Read Casteel 03 Fallen Hearts Online

Authors: V. C. Andrews

Tags: #Horror

Casteel 03 Fallen Hearts (11 page)

BOOK: Casteel 03 Fallen Hearts
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I turned out the lights and pulled the quilt up to my shoulders, snuggled in the warmth, and closed my heavy eyelids. Fortunately, I fell asleep almost immediately.
But I wasn't asleep long before something woke me. It was pitch black in my bedroom, but I sensed another presence. What had awoken me, I realized, was the sound of the door being opened, the small click of the handle. For a few moments I stared into the darkness, vaguely making out a shape.
"Who's there?" I asked in a hoarse whisper. My heart began to pound. I felt cold terror creep up my body. "Is someone there? Tony?"
I heard the sound of footsteps and then saw the door open and close, getting only a glimpse of the figure who had entered and left. This mysterious person was too much in darkness for me to make out any identity.
I leapt out of bed, turning on the small night lamp on the table by my side. Then I put on my robe and went to the door. The lights in the corridor had been dimmed, so that all the shadows were wider, longer. I thought I heard a door close and I stepped farther out to listen and look, but there was no one in sight. Could it have been Jillian? I wondered. Had she gotten past a sleeping Martha Goodman and come down to my suite? Or had it been Tony, coming to tell me something and then changing his mind? I listened a little longer and then turned to go back into my suite, when I felt the dampness beneath my feet. I knelt down and touched the carpet. Whoever it was had brought the rain in with him
Troubled and confused, I returned to bed. It hadn't occurred to me to lock my bedroom door before, but this time I did. Still, I remained awake for the longest time, and when I finally did fall asleep, it was a relief. I awoke to the sounds of the house coming alive-- servants moving about, windows and curtains being opened, breakfast being prepared. I listened for a few moments and then quickly sat up in bed.
Had I imagined a nocturnal visitor last night? Dreamt it? Or had someone been here? I slipped into my robe and slippers and went to my bedroom door. It was locked. If I hadn't dreamt doing that, I couldn't have dreamt the other things. I opened the door to the suite and looked down at the hallway carpet. The dampness was gone, but there was other evidence. Someone had tracked in a little mud. Who had it been?
I dressed quickly, determined to solve the mystery, but I couldn't question Tony. He had already had his early breakfast and left Farthy for work. So I cornered Curtis in the dining room and asked him if he knew anything about it. Obviously, it was not a wise thing to do. The man became absolutely terrified. He obviously thought I had confirmed one of Rye Whiskey's tales of the supernatural.
"No, Mrs. Stonewall," he said. "I wasn't walking about and I didn't see anyone, but it's not the first time someone has been heard wandering about the house at night Rye Whiskey says it's got to be one of Mr. Tatterton's ancestors. He says one might have been murdered and his soul's still lost."
"That's ridiculous. Tell Rye I want to speak to him "
"Very good, ma'am," Curtis said and
disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later Rye appeared. The burly gray-haired black man looked as if he had been up all night himself.
"What is this about a murdered ancestor wandering through the halls at night? Don't you think that maybe you're taking these stories too far, Rye? You have Curtis believing it and Martha Goodman says many of the other servants shiver in their bones."
He smiled at me and shook his head.
"You heard him last night, is that it, Miss Heaven?" He nodded as if coaching me to answer.
"I heard something and saw someone, a glimpse, but it wasn't a ghost," I said, looking away.
"I heard him, too," Rye said.
"And you drank your fears away, drank yourself to sleep?" I demanded, turning back to him. "Is that it?" He didn't have to confess; I could see it in his face. "The servants are really becoming spooked, Rye. Do you want me to tell Mr. Tatterton what's happening here?"
"He already knows, Miss Heaven," Rye said, leaning toward me. "I've seen him up at night wandering about himself, listening, searching. Who knows?" Rye said, standing straight again. "Maybe Mr. Tatterton has met his dead relative?"
For a moment I just stared at him.
"That's ridiculous. What a ridiculous thing to say, Rye. I'm sorry I ever let you entertain me with your tales of superstition and the like."
"Sorry, miss. I got to be getting back to the kitchen to prepare Mrs. Tatterton's breakfast."
"Go on. You're absolutely no help." I watched him go and then looked at Curtis, who stood by as always, looking like a cigar store Indian "I can't believe you listen to that gibberish," I said, but I didn't sound as convinced of my opinion as I should have. I left my breakfast and went outside to think
