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Authors: Karolyn Cairns

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BOOK: The Ghost Who Loved Me
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   The loneliness James always felt was pervasive these days, marking the passage of yet another century. He always wondered why he could never just drift past that one day of all without recognizing its true significance. He was quick to learn the reason.

It was his death day, much like a birthday, but far more important.

James knew that one special day every year gave him great additional powers to move about the castle. At the very stroke of midnight on All Hallow’s Eve, for just six hours before dawn, he was of the flesh.

James used such valuable time to his advantage to investigate the castle for some clue to how he died, but more importantly, who killed him and why. Any ghost in his right mind would have wanted to eat, to drink, and to spend the night in a beautiful woman’s arms.

Not him, he knew those six hours to be precious and used them wisely, searching the castle and the grounds ruthlessly to find some form of escape. He learned nothing of value during those hours he poured over the many books in the library.

Some things he discovered on his own.

James couldn’t enter the east tower room or venture below into the catacombs. Some unseen force kept him out. It was an invisible wall that kept him from entering either area. It gave him cause to think there was something in both places he wasn’t allowed to see. He could only assume it the work of the curse.

James knew without a doubt he never left that east tower room alive. Isabelle, or whoever was in her company, took his life when he arrived back home.

Whoever fathered Isabelle’s son the year after his death and assumed his title and property was a despicable imposter. The man who dared to call himself the Duke of Westerleigh from that day on took all he would ever have.

The recorded history within the library told him nothing when leafing through the aged volumes on the shelves. The man who was from then on Lord Westerleigh died in 1564, just eighteen years later, siring two sons and three daughters. He died of a fever that spread through the village and soon invaded the castle.

Records were scant on his former wife. He was led to assume Isabelle died of old age here years later when all of her children left to make their lives elsewhere. He prayed her death was a painful one when he thought of how she must have plotted this all when she was sent from court.

James surmised his duplicitous wife had a lover before he married her. Isabelle saw a way for them to be together by getting rid of her unwanted husband.

How she could have pulled such off under Henry Tudor’s nose or all the other nobles who were his peers was a mystery he had yet to discover. The only thing he knew for certain, the king was ill when he left court.

Henry Tudor would die three months later, leaving his young son Edward heir to the throne.  That explained why the Duke of Westerleigh was never held to task for not returning to London.

The fact the other men in his acquaintance never came looking for him was never explained. This imposter stayed close to Westerleigh those eighteen years.

No portrait of the man was ever commissioned either, giving James no means to identify the thief who stole his life. Isabelle was careful of that. The only portraits in the gallery were those of her and her children.  

Nothing explained to him how the imposter managed to hide all from the servants, villagers, and Father Creaton.

And what of his own personal retainers?

Those loyal men who fought in battle bravely beside him were another matter. How could they have stood by and done nothing? Sir Edmund Sheffield would have cut down any man or woman that dared to kill his lord or so one would think.

Such never happened leaving him with a sinking feeling all was not as it seemed and further frustrated him to not know what happened that day.

There was simply nothing in the books to tell him how someone could steal his life and make it their own and go unchallenged by any. James had to work quickly if he was to discover how to free himself from this coil.

The changes that were coming to Westerleigh in the future made it necessary before the castle was closed forever and any answers with it.

James knew there was no way to give him back what was lost to him that fateful day. He was infuriated that some unknown man stole his life, passed his heirs off as his for centuries. He was determined to learn the truth.

The helpless anger he felt to know he was cheated out of his life made him lose his own reason at times and rage against those injustices.

The sadness he felt was overwhelming at times too, remembering the past with such vivid detail that last day he was alive. He recalled how it seemed so ordinary as it began, even mundane, and yet unappreciated when he looked back on it.

If he had only known it would have been his last day alive.

What would he have done differently if given another chance? Would he have swung his mount around, raced back to Hampton Court to steal his lady away? Would he declare her his heart of hearts and let all say what they would? Would he have willingly incurred Henry’s wrath for forsaking Isabelle?

