The House of St. John

By Harry M. VanHoudnos III & Diane Baksys

Foreword

While I cannot properly thank everyone who helped in encouraging

me in writing this book, there are some who do deserve being given

credit. Among them are my wife Kim, who helped me to get the original

equipment that allowed me to get started in writing, My

proofreader/co-writer Diane Baksys, as well as some of my fellow

Co-workers. Without your help, none of this would have been possible.

Book I Prologue

May 1901

It was a murky and morbid day for the house of St. John.

The St. John family women gazed sadly out the carriage window upon

their estate, from which they would soon be moving. It was hard for the

sisters to accept that there beloved home, the prized legacy of four

generations of the St. John family, was being wrenched from there

possession.

Built in Illinois promptly following its statehood, the elegant

twenty - room Victorian manor had belonged to the St. John family for

almost 90 years. The mansions founding fathers, French settlers who

made a small fortune in Illinois from land speculation, had diligently

built the house over a period of several years, constructing the

domicile on a scenic bluff overlooking the banks of the Sangamon River.

In the decades that the St. John Family prospered, they had

cherished and nurtured their estate, expanding the lower level and

richly embellishing the home's interior. Proud of the aristocratic

dwelling which they had so meticulously wrought, they had generously

opened its doors to socialites and commoners alike. Friends and

neighbors had been entertained with lavish soirees, and even a handful

of escaping slaves had found refuge there. But now, the St. John

estate was suffering serious financial setbacks from manipulations in

the commodities exchange, and the house was being sold to pay off back

taxes owed on the property.

The surviving heirs to the St. John estate, sisters Catherine,

Meghan, and Robin, were overcome with sadness, as they approached the

family grounds in their carriage on the edge of the family grounds that

gloomy day. Their home, which they viewed in the distance, seemed to

bear their somber expression also, its exterior darkened by the gray

clouds that were gathering overhead. The sky, which had been bright

earlier that day, was becoming overcast, with the hint of a storm

approaching.

" How could it happen, Meghan, how?" asked Catherine, the middle

sister and the most prim of the three daughters, as she shook her

strawberry - blonde head of hair in disbelief. "How, what, Catherine?"

answered Meghan, the oldest sister, as she turned in a state of

agitation toward Catherine, almost hitting her with the parasol she was

holding. The three women decided to send the coachman ahead to the

house, so that they could traverse the pathway that they had walked

since childhood to their beloved estate, which they must unwillingly

surrender.

Meghan continued to address to her younger sister's, while

adjusting the hood of the cloak that covered her brunette hair. " How

could they seize our home and take it away from us? I'll tell you how.

After Mother's death, our father became a fool and a drunkard! He let

himself be talked into investing money into uncertain ventures, and then

he drank all of the profits away, " she lamented, as she looked toward

the mist - shrouded grounds.

The memory of their departed mother brought a painful silence upon

the sisters for a few minutes. "Now, now, sisters, let's not direct our

frustration against our father", interjected Robin, the youngest and

the most pragmatic of the three sisters. "What father has done cannot

be undone, so let us hope that the new owner of our home will be of a

good family, worthy of the privilege of our honorable estate, " the ash

blonde continued, casting a serious look toward her sisters, with an

intent, mournful stare at their home. "But what if the new owner is not

of a good family? " Catherine asked hesitantly. "We must trust that

such a situation will not arise under the judicious management of our

realtor " responded Meghan declaratively. "Let us approach him now to

ascertain the state of affairs regarding our property. "

They slowly and silently started up a long, winding pathway lined

with tall, majestic oak trees, which extended about 500 yards from their

home.

As the sisters neared their house, they saw several of their

neighbors on the front lawn, talking feverishly amongst themselves. In

the midst of the group stood the sisters' real estate agent, Mr.

Sanders. Raising his right hand to silence the crowd, he spoke above

the commotion. "Now, as I told you, I can't do anything about this.

An offer has been made, and it not only pays off the debt owed, but also

provides that the house will still be lived in. I still have to talk it

over with the St. John family, but I don't anticipate any problems.

After all, they will be handsomely taken care of. " Although diminutive

in height, Sanders spoke with a dignified bearing that commanded his

listeners' attention.

