THE HEIR OF GREVESWORTH
When Sarah Lovingwell Witherspoon came to the Harrington Grange it was the autumn of her fifteenth year. Her father, Deacon Silas Witherspoon, had succumbed the winter before to consumption brought on by the rigors of his position as minister to a wayward and contumacious flock. His nights of prayer on the cold stone floors on their behalf brought on an indisposition that eventually resulted in his untimely demise without affecting the desired and necessary conversion of the congregation.
When Sarah's mother and Silas Witherspoon's grieving relic, the former Beatrice Lovingwell, began to cough, ever so lightly, it was decided that young Sarah, the only child of the Deacon and his wife, should be sent away to country cousins in the hopes that she might avoid the contagion. It was a sad leavetaking on the mother's side, but Sarah could scarcely suppress her excitement. She had never been a full ten miles from her home at Pilton Green, never seen a town as large as Harrowton or Digby.
Sarah contained herself through the tearfilled goodbyes of her Mother and Grandmere, said fond farewells and received their heartfelt kisses graciously, returning them with appropriate tenderness. She could see their fluttering white kerchiefs through the isinglass window of the coach until they were far down the packed dirt road. Then she turned and looked forward, breathed a long sigh of relief and excitement and settled in for the journey.
Her travelling companions were a Pilton Green merchant, his wife and their two young sons, and a widowed matron from distant Fairtown, who was bound to visit her daughter, recently delivered safely of twins. They made a merry party, and Sarah, normally reserved, found herself laughing heartily with the rest as they jolted along the road.
They stopped for the night at an inn along the road where they slept five to a hay-stuffed bed in a loft. They had no lamp. Unused as she was to such accommodations, Sarah had prepared herself for any eventuality and looked on it all as a marvelous adventure. She slept but little, for the excitement and the snoring of the portly woman who lay beside her. In the morning, there was a breakfast as ample as the sleeping arrangements were incommodious.
The following afternoon, the coach creaked into Pleasantfield, where Sarah said goodbye to her good companions and a hack from Harrington Grange, with a polite young driver, picked her up to convey her to her new, albeit temporary, home.
The scenery was beautiful, rolling and dark against the sky which progressed from blue to fiery reds and orange before settling into a violet. The stars were coming out in the black velvet sky between the grey puffed clouds when they arrived at the Grange. It appeared high on a hill that was part of the foothills of the Apshire mountains to the north and west. But the family was prepared for her arrival. There was candlelight shining through the windows and a cheerful greeting at the door from her Uncle Edmund Wainesthorpe and Aunt Winifred, the latter wrapped in a beautiful Indian silk shawl. There were cousins in abundance, so many and so noisy that Sarah could only bob a half-curtsey before the next one bumptiously made her acquaintance.
It had been a long day, and the family had already had its supper, so a quick meal of cold mutton, pudding and bread was assembled and laid out for Sarah. She ate gratefully and heartily. There were so many stories to tell of Pilton Green, and explanations of how life was ordered at Harrington Grange. The two older Wainsthorpe girls, who had previously settled the question of where Sarah was to sleep, recommenced the argument until their mother held up a quieting hand. Each wanted the new-found cousin for herself.
In the days and weeks that followed, Sarah found herself in a home that was considerably different than the one she had left. Hers had been a quiet, sober home, full of meditation and prayer, and for the last few years, the somber atmosphere of sickness and death. She was not overly concerned for the health of her mother, for her mother's complexion was ruddy when Sarah had come away and had not assumed the pallid hue or the wasting flesh that had marked her father's inevitable passing.
Here was a house as full of life and laughter as hers had been of death and tears. There were eight Wainsthorpe children in all, six with fair and curling locks and two dark and straight. There were five boys and three girls, and each was half a head taller than the next, all two years apart, from the baby in Winifred Lovingwell Wainesthorpe's arms, to the one who was two years older than Sarah and preoccupied with the rigors of finding a suitable mate in a rural estate.
"Don't set your heart on getting a husband in this place," Isabelle sniffed. "For you shan't find one. There are bumpkins aplenty in the village, but not a gentleman to be found. I have almost despaired of it myself."
"Oh, I shan't," Sarah said cheerfully. "For I've no intention of marrying."
"No?" Isabelle was scandalized. "Pray, why not?"
"I shall be an adventuress."
"Fie!" Isabelle scoffed. "Do you know what an adventuress is?"
"No, but it sounds grand, and I shall be one."
"You know," Isabelle mused. "Every so often, there are balls at Pleasantfield. I was invited to one last summer. There were ever so many fine people there, people who had come up from the city with their sons. Some were quite eligible. Perhaps we'll be invited again. They have them in the winter from time to time. There are the Ashfords that live north of here by a half mile, but they also have only daughters. Well, they have a son, but he's betrothed to a second cousin in Leiceshire, so he doesn't count. It's just a shame about Grevesworths..." Her voice trailed off.