Since that day I had gotten lost fleeing from the cottage, I had avoided the maze, but this morning, perhaps because of the strange events that had taken place the night before, I was inexplicably drawn to it again. The moment I walked outside I felt as if I had stepped into a dream. The morning sky took on a darker shade of blue as a large cloud blocked out the sun. Most of the mist and dew had been burned off, but that seemingly ever-present ring of haze lingered around the maze. I entered it as quickly as I used to when Troy was alive and I used to scurry back and forth between his little cottage and the main house. I closed my eyes and inhaled the rich scent of the flourishing hedges that perfumed the corridors. Then I entered the maze and followed the well-worn course I knew would take me to the little cottage. I walked as fast as I could, and when I finally emerged on the other side and faced the cottage, I was gasping for breath. The large cloud moved off the sun and the world around me brightened once again.
I looked back into the dark corridors of the maze, truly feeling as though I had passed from darkness into light, from sorrow into happiness, from despair into optimism. Yes, the maze kept more people from wandering through it, for most were afraid of its mystery, but I realized long ago one must take risks to find a deeper and truer happiness. Finding the courage was part of the cost, but it was well worth the expense.
The cottage was as I had last found it--frozen in time, well cared for, but hauntingly empty and silent. I folded my arms under my bosom and made my way slowly to the front door. There I hesitated. Why had I returned to the cottage? Why was I tormenting myself'? Why had I agreed to live at Farthinggale Manor, where I knew all these memories would linger vibrant and true? I was tormenting myself with the sounds, the sights, and the scents. I was punishing myself for sins I hadn't committed.
Or had I? Wasn't I sinful to love Troy even though he was my uncle? Wasn't I sinful for filling his heart with hope and then permitting it to break, permitting him to suffer alone? Wasn't I sinful for not being here on the day he most needed me, the day he rode into the ocean to drown away his misery? I had strummed the strings of his heart and then left him as unused and as silent as the piano in the music room. Its music lingered only in memory; its usefulness was gone.
Yes, going into this cottage was another way to continue the torment, but I was like one driven by a passionate ghost. I opened that door again and stepped into-the cottage that had once been the warm and comfortable setting for our love and promises.
The last time I had entered the cottage, I had been so shocked by the reality of it that I had run. I had expected it to be gathering dust, to look like something lost in the past, but Tony had been keeping it up and it looked the same as it had when Troy was alive. It was just as it was the last time I had been in it. It was just as it had been in my memory, just the way I had locked it in my heart. Only now that I stayed and looked about more carefully, I sensed something else. It wasn't just frozen in time; it was also alive in the present. I realized all of the antique clocks were on time. As if to punctuate this
realization, the grandfather clock struck the hour and the light blue music box clock that was shaped like the cottage opened its front door and the tiny family within emerged and then retreated to the sweet and haunting melody.
I walked over to the work table upon which Troy used to make his Tatterton creations. On it were a half dozen or so tiny suits of armor and some bits of silver shaped like S's with holes at either end. There were tiny bolts beside them, ready to be fitted. When the silver links were tied together, the chain-link mail could move freely. They were so tiny and precious! What struck me as odd was how clean and dust free all these parts and pieces were. Some of the tools Troy used to use were still on the table beside them. I couldn't be sure, of course, because I had run from the cottage so quickly the first time I had returned, but it seemed to me that these tools had been neatly placed in their niche on the wall. I didn't remember seeing all this work on the table. Did Tony have another artisan living and working in Troy's cottage?
I decided to explore further. To my surprise I found the kitchen well stocked with food, fresh food. When I put my hand on the teakettle on the stove, I felt its warmth. Someone had made a cup just a short time ago. Why was Tony permitting the cottage to be used? Was that why he was so defensive about it when I asked, referring to the sorrow that he felt over Troy's death as a way of ending our conversation about it?
As I looked around the cottage, I saw there was even more new work, not just the tiny armor on the table. I saw the miniature medieval people that populated the precious little castles and straw huts lined up on the shelves. I saw a replica of an Old English cathedral partially painted, some of its tiny stained-glass windows not yet installed, and I saw the beginnings of a feudal battle scene with the knights on horses holding out their lances facing bowmen dressed in forest green. On a small hill was a beautiful young damsel, looking worried for her young knight, no doubt. Two ladies-in-waiting were there beside her, holding itsybitsy lace handkerchiefs to their faces.
