With the loss of Alice and Arthur, the spirit had gone out of the other children in respect of their ghost hunting activities during that winter. So they looked forward to the summer to resume their hunting for my grave in the gardens, but this was curtailed by another death, that of Thomas.
He’d been out to see to the fields, and when he hadn’t returned for dinner, Sophie got worried and sent out some servants to look for him. It was almost dark when they found his body in the river. This gave rise to quite some speculation as to whether he had fallen in by accident and drowned, or had deliberately taken his own life. This last premise Sophie refused to have spoken even though she secretly knew that it was a distinct possibility as he’d been very worried about the estates finances for quite some time.
So that summer was as sombre as had been the winter after he’d been buried in the vault. So games had been banned in the grounds and the children were to show respect by doing more sedate things like reading, sewing or painting. This last was good for Catherine as she was developing a good style and had a keen eye, so she spent hours painting pictures of the Hall from various angles. They were water colours and were good enough to have framed and were hung in the bedroom corridor.
So Richard at the age of thirteen became the next Earl of Stapleton and as such, became privy to the accounts of the estate as shown to him by his mother, Sophie. Though it was known that he would eventually inherit the title, it was really too soon for him as it then robbed him of the rest of his childhood by having to now act as a man as befitted the head of the household.
He moved out from his small bedroom and took over the master bedroom that had been his father’s as well as his seat at the dining room table. He took on this task very well, determined to try and salvage something of his inheritance though the prospects looked poor. Even though he knew the estate like the back of his hand, he still rode round it and also onto the old Wetherby land by way of the ford. He actually stopped there and sat on the bank to think about what to do, not realising that he was sitting at the very spot where I first kissed Caroline those many years ago.
The boy had vision though and knew that he had to bring the unkempt fields of Wetherby back into productivity but that meant getting the equipment needed over the river. The simple answer was to build a bridge alongside the ford, one capable of taking the heavy carts and such like and so had Catherine do some drawings as he described what he had in mind. With the best one that he liked, set the field hands to work that winter to build his bridge which was duly done and ready just after Christmas for the men to get the horses and ploughs across to begin clearing the land for Spring planting.
To aid in this, Richard became somewhat of an authoritarian by taking some of the gardeners out of their normal occupation to help in the fields and that the children had to spend one day a week seeing to those particular chores. There was almost a revolution within the family over this but he argued that if they couldn’t be bothered to prune rose bushes or pull up a few weeds from the kitchen gardens, they wouldn’t be fed.
Sophie didn’t really agree with these tactics but refrained from speaking for she saw that he was right if the estate was to survive. So that summer, the children helped out in the grounds to much grumbling but in the end came to enjoy the planting of seeds and then gather the fruits of their labours at a later date. At least the family and estate survived another year by the efforts of everybody and they’d had a good harvest that would see them through the winter which was quite severe this year. Snow lay deep round the Hall and cut them off from the outside world though no one in the past had ever bothered by anything or anybody beyond their boundaries.
Hugo suggested to Catherine that she did another set of paintings to complement the others by having a winter set to be placed opposite of the summer ones that hung in the corridor. So muffled up and told to not work for more than an hour out in the cold, did another series of the Hall with its covering of snow. They were a stark contrast but excellent in capturing the frozen aspect of the land and surrounding countryside in the background. Everybody admired the paintings and agreed that she did indeed have talent for this and was asked to start doing portraits and the like of the family.
But there was something about the pictures that disturbed Hugo, but he couldn’t put his finger on what was wrong with them. He dismissed these thoughts and they were duly hung in the corridor opposite those of the summer and they really looked professional for she had sat in exactly the same place to do this second set. Hugo walked passed them at least twice a day if not more when going and leaving his room and would often pause to study them, this feeling stealing over him each time he looked at them that something was wrong.
I would often stand there with him and being a bit more in the know as it were, knew what was wrong with them and I felt very frustrated that I couldn’t point out what it was that was troubling him. I would also spend a lot of time in his room to try and show him but failed to make contact. So I spent many hours in front of one painting and concentrated on one window and eventually managed to make a small impression in the painting. It was very faint but it could be seen as a pale shadow against the dark interior and it was this that was eventually noticed.
