A Spirited Affair
"I called on you this afternoon, but the butler would not admit me," a young lady whispered to her companion as they took a turn about Lady Loudon's ballroom. "Your household seemed in uproar."
"We are to leave town tomorrow!" Miss Olivia Wilmington wailed. "All because Cartwright caught me kissing Lord Overstreet..." The two giggled over that, a reaction that would have horrified Sir Terrence Cartwright, Olivia's guardian.
"How horrid!" the other girl, Miss Jocelyn Paxton, cried. "Will you return?"
"Without a doubt! Cartwright is my guardian for one month more, and then I shall have control of my own life and funds. I shall hire a decent chaperone and enjoy what is left of the season, accept Lord Overstreet and retire from the marriage mart with a smug smile, a wedding band and the title of countess."
Her companion gave her a smile that spoke of her supreme confidence that life would order itself to fit her friend's plans. It always did. "Do not look now," she said, digging an elbow into Olivia's side. "Here comes Lord Overstreet!"
Olivia's hand flew to her hair, but she merely tugged on a small golden curl, wet her lips and held out a hand, a smile in her hazel eyes.
"Well met, Miss Paxton, Miss Wilmington," he said, bowing to them both and bringing Olivia's outstretched hand to his lips. "You are not in too much trouble?" he asked her in a low voice.
"Terrible trouble," she confessed with an impenitent smile. "We are leaving for Cartwright Court in the morning. However, he is only my keeper for another month. After that, I shall return for the remainder of the season." With a very lenient chaperone.
"I await your return, Miss Wilmington. Until then, my heart will be heavy and the season dull."
Olivia and Miss Paxton sighed as one.
"Sir Terrence!" Jocelyn suddenly gasped. "Headed this way!"
Lord Overstreet bowed and melted into the crush of people around them, leaving Olivia and her friend to face the other gentleman with innocent expressions. These they had learned at Miss Malvern's Academy for Select Young Women, that horrid place her Cousin Terrence had packed her off to almost as soon as he had become her guardian several years before. The fact that she had just lost her father had done nothing to recommend him further.
Now, if he had sent her away so that he might enjoy a gay London lifestyle unencumbered by a young cousin, thrice removed, that she could understand. Is that not what young men did, after all? No, he had placed her in an idiotic school so that he could tend to business. Business!
As his secretary had explained before shipping her off to Bath, "Sir Terrence is heavily involved in his estates and his investments, as well as in the running of your own considerable holdings."
Pompous asses, the pair of them! That belief had been compounded when Cousin Terrence finally decided to bring her to London for the Season, no doubt to marry her off and be done with her.
But she had practically betrothed herself to Lord Overstreet and now she had to rusticate in Sussex? They did not even live close enough to Brighton to take benefit of that seaside town's delights. To make matters worse, her recent chaperone had been sacked and she was to repair to the country with a Miss Markham, a tall, angular woman who dressed in black and looked more like a jailor than a companion. It was not to be borne!
"Write to me!" Olivia whispered to Jocelyn before sending her off. No need to drag her best friend into this private war.
"You are ready to leave, Cousin Olivia," her guardian said. It was not a question.
Olivia looked him over. He would be a good catch if he was not so stuffy. This evening, he was in stark black and white evening clothes, dark blonde hair gleaming in the candlelight. Blue eyes the color of a summer sky would have been attractive were they not glaring at her. He was tall, taller than even Lord Overstreet, whom Olivia would have liked more if he would only tower over her like Cousin Terrence did.
"Yes." It was useless to argue and Miss Olivia Wilmington, diamond of the first water, toast of the Season and belle of every ball, did not make scenes.
They left the party, but on their way home, he turned to her. "I do not approve of your recent behavior with Lord Overstreet, however, that is not the only reason we are rusticating in the middle of the Season."
"No?" Olivia did not care, actually, and replied only so that he could not add ‘rudeness' to her current list of sins.
"I am considering marriage, Cousin, and I thought this would be a good chance for you to get to know my prospective bride better. She and her mother are to come down to Sussex in two week's time and stay for a fortnight."
"Marriage?" Olivia asked. "How extraordinary. Pray tell, who is the lucky lady?"
Olivia flew up from where she slouched in the seat. "What?"
Pamela Chastain was the bane of Olivia's existence. If two men hovered over Olivia at a ball, Miss Chastain must needs attract four. If Olivia's new gown had several flounces around the hem, Pamela's would be seen next with at least twice that number. Olivia had even taken to wearing her pelisses inside out and stuffed birds on her bonnets, watching with amusement as her rival sported wrong-sided pelisses with pockets added, no less, and hats with more than one dead pigeon on top. :D
"I know you do not like Miss Chastain. She told me so herself."
"She is not a bosom beau, of course..." Olivia prevaricated.
"Perhaps she will get the chance to become one now that you two will be cousins."
Olivia inwardly groaned and slouched back against the squabs. Why me?
"What are you doing?"
Daisy, in her never-ending quest to terrorize the maids, was sticking out of the top of the dining room table. "What do you think?" she asked her companion, Sir Augustus. "Will it startle them?"
"Only if you pop up through the pineapples," he drawled. "I should rather hang from the chandelier."
"I tried that," she replied with a pout. "The sunlight was coming in from a wrong angle and they could not see me at all!"
"Rotten luck. Have you tried showing up as their reflection in mirrors?" he asked in a clinical tone.
"I did that once. Unfortunately, the maid was a footman and he was startled, but he thought it was just one of the girls standing behind him."
"I recall they were both sacked later for paying too much attention to each other."
Daisy sighed. "I cannot win!" She had been personal maid to a guest in this house one hundred years before and considered it her goal in death to scare her living peers.
Sir Augustus Cartwright had been a contemporary, but it had taken years of co-existence on their own astral plane for them to consider themselves equal. Now that they did, Sir Augie, as Daisy called him, was full of suggestions on how she should conduct herself in the household. Her attempts at haunting amused him.
"If only Sir Terrence were not so stodgy," she said for the thousandth time. "Your great-great-whatever nephew is most dull and practical. If he would hire servants with a bit more imagination, we might enjoy ourselves more."
"It's a pity the maids listen to Mrs. Hodges more than they do you. I would not mind running a few of them off, myself."
Daisy laughed with delight. "I've heard Sir Terrence is headed home from London."
"In the middle of the season?" Sir Augustus was horrified.
"Hard to believe," Daisy agreed. "I hear tell a room is to be prepared for the young lady, as well." They were nosy spirits and had heard of Miss Wilmington, even though she had never been to Cartwright Court.
"You don't say..."
"What are you thinking?" Daisy asked suspiciously.
"She's a young chit -- bound to be scared witless when confronted by one of us."
"Then do it," Daisy prompted.
"It would be improper for me," Sir Augustus said stiffly. "She is family, by marriage, at least."
"I will think about it, then," Daisy suddenly said. "After all, the maids are as practical as their master. And don't get me started on that man of business of his!" Perhaps someone a bit more flighty would be fun to scare. Or at least startle. "I will think about it," she repeated, pouting once more as a maid walked into the room, straightened the epergne holding the pineapples and walked off without batting an eyelash.
"I think they all get together every night and repeat ‘there are no such things as ghosts,' over and over!" Daisy said in disgust.
The next day, Daisy was looking out the window as the Cartwright carriage arrived.
"Ooooh!" she exclaimed to Sir Augie, who was pretending to be nonchalant about this entire business as he floated hazily above a chest of drawers. "She is a beauty! Golden curls, a pretty figure and the smallest of noses... All dolled up in pink, too," she reported. "Looks like a rosebud, she does."
"Do tell..." the baronet's spirit drawled. "I suppose she is a cheerful gel, as well?"
"Actually," Daisy said, looking back down at the girl, "she appears angry. I wonder what could have upset her? Shall we go down and have a peek?" She squeaked in surprise as the young lady, sensing someone watching, looked up at the window and stared.
