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Bonus post: A ghost story for Christmas
Something completely different
This will be an unusual, very off-topic post. It may also, quite possibly, not appear in your email in its entirety because of its length, so you may need to go to the website to read it all (assuming you do read it). It’s a ghost story that will appear with ten more of my ghost stories in a forthcoming collection from Angelico Press (scheduled to be published in June of 2023). It’s my “Christmas greeting” to you all, solely meant as a distraction and entertainment. As many of you are aware, no doubt, there is a long-standing tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmastime in Britain (see here and here and here and here, for instance) and it’s even returning as a custom for some Americans.
All the stories in the new book are set in or around Ellicott City, Maryland (my boyhood hometown), between the years 1960 - 1964. As I write in the “Note to the Reader” about the volume:
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The two towns most frequently referred to in the tales are Catonsville and, of course, Ellicott City. The latter, as it happens, is considered by some to be one of the two most haunted towns in Maryland (the other being Frederick). Whenever I speak of “the town” in these tales, with the definite article, it’s Ellicott City that I mean. But it’s not the Ellicott City of today, but of that other, older time, when the town was still surrounded by the woods, the waterways, and farmland, and when an atmosphere of impenetrable mystery still lingered on the edges and in the corners of it, a ghostly “presence” that usually – but not always – remained concealed from our direct view. I have no doubt that that presence, which could be felt by those born and bred there, was the result of centuries of history, much of it tragic and much of it strange.
About the sort of story this and the rest are, I write elsewhere in the “Note”:
[T]hese are not gory tales. Some blood is spilled, but I’m not attempting to stir up horror so much as a presentiment of mystery. When reading or writing about the supernatural or (better) the preternatural, I prefer stories that don’t, on the one hand, merely disgust or, on the other, try to “explain” anything, but instead captivate and suggest. Most real-life stories of hauntings and the like leave us unsettled and unclear, with the veil still in place between one plane and the other. And supernatural fiction is better when it doesn’t expound but rather leaves us in a state of wonder, even perplexity. The explicit ruins such fiction, in my opinion. A modicum of subtlety is something I try to maintain, as much for psychological effect – and psychology is key, I believe – as for verisimilitude. I don’t often provide clear explanations or a “back story” or a neatly packaged conclusion. I don’t like them, and they’re not needed.
The tale that follows is simply entitled “Henry.” Who or what Henry is, I’ll leave to your conjectures. All I know is that he showed up in a dream of mine, beseeching me to include him among the others. So, I obliged.
He remembered. He always remembered. The scene had made itself indelible.
A summer afternoon more than forty years ago, the two of them strolling southwards hand in hand between the railroad tracks and the river. Very much in love.
They pause and look up at the brown-shingled cottage. It looks like a miniature castle set high on the summit of the wooded hill. Their free hands shade their eyes against the dazzling sunlight, refracted by the house’s enormous arched window.
“The first thing I’ll do when we move in there,” Frank Bayliss had said to Jenny, “is take off those damn silly shingles, so the place can shine again like it used to.”
“If you did that,” Jenny had replied, brushing from her eyes a straying strand of shimmering blonde hair, “it would resemble Sir Launcelot’s castle – you know the one I mean – what’s its name? – in the Arthurian stories… ‘Joyous Gard,’ wasn’t it?”
“Yes. That’s what it was called. Joyous Gard.”
“It would look like Joyous Gard. A bit shrunken in size, I suppose, but nevertheless…”
They had been well aware of the absurdity of their conversation at the time. It would never happen, they knew, but they enjoyed the romantic game notwithstanding.
Yes, he remembered that afternoon in June of 1921 with an unusual clarity. He remembered that conversation word for word. He remembered how beautiful Jenny had looked as she gazed up at the old house. That day replayed itself in his mind countless times throughout the subsequent years, even sometimes in his dreams. And Jenny’s loveliness had never diminished in his eyes, even after the gold of her hair had gradually changed to silvery gray and wrinkles had creased her once-firm flesh.
“It would be joyous to live there,” she had said. “You would come home in the evening, after a long day of doing whatever you’d been doing, and I’d be there to greet you at the front door. Then I’d show you around to look at whatever I’d been busy doing that day.”
He had liked the sound of that.
But more than four decades separated that lazy summer day from the present. In the intervening years, he and Jenny had been remarkably happy together. They were wedded a year after that summer stroll. The only profound disappointment they had known in all their years of marriage had been her inability to bear children. But they had been philosophical about it. Every marriage has some sorrow to bear, after all. Why should theirs be an exception? A far lesser disappointment, but disappointing nonetheless, had been Bayliss’s transfer to upstate New York in 1948. Overall, however, they had spent their years contentedly together. They had never quarreled – unless the occasional disagreement or fleeting irritation could be counted. In that, as in many other ways, they had been blessed as few other couples have.
Then it all changed, much too rapidly, much too terribly…
That long-ago conversation between the tracks and the rolling Patapsco hadn’t been the first time that Frank Bayliss and Jenny had joked about someday occupying the Gothic revival “castle” on the heights, with its crenelated roof and church-like windows. The strange old place was on full display up there, visible to anyone heading across the bridge into town from the east. In earlier times, when passenger trains still traveled the route, the place had been pointed out to sightseeing travelers. Around the turn of the century, though, one of its less imaginative owners had covered the house’s original bright stucco and granite exterior with dingy brown shingles, and its attractiveness had consequently diminished. It was this unfortunate, lackluster addition that Bayliss disliked so much and rarely failed to mention when discussing the place. The couple had never really believed they would ever live in that house. It was a wistful and hopeless amusement they shared. And as it had happened, the couple had lived out their entire married life in other homes.
But then, in 1963 – to Bayliss’s utter amazement – he found himself in a position to purchase the property for a song. And he did. He bought it.
He knew the place must be worth much more than what he eventually agreed to pay; but agree to pay he did. When it first came to his attention that Castello di Torcrescenza – as the home had been grandly named by its first occupant, a Frenchman with the odd Mesopotamian-sounding name of “Marduk” – was up for sale, he doubted it would be affordable even for someone of his relatively substantial means. Still, he told himself, nothing ventured, nothing gained. So, having made all the necessary arrangements beforehand, he set out on a Monday in early March to tour the property. It had been archly named after the Castello di Torcrescenza in the ancient city of Rome. It overlooked, after all, another city, this one in Maryland, that – like Rome – had been built on seven hills: “the ancient village of Ellicott City,” as H. L. Mencken had once referred to it. It was a lovely, single-storey chateau, constructed in the early 1830s, on a spot whimsically named Tarpeian Rock – christened by the same bygone wits, no doubt, who had also dubbed the stream flowing through the middle of the town the Tiber.
