Whoever came up with the phrase 'turning over a new leaf' probably never had to do it. It's a hard thing to do. Lord knows I've tried it enough times. The Fates must want me to stay the way I am, to keep doing the things that got me this far. Those things can be summed up in one simple word: cheating. Cheating means shortcuts. Granted, those I took might be considered a bit illegal, but I never hurt anyone, though some might disagree. The people I've conned really did deserve it. They were (for the most part) crooked, rotten, people and they were given a taste of their own medicine.
Now that you've had something of an introduction to me, I'll go on with my narrative about turning leaves.
It all started on a birthday--my youngest sister's--and I was going home after being quite successful in my new venture. Old friends greeted me after getting over their shock of seeing me in a suit and tie. After all, the last time they had seen me, I was a scruffy boy running away from home.
'It's been a long time since we've seen ya, Nick. Where've you been keepin' yourself'? asked an older man.
'I've got myself a flat over in Soho, and must admit I've been doing quite well.'
'I noticed that when I first saw ya. Even though you're dressed in that outfit, I can still see the dirty little pickpocket that ran away four years ago. Does your Ma know you're coming?'
'No. I didn't rightly know myself until this morning.' I shook his hand good-bye. 'I'd better get home before I miss the fun.'
I walked up to the front door of our building and just stood there, staring at the second floor where we lived. I cleared my head of all the memories that had flooded back and went inside. I knocked on the door to the flat and my little brother Michael answered. He started to call out my name, but I put my finger to my mouth to keep him quiet. I walked in and stood to the side and let Michael go in ahead of me.
'Who was at the door, Michael?' asked my mother.
I took my cue. 'Is someone here having a birthday?'
Everyone was surprised and only my sister Katie, the birthday girl, came running and gave me a big hug. That seemed to break the ice and then the rest of the family followed. When I came to my mother, we stared at each other for awhile, trying to remain aloof and calm about the situation, then we both broke down and hugged. It really was a touching family reunion.
We all sat down for dinner and I sat in what had been 'my' seat when I was home. The meal was Mum's beef stew, a dish that nothing could compare with, no matter how fancy, and fresh baked bread. The servings were larger than they had been in wartime when we had to be careful with ration tickets. 'D'ya have a new job, Mum?' I asked.
'Yes. I'm working at the corner store. The pay is good and it's steady work close to home. What about you?'
'Oh, a bit of this and that. Missed going into the army because of my age,' I remarked conversationally.
'You seem to have been doing okay. Look at how you're dressed. If I had seen you on the street, I doubt I would have given you a second look.'
My sisters Theresa and Nora had cleared the table and did the dishes while Mum and I talked. 'We're ready', Theresa said. She was 17, the second child.
Mum stood behind Katie who waited anxiously for what she knew was coming. Nora brought the cake in from the kitchen and we all sang 'Happy Birthday'. She was thrilled. I gave her the present I had bought on the way over--a doll. The only one she had had before was a rag doll that had been handed down from Theresa and Nora.
She looked up and me and smiled. When she got older, she'd be a real heartbreaker. 'Thanks, Nick. I'll take real good care of her.'
'What are you going to name her?'
'I was thinking of Amy.'
'Sounds like a lovely name', said Mum.
I stayed for about two more hours. Katie wanted me to tuck her into bed and read her a story. 'When will you be back?' she asked innocently.
'I don't know. Not for awhile, I should think.' I kissed her good night. 'Sleep well.' I walked out quietly. In the light, I checked my watch. I had a meeting with an 'associate' at 9.00.
Mum saw me. 'Do you really have to go?'
'You keep late hours.' She walked out of the flat and into the hall with me. 'What's wrong, Nicholas? You're keeping something from me.'
'No, I'm not, Mum. I'd never lie to you, you know that. I never have and I never will--'
'You always talk fast about nothing when you try to lie to me. What is wrong?' She folded her arms and waited for an answer.