"She saw me!"
"Is that not what you hoped for?"
"Yes, but not so soon! Now I truly need to go down and see what is happening."
"Patience, child," Augie counseled. "If the young lady is upset, she will not stay long in my nevvy's company. We shall see her here anon."
He was correct. The stony-faced housekeeper, Mrs. Hodges, escorted her up to the room, followed by what Daisy could only call a ‘keeper.' The two sour-faced women quickly left her to her own devices. Those devices turned out to be a temper tantrum followed by a storm of weeping.
"Now, now, that's enough of that," Daisy finally said, seeing the pained expression on poor Augie's face. The man never could take what he called ‘female histrionics.' Daisy could never get too far with them, either, so she knew this from experience.
The girl looked up to see Daisy peering intently at her.
"Why, you are a ghost!" she exclaimed. "I saw you in the window earlier and wondered if you were a maid, but you are..."
"A spirit," Daisy agreed. "And I used to be a maid, so you are not too far off the mark, Miss."
"I am truly amazed that Cousin Terrence would allow you to stay in his house," the girl said sarcastically. "Does anyone know you are here?"
Daisy laughed and settled on the foot of the bed. Augie coughed once, and she removed herself from the feather mattress, but she did not back off completely.
"I beg your pardon, sir!" the girl exclaimed, spying the other ghost for the first time.
"Good day, Miss. Sir Augustus Cartwright at your service."
"I am Olivia Wilmington," she said, standing to drop him a curtsey. "You are related to Cousin Terrence, and I just abused him to your face," she said, referring to the many words she had used against her guardian in her rage.
"You are excused, Miss Wilmington, on the grounds that my nevvy is a boring prig. May I introduce Miss Daisy?" he added as the maid floated closer to the girl.
"You are not scared of us?" she asked.
"No. Should I be? Do you scare everyone else?"
"No, sadly enough. Sir Terrence hires only the most practical of servants, and they refuse to believe we exist."
"Is that not just like him? Stodgy to the core, the lot of them. I am quite convinced Miss Markham is related to that fright of a housekeeper. I wonder if they shall be kept on when Cousin Terrence marries."
Sir Augie looked sharply at Miss Wilmington. "Married? Soon?"
"The young lady and her mother are to visit in two week's time. Normally, I would not care if he took a dozen wives, but this particular young lady, Miss Chastain..."
"Chastain?" If Daisy could turn any more white, she would. As it was, she caught Sir Augie's eye and kept it.
"What are the chances these are different Chastains?" he wondered.
"Different from whom?" the girl wanted to know. "What about the Chastains?"
"Daisy was murdered in this house by her employer, a guest by the last name of Chastain," the dead baronet kindly explained.
"What was his name?"
"Her name was Lucy Chastain. It was thought she was to marry Sir Augustus' brother, the man who had inherited the title after Augie here died under mysterious circumstances. I discovered that she was responsible for those circumstances, and she killed me." Daisy had been smothered to avoid telling what she knew, but in the end, Augie's brother never offered for the young lady.
"I know how we can find out if this is the same family," the girl said.
"The Peerage!" Sir Augie exclaimed. "Of course! Your Miss Chastain would not be a direct descendant, of course, but she might be closely related."
In the library, it took Sir Augustus only a few minutes to find DeBrett's, and Olivia obligingly took it down off the shelf.
"Chastain ... Chastain..." she murmured, sitting at a table and leafing through the book. "Here! Chastain ... About a hundred years ago? Rupert Chastain, Lord Henton, viscount. Children ... Andrew, Bartholomew, Araminta, Lucinda."
"That would be Miss Lucy!" Daisy exclaimed. "Those were her family!"
"Let's see," Olivia continued with a frown. "Andrew, died 1718, no issue. So it could not be him. Bartholomew, Lord Henton, viscount, 1720. That would have to be her ancestor. Hmmm ... Married 1720, Miss Miller, three offspring. Rupert, born 1721 ... became viscount in 1745..." She read on. "Here we are -- Pamela Chastain, born 1798, to Marcus Chastain, Lord Henton, viscount, and Lady Henton, nee Regina Vaughn. Does this mean what I think?"
"Miss Chastain is descended from Lucy Chastain's brother," Sir Augustus agreed.
"Miss Wilmington has gone into the library, sir," the Friday-faced butler could be heard to say in the hall.
Olivia looked up sharply at the ghosts.
"Thank you, Hodges." Sir Terrence came into the room. "There you are, Cousin Olivia. How are you settling in?"
"Fine, sir, just fine." Olivia had shut the book when she heard him in the hall and now she felt it being slid slowly out from under her hand. She gave Sir Augie an appreciative smile.
"You find something amusing, Cousin Olivia?" Sir Terrence asked.
"I ... Well, yes! The thought of being here at the Court fills me with delight!"
He looked at her with suspicion in his bright blue eyes. "Is that why I had to drag you kicking and screaming away from London?"
Olivia pretended to be demure, fooling no one. "You must admit, London is diverting at this time of year..."
"So I could see."
"It was a harmless kiss!" She dropped all pretence at once, seeing as he was itching for a fight. And tell the truth, her anger at generations of scheming Chastain women had to be taken out somehow.
"It will earn you a bad reputation!"
"I would have found myself a husband!" She got to her feet, although to say she was now in his face would be ludicrous, his tall frame towering over her petite one. "You cannot deny that Lord Overstreet has already asked your permission to pay his addresses to me!"
"No, I cannot deny it, and I refused the request. However, if you accept that bounder once you are free of this guardianship, you are a bigger fool than I ever imagined. I could not, in all conscience, allow that to happen before then, hence our removal to the Court."
"What?" Olivia was surprised. "I thought it was because of that kiss."
"Partially, of course. I am responsible for you for another four weeks."
He did not need to remind her. "But what of Miss Chastain?"
"I have good news on that account. In fact, that is what I came to tell you. She and her mother, Lady Henton, arrive tomorrow. I was concerned that you would be bored and lonely, and prevailed upon them to join us earlier than planned."
"Oh, joy. I assure you, Cousin Terrence, that as much as I appreciate your kindness, I am at no loss to amuse myself."
"I see." He looked around the library and smiled. "Then I hope you will include Miss Chastain in your plans."
"Of course," was Olivia's sweet reply. "A poor wallflower such as she must needs find entertainment somewhere..."
"I am not pleased with such a response, Cousin Olivia. That was beneath you. Just because Miss Chastain has not your beaux, or your beauty or address, does not mean she is unpopular in the capital!"
"Of course not!" Olivia soothed, pleased by the compliments. "Why, there must be plenty of serious, stodgy gentlemen like yourself willing to consider her as a potential wife." She rose, patted his cheek in a friendly manner and left the room smiling.
"She cannot marry him, she just cannot!" Olivia had gone directly from the library into the garden and was railing against the imminent arrival of Miss Chastain.
"Why are you so concerned?" Sir Augustus asked. He was standing politely in front of a marble statue. Daisy hovered nearby in the shrubbery.
"I do not know. Perhaps I do not wish to see poor Cousin Terrence taken in by that female. Do you think I wish the descendant of a murderess to become a member of this family?" She was not a direct descendant, but it was close enough for Olivia to be worried.
"What do you have against this Miss Chastain?" Daisy wondered.
"Besides the ancestor? She does things out of spite and malice. I do not think she would stoop to murder, but she already makes my life miserable." Instead of being flattered by Miss Chastain's imitations of herself, she found them annoying, and she told the spirits her history with the lady.
The late baronet and maid listened with interest, but it was only after Olivia had been called into tea by Miss Markham that the two ghosts could talk among themselves.
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much," Sir Augustus said knowingly.
"She seems terribly concerned about someone who will not soon be her guardian," Daisy agreed.
"Because she likes him."
"He likes her, too!" Daisy exclaimed. "He did not take his eyes off her once when they were in the library!"
