”

“I … I am
not
!” Nell declared. “It seems that you
can
speak, then.”

“When I wish,” the voice said.

“Well, then, I want you to know that I'm not in the least frightened. This is all some sort of trick.”

“I can
see
that you're frightened,” the ghost insisted.

“Oh?
Can
you see me?” Nell asked curiously, taking a step forward. “I didn't know whether or not ghosts can see—especially in candle form.”

“Of course I can see you. Quite clearly,” the ghost said in a matter-of-fact tone. “You are standing barefoot on this cold floor. Your right hand is clenched rather nervously at your side. And your nightcap's askew.”

Nell's hand flew to her cap. It had slipped over her left ear. Tossing a challenging glance in the direction of the candle, she set the cap on her head firmly. “There, is that better? You know, you are quite a
rudesby
to spy on a girl in her nightclothes.”

“Nonsense,” came a prompt answer, the voice quite unghostly and with an unmistakable touch of amusement lurking in it. “Such things don't matter to
us
, you know.”

“Well, they matter to
me
!” she said, pattering back to the nightstand and replacing the pitcher.

“Then why don't you hop back under the covers?” the ghost advised.

“No, I shan't. This nightgown covers me well enough.”

The ghost chortled wickedly. “We apparitions have very good eyesight, you know. We can see through walls.”

“What—?
Oh!
” Nell gasped, looking down at her thin linen gown in horror. Without another word, she dived for the bed and drew the coverlet up to her neck. The ghost seemed to be struggling to keep back a very human laugh. “You needn't laugh,” she said, putting her chin up defiantly, “for I don't believe a
word
of what you're saying. Come now, be honest. Tell me who you are! I shan't call the magistrates if you're straight with me.”

The voice became sepulchral. “I am the spirit of the late Harry D'Espry, smuggler and thief, born on the twelfth day of March, 1645, and died of sword wounds on the third of October, 1669.”

“Died so young!” Nell said mockingly. “How sad! And have you been haunting this place ever since?”

There was an affirmative moan.

“Oh, dear,” sighed Nell, “are you resorting to that dreadful moan again? What a pity!”

“You must go-o-o-o!” the voice said in a low, breathy wail.

“Why must I go?” she asked reasonably.

“This a place of danger!” he said in a frightening monotone. “You must go-o-o-o-o!”

“I'm not a bit frightened, Mr. D'Espry. And I intend to remain right here.”

The candle began to swing crazily. “You must go-o-o-o!” the low voice insisted.

“Stop swinging that candle, you fool!” Nell said, alarmed.

But the light had disappeared. Nell peered into the sudden darkness. “Mr. D'Espry? Mr. D'Espry? Are you there?”

The answer came from a long way off. “You must go-o-o-o-o!” The voice wailed and faded away.

Nell jumped out of bed, lit her own candle and stared at the window alcove. She could see nothing behind the white curtains. Taking a deep breath, she moved carefully toward them. Bravely drawing them aside, she raised her candle and looked around. The heavy window drapes were drawn just as she had left them, but she opened them anyway. The window was firmly latched. There was no sign of anything at all out-of-the-way, except for the puddle of water on the floor. She carefully scrutinized the panels of the thick walls, but they offered no clue. With a shrug and sigh, she pattered back to her bed. This time she left her candle burning. She reviewed and reviewed the entire conversation with the “ghost,” but sleep overtook her before she could make any sense of the incident.

While the rest of the household still slept, Mrs. Penloe carried his lordship's breakfast tray up the back stairs. She found him dressed in his riding breeches, waiting only for his breakfast before taking off on his morning ride. “Be 'ee set on ridin' today?” she asked in concern. “What if one o' the ladies should see 'ee?”

Lord Thorne felt no anxiety on that score. “No one will see me. London ladies are not known to rise before ten in the morning,” he said cheerfully. “Besides, I'll stay close to the edge of the cliffs. Caceres and I are not likely to be noticed if we stay so far away from the house.”

Mrs. Penloe took due note of his cheerful tone. She set down the tray and poured out a cup of steaming coffee for him. “Did your ghost do 'ee some good last night?” she asked hopefully.

He shook his head. “I'm afraid you were quite right about Miss Belden,” he said, taking his place at the table. “She's an intrepid girl. I think it will take some doing to dislodge her. We'd better accustom ourselves to having them around for a while.”

Mrs. Penloe stared at him in surprise. He seemed not only resigned to the invasion of his privacy—he was almost
cheerful
about it! Could it be that the challenge of frightening the visitors from the premises was a source of entertainment for him? Perhaps the presence of visitors—especially a young and pretty one—was a pleasant change from the boredom of the life he'd been living. For the first time, it occurred to Mrs. Penloe that the invasion of the Thorne ladies into their lives might not be a very bad thing after all. Her lips twitched in an almost invisible smile. “Very pretty little creature, Miss Belden be,” she remarked casually, keeping her eyes fixed on his lordship's face.

“Mmmm,” he assented noncommittally, absorbed in his breakfast.

Wisely, she said no more on the subject. She would watch and see. It promised to be a very interesting time.

Chapter Six

N
ELL WOKE ABRUPTLY
that morning, as if some noise had sounded in her ears, but she did not know what it could have been. The room was absolutely still; no sound disturbed the early morning hush. A sudden recollection of the ghost-visit of the night before flashed into her mind. Was he back? She sat up and looked toward the window. There was no sound or sign of movement behind the white curtains—there was only a bit of pale sunlight which had crept in through a break in the drapes and painted itself on the curtains in a narrow stripe of light. Nell jumped out of bed, ran to the window and flung back the curtains. There was nothing at all out-of-the-way. The noise that had awakened her was probably something from a dream.