The St. John women hurried over to the animated onlookers. "What

is the meaning of this ruckus, Mr. Sanders? " demanded Meghan. "Miss

Meghan, Miss Catherine, Miss Robin, I have some good news for you, " he

announced. "And what, pray tell, is that, ?" inquired Meghan . "Well,

as I was telling your neighbors, I have someone who has made a very

generous offer for not only the house, but for the grounds as well. The

figure quoted was around $3, 000, which is more than enough to pay off

the debt, as well as providing your family with enough money to restart

elsewhere, " the agent informed the sisters.

As Sanders spoke, Robin, the most observant of the three ladies,

noticed that the agent acted nervous, and his face was glistening with

newly - appearing beads of sweat . "Excuse me, Mr. Sanders, but I

couldn't help but notice that you are perspiring rather heavily. Is

there some reason that you are uneasy, perhaps something that you are

not telling us? " she inquired.

"How perceptive she is, " thought Sanders in astonishment.

He searched for words to soften the news that he had, but could

find none. "You are correct, Miss Robin ; there is one small piece of

information that I was withholding from all three of you ladies. The

person who wants to buy the house and its lands is a ... " Sanders'

face began to blush all the way from his bearded chin up to his salt -

and pepper hair, " ... A lady of ill - repute. She intends to set up a

new business here, near Springfield, and thought that your home would be

the ideal place to do so. "

The loss of their home, compiled with the ignominious plans for

its future, was too dismal a fate for them to bear. Of all the things

that could have happened, a madam operating out of their family home!

This indignity was more than they could tolerate.

The three sisters exploded with shock and outrage, and a cold wind

began to blow over the St. John estate, as the sisters furiously

confronted the real estate agent. "How could you, Sanders? How dare

you consider selling this house to a Madam ! " charged Meghan, glaring

contemptuously at Sanders. " Of all the people in the world, Mr.

Sanders, a Madam ! " hissed Catherine. Shaking her head in disgust,

she thought to herself, "Sanders is a cold - blooded mercenary. " Robin

disdainfully reproached him, saying " I am extremely disappointed that

you would even allow someone in such a profession to make an offer on

our house. " The sisters' incisive, disapproving voices struck Sanders'

ears with the sharpness of an ice pick.

"I'm sorry, ladies, but my instructions were to sell the house in

such a way that it would pay off the taxes owed, as quickly as possible,

and this woman satisfies that criteria. We can discuss the settlement

more tonight, but I am due in Springfield immediately to get the papers

signed. " Sanders wiped his heavily perspired face with a handkerchief

that he had drawn from his waistcoat, and retreated from the continued

outcries of Catherine, Meghan, and Robin. Relieved to escape his

clients' wrath, he climbed in his carriage and abruptly departed for his

small real estate office in town. As he quickly fled down the rural

road leading to Springfield, cold gusts of wind violently rocked the

carriage and whipped at Sander's face and clothing. Fearing that a

tornado may be at hand, the group dispersed, running to their homes for

shelter.

Meghan, Catherine, and Robin took cover in the front hallway of

the St. John mansion, still lividly discussing the terrible transaction

for which their home was fated. "Is there any way to stop this woman

from doing what she proposes to do?" asked Robin, her voice breaking

with despair. "None whatsoever, " answered Catherine with resignation

in her voice and tears in her eyes.

"Although she cannot be stopped, there is some recourse that may

be taken that might affect her plans, " interjected Meghan. Robin and

Catherine looked inquisitively at their oldest sister. "Follow my words

with your own, " Meghan instructed her sisters.

"Our terrible injustice will be avenged, " she said, smiling

maliciously. "We curse this house and any and all females who enter it,

" pronounced Meghan bitterly, her face contorted into a terrible grimace

of hatred. "Woe and misery to any female who dares to enter here, "

continued Catherine with the malediction, as she spit her words out like

snake venom. "For any female who would dare to cross this threshold

will never be the same when she leaves this house, " added Robin

vehemently, her eyes angrily blazing, like pools of fire. The curse was

concluded by all three women declaring in unison: ... "If she EVER

leaves at all. " Outside the mansion, the wind rose to a fever pitch,

shrieking like a train whistle, as if to accompany the sisters' curse.

Their ominous proclamation issued, Meghan, Catherine, and Robin

entered their home for the last time. They promptly seized their most

precious possessions, and then they left their ancestral home, never to

set foot on the estate again. As the women swiftly departed in their

carriage, the storm clouds that had been gathering broke, releasing a

pounding, unforgiving hailstorm and a torrential tempest over the St.