Bayliss and Jenny had grown up as neighbors on one of those seven hills, south of town. After Bayliss’s transfer to Rochester, he and Jenny had had every intention of returning to their hometown, once he retired, to live out the remainder of their earthly days there. As it turned out, though, it was Jenny who came home first, and only after she had no remainder of earthly days left. She died of lung cancer in 1961, one year before Bayliss was due to retire. She was buried in the town’s Catholic cemetery. Bayliss’s one great wish was to live as near to that bit of land where he would eventually lie down beside her. With no offspring, he claimed for himself no binding ties to anywhere or anyone else; and since he had no expectation of going anywhere beyond this earthly realm, he wanted to be planted in the town where he – they – had bloomed. It was then that the surprising opportunity had presented itself to him: he could purchase Castello di Torcrescenza and occupy his and Jenny’s long-ago dream home. It felt to him as though this was the work of Fortune, even though his reason habitually eschewed signs and wonders, and to buy the property would be the fulfillment of a sort of crazy promise he had made to Jenny. It was surely pure sentiment to feel this way, he realized, but he had little else to look forward to in life.
Unlike Jenny who had retained a sincere, dignified, and quiet faith throughout her life, Bayliss was a nominal Catholic. When she was alive, he had attended Mass to please her, and he never once gainsaid her faith during all their years together. But Bayliss had no personal belief in an existence beyond the grave, and any concept he might have entertained once of a benevolent God had been eroded in the wake of Jenny’s sufferings. He accepted the inevitable fact of his own death, and yet he also deeply feared it. He didn’t fear hell for the simple fact that he didn’t believe in it. But the thought of absolute oblivion – of his own ultimate nothingness – truly terrified him. He told himself that this “existential angst” was ridiculous; after all, once he no longer existed, he would no longer care that he no longer existed. But he couldn’t persuade his gut with such syllogisms, no matter how reasonable they sounded. And although he believed that Jenny, once dead, no longer existed in any form, he had no desire to share that same nonexistence.
Sometimes his equivocation, indeed his cowardice, shamed him. He felt it showed contemptible disloyalty on his part. But he was honest enough to acknowledge this unwelcome truth about himself. There was no escaping death, he knew, so he had little choice but to accept his moral flaccidity and get on as stoically as he could by honoring Jenny’s memory instead. Anyone who knew him on a casual basis would never have suspected that this fearful, craven side of him even existed. Those few friends who knew him well might detect an occasional wandering in his thoughts, a momentary distraction, an expression of fleeting sadness, as if he were mourning his loss – entirely natural, they might surmise, given how greatly he and Jenny had been in love. But no one could have guessed the morbidity of his true feelings.
And so it was that he remembered. And that remembering was both a source of consolation and of humiliation.
He had, of course, assumed he would be up against some stiff competition in the purchase of Castello di Torcrescenza. He couldn’t have been more wrong in that assumption. He was astonished to discover that he was, in fact, the only prospective buyer. Others had looked over the property with the thought of buying, but they had all said pretty much the same curious thing about it to the realtors after their tours: there was something about the place that unsettled them. They all expressed that they were taken with its architectural beauty, its location, the wooded surroundings, and especially the great room with its two-storey-high arched window that looked out over the racing river and valley below. They all declared how marvelous was the impressive rose garden on the west side of the house, with its elaborate maze and cast-iron gates. But in the end, even with these alluring features, not one of them opted to buy. The price had dropped twice by the time Bayliss had come down from Rochester, looked it over, and – amazingly! – signed the papers. Whatever the something that had decided the rest against purchasing it may have been, Bayliss felt no such misgivings. He felt no qualms himself and he didn’t care about the qualms of others. He felt only gratification with his good luck.
Before returning to Rochester to settle things there, Bayliss paid a visit to the current owner. He had memories of her and her husband, still in their prime when he and Jenny were in their twenties and coveting their home. Now she was a widow in her late seventies, no longer able to walk on her own, tended to by nurses and other sundry helpers, and got about mostly in a wheelchair that looked older than herself. Her imposing name – which matched her equally imposing demeanor – was Madeline-Louisa Champayne Snowden Clark. Although Bayliss remembered her, he had never spoken with her until now; but she was “old Ellicott City” and so was he, even if he had lived away for so long, and he knew the proprieties, the prejudices, and the right words to use in such interchanges. And his family connections helped. The two instantly established a rapport.
Like Bayliss and his wife, Mrs. Clark and her late husband had had no children. “The castle,” as she chose to call it, had become too much for her to handle now, even with the hired assistance of Dora, her housekeeper, the rotating nurses, her two occasional groundskeepers – a pair of brothers named Bill and Bob, and a burly fifty-something fellow called Corky who was handyman, electrician, plumber, and errand-runner rolled into one. Bayliss would get to know all of them in time, except for the nurses. Mrs. Clark had reluctantly decided, after much persuasion from her relations, to take up residence at a nearby elite home for the aged and to sell the home. No one else in the family wanted the residence, and with no one to whom she might bequeath it, she had given in to the pressure and put it up for sale.
“I’m glad it’s going to be in the hands of someone of old local stock,” she confided to Bayliss after they had already chatted for an hour or so, seated before the high window, the late morning sunlight flooding into the great room. “If you’ll permit me, I’ll come by and visit you after you’ve moved in.”
“You’d always be more than welcome,” Bayliss assured her.
“Don’t make too many changes,” she said. “When I see it again, I do want to recognize it.”
Bayliss told her he would maintain the home with the greatest integrity.
Then Mrs. Clark leaned forward in her wheelchair, and looking intently into his eyes, said solemnly, “There are a few things you really should know about this dear old place. A few little secrets, shall we call them. I’m probably the only one who would even dare to bring them up to you. Others around town know some of the stories, but I doubt they’d bring them up to you. And the realtors were probably too afraid of scaring off a potential buyer, I dare say, to tell you anything about them if you didn’t ask first.”
Bayliss’s curiosity was piqued.
“Oh? Why would that be?”
“It’s a bit sensitive, perhaps,” Mrs. Clark went on. “And in the cold light of day, some things just seem too silly to most modern people.”
“Well, the realtors certainly never hinted about anything here of a sensitive nature or anything likely to ‘scare me off,’” said Bayliss.
“Well, as I say, they wouldn’t have.” Mrs. Clark drew herself up in her Edwardian-era chariot; the downturned corners of her mouth and uplifted nose communicated scorn. “They’re ‘old Ellicott City’ themselves, but they’re as worthless as tits on a boar hog if you want any real information about real estate.”