"Oh, about Grevesworths."
"Yes. What a horrid name. And a horrid house. It's a horrid old man who lives there with just an ancient housekeeper and a houseman. It used to be a wonderful place, my father said, but then there was a terrible fire and it burned half the house to the ground. Old Grevesworth lives in the part that remains. They say it's terribly haunted. He owns half the village, you know, and charges shameful rents."
"Yes, you must stay away from the property altogether, for I think it tisn't save."
"I promise," Sarah breathed, shocked, but enthralled. Still, when she and Isabelle went riding the grey ponies up along the ridge, she could not help looking northward over the valley. There was what remained of the hulk of a formerly majestic home. Between them lay a small meandering stream. The road that lay across the bridge forked just beyond the bridge, and a well-travelled part ran eastward, down into the village. The other, overgrown and barely discernable ran up toward the house.
Half the house was completely gone, as if bitten off by a large, ravenous dragon. A tall chimney stood on the northern end of it, and some blackened rubble. The southern end stood, three stories tall, and five or six windows broad. The stone, once cream-colored, was also blacked by the soot of the old fire. The house itself was barely visible for the number of tall trees that had grown up around it.
"Is that it?" Sarah asked, almost stupefied.
"Yes. It was called Ravensgrove. Now that name seems almost too tragic, since they've let the trees grow up so close to the house. In the height of summer, you can scarcely see the house at all."
But the leaves of summer had fallen away and the trees were bare and skeletal. A cold wind came up and the girls shivered. Isabelle gestured broadly. "In the old days, Grevesworth's son farmed all this. They raised all manner of crops, barley and oats, and corn, and had a kitchen garden that was the envy of the neighborhood. Their harvest parties were talked about as far south as Digby. All gone now."
"The fire carried away the son?"
"The son and his wife and all their children," she clucked to her pony. "Come now, it makes me sad to think of it all."
Weeks passed and Sarah had news from Pilton Green. Her mother and Grandmere had given up the house, an inevitable necessity given their reduced circumstances. Mother was still in good enough health, although the persistent cough worried the doctor, but no on worried so much as Mother herself, who was in a constant state of agitation. They were now making their home with the Widow Merton, who had been one of the few faithful members of Deacon Witherspoon's flock. Widow Merton made a modest living doing embroidery and other smallwork for the worthies of the neighborhood and Mother and Grandmere were both proficient needleworkers. If Sarah was content was and the Wainesthorpes willing, Sarah could stay where she was.
Sarah wrote back that indeed she was content, and found life comfortable and the family friendly and welcoming. Mother's letter came in the same post with an invitation to the older Wainesthorpe girls and herself to stay a week at the Ashfords and meet their son's intended. Aunt Winifred, beset by a bevy of gleeful girls, quickly wrote back an acceptance of the Ashford's kind invitation.
Preparations for the visit proceeded apace. Each of the girls had to have two nice dresses repaired and cleaned and packed away, one for the day and one for the evening. They had but little jewelry, but each girl took little necklace and a ring. There were shawls and stockings and shifts to inspect, for nothing in the least tattered or threadbare could go on such an important visit. The Ashford's son's betrothed was coming with an entourage of relatives and they may, potentially, have eligible young men with them, or may be acquainted with some in their native neighborhood. Aunt Winifred oversaw the packing, but when she proposed putting a Bible into each of the girls' bags, Isabelle put her foot down. "Now, Mother, we shan't have time for Bible reading, at least not all at once, and besides, surely the Ashfords have a Bible," she pouted. "Well, you may be right," Aunt Winifred acquiesced. "I shall pack one, in your bag, Isabelle and you shall read a little to the girls each night."
Isabelle sulked a little, but subtly. "I don't see why I should have to carry it in my bag," she complained to Sarah. "If I didn't carry it, I should have room to bring a little book of poems, and I'm sure that the Ashfords and their kin would be far more impressed with poetry than with Bible reading, don't you think? They are a gay family from the city, you know, and I shouldn't want them to think we were some sort of Puritans."
"I shall carry it for you, if you please," Sarah whispered back. I have only one dress to take, so I've plenty of room."
Isabelle's countenance lifted considerably and she bestowed a grateful kiss on her cousin's cheek. "You are a dear!" she said happily.
The visit went well. The Ashfords were as kind and warm as the Wainesthorpes, and Sarah felt entirely welcome. The girls quickly learned, though, that the marriage between the Ashford son and the Weatherford daughter was a marriage of necessity. His was a good, sturdy family without pretensions but endowed with a modest degree of wealth. Her family, however, was headed by a gentleman who was of finer breeding, but improvident. The marriage would improve both families considerably. However, Isabelle and Sarah quickly retired any hopes they had of finding a suitable match among that retinue. "They make the village bumpkins look considerably better," Isabelle groaned.