He would never leave here to know the answer to any of it.

For another curse was to be tied here and be unable to leave the castle grounds. The alarming fact that he could not travel beyond the borders of Westerleigh was another trial to contend with over the centuries.

He tried time and time again to leave. An invisible force kept him bound here, unable to leave to see this new world growing up all around him. Only the lucky living could cross that threshold beyond Westerleigh.

But he alone was trapped here, left behind to watch them go year after year with a bitter feeling of loss to forever be unable to follow.

Chapter Four

 

Elizabeth righted herself on the seat as the ominous sight of Westerleigh Castle came into view. It was a mammoth grey stone structure boasting four towers on all sides. She squinted in the distance to see the flag of the Carlisle family’s impressive coat of arms flying from the parapets.

She knew from her reading during the journey the castle was enormous, with four towers on each side, their rooms made into a sewing room, a solar, a hawking station, and the fourth was closed off for repair. Four spacious wings comprised thirty-six bedchambers, multiple sitting rooms, a nursery, upstairs servant quarters, and a laundry.

The first level housed a huge ballroom, a billiard room, a library, a formal and informal salon, a study, meeting rooms, a large portrait gallery, the kitchens, a servant’s hall, a downstairs laundry, and another wing of servant’s quarters.

Below ground housed the vast wine cellars and a catacomb of old passages, some boarded up due to the dangers of a cave-in over the years.

The stables and outbuildings were just behind the castle. The small cluster of buildings comprised workshops, tool sheds, a dairy, servant’s cottages, and the land agent’s cottage. She also read of a large hunting lodge that was a few miles behind the castle, deep in the woods.

Elizabeth was eager to explore the old castle and grounds, unmindful of all the writings about the infamous Lord James Carlisle’s ghost, the third Duke of Westerleigh who died in 1564.

They much-glamorized the man’s ghost over the years to the point the family no longer occupied the residence with all of the scandalous accountings of his legendary seductions of female guests.

It was no wonder a footnote in the book suggested the castle might eventually revert back to the Crown with the enormous taxes levied against it. It was an issue every landowner now faced in England as the middle of the nineteenth century approached.

Edward couldn’t afford to pay the taxes.

Because Edward was a fourth cousin removed to the royal family, he assumed the tax debt unimportant of his notice when his father died. In the years since, he did nothing to attempt to pay the taxes, living off the rents from the tenant farmers and spoiling his male companions shamelessly.

Elizabeth was a bit sad to think of this beautiful historic structure one day being left to rot. Edward never discussed such matters with her, but she heard much throughout society to know it was happening to the very best of families.

Their way of life was changing. They refused to see it. Anthony often argued the excesses of the nobility would one day bite them in the backside if they did not learn how to live within their means.

Anthony was often disparaging of society, even condescending at times, making her look at him twice in surprise. His own father was a Viscount. True, his eldest brother Charles would inherit, and John after that if the elder brother died without issue. But Anthony took on so about it. It was as if he hated the nobility and all that they stood for.

Didn’t she see much of the same happening at Camden Downs?

Her father struggled for years to maintain the illusion all was the same as it always was for the sake of her, Mama, and his heir George. She feared George would lose Camden Downs long before he inherited his father’s title.

The thought of Camden Downs being turned into an inn one day or bought by one of the nouveau rich hailing from America made her sigh depressively. She set the book aside in her lap.

Annie was craning her neck out the window to look as they turned down a winding cobbled drive, passing through high wrought-iron gates overgrown with ivy. She swallowed hard to see the huge iron lions emblazoned upon the gates.

Elizabeth expected to feel fear as they closed the distance to the castle. Instead, she felt a strange sense of peace she never expected. This was to be her prison yet she looked forward to this like another of life’s great adventures.

The thought of that was far preferable than thinking of her husband and Simon arriving in the spring, making her frown darkly.