Bayliss grinned at the crude analogy she used; he hadn’t heard it since he had left the region. His mother had used it frequently.
Mrs. Clark went on. “Every old residence of worth has a ‘biography,’ as I’m sure you know. Any house of significant age has a history – and sometimes a secret history, too. This one does. But it’s nothing to worry about, really. I don’t want to sound dramatic when I talk about these things. There are just a few small details you should know about when the time comes.”
“You don’t have a resident ghost lurking about the house, do you?” Bayliss said this with a smile.
She merely smiled back – rather enigmatically, he thought. He wasn’t sure whether it was a “no” smile or a “yes” smile. More disconcertingly, she winked at him and tapped an index finger against the side of her nose, as if she assumed they were both engaged in some intrigue.
“Well, we’ll have ourselves a good discussion once you’re all moved in,” she said. “But I want to put just two words in your ear right now, while I have you here. You should take them to heart.”
As they were conversing, Bayliss was glancing through the great arched window. Its panes were of plain glass, with a marvelous view of the river, woods, and beyond. But what caught his attention at that instant was a white cat walking along the edge of the ridge. From where they sat, he could also see the very spot where he and Jenny had long ago made their imaginary “plans” to occupy this very home.
The cat paused and batted at a passing insect.
“Yes?” he said. “What two words are they?”
“If you find that he’s hanging about the property, you mustn’t let Henry come indoors,” Mrs. Clark said. “He’s very bad, very disruptive, and if he gets inside, he’s bound to make another horrific mess. We had one hell of a time getting him out the time he did get in – pardon my language. Lucky for me, Father McManus – the priest over at St. Paul’s – came by and he said a Mass and that did the trick.”
Bayliss noticed that she had also been watching the cat’s antics through the window.
“Got him out, did he?”
“With a great deal of effort, he did,” said Mrs. Clark. “He’s a good priest. He knows his business.”
Bayliss wasn’t sure how a priest’s expertise, much less a Mass, was related to the apprehension of a cat that had gotten indoors, but he let the curious remark go without making any comment.
“I take it that Henry doesn’t belong to the household here, then.”
“Good Lord, no,” replied Mrs. Clark. “He used to show up here from time to time, but outside around the garden mostly. He’s a thoroughgoing scoundrel – a monster, really, if that’s not too strong a word for him. He just comes and goes – you never know when he’ll pop up. He might disappear for a while, then show up again just when you thought he’d gone for good. Heaven knows why he lingers around this place and the maze. Ed – that was my late husband’s name – Ed was the one who named him ‘Henry.’ He named him after ‘Henri,’ which was the first name of the man who had this place built back in the eighteen-thirties.”
“Monsieur Marduk,” said Bayliss. “The mysterious Frenchman.”
“Yes. Mister Marduk – such an odd name, even for a foreigner,” sniffed Mrs. Clark. She lowered her voice to a confidential whisper and added, “Some say he wasn’t really French at all, you know.”
“Not French. Something that starts with an ‘A’ – Armenian, maybe…? Abyssinian? Assyrian? Albanian? Andalusian? Definitely not Argentinian or Australian or Austrian…”
She was staring somewhat trancelike at the cat cavorting on the ridge, absorbed for the moment in the subject of nationalities beginning with the letter “A.”
“Ah, I have it,” she said, her eyes brightening. “Algerian.”
“Algerian,” repeated Bayliss. “I might have guessed Assyrian – ancient Assyrian, what with that name.”
“But as for Henry,” she continued in her usual tone of voice, oblivious to Bayliss’s last remark, “luckily enough for us he disappeared after Father McManus’s Mass. Ed said it was an omen, a portent. He was as hardheaded as a man can be, my Ed – you remember, he owned the hardware store downtown, right across from the old train station. He was no-nonsense, tough as leather. Like Corky, our handyman, who used to work for him. Anyway, my point is that Ed was a practical man. But he had a superstitious streak a mile wide. He always said the hardware store was haunted, you know, and I see no reason now to doubt he was right, although I used to laugh at him for saying so back then. After Henry got in here and made such a terrific mess, I stopped laughing at his superstitions. Ed said Henry was an omen. And wouldn’t you know it? He died only a few months later. Anyway, Father McManus shooed Henry off, thank God. But that doesn’t mean he’s gone for good. He seems to have a habit of showing up again after a lengthy hiatus. So, be on your guard.”
But Bayliss could plainly see the cat, alive and frisky, just outside the window. He was sure Mrs. Clark could, too. If he had gone anywhere, it certainly wasn’t “for good” – there he was, gamboling on the lawn to his little heart’s content. Perhaps, Bayliss thought, Mrs. Clark wasn’t “all there,” that she was a bit addled. Maybe this was an indication why her relations had urged her to live at the sanitorium. He politely said nothing to betray his concern, however.
“Well, I’ll certainly try to keep him out, if he’s as naughty as all that,” he said.
“Don’t just try to keep him out. Whatever you do, if you learn he’s anywhere about on the grounds, don’t let him get inside at all. Otherwise, you’ll regret it as sure as God made little green apples.”
She was quite energized and insistent, gripping the armrests of her wheelchair tightly as she spoke.
“It’s one of the two things you should absolutely be most careful about here. That and keeping that door in the basement sealed.”
“The door in the basement?” he asked. “What door in the basement?”
She relaxed her grip on the chair, sighed, and sat back, half closing her eyes. “The door in the basement downstairs. The one that’s all sealed up.”
“I don’t recall a door in the basement,” said Bayliss. “The realtors didn’t point out anything like that to me.”
“Typical,” she said. “Well, it’s not very noticeable, I’ll admit. Maybe they forgot to show it to you. It’s in the corner on the east side, right next to the furnace, out of the light. You’ll see it if you look for it. But you won’t be able to open it. It’s been sealed shut and painted over. You’ll just see an outline – it looks like part of the wall now, but it’s visible – and you’ll see some words carved on it, if you look hard. Anyway, there’s an old tunnel on the other side of that door that’s been there ever since the house was built. After Monsieur Marduk’s time, it was used for the Underground Railroad. It supposedly leads out to a path that goes straight down to the river. I never checked any of that out and neither did my husband. We never had the nerve to – I told you that Ed was superstitious. He just had the door painted over to match the wall. Anyway, you’d be wise to keep that door sealed up like we did. There are reasons, but we can talk more about it when you’ve moved in.”
“More ghosts?” said Bayliss.