John estate.

Chapter 1

1995

The airline pilot announced over the intercom, "Ladies and

Gentlemen, we are now arriving at Springfield, Illinois, known as the

capitol of the Land of Lincoln. We are scheduled to land in about five

minutes. Please make sure that all seats are in the upright position,

and that you are buckled in. We wish to thank you for flying TWE

airlines this day. " Linda looked out the window and saw level farmland

and woods surrounding the modest - sized town of 110,000.

It felt funny to come back here after all these years, and see the

landscape and airport looking exactly the same as it had when she left.

The plane descended and landed on the runway below, gliding up to

a docking bay at the city's Command Airport.

A warm but blustery wind, unusual for late February, wafted across

Linda's hair, as well as fogging up her glasses, since the temperature

difference between where she had left, vs. when she had arrived at this

day, as well as the cramped conditions of the plane, was considerable

indeed. She then descended the stairs of the plane and approached the

airport building. Leaving the airline gate, she went to the luggage

carousel and picked up the small suitcase and garment bags she had

brought with her from the jet airplane flight from Charleston SC. , and

then transferred to the turboprop flight out of St. Louis MO. , and

proceeded to walk toward the Action Car rental kiosk next to the baggage

carousel.

A young blonde woman at the counter named Betty asked her "May I

help you, Miss ?" . "Yes, my name is Linda Mayer, and I have a car

reserved for me by the Springfield Historical Society. " Betty quickly

scanned her terminal to see if such a vehicle had been reserved. " Yes,

here we are. A 1995 Lexus Convertible, reserved for you in Section G,

Row 5. I will need a major credit card and your driver's license to

release the car to you. "

" Are you sure that it was a Lexus Convertible, and not some other,

less luxurious car ? " asked Linda hopefully. Betty looked at the

young woman in her early 30's, about 5' 3, " wearing a pair of flat

shoes, and a knee - length tweed suit, with half-rim glasses covering

olive - green eyes, and thick, dark, brown hair. The flawless features

of the woman's face who was looking demurely back at her, indicated that

she could be a knockout, if she would wear any makeup, Betty thought.

" I'm sorry, but there are no other cars under that reservation, "

Betty informed her customer. Linda sighed quietly to herself and handed

over her Discover card. She preferred more practical, understated

vehicles, like her modest tastes in clothing.

As she left the airport in her rented car, Linda thought about why

she was back in Springfield. She had left the city over 10 years ago,

after graduating with top honors from one of the local parochial

schools, Holy Cross Academy. Subsequently, Linda had driven herself

diligently at the University of South Carolina, getting her Master's

degrees in both history and architecture in less than seven years' time.

After graduating, since her parents were no longer alive, she had

remained in the university town and had worked exceptionally hard at

becoming a top - notch restorationist.

While doing a research internship for the history department at

USC, Linda had browsed the university job notices, looking for

occupational openings for historians, when she had seen a position

opening with the Historical Society in Springfield, Illinois. The

generous salary offering, as well as the opportunity to do research near

her hometown, had lured Linda into taking a job interview. Her initial

job screening conducted over the phone, went well, and she had been

called back and offered the job.

Despite her positive first impression though, Linda was still

nervous about meeting her interviewer this afternoon. Wishing that she

had been assigned a less elegant car, such as a Ford Mustang or maybe

even a Chevrolet Caprice, she drove into town in a southerly direction

on John Q. Smith Highway, preparing herself mentally for the job

meeting and her reentry into the community she had left so many years

earlier.

Chapter 2

Familiar old places, and a few new developments, appeared before

Linda Mayer as she arrived in Springfield and ventured into the downtown

area. The physical layout and atmosphere looked the same as

she remembered it when she left in the mid 1980's - moderately - sized,

more like a big town than a small city, with smaller buildings and

relatively slow pace of traffic. She noticed that there were more open

lots and more forsaken buildings and businesses than there had been when

she had left the capital city a decade back. As both a historian and an

architect, she could see that the downtown area was in need of a major

renewal.

Nonetheless, the major historical sites, one of the primary

attractions of the city, had remained intact, which felt oddly

comforting to Linda. The State Capitol, with its silver - colored dome,

gleamed in the sunlight as Linda traveled into the center of the

downtown. A few blocks further south, Linda looked at the colonial -

style two - story Lincoln home and neighboring historical houses, and

fondly remembered her frequent visits there as a child and as a young

adult.