'I nearly suffered a terrible loss two days ago. The "client" walked out and the deal fell through, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.'
'What was that near loss?'
'My life. I'm thinking about going into some other line of work and I'm going to start pounding the pavement tomorrow.'
'Is that what's upsetting you? I want you to be careful and find a new job, something nice and easy.'
'Yes, Mum.' I kissed her good-bye and left. As you can see, at the time, she didn't know what I did for a living and I didn't want to tell her.
The 'client' I mentioned was a mark that had caught onto the con and pulled a gun on me. Just in the nick of time (no pun intended), one of my associates, Bill Curry, came in and yelled that the police were coming. Since the mark was into something bent, he bolted and left me breathing, free from holes. Walking back to my flat, I smiled, remembering Bill's face as he came running in. Bill's a tall fellow with an athletic build. He's the black sheep of a well-off family. He told me he had gone to Harrow and Cambridge, making the First Eleven before he was sent down. Quite a strange pair we made: a former dip from the East End and an upper-class Cambridge drop-out. He gave the presence of class and style whereas I had the savvy and the silver tongue. (A friend of Mum's said I must have taken a bite out of the Blarney Stone instead of just kissing it.)
When I reached the flat, Bill was sitting on the couch with the radio on, reading the Times. 'Ah, there you are, old boy. Where have you been?'
'Home,' I said as I made my way to the kitchen. 'It's my little sister's birthday.' I put on the kettle.
'When was the last time you were home?' he asked, turning down the radio.
'About four years ago when I ran away.' I didn't want to talk about it and he realised that.
'The police tracked down our mark from the other night. Did you know he was an MP? No wonder he ran when they came.'
The kettle boiled. 'Tea?'
I poured the two cups and brought them into the living room. 'What are you doing here anyway?'
'I think I've come up with a new mark to replace the MP we lost.'
'Oh, really?' I took a sip of my tea. I was thinking of what Mum had said about getting out of the 'business'. I had been thinking about that ever since I almost got shot the other night. 'Bill, I want to tell you something.'
'Let me just tell you about this chap. He made most of his money during the war. Resident of the Ritz--penthouse suite--and has a house in Dartmoor, reputed to be the Baskerville Hall. Was married once but the wife died of pneumonia or something. No real vices--no drink, women, gambling--unless you include spiritualism.'
'Spiritualism? That went out with flappers and the Charleston!' I couldn't believe this.
Bill laughed. 'This guy thinks he can contact his wife. He's tried but no luck. The atmosphere at the Hall is supposed to help.'
No matter how hard I tried to fight it, I was hooked on what Bill told me. As I said, the Fates must have been against my reforming. That had to be the explanation. 'What's this man's name?'
'Major Gordon Kennsington-Smythe. Served practically everywhere in the Empire.'
Bill seemed quite excited at the prospect. My mind was racing, trying to think of some appropriate scheme. 'Contact Soph and tell her we need a medium.' Soph was an aspiring actress of Yugoslavian extraction who always played (for us) gypsies, psychics, mediums, and other Eastern European types.
Bill cracked a smile. 'If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, we will really make a killing.'
'While you're off getting Sophie, I'm going to research the good Major and his family.'
* * * * The next morning I looked the major up in Who's Who and got the details of his life. He was born in 1920 Herefordshire. His father served in the Boer War and reached the rank of general. He attended Eton and Oxford then went straight into the military. Served in WWII, India, Africa, and a few months in Hong Kong. He was invalided out because of malaria contracted in Africa following on the heels of a leg wound. Quite an impeccable career. I almost-- and I say almost--felt sorry for planning this, but there was too much excitement in the air and that overpowered the regret.
I returned to my flat and collapsed on the couch to wait for Bill and Sophie. I closed my eyes and tried to dream up a con that would make this old soldier a true believer in Sophie's talents. The first thing to do would be to go to the Ritz and hold a minor séance to get him interested. Once this happened, we'd have to roll with the punches.