“Could be, could be,” she said.
She suddenly looked exhausted. She waved her hand, as if to indicate it was time for Bayliss to take his leave. “That’s enough for now. I’m feeling terribly weary and need a lie-down.”
Outside the window, the cat had vanished.
Bayliss said his goodbyes, promised to let her know once he had moved in, and left. Further discussion about either the door in the basement or about “Henry” would have to wait.
As he drove away, he reflected, a little guiltily, that he had been only partially attentive to what Mrs. Clark had to tell him. He had been distracted by his own thoughts. During their conversation, he had resolved to do two things, both prompted by what he regarded as promises made to Jenny long ago. He would have the brown shingles stripped off the house as soon as he could, and he would rechristen the property “Joyous Gard.”
Five months had passed before Bayliss was able to establish himself fully at “Joyous Gard.” Between March and August, Madeline-Louisa Champayne Snowden Clark had made her own drawn-out transition to her new accommodations. In the process, she had bestowed centuries-old antiques and heirlooms to sundry members of her family, excluding those, of course, to whom she was no longer on speaking terms. Details surrounding the suitable distribution of property had to be handled delicately and diplomatically, and that had taken time and patience and, in fact, it had involved more than a little family intrigue and strife. Nonetheless, the allocation of valuables was finalized, hurt feelings were meliorated as best they could be, and Mrs. Clark left the home vacant for Frank Bayliss’s arrival. His movers unloaded his possessions in early July, and by early August he had – with the help of Corky, the handyman, and Dora, the housekeeper, both of whom he had arranged to employ – unpacked and put in place every item he had brought. He could finally relax in his new home.
In all that time, despite her expressed wish in March, Mrs. Clark did not come to pay a visit, and he didn’t think to pay her a visit either. The matters of “Henry” and the basement door had been pushed to the back of his mind, concentrated as he was on the move and its immediate aftermath. He had, of course, been to the basement many times during the period of settling in and he had noted the sealed door near the furnace. Its appearance was not prepossessing or even interesting. It looked like nothing more than an oblong outline in the wall, a bit rounded at the top. There was no discernible lock or handle. Just the outline, painted over with white paint. The surface was flush with the wall, but he could see that a cross had been carved on it, and below the cross an odd, squarish arrangement of carved letters in Latin. These had also been painted over, but not obscured. The thing was a peculiarity, but he had lived in old houses before and knew they often contained curiosities. Bayliss gave it no more thought.
Bill and Bob, the two brothers who did the gardening, came by every Tuesday and Friday to tend to the maze, hedges, and flowerbeds. Corky was around most days, at least for an hour or two, tinkering with things. Dora was there faithfully, Monday through Friday, from nine in the morning until she considered her daily work done. The routines at Joyous Gard quickly fell into a natural rhythm. Outside the home, Bayliss made successful efforts to reconnect with old friends and relations, and very soon he was acclimated to the slow and easy pace of Ellicott City life. He became a daily presence around town, an old thin respectable-looking man with white hair, who used a cane, wore an old-fashioned fedora in rain or shine, dressed in tweed in the cold months and seersucker in the warm, and was never seen without a tie.
But Bayliss, for all his sociability, didn’t contact Mrs. Clark, and in November, just three days after the assassination in Dallas, news reached him that he couldn’t visit her even if he wished to do so. Madeline-Louisa Champayne Snowden Clark had taken a turn for the worse and had died in her sleep. Bayliss was saddened to hear of her passing and, being conscientious, he berated himself for not having gone to see her before she died.
He attended the funeral. It was there by the graveside, following the burial, just as a flurry of snow began to fall, that Father McManus came over to him and pressed into his palm an envelope. He glanced at it and saw that his name was scrawled on it in spidery letters, as if the writer’s hand had been shaky.
“It’s for you,” the priest told him. “It was left on her bedside table. I thought I might see you here, so I brought it. You should have it.”
Bayliss had become acquainted with the priest and liked him. He appreciated the fact that Father McManus never chided him for not attending Mass, though he knew Bayliss was nominally Catholic. They had first met when Jenny had been buried in the same graveyard.
“Something about Henry, maybe,” Bayliss said with half a smile.
“So, she told you about Henry, did she?” said Father McManus.
“Yes – and the Mass you said at the house for him, too,” replied Bayliss. “A pretty strange story, if you don’t mind my saying.”
“Oh?” Father McManus shot back. “Why’s that?”
“Well, I mean… a Mass for a cat,” said Bayliss, openly smiling now. “That’s a bit unusual, isn’t it? Maybe for a dog – a dog’s a man’s best friend, after all. But – for a cat?”
The priest raised an eyebrow, genuinely surprised by the remark, it seemed. But he had no opportunity to say another word on the matter. An elderly couple had come over to speak with him, and he had no choice but to turn away from Bayliss.
Bayliss carelessly put the letter in the pocket of his overcoat and went home to Joyous Gard. And just as he had forgotten to visit Mrs. Clark while she was still alive, he now forgot the letter in his overcoat. It remained there unopened for another five months.
It was at night that Bayliss felt the loneliness most keenly.
It had been this way with him since Jenny’s death. He had found ways to distract himself most evenings – occasional dinners with friends and relatives, the nightly news, a television program that might catch his interest, his record collection, novels. But it was the late nocturnal and early morning hours when the loneliness entered him like oil soaking into his bones. It was more irksome to him than his rheumatism. He couldn’t sleep soundly because of it. It was wearing him down bit by interminable bit.
And then there were aspects of the old house that he hadn’t thought through sufficiently when, optimistically, he had decided to buy it. It creaked and groaned and made other odd noises like old houses tend to do, but these were amplified in the vacuity of his solitude. The home’s seclusion and its Gothic appearance – which delighted him during the daylight hours – contributed, in the loneliest hours of night, to a sense of dereliction, of an abysmal absence.
The absence of what – of whom?