She opened the drapes to let the light in and stood gazing out at the grounds that stretched away from the manorhouse toward the distant cliffs. Through the morning haze she thought she saw a glint of the sea beyond. As she watched, she became aware of something moving along the cliffs. It was a horse, galloping at a good pace. From this distance if seemed to be dangerously close to the edge of the cliffs. Nell had no doubt that the large, sinewy animal was Caceres. She could not make out the rider clearly, but she was sure it was neither Will Penloe nor Jemmy. The rider appeared to be taller than either of them, and although she could not from this distance be certain, she thought he had dark hair. Before they disappeared from view, she received the distinct impression that the powerful horse was being guided by a rider of remarkable grace and strength.

Nell yearned to jump into her riding habit and make for the stables, but she didn't want to leave the house before seeing Amelia. She could not bring herself to waken Amelia, however, for the poor dear was evidently enjoying the first restful sleep she had had since leaving London. Nell found the wait unbearably long. Amelia did not make an appearance until the morning was well advanced. She found Nell pacing about the morning room impatiently. “Good morning, love,” Amelia said cheerily, kissing Nell's cheek affectionately. “Have you been waiting long?”

“I've been up for hours! You must have slept well.”

“Like a top. I'm quite refreshed, I'm pleased to admit. All I need to make me completely content is a cup of tea. But why did
you
not sleep well?” She stared at Nell in sudden alarm. “Heavens, I completely forgot! Did the ghost make an appearance? Oh, my dear, is
that
what drove you from your bed so early?”

“Oh, no,” Nell assured her, “I slept quite well. It's only that I'm eager to try the little mare I saw in the stables yesterday.”

“Are you sure?” Amelia asked, searching Nell's face closely. “You saw or heard nothing at all strange?”

Nell urged Amelia into a chair and poured a cup of tea for her. “I believe you
want
me to have seen your ghost,” she said, laughing. “You look almost crestfallen.”

Amelia smiled wanly. “I suppose I do. But it's only because I wish that you'd believe me when I tell you that I
really
saw him.”

Nell patted the old lady's hand sympathetically. “I know you did, my dear. You see, your ghost
did
pay me a visit last night.”

“Nell!
Truly
?” Amelia put down her cup with a shaking hand and stared at Nell with an expression that combined alarm with a bit of self-satisfaction.

Nell laughed. “Truly. I saw and heard it all—the candle held by an unseen hand, the chains clanking, everything. I even
spoke
to him!”

Amelia gasped. “You
didn't
! You're trying to flummery me.”

“Not at all,” Nell said seriously. “He spoke to me. He said he is the ghost of a Mr. D'Espry, a smuggler who died in … when did he say? … 1669.”

“Oh, Nell, how dreadful!” She stood up so precipitously that her chair fell over. “My dear, we must leave at once. We shan't spend another moment in this awful place!”

Nell rose, picked up Amelia's chair and gently urged her to sit down again. “Calm yourself, dearest, please. Nothing has occurred to cause us to feel the least perturbation.”

“Nothing has occurred? Are you quite demented? Do you want to remain in a house that's
haunted
?”

“Yes, I do. Very much. I've not been so entertained since I was a child and my governess told me that Queen Katherine haunts a gallery at Hampton Court.”

“Hampton Court? What nonsense!” Amelia declared, looking at Nell suspiciously.

“My governess did not think it nonsense. She claimed with great seriousness that poor Katherine comes shrieking through the haunted gallery with alarming regularity, wearing a white, flowing gown and a splendid jeweled hood and begging Henry for her life.”

“Really, Nell, you cannot believe such a farrago of nonsense.”

“Of course I don't. Any more than I believe in the ghost of Mr. D'Espry,” Nell said pointedly.

Amelia blinked at her in perplexity. “But … you
saw
him … and
spoke
to him …?”

“I saw
something
and spoke to
someone
, but I don't for a moment believe him to be a ghost.”

“Then who—?”

“I don't know. But I have a theory,” Nell said mysteriously.

Amelia leaned forward eagerly. “What is it, my dear? Tell me, please, or I shall imagine the most dreadful things.”

“Well,” Nell said, lowering her voice carefully, “I'm convinced that someone is living in this house who shouldn't be. And the Penloes are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.”

Amelia's eyebrows came up in surprise. “Someone who
shouldn't
be? But who—?”

“I have no idea. But suppose that some relative of the Penloes—a younger brother of Will's or his wife's, perhaps—has been living here on the Thornes' largesse, eating food provided from the funds allotted for the upkeep of the house, sleeping in one of the bedrooms, using the Thorne stables as his own, and doing all these things without our family's permission. And suppose this has been going on for
years
. Then we happen along and upset the whole scheme. Wouldn't they want to frighten us off before we see for ourselves that they've been
embezzling
?”


Embezzling
!” Amelia was scandalized. “But … the Penloes don't seem to be the sort of people who would stoop to such dishonesty,” she objected.

“Embezzlers never
seem
to be dishonest,” Nell declared with the confidence of a complete lack of experience. “That's how they succeed in their odious plots.”

“You may be right,” Amelia murmured, stirring her tea absently. “But, my dear, I must admit than I don't feel any safer in this house with embezzlers that I do with ghosts! What shall we do now? Confront them with this information?”

“No, I don't think so. We haven't any
real
information, you see. Only a completely unsubstantiated theory of mine. I think we should keep this to ourselves. We'll watch carefully until we can
prove
what we say.”

Amelia shook her head. “I cannot like this situation. Knowing that there's a strange man lurking about makes me extremely nervous. Why don't we return to London and tell Charles the whole story? Let
him
come here and straighten it all out.”

BOOK: The Phantom Lover
12.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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