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Authors: Marschel Paul

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The Spirit Room

BOOK: The Spirit Room
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THE SPIRIT ROOM

A NOVEL

 

MARSCHEL PAUL

 

Dryburgh Press

Seattle, WA USA

Ebook Editions

 

Wasteland Press

www.wastelandpress.net

Shelbyville, KY USA

 

The Spirit Room

by Marschel Paul

 

Copyright © 2013 Marschel Paul

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

First Printing – May 2013

ISBN: 978-1-60047-847-5 (Print)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2013904528

 

Cover designed by Phil Kovacevich

Cover Photograph: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division [Reproduction number LC-USZ62-110206 DLC]

eBook formatting by
ePubConversions.com

 

This is a work of fiction. While, as in all fiction, the literary perceptions and insights are based on experience, all names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

NO PART OF THIS BOOK MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM, BY PHOTOCOPYING OR BY ANY ELECTRONIC OR MECHANICAL MEANS, INCLUDING INFORMATION STORAGE OR RETRIEVAL SYSTEMS, WITHOUT PERMISSION IN WRITING FROM THE COPYRIGHT OWNER/AUTHOR

 

Table of Contents

 

Title Page

Dedication

BOOK I

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-One

Twenty-Two

Twenty-Three

Twenty-Four

Twenty-Five

Twenty-Six

Twenty-Seven

Twenty-Eight

Twenty-Nine

Thirty

Thirty-One

Thirty-Two

Thirty-Three

Thirty-Four

BOOK II

Thirty-Five

Thirty-Six

Thirty-Seven

Thirty-Eight

Thirty-Nine

Forty

Forty-One

Forty-Two

Forty-Three

Forty-Four

Forty-Five

Forty-Six

Forty-Seven

Forty-Eight

Forty-Nine

Acknowledgements

About the Author

For my Mother

 

and

 

For Margaret

 

BOOK I

One

 

1858

 

RIGHT AFTER MAMMA DROWNED, Papa took Izzie and her sister Clara aside and told them he was going to make them famous like the Fox sisters. He was going to turn them into mediums who could speak to the spirits and dazzle believers and non-believers alike. They might even become rich, he’d told them. Papa had always been a man of pipe dreams, but this was the first time she and Clara had been drafted to be part of them. Izzie knew that Mamma—if she were alive—would have never gone along.

 

It had only been a few weeks since Izzie had found Mamma floating face down, lodged between some rocks in the shallow water at Kashong Point. And here they were, waiting at the entry of an elegant brick house for Spiritualism lessons. Izzie stepped off the landing and took a few steps toward the street, away from Clara and Papa. The house was enormous—one in a long row of other enormous houses on Main Street, all perched high above Seneca Lake. Snowflakes began to drift down. Izzie held out her palm and captured one, then made a fist around it. She wondered how they were ever going to get through a long, cold northern winter, their first winter in Geneva, New York, and their first winter without Mamma.

 

“Look, Papa, it’s snowing,” Clara said and smiled up at him.

 

Clara was wearing Mamma’s black hooded cape. Izzie wasn’t quite used to seeing her in it yet. Mamma’s cape, but no Mamma.

 

“That’s right, Little Plum. Soon the sleighs will come out.” Papa rapped the doorknocker, harder this time.

 

Right then, a carriage jangled by, a runabout with its folding top down and a single dapple horse. A man in a stovepipe hat rode beside a woman in a ruby red wide-brimmed bonnet. The reins were in the woman’s hands. The man’s head tilted downward and bobbed. Something was wrong with him. Perhaps he was ill. Otherwise the woman wouldn’t be driving. Izzie wanted to be the one holding the reins of that smart new buggy so she could ride away, away from the lake—the smell of it, the dank of it, the very sight of it.

 

The door clicked open and there was a smiling woman of forty years or so in a blue, shimmering dress. She was hardly taller than Clara and even more wiry than Mamma had been. Izzie darted back up the steps to the landing.

 

“Are these your girls, Mr. Benton? I’m Mrs. Fielding, girls.” She clasped her thin hands at the base of her throat, where a brooch of red and blue stones was pinned to her collar. Her hair, pulled back neatly, had probably been a full red in earlier years, but was now pale, laced with silver.

 

“This is Clara, my thirteen-year-old daughter.” Papa held his hand over Clara’s head as though blessing her for the new undertaking. “She’s the beauty of the family and brimmin’ with talent.” He winked at Clara.

 

Clara grinned up at him like he was the sun and the moon rolled into one. That was far too much adoration, thought Izzie. She felt the urge to shake Clara and slap Papa at the same time.

 

“And this is Isabelle, my seventeen-year-old, the one I told you about, the one with the gift.” His flat hand hovered over her head.

 

She cringed. “Papa, there is no gift.”

 

The lines around Papa’s mouth twitched, though he didn’t speak.

 

Mrs. Fielding’s expression fell for the slightest moment, then returned to a gracious smile. “Well, girls, are you ready to learn to speak for the spirits?”

 

Pulling back her hood to reveal shiny brown hair, Clara nodded politely. But Izzie wasn’t ready to be polite.

 

“I’m not sure, Mrs. Fielding. It’s kind of you to offer us lessons, but we don’t know if spirit-speaking work is something we’re capable of. Besides, my mother always said it was something that should never be paid for.”