He knew perfectly well: the absence of Jenny. She was so absent that she was a presence to him. She wasn’t there, and so to make up for that fact he would talk to her as if she were, sometimes off and on for hours. He had put her portrait above the fireplace in the great room – the same room where the two-storey-high arched window looked out over “that river of dark source,” to borrow a phrase of Thomas Cole’s that he had read somewhere – and on those nights of sleeplessness he would place lit votive lights before it. There he would sit and speak to her painted features. In those moments he could almost feel her palpability, although he knew the fleeting sense was only the product of his achingly tired and troubled brain. There was something residually Catholic about these actions of his; they were devotional in nature: flickering candles accompanied by prayer of sorts. Rationally, he knew his behavior was pointless and pathetic. He knew she was nowhere, gone. Entirely unreachable. But reason had little to do with it, especially in his sleep-deprived condition in this empty, dark house, all by himself. He spoke aloud to her, his reason suspended. He summoned her in his imagination, though he knew she no longer existed. Worse, still, he dreaded joining her in her nonexistence. Her perpetual oblivion was more than he could bear to contemplate for very long; the thought of his own eventual cancellation froze his spine. He honestly confessed all that to her, too, how he didn’t want to die, didn’t want to lose himself as he had lost her, and that he was profoundly remorseful that he didn’t desire death, even if by it he might share her nonexistence – and could she ever forgive him such cowardly falseness to their bond?
His penitence gave him no solace.
In the daytime, when his mind was reasoning soundly again, he pushed such shameful irrationality out of his head. He visited Jenny’s grave regularly, every few days leaving fresh flowers on it. In the warm months, the flowers came from his own garden. But there, too, he would speak to her, in more rational terms to be sure, and tell her the daily goings-on at Joyous Gard, tell her of his plans to strip off those brown shingles, tell her the news of the world – she had always been engaged with current events.
Once or twice, he stopped by Mrs. Clark’s grave, as well, and left a flower or two on it. And it was while he stood by her grave one April afternoon that he suddenly remembered the letter in his overcoat that Father McManus had passed on to him – Mrs. Clark’s last words to him. Cursing himself for his selfish neglect, he drove back to Joyous Gard, went without delay to the closet in the front hall, took out the coat, found the sealed letter there, and headed with it in hand to his small study adjacent to the great room. He sat down at his rolltop desk, hastily slit open the envelope with a letter opener, and took out six neatly folded lavender-hued pages, on the front and back of which was Mrs. Clark’s thin, wobbly script in purple ink. It was difficult for him to make out her handwriting at first, but with some effort he eventually deciphered it. And what he read took him aback.
My dear Mr. Bayliss, the letter began,
I very much regret that my poor health in recent months has kept me indoors. I had so hoped to visit you after your move, to see the old place under its new management, and to continue our talk begun last spring. I suppose you have been frightfully busy, getting things in order there, and hence could spare little of your valuable time to come and visit with an old, sick lady like myself. I hoped you might, but I fully understand why you couldn’t.
Bayliss bit his lip. His conscience was pricked by these words, just as he knew that she knew that it would. He read on.
Be that as it may, I would be remiss not to lay out for you as best I can those few things about which you should be apprised concerning Castello di Torcrescenza’s history, and also why I brought up in our conversation that sealed door downstairs in the basement and the matter of “Henry,” our resident ghost.
“Resident ghost”! All at once it dawned on Bayliss that “Henry” hadn’t been a reference to the cat outside the window at all. That was why, it now hit him like a two-by-four, that his mention of the cat to Father McManus at the funeral had elicited such a look of mild surprise. Bayliss had simply assumed that the cat and “Henry” were one and the same. “Henry,” then, was the name that Mrs. Clark’s deceased husband had bestowed on… well, on what exactly?
First, a tiny shred of history. I can only tell you what very little I know, and it really is quite meager. Ed, my late husband, and I never bothered to pursue it deeply, alas. But perhaps some records exist somewhere that might back up what I will relate. I must leave that sort of research in your hands.
As you know, the house was built by Monsieur Henri Marduk back in the early 1830s. I suspect that “Marduk” might have been a pseudonym, although I can’t guess why he would have adopted one. Even for an Algerian, that name is no doubt unusual. But at any rate, he was a mysterious figure and only lived in the house until he went missing in 1850 and was never heard from again. There are stories about him, though, rather unsavory ones. I don’t know how true any of them might be, frankly. He was said to have abducted young women, both black and white, always poor and easily missed. It may all be hogwash. According to the tales, he did unspeakable things to them, so unspeakable evidently that no one can tell you what any of those unspeakable things were. But it’s said that he murdered them all and took their corpses down through the tunnel behind the basement door, which led to the river below, and disposed of them there. Some say the number of missing girls was around seven, others put it in the tens, and some say it was a hundred or more. I think it’s probably balderdash, but perhaps there’s a grain of truth in it, that there was murder involved and some girls went missing and the two were connected. I think that may be the case because, during his life, Marduk was increasingly loathed around here and, as I said, he just plain disappeared one day. There are tales about that, of course, that have to do with black magic and whatnot. I suspect the real story is less sensational than that. I’d be willing to bet he just skipped town (he had plenty of money), changed his name, and fled out west or back to Europe.
After that, his furniture and goods were sold off, as was Castello di Torcrescenza. Apparently, the rumors about its evil past had no effect on the sale. It was the Catholic Church that purchased it and used it for a while as a rectory. When St. Paul’s built a new rectory in 1857, the house was purchased by a man named Burgess. He was involved in the Underground Railroad, and that tunnel in the basement was put to good use, it’s said.
It was early in this century, however, sometime around 1905 I believe, that the ghost stories started up. Sounds in the basement were said to be heard by the occupants. Some said they even heard screams in the night, echoing from behind the tunnel door, the screams of young women who sounded as if they were in agony. Laughter was supposedly heard, too. The owner turned to the Church for help, and a priest performed a ritual of exorcism. I guess that it was then that the carvings were etched into the door, the cross and those Latin words. You must have noticed them. They look like this:
I asked Father McManus about those words once. He looked them up and told me it was a very old sign. If you rearrange the letters, he showed me, they come out looking like this:
“Pater Noster” is “Our Father” in Latin. But you know that, of course. So, it’s the invocation of a prayer, the Lord’s Prayer to be exact. And the leftover “A” and “O” are “Alpha” and “Omega,” and they refer to God. And the whole ingenious thing comes out in the form of a cross. So, it was a sign of protection, meant to ward off evil. Whoever engraved those words and the cross over it understood a thing or two, Father McManus told us. Ed and I kept that door sealed and covered it over with coats of whitewash. We weren’t about to disturb anything on the other side of it. I told you Ed was superstitious, but I think he was right not to meddle with that door.
And we also had Henry to contend with. As I told you when you came to visit last March, my husband called him “Henry” after Henri Marduk, although neither of us truly believed it was the ghost of Henri Marduk. But I am getting ahead of myself; I must begin at the beginning, as the King of Hearts said to the White Rabbit. Going back in my mind, I can’t quite recall when Henry first showed himself to us. It wasn’t long after we moved in; of that, I’m sure. At most it was a year after that.