It was a warm Tuesday evening after supper when Captain Weatherford, making note of the brilliant red sky to the west, concluded that the gloaming was too beautiful to miss and ordered a hack, in which he proposed to drive out, very carefully, along the roads and enjoy the golden tones of twilight. Addressing the clucking of the ladies, he assured them that, as an old sea captain, he was quite familiar with the signs of the skies and these portended nothing but fair weather.
He issued an invitation to any who would care to come, but it was a most unusual invitation, at that. It was quite unconventional to go out riding in the evening, when most people were sitting about their drawing rooms, playing cards or reading to one another, and strolling up and down their long galleries, if they were fortunate enough to have them. A turn around the room would suffice for most people, but Captain Weatherford proposed driving!
Still, Sarah was just as unconventional, or fancied herself so and quickly accepted the invitation, as did his seven year old daughter, Justina. Jack was to drive them. Jack was a snappy young fellow who lived in the village and worked for the Ashfords as stableman. He quickly brought the hack around and Captain Weatherford and Sarah seated themselves and rode out, promising to be back betimes. It was, indeed, a beautiful evening and Sarah found herself filled with a strange pining. The land, covered over in fading sheets of gold, was like a strange counterpane of lights and darkness. The upper tips of the black, bare trees were ablaze with the last flickers of sunlight, and below was a growing darkness.
Captain Weatherford was an amicable and loquacious companion, and his subjects ranged from seafaring off the Africas, to conch gathering in the South Sea islands to the price of sugar cones in the city compared to the same in the country. Sarah could barely keep up with the swift transitions between subjects, and his conversation flowed with such alacrity that the only necessity she found herself in was that of occasionally uttering a single syllable, which fluctuated in pitch to indicate understanding, or a lack thereof. It was safer to indicate understanding, since to indicate otherwise cause a torrent of additional detours and repetitions in the conversation.
Suddenly, with a jolt, the hack ground to a halt. "Yo, young Jack, what's amiss?" Captain Weatherford boomed.
"The wheel, sir," Jack returned quickly. "It's stuck in the mud."
"Shiver me timbers," Captain Weatherford grumbled. "Now I'll catch it from the old grey mare. She warned me some disaster would befall us." He quickly patted Justina's leg. "Not to worry, pet. It's a small disaster."
But once the old sailor had inspected the damage, it was obviously not a small disaster for the little party. "Well, fie," Captain Weatherford intoned.
"It'll just take a little push, sir," Jack said cheerfully. "We'll have her out in no time."
"A little push."
"Shall I help?" Sarah asked and suddenly found all eyes on her.
"Nay, lass. Nay. Are ye cold?"
"No, not at all," she smiled. The men struggled for a few minutes with the wheel while Sarah and Justina watched nearby. Finally, Justina climbed back into the hack and promptly fell asleep. Sarah paced back and forth.
"Captain Weatherford," she said at last. "I've a notion to walk on back to the house, if you have no objections."
"Objections? Nay, only that you should be careful. It's night now."
"I'll be careful."
They had driven to the west and south of the Ashford house, and Sarah realized it was closer to the Wainsford house than it was to the Ashford house. "Captain Weatherford, if you would be kind enough to tell the others that I've gone on to the Wainsfords, as it's closer."
"A fine idea," Captain Weatherford said, straining against the wheel. "We'll have this out in no time, I'm certain."
Sarah smiled, dropped a little curtsey and started off. It had gotten dark in the meantime and the moon was an orange disk hanging low in the eastern sky. She walked quickly at first, until the road curved to the east and south and she could no longer look back and see the hack, or hear the groaning and grunting of the men, now punctuated by salty sea oaths which Captain Weatherford believed could no longer reach feminine ears.
She slowed to a proper stroll and drank in the night. Her hands were cold, and she realized that she had misjudged how chill the night would become and slipped her fingers into the opposite sleeves of her coat, like a mandarin. She was close to Ravensgrove. That would have made poor Isabelle tremble, no doubt, but Sarah was made of tougher stuff than that. There were no shades, spirits or ghosts who walked abroad at night. Still, as she looked up at the old house, there was an eery feeling about it. But only because half of it was gone and the other half dark and foreboding, she reasoned. A single light flickered in one of the downstairs rooms and she found herself staring at the place with awe.
"It's a pile of rubble, isn't it?" The voice came from behind her, and Sarah whirled around to meet it, her skirts flying.
"Who's that?" she asked quickly. There was a dark figure standing before her, in a long coat with broadbrimmed had and a scarf around his face. "Only me," the voice was soft and muffled. "Don't worry. Why are you here?" There was curiousity in the voice, not anything that could be construed as angry or even offended by her presence.
"Here? You mean, here?" She stammered, suddenly realizing that she was, indeed, trespassing. "I have been staying at Harrington Grange, with the Wainsethorpes. Well, for the past few days I've been staying with the Ashfords, but we went out driving, Mr. Weathersford and his daughter and I and the cart...well, we had a little accident and I realized it was closer to walk to Harrington than back to the Ashfords..." Her voice trailed off.