The phone rang and I answered it. It was Bill. 'Where have you been? I've been calling since 11.00.'
'I've been here. I came back from the library at 10.30 or so.'
'You must have fallen asleep. It's now 3.00 in the afternoon.'
I looked at my watch. Bill wasn't kidding. 'Did you get a hold of Sophie?'
'Yeah. She was pretending to be the blind gypsy fortune-teller again. How does she manage that? According to the reactions she was getting, she was accurate.'
'I don't know,' I lied. Sophie had confided in me that she did have psychic abilities. Not strong, mind you, but she had 'feelings' about people. 'Bring her 'round to tea. I think I have an idea.'
* * * *
That night, Sophie and I called at the Major's suite at the hotel. Sophie was dressed in a printed cotton skirt, a white blouse, and a red shawl wrapped about her shoulders. She also had a scarf tied about her head and wore hoop earrings. She definitely knew how to dress the part. I wore a navy blue suit and tie and held my hat in my hand.
I knocked on the door and the Major's valet answered. 'May I help you, sir?'
'Yes. My name is Neil Anthony and this is Madame Saphrona. I called the Major this afternoon and made an appointment.'
'Mr. Anthony, please come in. Major Kennsington-Smythe is expecting you.' He stepped aside and I followed Sophie inside. 'If you will kindly wait here, I will tell the Major you have arrived.'
Sophie and I entered the living room and sat down on the couch. Such luxury. What a shame to waste it on the rich. She looked nervous. 'How are you feeling?'
'Fine, Neil,' she said in case someone was listening. 'Will it work?'
'I should think so. Just relax and speak your feelings. You're a natural.' I smiled reassuringly.
Major Kennsington-Smythe entered the room. The man was the stereotypical young dashing British officer--the kind you see in the movies. The cut of his brown hair, the trim of his mustache, his bearing. There is no other way to put it, the man was Military. 'Ah, Mr. Anthony.' He shook my hand. Even his voice was Military. 'I appreciate your call. Is this the young woman who is to be our medium? A pleasure, my dear.' Sophie nodded in greeting. 'I've tried others, but none seemed to be authentic.'
I became nervous at this. 'Oh, she's authentic.' Which she was, but not an authentic medium. 'We've had excellent results with her technique.' Which we had, not the clients.
'Would you care for something to eat before we start?' The Major was anxious.
'No,' Sophie replied. 'I work much better without it.'
'Good. Let me take you to where we shall hold our communication.' He led us to a small library--at least I think it was, the walls were lined with books. 'How is this for your needs?'
'This will do.' Sophie walked around the room, touching the shelves. 'This will do.'
'Glad to hear it. Now, you sit down and I will fetch Thompson for a fourth.' I looked at him questioningly and he felt a need to explain. 'I like having an even number when possible.' He left.
I turned to Sophie. 'What do you think? Was Bill right in picking him?' I sat down beside her at the round table.
'The Major certainly is into spiritualism--three-quarters of the books in this room are dedicated to it--yet there's something about him nagging me.'
I've learned to trust her 'feelings'. 'Intuition?'
'Maybe. the thing is, I don't know if it's good or bad.'
I heard the Major returning with Thompson. 'Is everything set?' She made a circle with her index finger and thumb: okay. 'Let's put on a show.'
We all sat at the table in the centre of the room, flickering candles casting the only light. The Major sat next to Sophie, Thompson next to him, and I closed the circle. Sophie told us to hold hands and Thompson took my right. His hand was rough and strong and his grip seemed unbreakable. He must have served under the Major. I looked at his face and he seemed quite impassive; almost showing no signs of life. Not the kind of person you'd want to meet in a dark alley.
A gentle squeeze of my left hand told me Sophie was ready to go into her 'trance'. In my hand was a control for the noises and other ghostly help we would need for convincing the Major. Her head began to sway then dropped to her chest. Her head then rose and her eyes starred straight ahead. 'Gordon?' she called in an ethereal voice. 'Are you there?'