He seemed to frequent the garden, the maze in particular. That’s where we would see him, catching only fleeting glimpses of him. He would run when he was spotted, or “glide” might be a better word for it. And he would leap and – how can I describe it? – “caper” seems like the best description to me. He would dash into the maze, and he could bound over the hedges, some of them higher than a man’s head, just like Spring-heeled Jack.
How can I describe his appearance? He was cloaked like a monk, but it was more like a dark shadow or cloud that encased his figure than a cloak made of fabric. And his face; well, he had many faces. I can’t put it into words, so I won’t try. Even that might be too much of a description because we only saw him in glimpses as he dashed by, after all. Our gardeners saw him, too, and threatened to quit more than once. But then he disappeared for a long spell, and we didn’t see him again for years. The gardeners calmed down and stayed on. Dora was never afraid of him, I believe. She’s a strong type of woman, but then Henry was always seen outside when he was seen, and she was always indoors.
Until he got into the house, that is. Right before he did, we started seeing him again around the maze. It was wintertime, and Bill and Bob, the gardeners, weren’t around for it, thankfully. We kept seeing him outside for days, flitting around and disappearing just when you thought you’d finally get a good look at him. That’s when Ed started saying that Henry was some kind of portent. He thought it was a sign that something bad was going to happen. I tried to laugh it off, but as I told you, Ed died not many months after these occurrences.
Once we caught sight of Henry pressed up against the kitchen window, peering in. It was night and he was just a shadow, but his palms – I won’t ever forget them – were flat against the panes, all white and long-fingered. He was there just for an instant. My husband ran outside, but he was gone before he could reach him. I think it was the protective instinct on Ed’s part to go after him in the dark. Normally, Ed wasn’t terribly courageous, but Henry shook him up a bit and Ed just reacted.
It was Christmastime when Henry managed to get inside. We had a twelve-foot Christmas tree erected in the great room and lots of trimming all round the house, evergreen branches and the like, and a large crèche on the mantel. He got inside, though, and we never did find out how; but it might have been when we were bringing in the greens. The first we knew he was inside it was late at night, after we had gone to bed. The house was dark, we didn’t have pets, but we heard a scampering sound out in the great room. We thought it might be a burglar. Ed grabbed a flashlight and the handgun and went into the room and there he was. No mistaking, it was Henry. Then he simply vanished, darting into the kitchen and disappearing. Scared us both, but somehow, we went back to sleep, albeit with all the lights turned on. The following night, however, we had much the same experience.
The third night was far worse than the previous two. It was as if a whirlwind came through the place. Trimming was thrown every which way – we came into the great room and stood gawking as things went flying about, including the crèche, which was smashed to pieces right before our eyes. We couldn’t see Henry. He didn’t manifest himself. But there was no doubt in our minds that it was his doing. Last of all, our twelve-foot-high Christmas tree was literally lifted off the ground and flung with great force against the fireplace. Thank goodness there had been no fire laid there earlier; if there had been live embers in the hearth, we might have lost the house that night. That’s when we called Father McManus, who was good enough to come and say the rites and a Mass. After that, Henry disappeared. Things went back to normal. Until Ed’s death, that is, and I remembered what he had said about it being a sign of something bad to come.
Anyway, although he’s not been around for a long while, Henry may come back. Maybe he won’t, but he did before. So, stay on the look-out. Be vigilant.
The letter was signed in formal style with her full name: Madeline-Louisa Champayne Snowden Clark. Bayliss folded it slowly, returned it to its envelope, and sat back in his office chair, fingering his tie with his left hand, and tapping the top of the desk with the forefinger of his right, lost in thought. From where he sat, he could gaze out the window at the entrance to the maze. Bill and Bob were outside, at work among the rose bushes. The sun was shining. Birds sang. A soft, sweet April breeze was blowing in from the west. And although everything outside seemed at that moment to exude a paradisial peace and tranquility, the unsettling contents of the letter and the mental weariness induced by his nights of sleeplessness combined to leave him feeling drained and despondent. He was starting to regret what was looking more and more to him to have been a precipitous move. In earlier times, he might have considered the history and associations attached to the house entertaining, but he felt that his life had disintegrated gradually since Jenny’s death. Her presence would, he had no doubt, have made Mrs. Clark’s accounts seem lighter. Perhaps he might even have been amused by them. Jenny had had that way about her. She had effortlessly relieved his ills and comforted him. But she wasn’t here; she no longer existed. And the romantic spell of Joyous Gard, which had enthralled him for so many years, had diminished so critically that it was now as nonexistent for him as she was.
Still, he had the dingy brown shingles removed and the home’s exterior sanded and buffed and repainted a gentle shade of off-white over the summer. Now the cottage shone on the hill as it hadn’t done in decades, like a miniature castle from a Gothic tale. This transformation did cheer him somewhat, but his nights of sleeplessness continued.
His physician urged him to use sleeping pills and he did. They helped and he slept better. Even so, their effect was limited. He still had long vigils before Jenny’s portrait in the dead of night, he still spoke to her even as the sense of her absence weighed upon him, and he still experienced gripping moments of anxiety. He couldn’t prevent himself from dwelling on the subject of death. It crept into his thoughts at every opportunity, through every channel, spoiling every joy, leaving him moody and disconsolate. He confided in his physician and asked him if he thought he should go to a therapist. His physician, who was older than he was by two years, didn’t think highly of psychologists and psychiatrists. He told Bayliss that he didn’t need a therapist – he just needed to relax more, maybe buy a puppy, maybe find a lady friend, and eat more protein-rich foods. He recommended the “Jack LaLanne Breakfast,” along with moderate exercise – “Nothing too stressful. No jumping jacks…”
He also told Bayliss that his heart was beating irregularly.
“You’re not getting any younger,” he told him, as if that declaration were news and not a cliché. “Stop worrying yourself to death. People do, you know.”
“Do what?” Bayliss asked.
“Worry themselves to death,” said his doctor. “So, don’t.”
This had made Bayliss question whether the doctor wanted him to worry about worrying himself to death in addition to the worrying he was already doing. That had made the physician laugh.
“Just don’t stress that ticker too much,” he said, “and you’ll be fine. You’re still grieving your wife’s death, that’s all. And we old people get depressed easily enough as it is. Hang in there and you’ll be over the worst of it before too long. Take my advice: do some stretching and eat a Jack LaLanne Breakfast each morning – that’ll lift your spirits.”
Bayliss did take the doctor’s advice, including the egg and beef breakfast. But he didn’t buy a puppy and he certainly didn’t go looking for a lady friend. He was noticed by more than one widow in town who entertained fond hopes of finding a new companion in life, but he knew he wasn’t ready to go down that road and probably never would be. Nevertheless, the physician’s advice aside, Bayliss’s inner world was as bleak as ever.