"I thought the same. If one were to ask me, I would say my great-great-whatever nevvy would prefer to marry Miss Wilmington, but since she is looking to accept this lord of hers, he is willing to settle for someone else."
"We cannot have a Chastain as mistress of this house! What could he have been thinking?"
"He has no inkling of her family's past history with ours," the baronet reminded the maid.
"Miss Wilmington could tell him."
"Do you think he would believe her?"
"Most likely not. But what can we do?"
"We shall just have to be patient, assess the situation when the other young lady arrives on the morrow, and see what may be done to drive her off."
"We are agreed that Miss Chastain must not be allowed to marry Sir Terrence?" Daisy asked plaintively.
"And Miss Wilmington must be promoted in Sir Terrence's eyes?"
If they could shake hands on the matter, it would have been done at this point. Instead, they gave each other smiles of complete understanding.
The Chastains arrived at the Court amid much fanfare, mostly on the part of their own servants, who had appeared late the day before. These servants had immediately treated the Cartwright employees as if they were inferior. Sir Terrence's pragmatic retainers were quite put out and any happiness they might have felt at the arrival of a prospective bride for the master was quickly squashed.
Daisy, Olivia and Sir Augustus all agreed this played directly into their hands. Anything the ghosts did would be attributed to the Cartwright servants by the Chastains. Olivia felt a bit guilty about that, but it could not be helped, especially as she knew they did not believe in spirits anyway.
Good manners dictated that Olivia be present when her cousin welcomed their guests to the Court, but she may as well not have bothered for all the attention the Chastains gave her as they descended that next day on the baronet. There were exclamations over the size of the park, the length of the drive and the enormity of the U-shaped house.
"Size really does matter," Sir Augustus whispered to Daisy, who was hard-pressed not to laugh aloud.
It was only when the party adjourned to the drawing room for refreshments, and Sir Terrence asked his cousin to pour, that the Chastain ladies seem to notice there was someone else present.
"Surely Pamela, as a prospective mistress of the household, should be afforded that honor," Lady Henton said bluntly.
"Has there been an offer made, then?" Olivia asked with an innocent air. "Why, cousin! You did not tell me! I wish you both happy!" She immensely enjoyed the effect her words had when she saw the baronet's blush and Miss Chastain's glare.
"No offer has yet been tendered," Lady Henton loftily replied. "But it will be, young lady, so take care how you act, lest you find yourself in a less than tenable position."
"I would ask you not to speak in such a manner to my ward and cousin, Lady Henton," Sir Terrence said stiffly.
Olivia said nothing, only calmly poured tea and asked her cousin to pass around the cake. To say she was pleasantly surprised at her guardian's attitude, however, was an understatement.
Later, while Lady Henton was resting, Miss Chastain begged Olivia to show her the gardens. Because they were in the presence of Sir Terrence, Olivia felt compelled to oblige, although she was in no mood for the activity or the company. With good reason, she discovered once she and the other young lady were alone.
"Mama only spoke the truth over tea," Miss Chastain said airily as they dutifully sniffed at flowers and admired the fountains. "And once I am married to your guardian, your fate rests in my hands."
Olivia shrugged. "By time you are wed, I shall be an independent lady. It takes three Sundays to read the banns..."
"I am well aware of that fact," Miss Chastain nastily replied. "Which is why I have urged Sir Terrence to procure a special license. We shall wed at the end of this week."
Olivia frowned. So soon? "You are optimistic for someone who has yet to receive a proposal."
"I am confident I shall obtain one this very evening."
"Shall we make a wager on that?" Olivia sweetly suggested.
"Oh, no! I should not like to bet on such a sure thing," Miss Chastain confidently replied.
"Nonsense! I should be more than happy to wager that Sir Terrence does not propose this evening."
"There is nothing you could do to stop either me or Sir Terrence," Miss Chastain insisted.
"No, I am certain there is nothing I may do to prevent such a thing from happening."
They neared the house and Sir Terrence rapped on the study window and waved. Olivia gaily returned the gesture. "We have not yet set the terms of the wager," she said through her smile. "If I win, you have to refuse my cousin for one week, no matter how many times he offers for you."
"What?" Miss Chastain shrieked through her teeth, aware that Sir Terrence was still watching.
"You heard me. If I lose, I shall agree to leave the Court as soon as you are wed."
"I have a better idea," Miss Chastain said magnanimously. "If you lose, you must wed my cousin, Lord Farley."
"Lord Farley? He is a bit of a..." Olivia faltered.
"Simpleton? More than just a bit of one. However, we have despaired of getting him wed -- who wants to take the chance of having moronic children? Alas, the title must be continued. Your dowry would be welcome, as well."
"No wager if you do not agree..." Miss Chastain said in a sing-sing voice.
"All right, then, I accept the terms. Shall we shake on it?"
"Shake? I think not! Something of this import requires blood to seal the pact. Come, show me to my room and I shall take care of everything."
Olivia could only agree, and as they climbed the main staircase, she saw Daisy on the landing above. "They say the Court is haunted."
Miss Chastain turned to her with wide eyes. "Truly? I had not heard this before! Do you believe in ghosts?"
Olivia recalled that whatever she expressed an interest in; Miss Chastain always tried to do her one better. Hmmm... "Of course! In fact, I have seen one!" she exclaimed.
"Do tell!" Miss Chastain insisted, all thought of sealing their pact apparently forgotten.
"Let us go into your room and I shall tell you the story," Olivia said, as if conferring a great honor on the other young lady.
Once they were in Miss Chastain's bedchamber, that lady wasted no time settling them in the window seat and pressing Olivia for the details.
"Was it a man or a woman? What did he look like? Do you know who he is?" You go from singular to plural -- I know it's done all the time to avoid the he/she thing, but it always annoys me and I usually try to find a way around it.
Olivia's smile was serene. "A woman, and I know the entire gruesome story. About a hundred years ago, a young lady and her mother came to Cartwright Court for a visit, because she was to wed the baronet's heir."
Miss Chastain sat there, wide-eyed, as Olivia told the story of the poor maid who knew too much and took her own life rather than betray a beloved mistress. Over Miss Chastain's shoulder, Daisy looked disgusted, but Olivia shrugged. She could not tell the entire truth, especially if word got back to Miss Chastain that the employer had been related.
"How absolutely horrid!" Miss Chastain exclaimed when Olivia finished her tale.
"But you cannot tell anyone," Olivia said.
"No one around here believes in spirits. They are all skeptics, from the butler down to the scullery maid."
"Surely Sir Terrence..."
"He's different, of course," Olivia innocently replied. "Fairly dotes on the resident one. You should ask him about it some time."
There was a full moon that night and Sir Terrence had managed to lure Miss Chastain out to see it with little or no opposition. Oddly enough, no protest had come from his ward. Surely Olivia, who had made no bones about her dislike of the other young lady, would have made some sort of squawk? Her seemingly change of heart confused him.
However, he was not one to complain overly much when fate handed him such an opportunity as this.
"It is a lovely night," he said as they stood at the terrace balustrade.
"Lovely," Miss Chastain softly agreed.
"Not unlike yourself."
"Why, Sir Terrence! What a nice thing to say!"
He felt rather proud of that himself, not being one to romance the ladies with words. Or anything else, if his cousin was to be believed. "It is only the truth." At least he had not said something such as ‘You are the loveliest lady in all of England.' She was not that pretty. "You must know why I asked you out here tonight..."
Terrence frowned, as Miss Chastain appeared not to be attending him as she should. "I said, you must..." He broke off, confused, as he realized she was staring over his left shoulder. "Is something the matter?"
"Matter? Er, no, sir. Why should anything be..." She was staring past him once more. "I... Were you saying something?"
In the garden, Daisy was having the time of her life, popping up out of the top of the fountain and keeping Miss Chastain's undivided attention. In the shrubbery, Sir Augie was providing encouragement, although she was in no need of it. They could clearly hear every word spoken on the terrace.