As all the familiar sites began reviving vivid images in Linda's

memory, she reached the historical society. The headquarters, were

housed in a one - story colonial - style brick building that been

converted from another business or state facility.

Linda checked her watch, and saw that it was five minutes before

Three o'clock, which left her only five minutes to get into her

interview. After hastily locating a parking space across from the

society, she entered the building, feeling both excitement and

trepidation.

At the front desk Linda met a young, blonde - haired lady

putting envelopes aside for mailing. " May I be of some help, Miss?

" she asked. "Yes, I'm Linda Mayer. I have an appointment with Mr.

Sammuelson about a job for which I was hired, " replied Linda. " Oh

yes, you must be the restorationist that we were told to expect. If

you'll have a seat, I'll call you once he's free, " said Angelique.

Linda sat down on one of the lounge chairs and became engrossed in

one of the historical society's newsletters. After some 20 minutes,

Angelique called Linda's name. " Mr. Sammuelson will see you now, "

she stated.

Linda had to adjust her eyes to the dark interior of Sammuelson's

office. The dim lighting and somber, dark wall paneling and furnishings

reminded her of her former days in parochial high school, the inside of

which had also been extremely dark. Sammuelson, who was seated behind a

large mahogany executive desk, was rubbing his temples vigorously, and

concluding an apparently heated conversation.

" I don't care what the owner says, Chuck, you've got to talk him

into letting us shoulder the responsibility for that building. I don't

want another Holy Cross clock tower fiasco on our hands! Give me a call

tomorrow right after your meeting with him. "

Linda surveyed the large - framed man, about 6 feet in height,

who possessed the powerful voice. He looked a little older than Linda

had imagined him: in his early 50's, with those worry lines imprinted

across his forehead. The society head looked up and briskly waved her

toward a chair near his desk. " Please, Miss Mayer, come in. I have been

expecting you, " he said, as he soared from his desk, his right hand

extended to greet her.

As Linda approached to shake Sammuelson's hand, she noticed a

large map of Springfield on the wall behind him with several Springfield

sites marked, as well as a marked area outside the city. " I am very

pleased that you were willing to come here and take this assignment,

Miss Mayer. You were very highly recommended for this project, " said

Sammuelson, shaking Linda's hand vigorously. Linda returned the firm

handshake and nodded her head slightly, in polite acknowledgement of the

compliment. " I might be a good restorationist, but I still don't have

much background information about the nature of the job that you want me

to do. " The president of the society smiled with satisfaction . "

When I tell you more about the project, you will be begging for permission

to start immediately, " he stated, a hint of excitement evident in his

voice.

Sammuelson reached onto his desk and activated a remote control

that lowered a display screen. " I think it would be easier to show

you, while I explain it to you, " the older gentleman professed. Linda

sat down and intently watched the screen.

Chapter 3

An image appeared of a large 18th century - style house, with a

distinguished - looking gentleman and three young ladies standing in the

foreground. " This is the Saint John (pronounced Sin Jin) Mansion,

circa 1880, in one of the oldest photographs of the home known to exist.

The four persons in the photograph are Robert Saint John and his three

daughters Catherine, Meghan, and Robin. Nobody knows what happened to

the St. John family members pictured here. All references to them

disappear after 1901, " said Sammuelson. He then moved to the next

slide, which revealed an interior view, showing a room with furniture

covered in cloth and dust. " The home was eventually used as a house of

ill - repute from the early 1900's to the mid - 1940's. After that, the

site was abandoned, and was occupied only off and on after that.

"Then, in 1990, our society purchased the mansion. A significant

amount of the homes original furniture was located and reinstalled by

one of our previous historians. What the Illinois Historic Preservation

Society is commissioning you to do is physically restore the home's

interior decor to its glory period of the 1920's and 1930's, "Sammuelson

explained, using his forefinger to strike the slide photograph with

emphasis.

This was the biggest, most elaborate assignment that Linda had

ever been offered. " But why me? Why did you decide to favor me for

this job?" she inquired. Sammuelson's face brightened with a delighted

smile. " When I started looking for someone to work on this project, I

examined about three hundred graduate students' resumes and their

Master's theses.

Your comprehensive thesis on 1920's lifestyles, fashions, and

mannerisms impressed me enough to recommend you to the society's board.