Mrs. Clark’s letter still weighed on him. He read it more than once and he ventured to ask Dora about “the Henry incident.” She confirmed the account but was unwilling to say what it was she thought had caused such destruction in the house. Yes, she told him, she had seen the mess after the event and, of course, it had fallen to her and Corky to get most of it cleaned up. She remembered that the priest had come over and said Mass. That was all. No speculation, just a tacit acknowledgement that Mr. and Mrs. Clark had experienced something that had scared them. She said that they had spoken to her about “Henry” and that Bill and Bob had claimed to see a ghost in the garden, but she had never seen any ghost.
Bayliss approached Corky, but Corky merely wrote off the whole Christmastime event as some sort of accident and said he didn’t believe in “spooks.” He didn’t know what had made all the fuss in the house, but he wasn’t about to start believing in spirits to explain it.
That left Father McManus, and all he said about it to Bayliss, when asked, was that Mrs. Clark’s account fit the facts as he knew them, that he had indeed performed his duties, and that the problems had subsequently stopped. And that was all that Bayliss could get out of any of them in the way of confirmation.
Summer changed to fall. Leaves began to accumulate in the garden, and Bayliss asked Dora whether Bill and Bob planned to rake them up. He hadn’t seen the two gardeners in days and the grounds were beginning to look unkempt.
To his surprise, she told him that the two brothers had quit for good.
“Why didn’t someone inform me about it?” he asked.
“They only just told me yesterday,” Dora replied. “I saw them downtown and I asked them why they hadn’t been around, and they told me.”
“Did they say why?”
Dora hesitated, looked off to the side as if embarrassed, then said, “Yes, they told me why. They said it was on account of that ghost in the garden. They said he was back, and they saw him, and they weren’t going to be working here no more because of it.”
That was all he could get out of her about the matter. That was on a Friday in late October. Dora wouldn’t be at Joyous Gard during the weekend, leaving him to himself, and he determined to track down replacements for Bill and Bob when Monday arrived.
Saturday morning dawned, gray and damp. Bayliss had been awake since three that morning, seated as usual in front of Jenny’s portrait. Sometime around six, in his bathrobe, bleary-eyed, still exhausted, his head swimming, he made his way wearily into the kitchen to make coffee. He went to the large sink to fill the percolator with water. Above it the window looked out on the maze of high rosebushes. He turned on the faucet, glanced through the window, and stopped cold.
A hooded figure could be seen off to the right, near a wheelbarrow, a gray figure as dark as the leaden sky above the trees. He was enveloped in a robe that was almost cloudlike in its appearance, filmy, blurry, billowing. He moved with an odd jerkiness, as if he were busily engaged in some task that Bayliss couldn’t make out. He was perhaps ten yards from where Bayliss stood at the sink. Then, all at once, the figure turned toward Bayliss and looked directly at him.
Bayliss couldn’t make out his features, but he saw flashing eyes and a broad grin. Then the figure leaped wildly up and scrambled over the tall hedge of rosebushes and disappeared from view.
Bayliss dropped the percolator in the sink and headed for the backdoor that led into the garden. There was no doubt in his mind that he had just seen “Henry” – the phantom was real, “just like Spring-heeled Jack,” and – before he fully comprehended what he was doing – he was outside giving chase. He ran to the corner of the garden where he had seen the apparition.
Nothing. No trace that anyone had been there just moments before.
“Hey!” shouted Bayliss. “Hey! Come back here and show yourself!”
Nothing. No response.
He tried again. “Hey! Where are you? Come on, come out of there! I saw you! What do you want?”
He stood there motionless, straining to hear. How long he stood and listened, he couldn’t tell, but after a while he turned to head back indoors. He had taken only a few steps when, from an entirely different direction, he saw the same figure running toward him at great speed. Bayliss froze, then recovered himself, and leapt to one side as the thing in the cloak swept past him. As he did, the cloak flew wide and Bayliss saw what was beneath it.
Time seemed to slow down. The figure moved easily, flowingly, but against his fluid motion was juxtaposed an even more rapid succession of features. His face and body manifested a constant sequence of transformations: white, black, American Indian, Asian, old, young, male, female, brunette, blond, redheaded; bare-chested, shirt and tie, woman’s blouse, leather jacket, tweed waistcoat… All in a ceaselessly revolving sequence, like images flashing on a screen. Only the mouth and eyes stayed the same, the mouth distended in soundless laughter. He ran past Bayliss, looking sharply into his eyes, flapping his arms as he went by, a mere few inches from him. Bayliss could only stand and stare, startled and horrified. The figure ran once more in the direction of the maze and, with an incredible bound, disappeared over the wall of bushes.
This time Bayliss didn’t give chase. Shaken, trembling, his heart racing crazily, he headed back into the kitchen and bolted the door behind him. He went over to a kitchen chair by the table and sat there staring at the floor for a long while. Eventually, he regathered his stricken wits and filled the percolator and made himself a strong pot of coffee. He felt numb of mind, almost concussed, but after draining the entire pot, followed by a quick shower and shave, he dressed and resolved to phone Father McManus as soon as the hour seemed appropriate. He waited until nine and rung the rectory.
He remembered it was Saturday. Father McManus, he surmised, probably had early Mass, a wedding or a funeral to attend to, and no doubt a sermon to prepare for the morrow. Bayliss concluded that his phone call would be inconvenient. He would just have to bite the bullet and wait a bit longer. He could do that, he believed. He had never been an impatient or pushy man. He would wait until mid-afternoon tomorrow and try to reach the priest after he had celebrated the Sunday Mass and broken his fast afterward.
Bayliss put on an old moth-eaten jacket and a cap, grabbed his cane, and headed outside to inspect his garden. The day was dark, a chill was in the air, but it wasn’t raining. Everything was quiet and undisturbed. He went over to the spot where he had first seen Henry. The wheelbarrow had a good half-inch of rainwater in it. He dumped it out, then headed through the open iron gate and into the maze. He had become well acquainted with its twists and turns, so he snaked his way between the barriers of bushes directly to the maze’s center. A stone bench was there and a birdbath. A crow was splashing himself in the bath, but quickly flew off as Bayliss approached. Bayliss looked around. He swiped at the bushes with his cane. Nothing moved in them. He heard the cawing of the crow among the overshadowing limbs of the towering beech that grew on one side of the maze. Further off, in the nearby woods, he heard the eerie moaning of a Mourning Dove. The leaves and branches dripped. Otherwise, all was stillness.