"Are you attending me, Miss Chastain?" Sir Terrence asked. "You seem to be distracted."
"I ... No, you may proceed, sir," she hastily replied, still staring over his shoulder. Daisy was drifting among the statues now, in a real ghost-like manner, if she said so herself. "I understand your home is haunted, sir. Have you seen her?" Miss Chastain asked eagerly.
Sir Terrence stiffened. "It is not something that is discussed in this household."
"I know!" Miss Chastain exclaimed. "It is difficult to be believed, is it not, in a home of unbelievers? But you could surely tell me, of all people, the story..." she wheedled, twisting his pristine cravat into a mess with her fingers. "I will believe you..."
"I see no reason why I should speak of this to you, Miss Chastain," came the haughty reply.
"Then we need to do something about that as well," the lady said softly. Daisy moved away from the statuary, gaining Miss Chastain's attention once more. "Please, please, tell me about the ghost!" she whined.
"It is not a topic for discussion."
Daisy could not see Sir Terrence's face, but she could tell by his manner that he was far from pleased.
"I can see we are not going to get past this point tonight," he said. "It is getting late. Allow me to escort you indoors."
Daisy waggled her fingers at the young lady as she was being led back into the drawing room.
"There you are!" Lady Henton could be heard, her voice wafting out the terrace doors until they were shut behind Sir Terrence with a decided snap.
Daisy giggled and floated off to the shrubbery, where she and Sir Augie did a bit of gloating.
"But now we must exchange the one lady for the other," the dead baronet finally said. "It will not do to have Miss Chastain leave with her tail tucked between her legs if there is no furthering of Miss Olivia's cause."
Daisy nodded and went over to the drawing room window, where she saw Lady Henton putting down her cards for the evening and telling the young ladies it was time for bed. The ghost rustled the bushes under her, gaining Olivia's attention, and she indicated the terrace to her left with a sideways jerk of her head.
"I, er, seem to have left something out on the terrace earlier today," Olivia announced. "I shall be but a moment..." Sir Augie had predicted that his great-great-whatever nephew would not allow the young lady outdoors on her own at night, and he had been correct.
"I shall escort you, Cousin Olivia," Sir Terrence said, earning frowns from the Chastains. Even Olivia frowned. "No, it is perfectly acceptable for me to provide you company. You are, after all, my ward and cousin," he said, for everyone's benefit. It seemed to satisfy Lady Henton, who bid her daughter to walk with her upstairs, although they both cast disapproving looks at Olivia before retiring.
"I do not need your assistance," Olivia said as she stepped out onto the terrace and looked around for Daisy. Daisy, of course, was crouched down below the railing, and had no plans to show herself.
"But you said yourself that you left something out here. Was it a book? A hair ribbon, perhaps?"
"It was..." Olivia seemed to be casting about for something to search for that might not have to be actually found. "A ring! That's it, a ring! My mother's, very valuable, I cannot live without it."
"Then let us get started. Are you certain you lost it here?"
Daisy peeked over the side of the terrace to see Sir Terrence actually get on his hands and knees and begin the search. She wanted to giggle at the sight, but dared not. As it was, she cast a glance over her shoulder at Augie, in the bushes, and he was doubled over. Even Olivia was smiling as she got down, seeking something that was not even there. Or was it?
Daisy dashed off to Olivia's room, retrieved the ring and brought it back down to the terrace, where she discreetly placed it in a corner about to be searched by Sir Terrence.
"Aha!" he cried. "Here it is!" He held the ring aloft.
"What?" Olivia frowned and searched about for one of the ghosts, Daisy surmised, for who else could have placed it there?
"Your ring. I know you would have been devastated had it remained missing, but it is found and I am more than pleased to be able to have located it for you." Sir Terrence came over and helped Olivia to her feet, and kept her hand in his while he gently placed the ring on her finger. Daisy almost melted at the sight of the two of them.
"I ... Thank you, Cousin Terrence," Olivia said, confusion written all over her lovely face. "I shall bid you good night then, and..." She paused, her hand still in his. "Thank you. I would have been, as you said, devastated."
"I thought so." He gently kissed her cheek. "Good night, cousin."
Olivia was fuming by time she reached her room.
"All right, you two!" she demanded, hands on hips as she stood in the center of the room. "Show yourselves and tell me exactly what that was all about!"
Daisy slowly materialized, looking a bit sheepish, but Sir Augustus had taken up his usual float over the chest of drawers and gave her an innocent smile. "We could not make a liar out of you, Miss Olivia, now could we?" he asked.
"I went outside because I thought Daisy wanted to speak to me. Did you?"
"Well, yes," Daisy calmly admitted, taking her cue from Augie. "I wished to hear what Lady Henton thought of her daughter on the terrace with Sir Terrence, and wanted to report to you what happened out there. But I could not make an appearance with your guardian standing right there, now could I?" She glanced at Augie, who winked at her.
"No, you could not," Olivia grudgingly agreed. She gave up her indignant pose and flopped down in a wing chair with a whoosh of skirts. "At least Miss Chastain lost the bet. If she had won, she would have gloated of her success the moment she returned to the drawing room."
"Not if she thought Sir Terrence would be upset or disillusioned by it," Sir Augustus pointed out. He was trying not to grin as Olivia sat up in alarm. "However, I believe Miss Chastain was much too distracted by what she thought was a ghost in the garden to allow my great-great-whatever nephew to propose."
"She was? What happened? Did she mention you? What did he say?"
"She practically begged him to tell her about the ghost, saying he could share his belief with her, even if his own household did not accept what he might have seen." The baronet's ghost chuckled. "He was quite annoyed with her."
Olivia laughed with delight. "The more she asks him about you, the more angry he will become! I can see it now! And she only thinks there is one ghost in this household," she added slyly. "Wait until we unleash the second one on her..."
"I believe it is time for a visit to Lady Henton, as well," Sir Augustus agreed. "A late-night visit..."
"No, tomorrow night will be sufficient, I think. I should like to give Miss Chastain a day to think about what she saw in the garden. Let her mind tell her it was all a trick of the moonlight..."
"Excellent," Olivia purred.
The next morning at breakfast, she wisely said nothing about either the ghosts or the wager, and instead decided to make herself agreeable to her guardian's guests.
"Shall we have a picnic in the woods by the stream today?" she suggested.
"You have ventured that far in the few days you have been here?" Sir Terrence asked. He had buried his head in a day-old newspaper, probably to hide from Lady Henton, who was hinting strongly that he had not done his duty last evening on the terrace, but now he glanced around it at Olivia.
"Your excellent maids suggested it," she innocently replied, not wanting to tell him that it was part of Sir Augustus' idea of returning Miss Chastain's imagination to normal. "For which I am grateful. And if you do not wish to venture outdoors in this beautiful, but muddy, spring weather, Lady Henton, Miss Markham assures me that she has quite a collection of Minerva Press novels for your perusal." That had been a surprise, when she had asked her companion for ideas on how to entertain the elder lady. Who would have suspected Miss Markham of hoarding penny dreadfuls? She would have laughed aloud if she had not been grateful for the diversion they would provide.
"Indeed?" Sir Terrence seemed just as surprised at Miss Markham's book choice as Olivia had been. "I would be pleased to offer myself as escort to you young ladies, if you decide to..."
There was a commotion in the hall and then a tall, blonde man with the build of a Greek god strode into the room, flung his hat in a chair and came over to embrace Sir Terrence, who had stood, but was frozen to the floor like a block of ice.
"Terry! Just my luck that I find you in residence! I say, I need a place to stay a few days while my phaeton is being repaired. I was on my way back to London after visiting the pater familias, and one of my horses threw a shoe. I hoped to bring you some company," he added, taking a look about the room and finally lighting on Olivia, "but I see you are not lacking for beauty. Nor wit, I'll be bound."