"I'll walk with you," he said softly, and they started back toward Harrington Grange along the little road. She now knew precisely where they were, approaching the little bridge and the forked road that she had seen while riding with Isabelle that early autumn afternoon.
"It's an odd house," she said cheerfully. "Foreboding. My cousin Isabelle says it's haunted." She smiled. "I don't believe in ghosts, do you?"
"Perhaps it is haunted. Perhaps there are things other than ghosts that haunt." His voice was sad. He was just a little taller than Sarah and slight of build.
"Do you live in the village? For my cousin also says that the old man who lives here charges grievous rents."
"No, I live at Ravensgrove.
"Oh," Sarah was awash in embarrassment. "Then I have humiliated myself. I should not have spoken thus."
He was silent and they walked on until they were standing on the bridge. "Do you know the sky?" he asked suddenly.
"The sky? Why, just that it's..." Her voice trailed off, and she realized she didn't understand the question.
"You know the moon."
"And the stars. There are pictures in the sky. There is Orion, the hunter. You see the three stars in a line, there," he pointed to a place near the northern horizon, reaching across her. She felt odd, a strange, tugging foreboding. "They form his belt. And above his head, he holds the skin of a lion. Later in the night, when the stars have moved, you'll be able to see his two dogs following him."
"Why do the stars move?"
"They just do. They move around the north star," he pointed again. "There. Sea-faring men navigate by the north star. In the summer, there's a different sky full of stars. There's a scorpion in the summer night. He bit Orion and now Orion chases him through the year as he pursues Orion."
"I've never been out this late at night," Sarah said. "I've only really seen the stars through the isinglass windows of a coach, or through the windows of the house, and the glass is too thick and wavy to see anything but a blur of light."
"I see them all, every night."
"How is that?" she asked quickly. A cold wind had come up and blew a wisp of hair from under the ribbon that held it in a bun at the back of her neck. She pulled her hand from her sleeve and brushed it away.
"Well, I certainly don't see a hunter," she said, a little peevishly. "Or a dog. I see points of light."
The young man stood closer. "Look again," he said quickly. "I'll show you. Lean against the wall of the bridge and you'll be steadier." He began to point out the stars, first individually and then in groups. He worked around the sky until Sarah was convinced that she, too, could see Hunters, dogs, queens and gods.
"But there," she said, pointing upward. "What is the red one again?"
"That one? Antares," he asked, pointing in the same direction. His hand brushed hers. "But you're cold."
"No, not too," she said. "Only my hands."
He slipped his into hers and held it. His hand was warm, thin and strong. The skin was not soft, like her mother's or his cousins, nor was it soft like a child's, but it was not rough, either, as she imagined a working man's hand might be. She dared not speak, or call attention to the fact that he was holding her hand. When she looked up into his face, he had turned away, his featured muffled by the dark scarf.
They talked of other things, many other things. He had read a great many books, and Sarah had very little in the way of formal education. She was clever and absorbed everything quickly, but had only been schooled by an old matron who taught her letters and numbers and little else. For a houseman, he knew a lot.
The chill was deeper, and the moon considerably higher when Sarah realized that it was late. "I must go back to the Wainesthorpes. If the Ashfords managed to communicate with them that I had walked back, they will surely be alarmed." But it was unlikely that they would have sent a rider to the Wainesthorpe house to check on her. Still, it was late.
They walked slowly toward the Wainesthorpe house. One by one, the lights were being extinguished in the house and in the village below. Sarah looked back on the little hamlet in the valley and sighed. "My cousin says there are nothing but bumpkins in the village. She wants to make a propitious marriage, and nothing but a nobleman will suffice for her."
"And for you?"
"Oh, I think it would be quaint to have a little cottage like the villagers have, and live a quiet life. My father was a deacon, so we lived in a nice house, nothing like these along the ridge, of course, but a good sized house. Still, for three people, it was far too much space. And I care little for the prestige of a house, if what goes on in it is to ones' liking. I was an only child, but I should like to have a big family, with a kindly husband."
"I should think that would be a good life," he said wistfully.
"Now, pray, will you come in and let my aunt and uncle thank you for my safekeeping?"
"No, no," he said, in a tone that betrayed something more fearful than ordinary youthful shyness. "No, I must not. You go on. We are but steps from the garden gate."
"But surely, we can find a morsel of food or a ginger nut for you in recompense of your kindness."
"Truly, I cannot. I have been out far too long as it is. Please you, go on." He slipped his hand from hers and turned to go.
"Wait. My name is Sarah Lovingwell Witherspoon."
He laughed lightly. "I trust you are well named?"
"I hope so," she stammered. "You are?"
"Bartholemew," he said quickly. And for all the world, she thought he said, "Bartholemew Grevesworth." But he turned quickly and nearly disappeared into the darkness along the garden wall.