Bayliss headed back to the house. He spent the remainder of the day as casually as he could manage, pushing the morning’s experience far to the rear of his thoughts. It was best, he thought, if he got on with practical things as if it had all been a bad dream. He refused to allow Mrs. Clark’s comments concerning Ed’s talk of “omens” to fill his head, although he caught them trying to assert themselves when his cogitations wandered too far unchecked.
He decided he needed exercise. Ignoring his doctor’s warnings about overexertion, he went outside and raked leaves for about an hour. Feeling taxed by that activity, and despite the fact that he was now sweating profusely, he went indoors and built a fire and tried to relax in front of it. He played LPs of Chopin and Beethoven on the Hi-Fi. He read. He tried at first to concentrate on an essay by Emerson, but found it wasn’t distracting enough. Ed and his omens kept interfering with his concentration. He had better luck with You Only Live Twice. He ate a peanut butter and bacon sandwich for lunch; he had canned tomato soup and rolls at supper. He watched the news.
At last, daylight gave way to darkness outside, and Bayliss found himself seated before only glowing embers in the fireplace. A single standing lamp turned on low stood by his chair. He had lit a candle before the portrait of Jenny. He began to speak to her. He told her that Joyous Gard had belied its name, that joy was impossible for him in this place – what he had wished to be, in some delayed sense, their home – without her, that he missed her more than he could express, that he was infinitely lonely and now suddenly plagued by something more. He told her about Henry’s appearance. He told her he had no idea what or who it was or why it was out there in the garden. He told her it scared him, but that he would call the priest tomorrow – just like she would have done, he said – and try to get it sorted out.
The darkness closed in around him. He heard the familiar noises of the house – sounds of wood expanding or contracting, the hissing and burbling of the radiators, the gurgling sound of waterpipes in the walls, the pattering of a soft rain on the great arched window off to his left.
And then, without warning, came the heavy thumping sound of something making repeated impact against the window from outside. Bayliss snapped around in alarm to see what had made the noise. He expected to see a branch blown by the wind, beating on the panes.
But instead, he saw something there that robbed him of breath – a sight that filled him with horror.
Pressed against the window was Henry. He seemed to grip the glass with one of his hands and with splayed knees; the hands were ghoulishly white and long-fingered and somewhat froglike. With the free hand he slapped the windowpane repeatedly, evidently for the purpose of getting Bayliss’s attention. He stopped the beating once he saw that Bayliss was facing him. That the thing could cling to the window in that fashion seemed to Bayliss to defy gravity. And then there was its face, its nose pressed to the glass, that face that was a sequence of constantly rotating faces, his mouth wide and – so it appeared – soundlessly laughing.
Bayliss’s whole body stiffened. He felt his heart palpitating wildly. Then, adrenaline pumping through him, he leapt up from the chair to confront the thing. Instantly, Henry dropped from the window. Something sticky seemed to remain behind on the glass.
An instant later, Bayliss heard a clattering noise emanate from the kitchen. Without a moment’s hesitation, he dashed there and saw to his dismay that the window above the sink was wide open, and that Henry was not only inside but crouching on the counter. His mouth moved in laughter, and now Bayliss could hear it; but it sounded as if it was coming from an old radio speaker, tinny and scratchy, and it didn’t match the moving mouth – as if he was looking at one of those films where image and sound aren’t synced properly. Bayliss reached for a nearby spatula, though what he intended to do with it he had no idea.
Henry hopped from the countertop and dashed madly around the kitchen, opening drawers, flinging utensils every which way, overturning the chairs and table, opening the refrigerator and, in a blurring flash, emptying all the contents noisily on the floor. Bayliss couldn’t keep track of him, he moved so rapidly. Cabinets flew open, dishes crashed down, pitchers shattered, and Henry scuttled sideways along the high walls like an enormous spider. Then with a wild flopping leap, he shot over Bayliss’s head and dashed crazily into the great room. Bayliss stumbled after him with the spatula.
At this point, Bayliss had only one thought in his head: to save the portrait of Jenny. As the lamp by his chair went flying across the room, Bayliss sped directly to the hearth, his chest pounding unnaturally, and he snatched the painting from the wall. He held it tightly to his chest, clinging to it for dear life, and he collapsed into his armchair still gripping it. He felt as if his heart would burst. He struggled for his breath. Meanwhile Henry scampered around the room, the crackling radio-transmission laughter following just behind him, overturning furniture, snuffing out and hurling the candle that had been above the fireplace against the wall.
Bayliss watched the destruction through his steadily dimming vision.
Then Henry sprang into the hallway and flung open the door at the head of the stairway that led down into the basement. As Henry did this, before he could fully comprehend what he was doing, Bayliss found himself flying with great rapidity after Henry. The painting had been left behind, although he couldn’t recall letting it go. But now he felt he had the strength of a dozen men – the strength and speed of Henry, in fact. And now he was hot on Henry’s heels.
Henry looked back at him, still laughing. He seemed to relish the chase. Down the stairs he rushed, Bayliss bounding after him. Bayliss felt as if he were lightning, a bolt of sheer power. He skyrocketed after Henry; and now they were both in the basement.
To Bayliss’s amazement, the engraved door in the wall stood wide open.
Henry paused there before it. Behind him was a glow of light. Bayliss could see that the doorway was, just as Mrs. Clark had said, the entranceway to a tunnel that appeared to extend far into the distance beyond. Henry gaped at Bayliss. He motioned as if he wanted Bayliss to follow him into the tunnel. Bayliss ran at him, and Henry fled into the tunnel. He turned some distance away and seemed to be dancing mockingly. Bayliss took hold of the door – what should have been an exceedingly heavy door, he realized as he pushed it – and slammed it shut. But the door was as light as if it had been a pillow stuffed with goose down.
Without a second thought, Bayliss turned and headed back up the steps, feeling unusually elated on account of what he had done.
At the top of the stairs, he was met by Jenny. Not old Jenny, not dying Jenny, but young Jenny of the golden, sunlit hair. The Jenny who had once stood with him below the castle and dreamed with him of one day possessing it. It seemed perfectly natural to him that she should be there.
She held out her hand and he took it in his. She led him through the great room, where he saw himself still seated in the armchair and clasping the portrait tightly in his arms.
“Where are we going?” he asked, though he wasn’t entirely sure he had spoken the words aloud but only thought them.
He heard her voice inside him as they left the house. Everything outside was bathed in summer sunshine.
The flowers, he saw, were all in bloom.
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