 

“Isabelle!” Papa snapped at her.

 

She braced herself for more, but Papa restrained himself.

 

Mrs. Fielding studied him a moment. “Your father told me about your mother’s passing. I am very sorry, dear.”

 

Fighting tears, Izzie looked down the street through the snow flurries, searching for the runabout with the woman driving, but it was long gone.

 

Papa nudged his spectacles up the bridge of his nose with a forefinger. Ordinarily he would have done a lot more than bark at her for speaking out like that, but he hadn’t been himself since Mamma died. Izzie couldn’t tell when he was going to rile and when he wasn’t. He was sure trying to make a good impression on Mrs. Fielding. He had just hired Adele Fielding, the renowned Spiritualist, to apprentice her and Clara for the week she was in town on her tour of New York State and New England. Papa said he had chosen her because she was well known and because she was from New York City. There were other mediums in Geneva, but he said, “Better to learn from an outsider. An outsider won’t get competitive later on if things get goin’ for you two. Maybe there’re even some angles to learn that the locals don’t know about.”

 

“Come in, come in,” Mrs. Fielding beckoned to Clara. “Mr. Benton, I’ll see you tonight at the séance?”

 

“You sure I can’t be in on the lessons?”

 

“Mediums only. I explained all that. You and I will speak privately later and you are welcome to observe my séances while I am in Geneva.”

 

Without waiting for Papa to say more, the short spry woman turned and led Izzie and Clara through a long hallway that stretched from the front door to the rear of the house. As they followed the sweeping bell of Mrs. Fielding’s blue taffeta dress, Izzie glanced back to see Papa waving goodbye and closing the front door.

 

“The house belongs to my dear friend, Mrs. Carr. She’s in Italy just now,” Mrs. Fielding said.

 

They passed large mirrors with gilded frames and oil paintings of ships and of stern-looking men. Every few feet there were oil lamp sconces with sparkling cut crystal glass dangling down like icicles.
A palace
, thought Izzie. They arrived at a large sitting room with tall bay windows looking out over Seneca Lake. In the middle of the room sat a large oval table dressed with a green cloth.

 

A young woman with black hair in coils, black eyebrows, a hint of a dark mustache, and wearing what was called a bloomer costume or reform dress—a short dress over baggy trousers tapered at the ankle—swept into the room.

 

“This is my assistant, Anna Santini.” Mrs. Fielding gestured toward Anna as she took a seat at the end of the table.

 

Clara jabbed her elbow into Izzie’s arm. “Nineteen since Ohio,” she said.

 

Anna laughed and approached them. “Nineteen what?”

 

“Clara counts all the bloomer reform dresses she sees.” Izzie felt a smile coming, but stopped herself. She needed to stay annoyed and skeptical all afternoon. If it took all week, she would find the perfect reason why she and Clara couldn’t become Spiritualists.

 

“The trousers do allow me to move more freely.” Anna gestured toward the oval table. “Here, please sit. I think the dress reform people are right. Have you ever tried it?”

 

Izzie shook her head as she headed for the nearest upholstered chair facing the lake. She peered out the bay windows at the water. The thought of Mamma out there in the night, alone and lost, wrenched her insides. Turning away from the lake-view chair, she instead took a seat with her back to the windows. Clara followed and sat near her.

 

As Anna took the seat she had avoided, Izzie looked her over. Anna was probably about her own age, sixteen or seventeen. Except for her very dark, mysterious features, she seemed sweet—almost ordinary. Could she truly talk to spirits?

 

Spreading her thin hands rather dramatically out on the table, Mrs. Fielding looked at Clara for a moment, then Izzie. “Girls, you are on the verge of being indoctrinated into a new religion. This is a profoundly serious undertaking.” Her voice was strong without being loud. “We have no churches with tall spires, nor altars, nor shrines.” She paused, then thumped the table with her palms. “We have God—eternity, truth, and everlasting life and love.” Blue eyes aglow like a clear morning sky, she stared deep into Izzie’s eyes, then Clara’s for a long and painful amount of time. It was as though she was planting seeds, then patting the loose soil down.

 

Finally, Mrs. Fielding took a deep breath and began to tap her fingers on the table in double-quick time. It was going to be a long afternoon and far more complicated than Izzie had expected. Tricks making bells ring, tables knock and instruments play music in the dark were one thing. Religion was another.

 

Clara squirmed in her chair. She was surprised too, thought Izzie. Suddenly Mrs. Fielding bolted up and thrust her hands toward the chandelier.
Oh, Lawk-a-mercy. What now?

 

“Sacred.” Mrs. Fielding glared at them. “Sacred, girls. That’s what this work of communicating with the spirit realm is.” She strode around the table and stood directly behind Izzie, then pressed both hands firmly on her shoulders, forcing her down deeper into her chair. Clara looked fixated. “And because it is sacred, those of us who are the messengers have a divine role, a role…” Mrs. Fielding pressed harder still. It seemed she was going to plunge her right through the chair and onto the floor. “A role to be taken as radiant, as pure.”

 

Then, finally, the pressure on Izzie’s shoulders lightened.

 

“Before I teach you girls to speak for the spirits, who are dearly longing to be with us, you must swear yourselves to secrecy. Once you learn the lessons I have to teach you, you will join a new family of mediums and believers. This new family has rules. No… laws.”

BOOK: The Spirit Room
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