Once they approved you, I was authorized to offer you the assignment. "

Sammuelson walked over to his desk, and picked up a portfolio. " Here

is detailed job description for the position Ms. Mayer. Please review

it, and let me know if you are still interested in taking the

assignment. "

Linda smiled inwardly with pride, and excitedly skimmed the job

information. Intrigued with the project at hand, she perused the

contents of the job description within a few short minutes. " Well,

sir, I guess you have yourself a restorationist, " she announced, both

blushing and beaming. "I'm honored and pleased to have been selected

for an assignment of this magnitude."

" I'm pleased that you've accepted, Miss Mayer. I have the utmost

confidence in your abilities. " Sammuelson continued, as though in an

afterthought. "Don't forget, tonight at 8:00 P.M. , the society is

throwing a formal party as a combination fundraiser and introduction

affair at the St. Xavier Hotel. As our new historian, you will be

expected to attend. "

As Linda was escorted through the door of Sammuelson's office, she

tried to calm the alarm bells that were going off in her head. She was

requested to attend a formal dinner for this very evening, and she

wasn't ready for it! She had thought that the event was scheduled for

the next evening, not this one!

The impact of her new job, and the accompanying banquet invitation

overloaded Linda's mind for a few minutes, as she located the Restful

Retreat Inn, a neat modest hotel complex south of the downtown area, and

checked in. When she carried her luggage into her quarters, Linda

looked about the room, which had a basic gold - toned interior with

austere furnishings, and whose style dated back to the 1970's.

She chuckled at the outdated shag carpeting, lava lamp, and the

dome lamps in her suite, while thinking that her temporary bedroom could

also use a remodeling.

Linda had only one ensemble in her wardrobe that was suitable for

a formal occasion: a pair of black pumps, a crushed black-velvet, knee -

length dress, and a pair of silver clip-on earrings. Fortunately, the

clothing had withstood the plane trip well, remaining unwrinkled. Linda

breathed a sigh of relief as she placed the dress on a hanger and headed

for the bathroom to take a shower. "Its a good thing that I kept my

dress from the USC Honor Society banquet, " she thought. By the time

the party was ready to start, Linda was properly dressed in her attire

and on her way to the St. Xavier Hotel.

Chapter 4

Linda readily identified the St. Xavier Hotel, in the a twelve -

story building with an elongated marble facade, designed in an art deco

style of the 1930's, the period of the hotel's construction. Linda

quickly went to the front desk and summoned the hotel clerk there, a

young brunette by the name of Carol. " Excuse me, please, but where is

the dinner party for the Springfield Historical Society ?" " That party

is meeting in the main banquet room on the top floor. Is there anything

else you need, Miss ? , " Carol politely asked, with a smile on her

lips and a twinkle in her eyes. " No, thank you. I just need to locate

the Historical Society " Linda replied demurely, never indicating her

title of importance in that prestigious group. Catching her breath, she

quickly took the elevator up to the rooftop dining room.

The sizeable crowd of people she saw milling about as well as the

grandeur, of the banquet hall, was rather intimidating to Linda. The

room, which was replete with a marble floor and other columns, was

easily over three thousand square feet in area, and it was packed to

capacity, with dozens of men in tuxedos and women in formal gowns. Many

of those in attendance seemed to already know each other, and all of the

guests, men and women alike, had an appearance of self - assurance that

made Linda feel awkward by comparison.

Sammuelson spotted Linda and quickly crossed the room to greet

her. "My dear Miss Mayer, I'm so glad that you were able to be here

tonight. Of course, you're the guest of honor this evening, " he added,

as he escorted her toward the main table and introduced her to the

Historical Society Board members. Once they were seated, multiple racks

of lamb, along with filet mignon, were brought out to each table. Also,

the Vindu Mistral and Cabernet Sauvignon, provided by a local wine shop,

The Corkscrew, were enjoyed by all. Linda even indulged in a glass of

the wine, although she had rarely drank alcoholic beverages as a rule.

About an hour into the event, Sammuelson brought the meeting to

order, tapping his water glass with his salad fork. "My dear friends

and colleagues, we are gathered here to celebrate the arrival of Miss

Linda Mayer, our long - awaited restorationist, and the beginning of

our number one project of this year, the restoration of the St. John

mansion " . As he spoke, a murmur of approval came from the audience.