"Teddy," Sir Terrence finally said, stiffly, as he watched his friend admire his ward. The ladies had risen from the table and he made introductions. "Lady Henton, may I present my friend, Lord Theodore Davies, son of the Marquess of Whitford?"
"You most certainly may," she said, fairly drooling over the man whose figure looked as if it had been sculpted by marble and then covered in fashionable threads. His many-caped greatcoat had been thrown back, and showed him off to great effect. Even Miss Chastain could not keep her eyes off him.
Lord Theodore bowed to the lady and looked enquiringly at the younger two.
"Lady Henton's daughter, Miss Chastain," Sir Terrence introduced them, and after they had acknowledged one another, he turned to indicate Olivia. "And Miss Wilmington, my ward."
"Ah, yes," Teddy said with a charming smile, coming forward to take her hand. "I have heard much about you, both from Terry and from society at large. ‘The belle of the ball,' you are called, and I cannot dispute that name. Although I can see where Miss Chastain comes a close second," he gallantly added, with a bow in that young lady's direction. To Olivia's disgust, Miss Chastain simpered in reply.
"You must tell me all about yourself while you are here," Olivia said in a deceptively sweet voice, tucking her arm into his and leading him to the chair at her cousin's right hand. "Because while you seem to know everything about me, I know nothing about you. We must remedy that immediately!"
Indicating to the footmen that breakfast and tea must be brought over to his lordship, she sat down and waited for the other ladies to seat themselves once more before launching into a conversation with their newcomer.
Sir Terrence was frowning at them, all thought of his newspaper forgotten, the Chastain ladies were none too pleased, despite their mission to bring the baronet up to scratch, and above them all, leaning over the chandelier, were Daisy and Sir Augustus, alarmed. This was not according to plan!
As predicted, Lady Henton took
the hint that her presence on the picnic would be de trop, and she
insisted that an afternoon with Miss Markham would be just the thing.
"You young people run along and enjoy yourselves," she said, waving them off from the front portico of Cartwright Court .
Olivia thought the lady was just a bit too smug for someone whose daughter had yet to bring a man up to scratch, but even she had to admit the odds of that happening had doubled since the morning.
The ladies were in an open carriage, while the gentlemen rode alongside. Lord Teddy and Miss Chastain chatted amiably about London gossip and fashion, but whenever Olivia tried to interject a serious thought or ask a learned question, the other two would turn blank eyes on each other and continue their conversation as if she did not exist.
"He's taken to wearing only bright blue waistcoats, do you know?" Lord Teddy was saying. "Ever since Prinny said it brought out the blue in his eyes."
"That must look odd with some colors," Miss Chastain replied.
""Don't it, though?" Lord Teddy chortled. "His man has threatened to quit over it!"
Miss Chastain gasped, as if this was the end of the world.
"But he can't!" Lord Teddy cried. "'Twas the valet himself who ordered the waistcoat in the first place! Now he's had to order six more!" He and Miss Chastain laughed.
"At what cost to those poor tailor apprentices?" Olivia wondered aloud.
"Give it up, my dear cousin," Sir Terrence said from the other side of her when she received more blank stares. "Teddy has the intelligence of a gnat and you will never get him to believe there are such things as tailor apprentices."
"I suppose he thinks the waistcoat fairies sew them up overnight?"
"And men like that are the next generation in the House of Lords?" Olivia was quite alarmed.
"I am afraid it is worse than that. Teddy is not even his father's heir. His elder brother is, and he's an even greater looby than Teddy."
"Frightening!" Olivia sincerely exclaimed.
"Is it not?" He gave her a searching look. "I did not realize you cared who is running our country, cousin."
"There are a lot of things you do not know about me, then, cousin."
"Evidently not." He seemed on the verge of saying more, but the driver called to him, and he rode up to give directions, leaving Olivia to either listen to the other two, or watch the scenery.
"Maroon!" Miss Chastain called. She and Lord Teddy were attempting to name all the colors that would look horrid with a bright blue waistcoat.
The scenery was looking better and better all the time.
"It has been a donkey's age since I was on a picnic," Sir Augustus said merrily. He and Daisy were trailing Sir Terrence's open carriage. "Indeed, I was uncertain we would be able to leave the grounds."
Daisy hadn't even given that a thought, merely smiled and said it was a perfect day for an outing. In her former life, picnics had meant dressing her lady just so and then sitting in front of the fire with a cup of tea and some peace and quiet. This was a new experience for her.
"I always found that Teddy fellow an amusing friend for my nevvy, until now," she heard Augie say and she gave him her attention. "Now he is just a demmed nuisance."
"Not so, sir," Daisy pointed out. "Look at how Miss Chastain hangs on his every word. And Miss Olivia does not."
"By Jove, I do believe you are correct! This is splendid! We shall make use of this, then, when we may."
"But you said not to show ourselves today to Miss Chastain!"
"I still hold to that plan. Unless it needs to be changed. How will we know unless we follow and observe? And should the couples be separated at any point, you are to follow Miss Olivia. I shall remain invisible but near Miss Chastain."
The servants had gone ahead to set up the picnic area in a grassy clearing near a gurgling brook. The trees and shrubs provided a boundary around the marquee erected over a low table, a large rug and assorted pillows and hassocks.
"Are we to spend the day in a seraglio?" Lord Teddy joked. Olivia giggled, but Miss Chastain was not as well-read and did not understand. Olivia took her aside and whispered to her for a moment. Miss Chastain blushed and tittered, and Sir Terrence frowned at his ward. Whether it was for knowing the meaning of the word, or for telling Miss Chastain, she did not know. Neither did she care, she told herself, sticking her nose up at him. Her cousin, however, redeemed himself in her sight shortly.
"Wildflowers!" Olivia suddenly exclaimed, catching a glimpse of a few near the edge of the clearing. She moved away from the group to pick a handful, but was sorry she had when she returned. It seemed only four wine goblets had been packed by the staff, and while there was water in the brook, there was no container available to keep the flowers from dying.
"You may make use of my glass, Cousin Olivia," Sir Terrence said gallantly. He even offered to fill it with water.
Olivia was touched by the gesture. Surely someone that kind could not be a total ogre?
After a luncheon of cold meats and cheeses, fruit and bread, Sir Terrence went to the stream to rinse out Olivia's cup, which she had said he could use after her, and talk turned to the haunted Court.
"Seen ‘em myself!" Lord Teddy said expansively, earning a scowl from his friend.
"Nonsense. There are no such things as ghosts and I have never seen one. Even though my great-great-whatever uncle, Sir Augustus Cartwright, died in the master bedchamber a hundred years ago, he has not been sighted. You may see his portrait in the gallery, if you like, and I assure you, there is no wraith in his likeness wandering the halls."
No, Olivia thought. Sir Augie preferred to float over everyone's heads.
"You imply, my lord, that there is more than one?" Miss Chastain asked, ignoring Sir Terrence in favor of confirming her own experience.
"Two, at least," Lord Teddy told her. He broke off a piece of bread and spoke with his mouth full. "One old chap with the gaudiest waistcoat I ever saw -- embroidered to within an inch of its life! -- and a slip of a girl dressed like a maid. Saw the pair of ‘em whispering together in my room one night, last time I stayed at the Court."
"You never told me this!" the baronet exclaimed.
"And have you think me ripe for Bedlam? Thank you, but no. My man said your staff frown on such talk, so I said nothing to you."
"Sir Terrence is a skeptic," Olivia said kindly, patting her cousin's hand with affection. It was important to her that he not be made an object of ridicule by these two, just because he was a non-believer.
"You are!" Miss Chastain accused him. "And I maintain that I saw one of them in the garden last night! The maid, I think. It was not sporting a gaudy waistcoat."
Olivia stifled a laugh and told herself to never mention this to Sir Augustus, not realizing he was already huffing in righteous indignation over Lord Teddy's description.