Sarah fairly ran back to the house. The front door was already barred, so she went around to the kitchen door. Through the lighted window she could see cook plucking the chickens for tomorrow's dinner and cook's boy washing the dishes near the fire. She rattled the door and they looked up and let her in.
"Sakes, Missy," Cook said quickly. "What are you doing out in the night? And why aren't you at the Ashford?"
Sarah laughed. "All's well, dear Cook," and she brushed her cold cheek against Cook's warm, fat one, suddenly aware of the silly girlishness of her gesture. "I'm fine. I went out riding and the cart wheel got stuck and broke and we were closer to here than there..."
"Come, come, have you eaten?"
"Yes, yes." Suddenly she realized that she had walked a great distance, and should have been both hungry and tired, but wasn't. Still, she thought it prudent not to mention her meeting with the strange young man to anyone except perhaps Isabelle, and Isabelle wouldn't be home for another two days.
The next day dragged by. She played the new pianoforte in the drawing room, which she played but ill. Still, the little Wainesthorpe children enjoyed it and gathered around her, lolling and rolling on the floor. She pecked at her food, fussed with her smallwork, idly stitching and then tearing out bits of thread. She sewed leafgreen silk into the yellow bird's wing and made a vine orange that should have been green, before she realized her error.
That night, though, as it grew dark, she made her way to the upper story of the house on the northernmost side, and looked through the windows. She told herself she was looking at the moon and the stars, but her eyes searched the dark and rolling hills for a sign of movement. Perhaps he would walk out again this night. Perhaps she would see him again. In the cold window, she drew her shawl tight about her and almost despaired, but finally, she caught a glimpse of movement, down where the moon glinted on the well-travelled road, there he was, coming toward the Wainesthorpe house. She fairly flew down the dark, winding stairwell, out the door and across the garden, and met him where the lane met the garden path.
"Hello, you!" she said quickly. "I was hoping I'd see you."
He nodded. His hat was still low over his brow and the scarf wrapped tightly. "And I, you," he answered.
"I was hoping," she said breathlessly. "That you could tell me more about those people you were telling me about last night. Orion and Cassiopiea and Antares."
And so, he did. They met again the following night, by which time, Sarah was convinced that the feelings she was experiencing were of a nature somewhat warmer than that of simple friendship. When Isabelle and her sisters arrived home on Friday afternoon, there was so much for each girl to tell.
Captain Weatherford and Justina had arrived home quite late that Tuesday night, with the word that Sarah had walked on to Harrington Grange, the Mrs. Weatherfords and Ashfords were absolutely beside themselves. They could not believe how imprudent Captain Weatherford could be. Eventually, they had to abandon hope of righting the hack and they walked home as well and Jack and some men from the village had to retrieve it the following day. There was a falling out between the afianced couple, but they quickly made up before sunset the following day and so peace was restored. And how was Sarah?
Sarah was aglow with happiness. "You were mistaken, my sweet cousin," she began.
"Oh? About what?"
"About eligible young men," she said proudly. "For I think, if you can keep a secret, and, can you?"
"I'll be as silent as the grave," Isabelle whispered.
"I've met a young man. He's wonderful. He's brilliant. I think he knows everything--certainly about the stars and weather and he recites poetry and knows about ancient people and how they lived. It's amazing. I tell him about my life in Pilton Green and he tells me how people lived there a thousand years ago. I don't know how he knows as much as he does."
"Is he astonishingly good-looking?"
Sarah's brow furrowed. "I supposed so. The fact is, I've only seen him at night, and he always wears a hat and scarf, so I've yet to see his face."
"Yet to see his face? What manner of strange relationship have you contracted, Cousin Sarah?"
"None. I mean, we have just met and talked."
"How often, since I only saw you last Tuesday."
"Three times. Each night since I met him on the way home from Ashfords."
"How odd. You met a boy while walking home?"
"Yes, it was odd, at that. In fact, what was really odd was I think he lives at Ravensgrove and I think that he said his name was Bartholemew."
Sarah allowed the shock to register on Isabelle's face before she continued with the biggest shock. "I think he said his name was Bartholemew Grevesworth."
"What! Now, Sarah, you have struck me as a girl that was trustworthy in all things, daughter of a deacon and a sweet-tempered young lady, but dear Sarah, this is too much."
"Maybe I misheard. He is the nicest young man. But I am sure that he said his name was Bartholemew Grevesworth."
"Sarah, that can't be. There is no such person anymore."
"Yes, for I think that the old man's name is Bartholemew and his son was Bartholemew as well. He had a son as well whose name would have been Bartholemew, but they all perished in the fire, save the old man, who was away on business at the time of the fire."
"No, that cannot be."
"But it was. I remember my father telling me that it was just after he and my mother were married. They had an aunt, a sister of the father, who was half-mad and roamed the house all night with a candle. They thought in all likelihood, she had a turn and fell with the candle and lit the curtains on fire. Everyone in the house died, except one old serving woman. The old man came back the following day and drove everyone from the property and he and the old woman and a new houseman they hired from the village buried them all in the old family graveplot just west of the house that had been there for a hundred years. No one has been up there since, as far as I know.