Now I understood what Tony was doing and it chilled my heart. He had led me to believe that he had kept up the cottage as a living shrine to his dead brother out of some sense of guilt, when instead, he was only thinking about his business, his precious little toys. He had found someone as skilled as Troy and installed him in Troy's cottage! He was simply ashamed I should find out and know just what he cared for the most--making money and more money. Things that I thought had been as sacred and precious to him as they had been to me were not. I felt like a wife who had discovered her father had given away her dead husband's clothing and jewelry.
Enraged, I pivoted on my heels to rush out. I intended to return to Farthy to wait for Tony and confront him-with my discovery. But something else caught my attention--the door to the cottage basement was nearly halfway open. I stared at it a moment and then smiled to myself. Of course, I thought. Whomever Tony had hired and permitted to use the cottage had heard me coming and had gone into the cellar to hide. Perhaps Tony had warned him about me after he and I had had that conversation about the cottage, and he had told him to avoid my confronting him. But I made up my mind I would confront this person so the evidence could not be denied.
I went to the door and descended the stairs, but I had forgotten just how dark it was below in the large, windowless room and through the tunnels that led back to the main house, so I went back upstairs and found a candle, just where they had always been, and then returned to the basement, determined to expose what I felt was a blasphemous violation.
The glow from the small yellow flame shivered on the cellar walls. As I turned from left to right the fragile illumination sliced gently through the darkness, revealing the floor and walls of the dark, empty room. He must have retreated into the tunnels, I thought, and continued on. I walked slowly, recalling how impatient I used to be with the slow pace that would keep the candle from blowing out. When Troy first showed me the tunnels, he told me he was always afraid to go through them as a small boy. Every time the tunnel made a bend, he expected monsters to appear, or ghosts to step out of the pockets of darkness.
But I didn't expect monsters or ghosts right now; I expected some frightened little man, afraid for his job, afraid that if I caught him, Tony would be angry and fire him. I knew it wasn't fair for me to take my own anger out on him, but I couldn't keep down the fury that had taken hold of me. That cottage and all that was in it was so much a part of Troy. It was painful to think that a stranger would sleep in his bed and touch his precious things.
Sure enough, I heard the sound of footsteps ahead. Whoever it was, he was retreating quickly, fleeing from the reach of my candlelight. I lowered the candle toward the floor and saw the imprint of footsteps. Some looked fresh; some looked like they might have been made the night before.
When I looked around, I realized I had traveled nearly half the way through the tunnels. How long could this go on? Didn't the fleeing man know he couldn't escape discovery? And wasn't he afraid to go charging through the darkness? Or maybe, since my return to Farthy, Tony and his new employee met surreptitiously down here in the tunnels.
"Whoever you are," I called, "you might as well come forward. I'll follow you right to Farthy and that will be most embarrassing for you. Come forward. I know you were in the cottage; I know you work for Tony."
I waited and listened. All was suddenly very silent.
"You're being very foolish," I said. "I saw the work you did; I know what you're doing. There is no longer any point in your running away."
I waited again. Still nothing.
"Okay, have it your way," I said. I continued forward.
I covered the flame with my left hand to protect it from the increased breeze caused by my quickening pace, not even hesitating as I came to a bend. I knew where I was and I knew just how much farther it would be before I reached Farthy. I would come to the bottom of steep, narrow steps that led up to the back of the kitchen hall. Breakfast was over. If everything was cleaned up, there might not be anyone in the kitchen, I thought. Tony's secret worker might escape into the house and leave by one of the side entrances before I reached him. I made a quick decision to forget the candlelight and rushed forward, remembering exactly how the tunnels turned. It was pitch dark, but using the walls as a guide, I moved on quickly. When I came around the final bend, I stopped. Someone was just a few feet away in the darkness, near one of the doors that led to nowhere.

BOOK: Casteel 03 Fallen Hearts
12.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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