That was another matter she had at last come to terms with.

No power on this earth could force her to do as Edward intended. She had her rights too. She vowed if Simon Ives laid one hand upon her, she would call for the local constable and have him arrested.

She refused to allow Edward to degrade her in such a manner and say nothing of it. Too long she allowed Edward to bully her. She refused to let him use her family against her anymore.

Recent letters from her mother alleviated much of that anxiety before her departure. The earl was unwell and had been for some time. She suggested her daughter come home as soon as she could. Elizabeth wrote back that Edward remanded her to Westerleigh, telling her nothing more than they had a bit of a spat.

Elizabeth forced back tears to think she might never see her father again. Edward might be her husband and be able to order her about, but there were limits of what she was prepared to allow.

If her father turned for the worst, they knew where to reach her. Her mother promised to write if anything changed.

Elizabeth peered outside the coach as it came to a stop in the sculpted, circular courtyard. The footmen and driver leapt down to help her and Annie out. They handled the bags with the help of four brawny liveried footmen who arrived. Annie was left to handle her own personal cases.

Elizabeth took a deep breath as she saw the long line of servants standing outside the castle assembled to greet her. The butler was named Mr. Pettigrew. The man walked towards her, smiling broadly in welcome.

“Welcome to Westerleigh Castle, Your Grace,” the butler intoned and bowed elegantly.

“Thank you, Mr. Pettigrew,” Elizabeth said with a regal nod and moved on to receive bows and curtsies from all of the staff, weary of the necessary façade a duchess must adhere to in the face of servants.

Elizabeth nodded politely to them all, worrying remembering their names in the back of her mind. She followed the butler into the hall, looking about and forcing herself not to gape in outright wonder at the sight that met her eyes within. She felt like she was swept back into another time.

~ ~ ~

“Your Ladyship, are you unwell?” Mr. Pettigrew gazed down at her in concern, seeing her dumbfounded expression as she looked about the great hall.

Elizabeth smiled apologetically up at him. “I wasn’t prepared at all for this, Mr. Pettigrew. This is the first time I’ve been to Westerleigh Castle. I had no idea the castle was so unchanged inside.” She shook her head incredulously as she looked upward, craning her neck to see the incredible painted scenes on the high cathedral ceiling above. “It’s extraordinary! The restoration is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”

“Restoration?” The butler looked decidedly confused. “There have been no restorations done to the castle in the time that I’ve been here, Your Ladyship, and that is going on thirty years. I was also born here and can tell you that nothing was ever done in the twenty-some odd years before that.”

Elizabeth marveled at his words, unable to believe this place showed hardly any sign of decay despite how old she knew it to be. Mr. Pettigrew had to be wrong in what he said. The castle had to have been renovated and restored at some point since 1564. 

It looked the same as it might have looked centuries ago, with not even one crack in the high stone walls within.

Elizabeth looked down and marveled at the intricate Italian marble tile work beneath her feet, knowing such craftsmanship went out of style two centuries ago due to how expensive textiles became. The flooring alone looked as bright and as shiny as if just put in recently. She could see her own reflection in its spotless sheen.

The gleaming double-winding mahogany staircases on each side of the hall led to separate wings where the bedchambers were. It would take forever for her to remember how to find her own room in the maze above stairs.

Elizabeth stepped further inside the hall and looked about, seeing portraits of the former dukes of Westerleigh and ladies from another time period gracing the walls, wanting desperately to know all she could about the place, infatuated with it from the moment she stepped inside.

“Would you like some tea, Your Ladyship?” Mr. Pettigrew watched her looking about with the trace of a smile to see her enthusiasm over her surroundings, pleased she obviously approved. “I can have the housekeeper take you on a tour once you are settled in.”

Elizabeth smiled widely. “I should love that! Thank you, Mr. Pettigrew. I will have some tea, come to think of it. Where do you suggest I take it?” 