The Major tried to contain his amazement. 'Catherine, is that you?'
'It's good to hear your voice again, Gordon. I remember...' Sophie's voice faded and her head fell so her chin rested against her chest.
'Catherine?' The Major leaned forwards towards Sophie as if his voice could call back his wife. He turned to me. 'Mr. Anthony, what has happened?'
'Madame is no longer in her trance. She will not remember what has occurred or what your wife said through her.' I let go of Sophie's hand and moved to turn on the light.
Sophie lifted her head and blinked. She looked at me and then at the major. 'Was there a connection? Did you speak to your wife?'
'Yes. It was only for a short time, but it was her voice.'
'There were forces stronger than hers making the connection hard to hold,' she said. The way she said it scared me. Maybe she really did have the talents as a medium.
I stood behind her. 'There were strong forces at work. I heard what you might call "background noise"-- moans and such. There also seemed to be a slight chill in the air.'
Thompson, who, up until this point had remained quiet, suddenly spoke. 'Maybe I should serve drinks, sir.'
'Excellent idea, Thompson.' He turned to Sophie. 'What would you like to drink, Madame?'
'I'll have the same.'
'Good. I'll have my usual, Thomspon. You can join us.'
'Thank you, sir.' Thompson left the room.
'An excellent man, is Thompson. Served with me practically my whole career. When I was discharged, I gave him a good paying job which would be hard to find coming in cold from the army.' Thompson returned with the drinks on a tray. He placed it on the table and passed around the drinks.
Sophie finished hers in a few minutes. 'I am terribly sorry, but Mr. Anthony and I must leave now. I am feeling very tired.' She stood.
K.S. (for abbreviation's sake) took her hand and kissed it. How galant! 'Thank you so much. I shall call and invite you to my home in Dartmoor for another session.'
I came up beside him and handed him my card (one of a collection of various names and occupations). 'The phone number is my private line so there is no worry of this becoming known to the general public.' I took Sophie's arm and Thompson showed us out.
I heaved a sigh once we were out in the fresh air. 'That was an interesting experience. Didn't trust Thompson, though.'
'He did have his secrets,' Sophie admitted. 'There was something I felt each time he walked into the room.'
'We'll just have to be careful with him,' I said to comfort her. I felt uneasy about him myself. 'At least we're in. The Major took the bait.'
'How was my performance? Was it what you wanted?'
'It was perfect. Just enough for him to get hooked. As he said, we are going to be invited to his home in Dartmoor. Things are looking up!'
'Don't build yourself up too much, Nick. I don't want you to be hurt when the bubble bursts.'
'You're right. I won't build my hopes up.' We walked on in silence until we reached her door. 'I'll ring you when the Major calls.' Because I was still in a good mood, I kissed her goodnight. That she was beautiful didn't hurt.
'Do you want to come in for a drink?'
'No, I've got some planning to do for this job. A lot is riding on this.' Lord, that was a hard thing to do.
'Okay, if you're sure.'
I nodded and walked back to my flat. You might find it strange that even though I was the youngest of this trio, I did all the planning. This is not to say that the others didn't do anything. Sophie had her "intuition", Bill had his connections and strength and they each came up with ideas. I just co-ordinated everything.
When I was about a block away from my flat, I had a prickling sensation at the back of my neck. Something was wrong. I stopped and looked in a store-front window and saw a shadow pass by. Maybe I was just being paranoid, but I still had that feeling. I reached my building and cautiously went up to my flat. I unlocked the door and slowly opened it. The place had been ransacked! Everything was turned inside out!
I climbed over furniture cushions, turned-over chairs, and papers to get to the phone. I crossed my fingers and hoped that Bill would be in. He was. 'Bill, it's Nick.'
'I hope you have a good reason--how was the séance?'