"Old fellow, indeed! Gaudy waistcoat! I'll have him know this waistcoat cost me a pretty penny and was all the crack in my day!" The ghost fumed in a tree just alongside the clearing. "We need to get rid of this demmed wanker!"
"Sir Augustus!" Daisy was shocked at his language.
"Beg your pardon, my dear, but for a pink of the Ton, the man ain't got no fashion sense!"
Daisy agreed that the man could have been more diplomatic, but she had larger concerns. "I am more puzzled as to how he could have seen us before. I was certain he was asleep!"
"As was I. Demmed devil! Now he is just going to ruin everything. My plan hinged on Miss Chastain talking herself out of having seen us, and now she is convinced she has. I think we have heard enough. I need to ponder this turn of events and chart a new course of action. Come, Daisy."
"Do I have to? This is my first picnic. What if they play games?"
Sir Augie seemed to visibly melt. "You may stay, child, but try to recall further conversations and not get too caught up in a spirited game of charades or an archery tournament."
"Yes, sir." Daisy watched him disappear. And then the unthinkable happened. The ladies separated, Miss Chastain to pick flowers and Olivia to view the brook. Sir Terrence went with his cousin, and Lord Teddy offered his arm to Miss Chastain. Daisy was unsure of whom to follow. She was going to have to divide her time between the two. Miss Olivia first, she decided, and floated behind them to the water.
"I thank you, cousin, for giving up your wine glass in favor of a few wildflowers today," Olivia said.
"I confess I was a bit surprised you prefer them to hothouse blooms. I have yet to see you in the conservatory pilfering from my rarer blossoms."
"You are interested in flowers?" Olivia enjoyed reading about gardening and plants, but she thought her cousin only interested in farming.
"Come see my more exotic plants sometime, Cousin Olivia. I shall give you a personal tour. I have a few things in my greenhouses that not many people have seen."
She nodded, knowing that he was a rather private man. Somehow that seemed a more accurate description than her previous one of ‘stuffy.' "I shall look forward to it, sir." Even if it meant staying on once the last month of what she termed ‘bondage' was through. After all, she could stay. He was her cousin, and she did have a more than adequate chaperone.
"Do not let this talk of ghosts upset you," he said, picking up a leaf, placing it in the bubbling water and watching it be carried downstream like a boat. "I would not like you to be worried about spirits wandering the halls of the Court. It is all a bag of moonshine."
"I am not afraid," Olivia assured him. "Even if I was to get a nightly visit, I would not be too alarmed. I am family, after all, and I believe I would be treated with politeness, if not respect."
"I am sure of that. If they do not mind their manners, you will let me know?"
Olivia laughed, knowing he was just saying that for her benefit. "You may be sure of it."
Pleased with the way the conversation between Miss Olivia and Sir Terrence was going, Daisy skipped over to check on Miss Chastain and Lord Teddy. Miss Chastain, it appeared, was denuding the meadow of every single flower she could find. Her bouquet was much larger than Olivia's.
"I say we go see the portrait in the gallery," his lordship was saying. "If he looks like my ghost, we know his identity and should have an easier time of flushing the old boy out."
Miss Chastain's eyes sparkled with excitement over the top of her flowers. "Do you think so? What an adventure this shall be! I have always wanted to track down a ghost!"
"Have you? What a singular young lady!" Lord Teddy's voice was tinged with admiration. "Then a ghost hunt you shall have, Miss Chastain! I can see it now -- you and me, alone in the gallery..."
Miss Chastain blushed, but she did not look away. Daisy was very pleased with the way these two were progressing, even if she did not like the idea of their scheme. Still, what harm could come of the two of them standing around in a drafty gallery for a couple of hours? She could always wake Lady Henton and have her discover her daughter with a gentleman ... that could solve several problems.
"We could slip away after tea to view the portrait and decide then," Miss Chastain prevaricated. She was a sly puss, as any girl her age needed to be, but she was not going to commit herself to meeting Lord Teddy in the dark until she was certain there might be a ghost or two to be seen.
Daisy watched as the two confirmed their plans and then hailed Sir Terrence and Olivia. The picnic broke up shortly afterwards and she went back to the house to report to Sir Augie.
Daisy had managed to gain Olivia's attention after tea, when the other two planned to slip off together, by knocking over Lady Henton's cup. Into her lap. Knowing Olivia would be required to help the lady, and not be able to scold Daisy, she had followed the other two out of the room and into the gallery.
"It is him!" Lord Teddy
exclaimed. He and Miss Chastain were standing in the portrait gallery under Sir
Augie's painting, Daisy behind them. The dead baronet had agreed that every
effort to compromise Miss Chastain with Lord Teddy should be exploited, and
confessed to his spirit cohort that her plan had merit, especially as he had
not come up with one better.
"But not a word of this to Miss Olivia," he had said. "If she discovers the two of them wandering the halls in search of us, alone, she will go all noble on us and keep them from getting into too much trouble."
"Then we shall meet here at midnight. And look! I found something in the library that tells how to call spirits to you!" Miss Chastain said, pulling a small book out of her reticule. "There are these words you have to chant. I dare not say them now, of course, but we could try them later."
Lord Teddy nodded, and the two went their separate ways. Daisy ran off to report to Augie.
"Allow me," he said when she told him everything that had transpired. "It would be more appropriate for Miss Olivia to have you in her bedchamber, where you may keep her from spoiling everything, and I shall take care of Lady Henton."
"Yes, but what about Miss Chastain's book? Do you think her words will work?"
"Hmpf!" Augie said with a snort. "We have been told by previous generations to leave, and they even tried to have us exorcised once. Do you truly believe a few words, probably in Latin that I doubt she can even translate, will work?"
"They had better not," Daisy said under her breath.
The house was dark and mostly quiet, but Olivia had been keeping Daisy company for an hour or so. She truly wished to go to bed -- it was almost midnight -- but Daisy was in a sad mood, said she was tired of being a ghost and she just wanted to move on. The two of them sat on the bed and came up with all sorts of ideas, plausible and implausible, but no conclusions. Then, as the little clock on the mantle struck midnight, an odd expression came over Daisy's face.
"What is it?" Olivia wondered, concerned. She had never seen the little ghost ever wear such a look. And then Daisy began to float toward the door. "Where are you going?"
"I ... I don't know!" Something was frightening the former maid, and she seemed powerless to stop herself from moving. "Help, Olivia! Help! I feel this awful compulsion to... Oh, no, it cannot be! Those words aren't truly working!" she wailed.
Olivia had no idea what she was talking about, but she hastily grabbed her wrapper and stuffed her feet in the first shoes she could find, which happened to be her walking boots. "Wait, Daisy! What is going on?" The maid disappeared through the door and it was all Olivia could do after that to keep up with her. She shouted for her to stop, but the ghost kept floating down the hall.
"The portrait gallery!" Daisy called before disappearing altogether. Olivia cried out as she tripped on the hall rug, and then she found herself being helped to her feet by a pair of strong arms.
"Whatever is going on, Olivia?" Terrence asked, one arm supporting her at the waist.
It was not an unpleasant feeling, but Olivia had no time to
consider why. "Daisy! The ghost maid! Disappeared!" she said breathlessly.
"You had best not be funning me, Olivia," he warned. "If this is a trick to get rid of the Chastains..."
"No! No trick! Not by me!" she insisted, trying to move away and struggling in his arms. "Come on, I'll show you!" She broke free and stumbled forward, and would have fallen once more if he had not caught her.
"Bloody hell, you are going to hurt yourself!" he snapped, picked her up in his arms and carried her down the main staircase, to the amazement of the footman on duty. At the bottom, he set her on her feet, but kept a good grip on her arm. They went directly to the gallery on the ground floor, at the back of the house, and there they found Lord Teddy staring in amazement as two ghosts floated helplessly over his head. Miss Chastain was chanting from her book, saying a few Latin words over and over again, even though she was slightly distracted by the spirits.