The murmurs were interrupted by a voice that shot out of the back

of the room: " But what about the agreement that you had with

Springfield Construction and Development? In fact, if I remember

correctly, you were supposed to give that company the first opportunity

at the property, " the voice persisted. Sammuelson took a long look out

into the crowd focused in on the odd - man - out, and addressed him

sternly. " All right, Carlyle, just what in blue blazes do you think

you're doing here tonight ?" . Chapter 5

Sammuelson's attention was fixed on a slender young man in his

early 30's, standing about 6 feet tall, with sun - streaked blonde hair.

The young man's most captivating feature, his wide gray eyes, which

radiated his agitated emotional state, were flashing with intense anger

and outrage. " We had a deal, Sammuelson. You agreed that you wouldn't

begin work on restoring the interior of the mansion until we had a

hearing before the board on the rezoning of the property. " "And if we

had waited until the board had met, you would have turned that property

into a tourist attraction! , " retorted Sammuelson. "Well, at least I

wouldn't have reneged on our agreement by going behind your back, "

Carlyle retaliated.

"Gentlemen, Gentlemen, please. This was supposed to be a quiet,

fund - raising party, not a public brawl, " asserted a hereto - quiet

Linda Mayer. "And what is your involvement in all of this? , " asked

Carlyle, annoyed at her interruption. "You want to know what my

involvement in all of this is, Mr. Carlyle? My career is what is

involved here, " said the irritated restorationist. "If you can't

cooperate with the historical society's goals, how can you expect to get

their support? " she challenged Carlyle. Carlyle looked over to see an

upset and slightly tipsy Linda Mayer at the main table. Her classic

looks were enough to start calming the anger he was feeling.

"You're absolutely right, Ms. Mayer; both interested parties

need to work in unison. I'll offer you a compromise, Sammuelson: I'll

accept you and your restorationist work, on the St. John mansion, but,

I want to be able to check on it whenever I choose to. Would that be

agreeable to your people, Sammuelson ?" inquired Carlyle. "I would have

no disagreement with that, Carlyle, provided that Miss Mayer has no

objection, " replied the historical society head. Linda quickly made up

her mind. "If Mr. Carlyle doesn't interfere in my work, he will be

more than welcome to stop by and view the progress on the home. " The

banquet speeches resumed in full force after the compromise was reached.

Concluding the speeches with a toast, Sammuelson left his table,

and offered Carlyle some of the wine from the banquet. "What would you

have done if your compromise had not been accepted ?" Sammuelson

leveled the question at Carlyle, staring him straight in the eye.

"Then I might have been forced into filing a lawsuit against the society

for breach of contract. Fortunately, that didn't happen; I knew that

you would act as the man of integrity and sensibility that I know you

are, "Carlyle replied, meeting Sammuelson's scrutinizing stare. "Now if

you will excuse me, I need to take care of some other business, "

Carlyle continued. "It was a pleasure meeting you Miss Mayer, and I

look forward to seeing you both again. " As Carlyle hastily left the

banquet with an air of satisfaction, Sammuelson regarded his

challenger's arrogant attitude, which he wore like a suit of armor, with

quiet amazement. He was angry at Carlyle for challenging his authority

openly, at the banquet. In the interest of public composure, however,

he had no choice but to reach an agreement with him.

The banquet guests continued talking for another hour and a half

after Carlyle's departure. Most of the guests had departed by 10

o'clock, so Linda bade Sammuelson a good evening, agreeing to be back at

his office at 8:30 the following day.

Chapter 6

A light snow had fallen overnight, and a brisk wind nipped at

Linda's uncovered ears, as she entered the historical society building.

Sammuelson gave her a timetable for her work projects and disbursed a

budget to her for the materials she would need. The initial project

proposal allotted twelve months for completion and restoration, but

contained a provisional clause extending the project for another three

months if needed. While Linda read the prospectus, Sammuelson brought

forth a small black bag for her from his attaché case. "I'm giving you

this in case you need to call into Springfield. It is one of the few

cellular phones that we have. If you need supplies, food, help,

anything, you just call us. We'll respond as soon as we can. Also, I

will be reviewing your progress reports each week and contacting you

periodically to inspect your work, " the society president informed her.

Linda accepted the work instructions and put the phone into her

purse. "Thank you, Mr. Sammuelson. I'll try not to utilize the

cellular phone too much, " she promised quietly. "That's all right, Ms.

Mayer, you may need it, " he said, as he handed to her a map with

directions to the house. As Sammuelson explained, without specific

instructions, she might get lost.