'We're in. The major will call. That's not what I have to talk about.'
'You do sound upset. What's going on?'
'That's what I'd like to know. Let's just say I had visitors while I was away and they didn't clean up after themselves.'
'You were ransacked? Who would do such a thing? You don't have anything special on anybody, do you?'
'No, I don't know who...Yes, I do. I think it was our friend from Parliament.'
Bill might have said something to me, but I didn't hear him. My ears were ringing due to anger. How dare he break into my flat! I must have hung up the phone because the next thing I remember was cleaning my bedroom then moving through the rest of the flat. Nothing of value was taken so that backed my theory that it was our friendly MP. He must have been searching for papers, proof of my profession. Only a berk would keep a record like that.
I sat down on the re-cushioned couch and looked about the room. You never know how dear privacy is until it's been violated--especially by an enemy! I leaned back and closed my eyes to relax--I had been cleaning and straightening for close to three hours. The next thing I knew, the sun was in my eyes and the lady upstairs was hoovering.
I stood, stretched, and walked into the kitchen to put on the kettle. I opened the tea canister and just held it under my nose. Such a sweet smell! I grabbed a mug and spooned in my tea then poured the water. I sat at the table and waited to wake up. The aroma slowly helped. After a quick breakfast, I showered and changed into a fresh suit.
The phone rang and it was Bill. 'Why did you hang up on me last night?'
'Sorry about that. It suddenly hit me that my flat had been turned over by someone in the MP's employ. I hung up without thinking.'
'How's the place now? Is anything missing?'
'No. That's what made me sure it was the MP. He must have been looking to see if I had any papers proving certain, shall we say, alliances.'
'How did things go last night? Was Sophie convincing?'
'She was perfect! The Major believed she was a true medium and his wife spoke through her. He should be calling soon to tell us when we're going to Dartmoor.'
'What part do I play?'
'You will be the son of upper-class parents--Oxford-educated, of course. You don't know exactly what you want to do with your life. You heard of the Major's séance and decided to show up. Oh, your name will be William Curry.' I smiled.
'You want me to be myself? Nick, that's not much fun.'
'He knows of your family. To him, Sophie and I are just a medium and her spiritualist friend. "not to be trusted."'
I heard him laugh. 'How true that is, but for different reasons!'
I realised the humour in that and laughed as well. I think I needed a good laugh at the time. I told him I had a sketchy idea of a plan and gave him the gist over the phone. I asked him to pick up Sophie and come over in the afternoon. He agreed and hung up.
Bill and Sophie arrived a little after lunchtime and we discussed the plan of action and what we each had to do. Close to tea-time, maybe 3.30, the Major called. 'Mr. Anthony, this is Maj. Kennsington-Smythe.'
'Hello, Major.' Bill and Sophie looked at me.
'I did say I would invite you and Madam to Dartmoor the next time I went. I hope tomorrow is a good time?'
'Tomorrow will be fine. Madam and I will be ready.'
'Excellent. Shall we say noon? I will send Thompson to pick you up.'
'No, thank you. Madam and I will have to meet you at the station. We will have many last-minute things to attend to.'
There was a pause. 'Certainly. We will be taking the 12.15 from Paddington.'
'Fine. Until tomorrow.' I hung up the receiver. 'We're in. Tomorrow we're off to Baskerville Hall.'
'What last minute things do we have to do?' asked Sophie.
'I don't know. I just said that to keep him from finding out where I live. I'm not going to make the same mistake twice!'
'Okay, if you two are riding up with the Major, how am I going to get there?'
'You can ride up on the same train, but keep your face hidden from the Major and his valet. Then you can go to the pub and ask for a lift to the Hall. You show up saying you heard of the séance and wish to participate. Because of your family, you'll be accepted. Then the fun starts.'
'Sounds pretty good. You've really thought this out, haven't you?' remarked Sophie.
'If we do it right, we'll be in the money.'