It was some weeks of him studying the pictures before he spotted it and rushed off to find Catherine and he showed her what he’d found.
‘Do you see the pale shadow there framed in the window?’ he asked of her.
‘Yes,’ she said puzzled as she took a closer look. ‘That wasn’t like that when I painted it, I’m quite sure it wasn’t.’
‘I think it’s the ghost of Richard,’ he said triumphantly.
‘It can’t be. You can’t paint a picture of a ghost,’ she exclaimed.
‘But you didn’t paint it! He’s appeared to us in your painting,’ he said excitedly, ‘and I’m sure it wasn’t there either when it was first hung up. I’ve been looking at these pictures for ages and I’ve only just spotted it and am quite certain that it wasn’t there originally. But there’s something else that’s not quite right and I still can’t see what it is.’
I was behind him and thumping him on the back and kept pointing at the window but he didn’t feel my punches and I nearly wept when they moved away to go back downstairs. It was another two weeks later and the snow had started to melt and disappear that I think he saw what he had been missing all that time. One minute he was looking at the paintings and then rushed off to his room and just stood there looking at the window before going back to look at them again. Back to the room again and then got out a heavy coat and went downstairs and outside and I followed him. He went and stood in all four places roughly from where Catherine had sat to do the paintings and I saw him then jump up and down and clap his hands.
He rushed back to the house and went and saw Richard who was ensconced in his office with Sophie.
‘Excuse me for butting in like this,’ he said excitedly, ‘but I think I’ve found Richard, our ghost!’ Richard stood up and glanced at his mother, his eyes alight and shining like Hugo’s.
‘Where?’ he asked as did Sophie at the same time.
‘Can I explain a little later, to everyone, for we have to look at something and I want you all to see if I’m right or not. Can we get everybody into the hall and have Catherine’s pictures brought down.’ They had all by now, looked at these paintings while on the wall and there was doubt to some that it was my ghost in the window. But Richard rang for a servant and instructed him to get the paintings off the corridor wall and bring them to the hall. Another servant was sent for to go and round up all the family members to meet in the hall.
Richard, Sophie and Hugo went along to the hall and waited till two servants came in with the paintings that were then laid out on the table with the winter scenes being on the top and the exact summer one below. Hugo also laid out a piece of plain paper and crayon on the table as the family slowly came into the room but waited till all were assembled.
‘I am pretty certain that I now know where the body of Richard, our ghost lies,’ Hugo said to the gasps of those there, especially from the children. ‘Now all look again at the paintings of Catherine and see if you can see what I can now clearly see, paying special attention to the window where the ghost is supposed to be.’ They all in turn walked along the hall table looking at the pictures though none of them came up with any answer. ‘Okay,’ Hugo said as he rearranged the pictures to show opposite sides of the Hall together as a pair. ‘Now look again at these two and again, look at the windows.’ It was Peter that spoke out.
‘Well looking at them, I can’t see any difference.’
‘Exactly,’ Hugo exclaimed, quite pleased with himself at what he was about to explain. ‘Now having heard all that you’ve said about the ghost, most of you have been into the room where I sleep,’ to which he got quite a few nods. ‘But none of you noticed what, to me now I must admit but didn’t realise until a short while ago, was the placement of the window. It was only apparent when I went into this room on the opposite side of the house,’ and he pointed to that picture. ‘The wall on the right as you enter my room is quite close to the window and not in the center of the two walls as it is in this other room.
‘Now look at this,’ and took up the crayon and drew a square upon the piece of paper and made marks where the door and window were. ‘This is my room. Now point out to me Richard where the panel is that opens onto the staircase going down to the lower back hall.’ Richard pointed halfway along on the right hand wall. ‘Yes,’ and Hugo drew this and then added the staircase to the drawing. Now you see that the door and stairs are halfway across the room, but what about this corner, and he then shaded in the other section to make the drawing a square again. ‘That, if I remember rightly, was a brick wall on the left as the stairs go down to the right. The paintings do not show any other corners so it’s my contention that there is a chamber, small, about three feet by five at the top of these stairs behind that brick wall. And that is where the body of our ghost lies,’ he finished triumphantly. I was clapping and cheering and patting him on the back as I went and danced around the table.