"When was that?"
"Oh, I'm sixteen now, and it was surely a year before I was born. Between seventeen and nineteen or twenty years ago."
"Well, it was certainly no old man that I saw," Sarah argued petulantly. "And I have grave doubts that it was a ghost."
"Are you to see him again?"
"Perhaps. I don't know. We don't make arrangements. I just go upstairs in the night, just after the moon rises and look out, and then see him. But did you know that the moon rises at a different time each night?"
"No, you goose, I didn't know that. The moon's business is none of mine. What are you going to do?"
"About this shade, my sweet. You can't very well go about communing with spirits. There are names for girls like that."
"Sweet, dear Isabelle. You must promise me again that you will say nothing to anyone."
"Nothing at all, and what would I say? My cousin fancies she's in love with a ghost? Who would believe me?" Isabelle braided her hair, tied it off with a red ribbon and flounced out to breakfast.
All afternoon Sarah worried that she had been mistaken in telling her flighty cousin about her rendezvous with Bartholemew. That night, he did not come out, although she waited until quite late in the little room on the northwest side of the house. The following night he was out, and she dared not ask him the questions that were in her heart. Still, he seemed to know something was wrong with her.
"You seem different tonight," he said quietly.
"Different? Oh, no. Perhaps just a little..." her voice trailed off. "The truth is, I'm confused."
"What did you say your name was?"
He was silent for a long time. "I should not have told you," he said at last. He began to withdraw his hand from hers but she closed her fingers around his.
"Stop," she said. "Why should you not have told me?"
"I must go." He pulled away again.
"But, Bartholemew, when will I see you again?"
He did not answer, but hurried away into the darkness. The following night and the night after and the night after that, there was no sign of him in the evening, but she waited up until she fell asleep at her post, her head resting on her tearstained sleeve.
Nights she slept ill and in the day, she found eating was difficult. Her appetite was gone and she withdrew from the company of her indomitable and cheerful cousins. Only the youngest children kept her occupied and she cuddled them near her and wondered what she had done so wrong. In her most heartbroken moments, she contemplated sneaking up to the graveyard and looking at graves to see whose names they bore, or peeking through the dim and dingy windows of the old house for signs of life.
Still, by night she kept watch and one evening, far into the winter, she saw him again. He stopped below the garden gate and looked up toward the house, but by the time she had gotten her shoes on and ran to the door, he had gone. She resolved to sleep with her shoes on forever after. That night, it began to snow, and a soft, white blanket seemed to cover the whole of the earth.
She watched in the snow for tell-tale footprints, but there were none. The snow melted away. But night after night, she looked for him, until she saw him again, walking away from the gate. She ran out and caught up with him as he made his way back toward Ravensgrove. "Bartholemew," she called softly, and he turned. She raced into his arms and pressed her head against his coat and cloak. "Oh, I had despaired of seeing you again," she said, lifting her head. He wiped the tears away from her cheeks.
"You must not cry in this cold," he said evenly.
"But I have missed you so," she said miserably. "I am so sorry I offended you, and I shan't ever do it again."
He was shocked. "You didn't offend me," he said. "But I cannot...Please do not ask me who I am, or about my history."
"But you are not a ghost, because my cousin Isabelle says that..." He stiffened and she instantly realized she had said the wrong thing again. "I haven't told her anything, really, but please, you must tell me what I can and cannot do about you."
"I cannot tell you who I am because I am sworn not to. I will never see you by day, or in the spring or summer and I cannot come to your home or meet your relatives. If your cousin said I was a ghost, she was right, for I am not as one living, but as one dead. But I would beg you, if you care at all for me, do not mention me to her again."
Sarah slumped away from him. "If I promise you all that, will you at least tell me why?"
"No, you must let well enough alone," he said and she nodded. They walked a long way toward the bridge and then back again. She had been greatly consoled and relieved because he talked with he in the same easy way he had before. But as they neared the garden gate, she felt a stab of uneasiness.
"Will you come again tomorrow night?" she asked.
"I cannot say," he said. "The clouds to the north have an indigo tone, which bespeaks snow. If it snows, I cannot come."
"Your family and the servants will be able to see my tracks in the snow, and will know where I have come from. They will see your tracks coming to meet mine, and they will know. They will stop us."
"You must not ask me these questions any more. I will come if I can."
"I will wait." He turned to go, but she held onto his fingers. "Please, please, may I see your face?"
"No," he sighed. "Never."
Sarah ran back to the house and slipped into bed, but she was too excited to sleep. Excited and confused. But now, she was convinced he was no ghost, though she herself had become a creature of the night. It was hard to rise in the morning, since she spent so much time up at night. Nothing else interested her but her rendezvous in the darkness. But spring was coming, and she looked forward to it with dread. The days would be longer and longer, and it would be harder to meet.