'You have high hopes for this.'
'Oh, we won't take it all this time. K.S. will spread the word about our results and we'll have people clamouring for us.'
'All we have to do now is a good job.' Sophie was the realist in the group.
'Do we ever do anything else?' Bill was in a good mood.
For the rest of the day we went over our plan and tried to think of any snags that might arise and how we would deal with them. At 9.00 that night, we declared ourselves ready.
* * * *
Sophie and I had our bags packed and were at the station in good time before the Major. The clerk at the ticket window directed us to the proper track. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bill gazing at magazines and newspapers trying not to look in our direction. Sophie noticed that I had seen him. 'Do you think he'll be able to carry off his part?'
'He only has to be himself.' I sat down beside her on the bench. 'The hardest thing for him to do is act as if he's never seen us before.' I saw--or rather heard--the Major coming. So did Sophie. "it's showtime.'
I stood and faced him. 'Mr. Anthony.' He shook my hand. 'I hope I haven't kept you and Madam waiting long?'
'Oh, no, not at all. We only just arrived,' I lied.
'Good. Good.' He had a porter pick up our baggage. He smiled and took Sophie's arm and led her to the carriage, speaking animatedly. I walked closely behind, listening with one ear. Thompson followed me, I could feel his eyes on my back.
He stepped into a first-class compartment and sat down. K.S. refused to let go of Sophie and so she sat next to him. I sat across from her by the inner-door and Thompson sat next to me. He only nodded in response to my attempts to start a conversation. Frankly, it gave me the creeps.
A half hour into the trip, K.S. sent Thompson to get some drinks for us. It was about time, I was parched. While Thompson was gone, Sophie offered to read the Major's palm. 'Do you do such things?' He was surprised. 'I thought you just contacted spirits.' I tried to hold back my laugh, but it came out like a sneeze. 'God bless you,' he said.
Sophie glared as she took his palm and began to tell him of his past: travel, hardship, loss, and all that stuff. 'I know that is common knowledge, but now for your future. You will never meet or love someone like your wife, but you will find out the depth of that love. You will live a long, healthy life and die of old age in your sleep.'
The Major looked at his right hand as if everything she had said was written on it. 'Why don't you have your palm read?' he asked me. 'No, thanks. I'll wait for the film.' I stretched out, tilted my hat over my face, and prepared for a quick nap. I heard Sophie tell K.S. that I had already had my palm read and there would be nothing new to learn.
Thompson returned and I had to sit up again so he could get past me. I took my drink and sipped it slowly. The Major told Thompson about his palm. 'Very good, sir,' he said. The tone he delivered it in was the kind he would use while talking to an excited child.
When I finished my drink, I placed the glass in the ridged tray and attempted another nap.
Ten minutes later, or so it seemed to me, Sophie tapped me on the foot and told me we were at our station and therefore I had to get up. Thompson was already gone, checking the baggage no doubt. K.S. seemed reluctant to leave Sophie and I alone. He finally went to check if the car from the Hall had arrived. Sophie turned on me once he was out of hearing distance. 'What did you mean by making those snide remarks about palm-reading? It certainly won't endear you to the Major any.'
'You and he were so chummy, I didn't want to interrupt anything. Besides, you could always put in a good word for me. He'll believe anything you say.'
'Why, Nick, I do believe you're jealous.'
'Jealous? Of an invalid officer? You've got to be kidding. How could I be jealous of him?' I remembered what Mum had said about my babbling when I lied, so I stopped. Sophie was right, I was jealous. 'Okay, I'll behave.'
The Major returned and escorted us to the car. Thompson was already there, supervising the loading of the bags. K.S. held open the Bentley's door and helped Sophie in, then sat down himself. I was left to enter and shut the door myself. Thompson sat up front with the chauffeur.
'I have invited four others here for the séance. I hope you don't mind.'