“I think the informal salon the best place, Your Ladyship,” the man said warmly and gestured for her to follow him. “It catches the better part of the sun at this time of the day. You will be most comfortable there until I send Mrs. Gates for you. You need only ring the bell pull at the doorway if you have need of anything else.”

Elizabeth entered the informal salon and appreciated the fact her mouth hadn’t dropped for not only was it dreadfully misnamed, it was far from informal in her estimation. The luxurious furnishings within made her wander around, touching this chair, admiring that wooden sideboard, aware she had quite forgotten Mr. Pettigrew in her exploration of the room’s furnishings. He stood in the doorway proudly, watching her exclaim over how well preserved the pieces were.

She stood before several paintings in a large grouping on the wall of the Carlisle ancestors, squinting at the artist’s name in the corners and gasped aloud. They were all Hans Holbein originals, the famous artist who was favored by Henry Tudor and his family.

The fact they were worth a veritable fortune was not lost upon her.

Elizabeth was no expert but the room was filled with priceless antiquities from a time period that was quite coveted by collectors all around the world. Edward obviously had no idea that Westerleigh was a virtual treasure chest.

From the eighth century Ming vase on the small Chippendale table to her right to the spotless Persian rug that covered the pristine wood flooring under her feet, she knew the value of these items to be innumerable in terms of what an auction would bring.

How all of this wealth could have escaped Edward’s greedy notice was anyone’s guess. He would have gutted the place and sold it all off piece by piece if he had known, just to keep Mr. Ives in the style he currently enjoyed.

It saddened her heart to think of someday seeing this grand structure standing empty, of seeing the beauty stripped within these hallowed walls and allowed to rot with the passage of time. It was obvious the servant’s diligence is cleaning the place was what kept Westerleigh in such a preserved state.

It was remarkable how everything appeared so unchanged. She couldn’t quite get over that, something nagging at her as she looked about again, stiffening as a thought occurred to her.

Elizabeth thought of Camden Downs. Her home wasn’t even half as old as this one and had already been restored a half dozen times. Such changes were often needed over time to modernize and make it more efficient to heat in the winters.

Sometimes water damage collected overtime and created rot and mold. Ceilings and roofs sometimes caved in if let go. These changes were recorded by the acting land agent if made. She was sure none of the interior or exterior of Westerleigh was the original.

That was impossible.

Elizabeth recalled Mama and the Dowager lamenting over an old settee in the main salon at Camden Downs that was scorched from being placed too close to the fireplace in the night. The settee was only fifty years-old but looked quite older than that, worn and torn in many places and patched.

Mama was quite happy to see it hauled away after they determined it not worth repairing, making Elizabeth wonder if Mama pushed the settee too close to the fireplace just to be rid of the heirloom she deemed as ugly.

Elizabeth shook her head in denial as she looked around again as if seeing it with new eyes, knowing Edward would have never parted with one shilling to renovate the place and the previous dukes felt much the same.

She shivered in sudden awareness that something wasn’t at all right.   

~ ~ ~

James refrained from lashing out at the woman as he watched her make free with his possessions. He watched her touching his things in the informal salon, trying to control his seething temper. She was not the first to realize the items priceless value.

James dealt with mortals and their greed for centuries. He had seen those looks of amazement in countless other visitors’ faces. Why the castle remained unchanged with the passage of time was as much a mystery as to why he was still here.

Westerleigh was never quite so luxurious when he was master here, recalling that many rooms were left empty when he was a child. He recalled the original stone floors, now covered in fancy wood and marble tile, or plush carpets he’d seen only at Hampton Court during his lifetime.

These fussy furnishings the imposters filled the castle with weren’t to his benign taste, recalling a much simpler time when everything had a use. His grandfather didn’t believe in excess, nor did his father before him.

The imposter made quite free with his fortune after killing him. His spend thrift heirs were no better over the years. These many costly things the previous inhabitants collected over time were as trapped here as he was.

BOOK: The Ghost Who Loved Me
9.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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