One night, when the moon was full white disk in the western sky, they had parted at the garden gate and Sarah paused at the door to see him walk back toward the bridge. She turned and watched, but instead of see him walking alone toward the house, she saw another man coming toward him. They met just beyond the bridge. She ran back toward the gate and then closer. She could not hear anything, but the man raised his arm and struck at Bartholemew, who ran back toward Ravensgrove. It was only then that she noticed that he limped and his left arm hung loosely at his side.
The man who had come to meet him turned, threw something away and stormed back toward the house, but Bartholemew had disappeared from view by this time. Sarah boiled with anger and fear. In the days that followed, she kept a watch from her perch in the attic, but he could not be seen at any point throughout the night. Days and then weeks passed and she all but gave up hope. Still, in that time, she became convinced that he was no ghost at all, but a prisoner.
She went to the village and made inquiries. Who was the houseman at Ravensgrove? He had come from there, she was told, and his mother, brothers and sisters still lived there. He came once a month to the village to collect the rents and visit his family. Did he ever tell stories about the house? Nay, he was a silent one on that score. And who lives in the house? Naught save he and the old woman housekeeper who did what cooking was done, and the old man.
And what of a young man? Was there a young man? Nay, never. But when would the houseman come back to visit? and could she meet him? His mother was amicable enough and the arrangements were made.
Sarah came with a few pieces of silver in her little bag and sat timidly on the stiff-backed chair in the mother's tiny living room. "I have something for you," she told the grizzled old man. "If you would be kind enough to help me." She showed him the silver and his eyes lit up. "Tell me, is there a young man at the house? About twenty years old?"
"Mayhaps," he said, his bony fingers reaching out for the coins. But Sarah pulled them away.
"You must tell me who he is and what is his history."
He shook his white head. "Nay, for I've a job to keep."
"Aye, but I'll never tell how I knew if you help me."
"For that I'll tell ye yea or nay."
"What would I have to pay you to arrange a meeting?"
"Oh, twice that, for sure."
Sarah was crestfallen and bit her lip. "It will take some time to get twice this much."
"I shan't be back for a month. Give me that now, and I'll tell you what you want to know."
She slid the coins across the table and he scraped them into his grubby palm. "Aye, there be a boy there. And aye, he's near twenty years old."
"So he's not a ghost?" Sarah laughed lightly.
"Nay, but he may as well be."
"Why? Is he a prisoner? Is he in danger?"
"Aren't we all? I've said to much already, missy. But if you're fool enough to bring more silver on the fourth Sunday hence, I'll have a way for you to meet him."
"If he is no prisoner, can you insure that we might go away from here?"
"You would elope with young Bartholemew Grevesworth?"
"Oh, yes, if he'd have me."
The old man said naught, but shook his head. Sarah said her farewells and swept out of the house. She paused in the dooryard to shake the dust from the floor off the bottom of her skirt. From the house, she could hear a cackling--an unpleasant little laugh.
The month passed slowly and painfully. Sarah sold her little watch, and did some embroidery piecework that Mother sent up from Pilton Green. When the appointed Sunday came, she hurried to the houseman's mother's cottage in the village and handed him the silver.
"Come to the burned end of the house when the moon stands directly overhead and I will convey you to him," the old man said, slipping the coins into his vestpocket.
"Aye, if you will."
"And will he leave with me?"
"Aye. Have you told anyone else you are going to elope with him?"
"Good. Tell no one."
But as she walked home, her heart beating quickly, she realized she was embarking on a dangerous mission. The final caution, not to tell anyone, was almost too frightening. When she reached the house, she called to Isabelle. "Cousin, I must tell you something, but you must promise not to reveal it to anyone unless..."
"Unless I do not send word to you by dawn that everything is fine."
"Whatever are you about, cousin?"
Sarah then unfolded the tale of the last few months' duration, and how the houseman had made her promise not to tell that she was going there.
"Oh, Sarah, what if it's a trap? What if..."
"What should I do, Isabelle? I love him so completely."
"Yes, and you've already paid a considerable amount. Perhaps you can trust this houseman, although I doubt it, from the reputations those people have. And if not, who knows what evil could befall you."
"What should I do?"
"I will go with you. Me and the dog. We will take Ferdinand on a rope and if anyone tries anything against us, we will have him to protect us. And I know where my mother keeps a muff pistol. We shall borrow it."
That night, when the moon was between the horizon and overhead, the two girls set out toward Ravensgrove, moving along the black shadows to the foundation of the house. They went around the west side, opposite the bridge, so as not to be seen from the road, and saw the small, fenced graveyard. Isabelle stopped and peered over the metal railing, but Sarah tugged at her cloak. "We've no time," she hissed. They came upon the large expanse of the ruined part of the house, and picked carefully through the rubble. There was a small path through what used to be rooms where dinners were served and couples danced in the candlelight. Only then, did Isabelle light the lantern, but she kept the door on it closed so it let out only a thin beam of yellowish light.