'Of course not,' I said. 'It is for you that we are here.' I looked over at Sophie. 'With more people, it will seem like a challenge.'
'What I mean is that we normally perform for just small groups. This is one of the larger groups we have yet to cater to,' I said quickly.
'Oh, should I change it? Not have as many?'
'We'll encounter it sooner or later, so why not sooner.' I gave him one of my winning smiles. Sophie rolled her eyes, so I gave up and looked out the window. The cold moors passed by, a bleak landscape of grey. In the distance, on the tor, rose two small buildings. 'What are those?' I asked.
'Just some stone huts. Story goes they've been here since prehistoric times.'
'Oh.' I continued to look out the window as the Major and Sophie resumed their conversation. I had to admit, the countryside was beautiful in its own bleak, harsh way. Then and there I could understand why people chose to live by the moors. Of course, I assumed, the Major didn't suffer much considering his house was thought to be Conan Doyle's inspiration for Baskerville Hall. My assumptions were proved right when the house/mansion came into sight. It was a large stone structure built in the Tudor style. The wings were symmetrical to the main hall and had ivy climbing up the three stories. The front door and large stone porch (for want of a better word) had five or six steps leading up to it. It took a great effort not to gape.
The car pulled up in front of the house and Thompson got out and opened the door for us. I stepped out first, followed by K.S., and we both reached out a hand to help Sophie. She smiled and took them both. 'Welcome to Baskerville Hall,' said the Major. 'I hope you will be comfortable.'
'Is it really the Baskerville Hall?' Sophie queried.
'I really don't know. It's called that on all the legal documents and I'm sure that those in the village as well as the Baker Street Irregulars would be quite upset if I decided to change the name.'
We had reached the front door which was opened by a tall-ish man with greying hair and very good manners. He could only be the butler. 'Good afternoon, sir.' He took our coats.
'Hello, Meyers. These are two of my guests, Mr. Anthony and Madame Saphrona. She will be conducting the séance.' Meyers nodded in our direction. 'I'm sure Mrs. Ennis has prepared their rooms.'
'Yes, sir.' At this point, Thompson and the chauffeur entered with our bags. 'If you will follow me.'
Meyers led us across the main hall with its meticulously clean checkerboard floor to the oak staircase with portraits of past Kennsington-Smythes lining the wall. I ran my hand along the banister (highly polished for a quick getaway). The workmanship was remarkable. When we reached the top, Meyers turned to the left and we followed. The second door he came to was Sophie's room. 'I hope it is to your satisfaction, Madam?'
'Yes, very.' The chauffeur passed us into the room and set down her baggage. Thompson had disappeared. Meyers motioned for me to follow him to the room two doors down from Sophie's. 'This is yours, sir. The Major chose it himself.'
'I'm sure he did,' I muttered.
'Nothing. The room will be fine.'
'Very good, sir. Drinks will be served at 5.00. Enjoy your rest.' He closed the door behind him.
I turned to look at my surroundings. There was a large bed--king-sized, I think. I went and sat on it. There were comfortable nights ahead. I stood and walked to one of the windows, looked out, and saw that my view of the moor included some of those stone huts. They deserved some exploring. I opened the window, stuck my head out, and breathed deep, smelling the heather. I looked in the direction of Sophie's room and noticed a slight ledge. (One never knows when something like that might come in handy.) I gave a shrill whistle and scared some birds down in the courtyard. I whistled again. Sophie stuck her head out the window. ''Lo, luv. 'Ow 'bout a walk?'
'Have you recovered from your jealousy?'
'Okay, I'll go with you if you promise not to talk about him in that light.'