It took Linda a full hour of driving along both main roads and

back roads, before she finally arrived at the St. John house.

"Sammuelson was right: I would have gotten lost trying to get here, if

he hadn't given me these maps, " she thought to herself. As she saw for

the first time the site that she would be working on for some time, her

breath was taken away. The mansion eclipsed the view of the surrounding

woods and other homes, perched atop a hill in its palatial - like

splendor.

Its imposing architecture, with its gables and spires, gave it a

cathedral - like presence. The front three gables protruded distinctly,

their ridges glistening with a light coating of snow. The bell tower

and central brick chimney standing at the highest points of the mansion,

and a circular glass window beneath the highest of the three gables,

all accented the home's facade of the edifice. A light dusting of snow

that glazed the entire home gave it a shimmering, iridescent quality

that reminded Linda of the castles and homes in her dreams and childhood

fairy tales. "Its even more impressive than any of the pictures that

Sammuelson showed me! " Linda realized in amazement.

Driving past an wrought iron entrance gate with marble pillars up

the long driveway, captivated by the majestic home ahead of her, Linda

encountered a young workman on the grounds. "You Linda Mayer ?" he

asked. "Yes, I am, " she replied. "Good. I'm Robert Jones, foreman of

the exterior crew.

Sammuelson told me to expect you out here. I've got the keys to

open up the interior for you to go in and start your phase of the

project, " stated the workman. He handed her the keys and accompanied

her to the front door of the house.

The first thing that struck Linda about the interior of the house

was the feel of comfort in the front entrance hall. The foyer floor was

laid in beautiful white and black marble tile, and a long sweeping

staircase branched off to the left. The rich oak and walnut paneling on

the walls only added to the feeling of extravagance, but also created

and heightened a feeling of sensuality.

"The only thing that they've been able to ascertain that belongs

to this place, besides the furniture, are these curtains, " said Jones,

joining Linda in the foyer. It took Linda a minute to refocus her

attention on Robert; the sensations of the room had been both

overwhelming and distracting. "I'm sorry Robert, you were saying ? , "

Linda asked, trying to regain her senses. "I was saying that the only

items that they ascertained that belong to this house are the furniture

and the curtains, " repeated the foreman. "but of course, "he politely

added, "This is more your area of expertise than it is mine." Packing

his tools away and bidding Linda farewell, Robert left the house. A

feeling of excitement surged through Linda, as she realized she was

ready to embark on her project.

Crossing the threshold, Linda felt as though she was entering a

remarkable sanctuary of the past. As though moved by a feeling of

reverence, she removed her boots before continuing forward. On her

right she saw an ornately carved mahogany armoire, where she decided to

place her coat and gloves. As she silently crossed the black and white

tile floor in her stocking feet, she reached a pair of heavy oak doors

that guarded the parlor. The rectangular room within was textured in

peeling, faded rosebud wallpaper and contained several cherry and maple

wood chairs and divans. Linda drew the heavy, crimson - colored

draperies and saw the huge veranda which encircled the house. She gazed

dreamily at the elegant porch. With its delicate latticework and

decorated pillars, it appeared to have been a perfect haven for familial

visits, and also for the amorous courtship of young lovers on warm,

sultry evenings. Linda had always liked verandas; there had been one at

the two - story wood frame house in which she had grown up, although it

was much smaller than this.

As she went beyond the parlor, she entered into a small, darkly -

colored den. Surveying the den, which had two windows of beveled

glass, she found a bar made of solid mahogany, with what looked like a

dumb-waiter built into the wall. The room was smartly paneled in

walnut.

From the den, Linda entered into a magnificent ballroom. Below

her lay a beautiful parquet floor, remarkably undaunted over the years.

Moldings carved into ornate floral clusters ran the entire length of the room, and pair of French doors opened onto the veranda. How many

romantic interchanges had taken place here, she wondered.

Another hallway branched off to the right of the ballroom, leading

her into a large, formal dining room, followed by a L - shaped kitchen.

The kitchen back door faced out onto a large, tree - filled back yard

and gardens. As Linda looked out into the back yard, she spotted a

small, A - framed house, the former visitors residence, where she would

be staying.