"See?" Teddy exclaimed in triumph. "I told you there were ghosts here, Terry, but you did not believe me!"
"Let them go!" Olivia cried, hating to see them hanging about like that. "They have done no one any harm! Let them go!"
But Lord Teddy only laughed as Miss Chastain kept chanting. It was only a scream behind Olivia and Terrence that broke her concentration. She stopped reading, the ghosts seemed to drop, as if being released from a spell, and Olivia whirled around to see Lady Henton crumpled in a heap on the gallery floor.
Lady Henton's scream had brought the servants to the gallery and they gaped in turn at the ghosts and the lady on the floor.
Olivia was the first to move. She ordered the footmen to pick up Lady Henton and move her to a nearby bench. The two young men gave each other horrified looks, because Lady Henton was a hefty size, but they recognized Olivia's authority and did as she asked.
The ghosts, having been released from the geis they were under, disappeared. Olivia wished she could go to them, but her responsibilities lay elsewhere for the moment. Lord Teddy and Miss Chastain had to be dealt with.
"You two," she said sternly, pointing at them. "How could you? Show some curiosity, yes, but to trap those poor souls in such a manner! Shame on you!"
"Wanted to prove to Terry that he has a haunted house," Lord Teddy mumbled, looking hopefully at his friend.
"I think you accomplished at least that," Sir Terrence dryly replied.
"But that does not excuse your actions!" Olivia insisted.
"Little termagant, ain't she?" Lord Teddy asked. Miss Chastain moved closer to him, shrinking away from Olivia's wrath. He put an arm around her.
"That she is," Terrence proudly agreed.
Olivia was surprised by his attitude, but pleased.
"Tell me who those ... creatures are," Lady Henton insisted in a husky voice from the bench. She was being propped up by the unlucky footmen and one of the practical maids had produced smelling salts from somewhere.
"I do not know," Terrence said truthfully. He looked at the pair who had gone hunting them, but they shrugged.
"I will tell you," Olivia said. "I will tell you everything, especially as it involves the Chastain family."
"What?" Terrence and Miss Chastain asked in unison. Lady Henton only nodded.
"I was afraid that it did. Please tell me what you know, Miss Wilmington." It was the nicest she had been to Olivia since her arrival.
"Approximately one hundred years ago, Sir Augustus Cartwright was in possession of the title of baronet and the Court." A faint glow at the end of the gallery vaguely caught her attention and she smiled to herself. It seemed Daisy and Sir Augie were not gone for good.
"He was unmarried and had no children, and his brother was to inherit when he died. The brother was betrothed to a Miss Chastain, and she and her mother had come to the Court to meet Sir Augustus."
"Do you know the young lady's Christian name, Miss Wilmington?" Lady Henton wondered.
"I believe it was Lucy, my lady." The baroness shuddered. But she motioned for Olivia to continue her story. The gallery light seemed to grow brighter.
"I do not know if the brother was involved, but apparently, Miss Lucy Chastain murdered Sir Augustus so that she could become a baronet's lady ahead of schedule. No one knew this had happened, except for her maid, named Daisy who, unfortunately, was also murdered, for what she knew. However, I am unsure as to why Miss Chastain did not marry the brother. Up until that point, she was getting away with murder."
"I believe I may shed some light on that subject," Lady Henton interjected, gaining everyone's attention. "Pamela, run up and fetch the velvet-wrapped object on my bedside table."
"Me, Mama? But..."
Lady Henton fixed her daughter with a gimlet eye. "But what?"
"But it is dark upstairs and this house is haunted!"
Olivia would have laughed at that if Sir Augustus and Daisy had not caught her attention. They were standing under Augie's portrait. "I believe they are with us, Miss Chastain. You do not have to worry about them."
The other young lady finally relented, but as soon as she left the room, Daisy disappeared. Miss Chastain's squeals of pain could be heard all the way up the stairs.
"Ouch! Stop! Stop, I say! Ouch! Ow! Stop pinching me!"
Olivia caught Terrence's eye and they smiled at each other.
When Miss Chastain returned, Daisy appeared in the gallery just before that, an innocent expression on her insubstantial face. Lord Teddy frowned at the spirit, but Sir Terrence was plying Lady Henton with wine and wondering if he should call the apothecary. Lady Henton waved her daughter over, held out her hand and told her that perhaps a clear conscience and a good night's rest would take care of her nerves.
"Here, young lady," she said to Olivia, thrusting the package into her hands. Olivia opened it to discover a diary, which seemed to have been written by a former Lady Henton one hundred years before, according to the front inside page.
"Turn to the marked page," the current Lady Henton commanded. "And read it to all of us. I cannot imagine the author of this journal wanted anyone to see what she had written. She died not long afterwards, however, which might explain why this was not destroyed in her lifetime."
Olivia was reading while Lady Henton talked, and her eyes grew wide at what she saw.
"Listen to this! ‘When my own maid said Daisy was missing, I feared the worst. After all, she was not the first servant of Lucy's to disappear under mysterious circumstances. I grew suspicious, but I had no proof. Although Sir Augustus seemed to have died in his sleep, I tried to brush it off as mere coincidence, but Lucy was acting strangely, insisting the Court was hers. I became alarmed and removed her from the area under the excuse that it was a house of mourning, and that any wedding preparations must be postponed. After a year or so, I wrote Sir Bernard and cried off in Lucy's name. By then, another maid had disappeared and I had her committed to an insane asylum.'"
Olivia looked around at the stunned faces. "That explains why the wedding never took place." She turned on Lord Teddy and Miss Chastain. "And you two..." She was getting upset all over again.
"Calm yourself, Cousin Olivia." Terrence had put a friendly arm around her shoulder and was leading her to another bench. He put a glass of wine in her hands and made her drink. "Does this mean our ghosts will leave us now that we have exposed their murders?" he wondered, acknowledging them for the first time.
Olivia looked over at Daisy and Sir Augie. "Well?" she wondered.
Daisy shook her head. "We are still here, as you can see. Perhaps we are destined to remain."
The servants all gasped when Daisy spoke, and Lady Henton turned pale, but to Olivia, it seemed the most natural thing in the world.
"I suggest we all go to bed," Terrence advised. "Nothing will have changed in the morning and we will sort it all out then." He indicated that the footmen were to escort Lady Henton upstairs, and they shot him a resigned look before helping her to her feet. Lord Teddy, holding Miss Chastain by the arm, followed in their wake. Olivia stayed on her bench, and once her cousin had shooed everyone else away, he sat down beside her.
"Some excitement tonight. I confess, cousin, I did not believe in spirits until now."
"Sometimes it takes irrefutable truth to make one see the light. Speaking of which ... Where did they go?" The gallery had dimmed, the ghosts having taken some of the brightness with them.
"I think they wanted to leave us alone," Terrence said softly. "And I, for one, am glad they did. Did you see how well Lord Teddy and Miss Chastain get along? I fear I shall not be marrying her after all."
"I cannot say I am sorry," Olivia replied. "Too much bad blood in that family for my taste," she said with a smile.
"Indeed. But I am still considering marriage."
"You are?" Olivia was surprised. "To whom?"
"I shall tell you later. Now, you need to get to bed." He looked up to see the ghosts waiting by the doorway. "You will see that she goes to sleep?" he asked Daisy. She smiled and nodded. "Good. I should like to speak to you, Uncle Augustus, if you have a moment?"
Terrence gave Olivia a kiss on the forehead, helped her to her feet and pushed her off in the spirit maid's direction. She went, bemused, with Daisy by her side, without an argument.
The Chastains, with Lord Teddy as an escort, and no proposal from the baronet, left the Court within the week, but the diary remained behind. As Lady Henton said, it still might be a key in sending the ghosts on to the next world, and if that never happened, it could be burned with her blessing. Olivia was beginning to think that Daisy and Sir Augie were permanent fixtures in the house, however, and once everyone had settled into a routine, she did not give it much thought.