'I promise. Let me just check where Thompson put my stuff.' I was in a good mood. Beautiful fall weather, an old mansion with servants, plus the idea that by the time this weekend was over, I'd be quite rich. I began to whistle a song as I opened the wardrobe. I let out a shout and punched out with my right fist. My hand hit cloth then went straight through to wood. I pulled my hand out and saw red. It was bleeding. What had startled me I now saw was a crude representation of a ghost. There was a card pinned to the cloth that made up the body. "If this is the kind of spirit you summon, you would be best off not to go through with the séance." I closed the wardrobe and wrapped my hand with a strip torn from the 'ghost' then grabbed a pair of binoculars I had brought along. I walked down the hall to Sophie's room and knocked on the door. She came out wearing a pair of slacks, blouse, and cardigan. 'I thought this a better outfit for our walk.' She noticed my hand--the blood was soaking through the cloth. 'Are you okay? I thought I heard you shout, but I wasn't sure.'
'I'll tell you about it outside.' I buried it in my pocket as we went downstairs.
Meyers was passing through the foyer and stopped when he saw us. 'Can I get you anything?'
'No, thank you, Meyers,' Sophie answered. 'We're just going for a walk on the moor.'
'Very good, Madam. Let me just warn you to stay away from the areas marked with red sticks. The ground there is not solid and you could sink.' We thanked him for the information and started on our way.
Close to the house we made small talk about the weather and the countryside, but when we reached the ground by the foot of the tor--the raised, rocky ground--she turned to me and asked me to tell her what had happened. 'Someone is suspicious of us already,' I remarked.
'The only ones who have seen us are the Major and Thompson.'
'I'll lay my money on Thompson. He was the one who carried and put away my stuff. There's something about him I don't like.'
'For all you know, you could be suspicious towards him for no reason.'
'I have to be suspicious. If I trust too much, I could get hurt--or worse.'
We began to climb the tor and kept quiet on the way up. I was thinking about what she had said. Maybe she had something, maybe not. What I had said was true. If I trusted too much, I could get hurt, so maybe the solution would be not to let my trust show. We reached the top of the tor and sat down on one of the outcrops. We faced the Hall and sat there, watching it in silence. It presented an excellent view, including the front drive, the main building and part of the left wing--ours.
'Where do you think Bill is?'
'Probably eating and/or drinking at the pub in the village. Nothing to worry about.' Sophie laughed. 'What's so funny?'
'I'm just trying to picture Bill telling these villagers about life in the Smoke--lying through his teeth about what a big shot he is.'
I smiled at this. 'Not as funny as their reactions.' I was watching the drive through the binoculars and saw the Bentley returning, probably from the station. 'More company.'
She looked up from the heather she held in her hand and watched with me. the first person to get out was an elderly woman with white hair. She held herself erect which made it almost impossible to guess her age. Fifties or sixties, I thought. She was followed by a young man in his mid- to late-twenties who was of medium height with light brown hair. He turned to help a young woman out of the car. She was quite a looker, but my heart belonged to Sophie (even though she didn't know it). She was close to Sophie's height--5'5 or 6" and had reddish-blonde hair. I guessed her to be the same age as well.
Sophie tapped me on the shoulder. 'You're drooling.' She took the binoculars from me and looked at the girl herself. 'Not bad. He's quite handsome.'
'Isn't the Major enough for you?'
She hit me. 'he's a bit too old. Besides, I don't think I could handle living out here for weeks on end.'
I stood. 'By the time we get back and change, drinks should be ready.' I offered her my hand to help her up.
'What would your mother think?'
'What's that supposed to mean?'
She bent down, picked up a leaf, and twirled it in her hand. 'Oh, nothing.' (I hate it when she does that!)
By the time we reached the Hall, it had started to rain. We made it upstairs without seeing a soul. I looked in my wardrobe for a new suit and found the 'ghost' was missing. I washed up and changed into a grey suit, white shirt, and matching grey tie. I went and knocked on Sophie's door. 'Are you ready, Madam?'
She opened the door and smiled. 'Certainly, Neil.' She was dressed in a straight black skirt, white pleated shirt, and black heeled shoes. I held out my arm, she wrapped hers about it, and I escorted her down to the sitting room.