Linda was eager to record her exploration of the immense home. She

returned to the foyer and dug out a pencil, pen, and a notepad from her

handbag, to make her first notations on the magnificent house. She

returned to the staircase in the front hallway, and, climbing the stairs

and noticing how the thick, plush carpet absorbed her footfalls, she

reached the second story.

Along the lengthy corridor on the second floor, eight doors each

led into a small room, each with a vanity and a double bed and an

adjoining half - bath. At the end of the hallway, Linda reached what

she surmised to be the master bedroom. The suite's wallpaper was in

soft, powder shades of blue, red, and green colors, which strongly

appealed to Linda's tastes. She was awestruck and immediately fell in

love with the grand suite. Although the furnishings were much more

lavish than what she was accustomed to, she felt intensely drawn to this

room. Instead of being more comfortable in the smaller guest house,

where she would be sleeping, she wished she could stay in this room. Not only did this room, like the other rooms on this floor, and the one

below it, have thick, plush carpeting, but the suite also had a large,

luxurious, four - poster bed made of tiger maple with a canopy on top.

Linda gently touched the top canopy, which was of a soft pink velvet,

and them she drew back the curtains, which were of a powder pink

organdy. She wondered how the bedclothes had remained so remarkably

intact.

At the north wall between the windows, stood a large, maple

roll top desk with a matching chair and two large, walk - in closets. On

the south wall, Linda found a portrait that needed cleaning. A large

brick - lined fireplace that stood adjacent to the portrait also needed

cleaning. Beside the closets, Linda saw her reflection in a large oval

dressing mirror, framed in hard maple.

Entering through an adjacent arched doorway, Linda found a

bathroom, inlaid in a soft, cream and gold colored tile, with a large,

sunken alabaster tub and a white alabaster shower spout. Three -

quarters of one wall was covered by a spacious, gold and cream framed

mirror. A marble top sink held a large cream - colored washbowl and

marble faucet fixtures. The mere sight of the plush bathroom caused

Linda to imagine herself sinking into the tub and relaxing under a

stream of bubbling water.

Linda was beginning to feel hungry, but she felt even more eager

to continue her exploration of the vast home before her. She returned

to the second story hallway to further examine the furnishings and

decor. She was surprised to find that the second floor curtains were

made of crushed red velvet with an elaborately designed lace inner

curtain. The entire ensemble was held in place by red velvet loops and

gold tassels that had held up well over the years.

As Linda ventured down the hallway again, she noticed that all of

the doors she had passed by were made of solid oak and had exquisite

crystal doorknobs.

At the far end of the hallway, next to the master bedroom, Linda

spied a narrow door which she had not yet investigated, and trying the

knob, she found that it was locked. The small doorway, which was

narrower than the others in the house, piqued Linda's curiosity. Using

the keys that Robert had given her, she pried open the small oak

structure, which was covered in white paint that was chipping off.

Behind the door lay a narrow, spiral staircase, which seemed to beckon

Linda to advance. The dusty stairs, which were not at all lit, groaned

under Linda's footfalls as she slowly and cautiously ascended toward a

mysterious destination.

At the top of the staircase, she found herself under a V - shaped

ceiling, that ran the entire length of the house. Once her eyes

adjusted to the dim lighting, she gasped, surprised by her surroundings.

Some 20 different mannequins, modeling outfits from the 1920's

and 1930's loomed before her. Beside the mannequins were five shoe

trees, with ladies' foot wear of different sizes, colors, and styles,

from the same eras. A beautiful stained glass window, the one so

apparent from the exterior of the house, was here in the attic,

illuminating the room with beams of sunlight pouring through its

multicolored glass. The prismatic, artistically hewn window evoked a

feeling of dignity and reverence. That seemed incongruous with the

dusty, cluttered room that it occupied.

Linda's biggest overall surprise in the attic, was finding such a

large number of period clothes from the 1920's and 1930's. She assumed

that these clothes, as well as the accessories there, were for the

society's guides to wear while showing people through the house. These,

she decided, would require her further examination and inventory at

another time.

In her state of deep interest, Linda had lost track of the time.

She glanced at her watch and discovered that it was already 4:30 P.M.

It was time to give Sammuelson a call. Descending back down the winding

stairs to the suite she was living in, she picked up the cellular phone

that she had and dialed the number for the society's headquarters.

Suddenly she heard a recording: "We're sorry, but the number that you

have dialed is unreachable at this time. Please check your number and

try again later. " Linda was stunned. She was cut off from calling her

boss in Springfield!