They made their way with Ferdinand following closely, to where walls still stood and waited beside a door. Anon they saw light flickering beneath the door and then it creaked open, and they stepped into a place as dark and forbidding as a cave. The old houseman held a candle aloft and peered out at them.
"You can come in," he said to Sarah. "But I said naught about her, and certainly naught about a dog."
"If the dog and I don't come," Isabelle began, "Then Sarah shan't."
"Suits me," he said, and began to close the door.
"No, no. Please," Sarah said. "Let them come. They'll be ever so quiet."
The houseman shrugged. "Did you ask him? About going away with me?"
"Aye, in my own way. I'm sure you'll be wanting to take him and have him be your husband. I'm sure." The old man cackled and Sarah had a cold feeling. Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea after all. But they made their way down a narrow hall and up a dingy staircase that smelled of smoke and dirty oil. Surely it wasn't from the fire two decades before, she thought. At the top of the stairs, he stopped and fiddled with a set of keys. There was a dim light under the door and he unlocked it, swinging it open. For an instant everything was quiet. The houseman stepped back and then pushed Sarah forward into a room lined with books.
"Aye, there's your ghostly prince. There's your noble prisoner." He howled. "Take him for your husband, you foolish chit."
Everything happened in an instant. Sarah's eyes adjusted quickly to the dimness, but before she could comprehend it all, a thin, slight man turned from the east-facing window and stared at her. His eyes were large and luminous in the candlelight, but his face was horrific, his arm hung useless at his side. Isabelle shrieked. Sarah gasped, and his hands flew to his face and a sound like no animal ever made tore from his scarred lips.
"Well, would you have him now? You've been causing no end of trouble in this house for months." Sarah whirled on the houseman and realized it wasn't the man she had met at the mother's cottage. It was another. It was the man from the bridge. "Who are you, you insolent wench, that you come into this house and try to disturb our lives?"
Bartholemew, for it was he, was sobbing wildly, his head against the wall. Isabelle was trying desperately to hold back Ferdinand who was barking excitedly and straining at his lead. Sarah was dumbfounded.
"Go away," Bartholemew groaned. "I told you not to ask. I begged you. Now you know."
Sarah found herself faint and inched toward a chair. She sat down heavily. "Ferdinand, stop that!" She demanded, and the dog uncharacteristically, obeyed.
"Now wait," she said. "I don't know. I don't know anything. I can't profess to understand what's going on here. I don't understand. But someone can certainly explain it."
There was a shocked silence in the room. The old houseman had come in and stood behind the old Mr. Grevesworth. "Can't anyone explain this?"
"Can't you see?" Bartholemew spoke at last. "I'm a monster."
"Oh, pish," Sarah spat.
"He was in the fire. We found him after I came back home," the old man said slowly. "It shouldn't have happened. But it did. I could not do anything for him, except keep him here, away from people. There was nothing else for it."
"What do you mean?"
"He couldn't ever live in the world outside. What would he do for money? How could he live in a world like that? He could never be a Grevesworth. We have an old prestigious family. He cannot marry or have a family or carry on the name."
"Nay, until a foolish girl like you came along and decided that she knew better than his elders what was right. Marry him, indeed. What sort of marriage would you have? And what would you want of me? My land? My house? You would use this poor unfortunate creature to engrandize yourself--to become mistress of this fine old place. Marry him, why you cannot even look at him?"
"Oh, but I can," Sarah said, and rose and went to Bartholemew. She put one hand gently on his shoulder and the other on his chin and turned his face toward her. "I can." She smiled at him and felt the warm flicker of his eyes on her, even though his teeth were still grit. "I can." She stood up and faced the old man. "As for what I want from you, not one thing. If he would have me, all I should ever want from you would be the hire of one of your cottages in the village. And if you choose, we shall live by my name, and not yours so that the humiliation will not be so difficult for you to bear."
"Eh?" the old man said quickly. "Eh?"
"I cannot leave here, Sarah," Bartholemew said quietly. "I am a prisoner, but mostly of myself."
"If you don't want me, my sweet, then so be it," she said stoically. "But if you are afraid for me, don't be. For I fell in love with you without ever seeing you and learned to see the person you are, not what you look like."
"You could have anyone," he said quickly.
"Then I can have you," she said and slipped her hand inside his.
In the course of time, Old Mr. Grevesworth, though not happy about the match, consented to it, and gave Sarah and Bartholemew the hire of a house in the village. It was small, and cozy and just perfect for a young couple. No one seemed to care that Mr. Lovingwell was a little odd, or that he rarely went outside in the day, for the people of the village were used to odd things. But in the end, the old house and all its tragic memories, was pulled down, and Sarah and Bartholemew finally built a small home on what inheritance he received. In time, they had children of their own, four of them, each one lovelier than the preceding one and they lived to a good old age.