What she did consider, though, was whether or not she was going to return to London when her cousin was no longer her guardian. That prospect seemed dull after the excitement of the Court, and her cousin seemed less reclusive than he had been in town. They had spent some happy times together, riding in the mornings, dining al fresco on the terrace and even dancing once or twice in the evenings. Miss Markham turned out to have a light hand at the pianoforte.
Then came the day when she received a letter from her dear friend, Miss Jocelyn Paxton. Olivia recognized the lady's handwriting as soon as the note was handed to her by her cousin, and she flew into the drawing room to read it. He followed more slowly, asked a servant for tea for Miss Wilmington, and sat down across from her.
Olivia looked through the letter quickly, could not believe her eyes and read it once more.
"Bad news, cousin?" Terrence asked.
"It seems that while I was rusticating, Miss Paxton has become betrothed."
"My congratulations to her."
"To Lord Overstreet!"
"Oh! I see..."
"How could she?" Olivia wailed. "She could have waited until I returned to London , at least! He could have waited until I returned!" she shouted.
"Calm yourself, cousin. These things happen. I know you wish to go back to town next week when my guardianship is up, however..."
"But I do not wish to go for more than a few days!" Olivia exclaimed. "Just long enough to tell Lord Overstreet not to entertain any further continuation of our..." She searched for the correct word.
"Impending betrothal?" he suggested.
"You were going to drop the acquaintance?"
"But that is good news!" her cousin happily replied.
"You would think so, naturally, but now I have been denied the right to end it!" Olivia said with a pout. "That should be the lady's prerogative, do you not think?"
"Oh, definitely..." He was wearing an impish grin the likes of which she had never seen on his face before. And such a dear face it had become. If only... "I think I am going to have a bit of a lie-down. It is not every day I become unengaged to be betrothed, and by my best friend, as well. To Jocelyn's credit, she states that as they are both my friends, they were often together, talking about me."
"Sounds as if they were doing much more than talking," Terrence said wryly, but he let her go.
Upstairs, Olivia enjoyed a small spat of angry tears, more upset, as she had said, over not being able to break things off herself. Daisy commiserated with her, of course, and then the two of them went to the library, where they had been trying to find more books of the occult. Perhaps there was something in there to help Olivia send the two spirits on to the next world where they truly longed to be.
The day of Olivia's birthday brought another letter of interest, this one also from Miss Paxton, who seemed a bit too undaunted by her stealing of Olivia's almost-betrothed and wrote conversationally and not apologetically enough for Olivia's tastes.
"Listen to this!" she told Terrence as they sat over breakfast on the terrace. "Miss Chastain also has become engaged to marry!"
"I assume to Teddy?"
Olivia grinned. "You assume correctly. It seems that their close proximity both here and afterwards, when he escorted them home, has led to a betrothal. I do believe they and their sense of fashion shall be a perfect match. You are upset!" She looked up to see her cousin looking rather distracted.
"On the contrary. I am quite relieved. Now, finish your breakfast and go upstairs. There is a box in your room that contains a special birthday present."
"For me?" Olivia wolfed her toast, washed it down quickly with the last of her tea and ran into the house. Upstairs, on her bed, with Daisy hovering it over, was a blue evening gown the likes of which Olivia had never seen before. It had to be all the crack, because no one in Sussex was wearing anything like it. It had tiny sleeves, a deeper décolletage than she had ever owned in her life, and no extra trimmings or ruffles to detract from the simplicity of the luxurious silk material. And it was the color of a summer sky, the same exact color of Terrence's eyes.
"There is a note with it!" Daisy told her.
Olivia read the short letter, which was from her guardian -- no, not her guardian. Her cousin! -- and sighed. She was to present herself for a special dinner on the terrace at six o'clock that evening. Not only that, but she was to please stay in her room or in the library until then, lest she spoil several surprises. He hoped she liked her gown and would she consent to wear it that evening?
"Oh, yes!" she and Daisy both said in breathless unison. With a shared laugh, they went downstairs to the library.
The night was warm, dinner had been perfect and Olivia sipped her wine and ate dessert by torchlight on the terrace when Terrence suddenly cleared his throat.
"Do you still wish to return to London now that we are mere cousins, and not guardian and ward?"
"I suppose," she dully replied. "I do have a chaperone and may stay here, I understand, but you will not wish me to be in your way." The thought saddened her.
"But you are not in the way! I find you to be the perfect companion. In fact, I have never spent so much time out of doors as I have since you arrived. I get plenty of rest and exercise and while I still spend time overseeing the estate and going through my books, I am also more happy and relaxed. Do you feel the same?"
"I know that I am happier here than in London , where everything was so frantic during the season. I never had a minute to myself, and here I may order my days as I wish. Your neighbors are kind and interesting, I have not yet been bored once, and I like..."
"I like being with you. Now that Miss Chastain is engaged, have you considered taking someone else as your wife?"
"I have. In fact, I have found someone."
"Indeed? Could it be Miss Little? She will become an ape leader if you do not marry soon, but her father, no doubt, will pay for a special license." Olivia sat back and watched Terrence under hooded eyes. This was something she had been thinking about for a good many days, and she knew she must show her hand tonight. However, she was playing her cards carefully, and close to her chest.
"Not Miss Little. I need someone who believes in our ghosts, not someone who could never see them through a squint."
"Hmmm ... Yes, the squint is unfortunate. Tell me more about your perfect wifely candidate," she urged, leaning forward on the table to cup her chin in the palm of her hand.
"She needs to be pretty," he said with a smile.
"Miss Chastain was pretty? Pray, continue."
"Intelligent. Trustworthy and loyal. I would like someone as loyal as you were to our resident ghosts, even when I did not believe in them."
"They are quite as loyal to me as I am to them," Olivia noted. "Which is why they are in the shrubbery, listening in." A flash of white told her they had disappeared, chastised by that comment. For the moment, only, she was certain. "You were saying?"
"What I am saying, Olivia, is that my future wife needs to be you."
"Oh, Terrence!" she whispered. "Are you certain?"
"I have been waiting this age for you to grow up and turn twenty-one, Olivia. I had to put you away from me before then, as I was afraid I would tip my hand too soon."
"Is that why you had nothing to do with me?" she asked incredulously. "I never knew! But why did you put me through that season, then?"
"Someone as beautiful as you? You charmed wherever you went, you danced so perfectly, you were the toast of the town. I could not deny you that. And then you met Overstreet and were determined to have him, no matter what. I had to separate you, for my peace of mind."
"What about Miss Chastain?"
"She never should have happened. I told myself she was a good substitute, but the truth is, there is no one like you."
Daisy appeared behind Terrence and mimed pushing at Olivia. She smiled and rose from the table. He stood out of politeness, but there was a quizzical expression on his face.
"I am not going anywhere," she told him, putting a hand on his shoulder and parking him back down in his chair. She followed and was quickly settled on his lap, her arms around his neck. "Not for a good long time." Gently, almost tentatively, she leaned in and pressed her lips to his. "That is my partial reply to the proposal you almost tendered me," she said with a teasing smile.
"Will you marry me?" he murmured.
"I thought you would never ask. Most definitely yes." They kissed once more and this time it was met with a very odd cry from Daisy.
"Olivia! Olivia! I see the light! Finally! I'm going!" the spirit called. "Augie, too! Thank you, Olivia, thank you!"
To the amazement of both Olivia and her fiancé, a bright light filled the terrace, catching up Daisy. They watched as the former maid disappeared, and then all was quiet. The ghost was gone.
"Was that..." Olivia finally whispered.
"I believe so. Incredible!"
"I wonder what happened? We have been trying for days to figure out a way to move them on."
"Perhaps it was this," Terrence said, tipping Olivia back in his arms and kissing her. "I suppose love truly does conquer all."
Olivia laughed and brought his lips back down for more.
© 2007 Copyright held by the author.