This letter made a staggering impact on the family when it was produced that night at the dinner table by Sophie.
‘Odds bodkins!’ Thomas exclaimed. ‘This would definitely have killed father if he’d seen this. So Richard was my grandfather and not Edward,’ he mused. ‘Percy!’ This was what Percival was called by the older members of the family, but was Mr Percival to the younger ones. ‘Send one of the servants down to the chapel please, and have them bring up the family Bible.’ To this request, Percy left the table briefly to instruct someone to collect it, telling them exactly where it was to be found and quickly returned to the table in time to hear his wife Anne make the suggestion that was it possible that the ghost could be that of Richard, me.
Going round the table, this seemed to be the most popular assumption and it also gave rise to further speculation amongst them and further questions.
‘Well he’s definitely not buried in the family vault,’ Percy asserted. ‘Every one there is accounted for according to the family tree in the Bible.’ Our family Bible had all the family members names, date of birth and death going back to when Stapleton Hall was first built. There was only one past family person not interred in the vault and that was of Captain Adam Stapleton who died whilst at sea, the younger brother of the first Earl. He was buried somewhere in the Caribbean Seas after dying of wounds sustained in fighting off pirates.
Hugo refrained from speaking out, but noted down any relevant comments a family member made and also wrote down his thoughts whilst the debate ranged across the table. I gave him a pat on the back when I looked over his shoulder at the notes and suppositions he was beginning to formulate, for he was heading in the right direction. He couldn’t feel my hand or presence, but it just made me feel better that at least someone there was using their brain.
When the children were told the next morning of the finding of the letter, they were all for having a ghost hunt to try and find my body which, to tell you the truth, excited me. But that began to pall when I found that they were looking in the wrong places and I raved and cursed with every stupid option that was brought forth as I paced up and down behind them, trying to get into their minds and direct them. But they were all getting older and less susceptible to my being able to get into their bodies and minds hence my cursing and ever increasing frustration.
Hugo, to my pleasure, didn’t stop in his pursuit to get to the bottom of this mystery of my disappearance, and spoke to the elder members of the family to have them relate their experiences, not only of those that had seen me, but of other things. Such as the actions and behaviour of past relations that seemed peculiar to them on reflection. There were only Emily and Joan who were alive now that could have any insight to how Edward had appeared or reacted as it were at the time. Hugo had them both together in a small lounge off the main hall as he asked them to describe their brother’s actions and behaviour at the time that Richard had supposedly left to rejoin his regiment.
Emily did most of the talking with Joan nodding her head in agreement at all she told Hugo. They did seem to be of one accord in with what Emily was telling him.
‘He would be in his place at the head of table,’ she reminisced to Hugo when being questioned. ‘He would be eating or drinking and then suddenly stop doing either or talking and stare off into space and go quite white. I didn’t think much of it at the time and it’s strange that I should remember that. There was one time when he slammed his glass down onto the table, breaking the glass as he stood up and shouted. Enough! Enough! Leave me alone, and then he staggered away from the table and I never saw him for three days after that.’
‘Do you think he saw Richard that caused him to act as he did?’ Hugo asked.
‘On reflection, the answer is probably yes with what we know now,’ Emily replied. ‘I remember the last night and it was almost the same. He drank quite a lot at the table and then went white and stormed out of the hall and the next thing we knew was that he was dead. He fell off the battlements. What he was doing up there, I never found out.’ Hugo noted all this down and it was young Richard that went and pointed out the direction for Hugo to go.
‘Mr Hugo,’ he said one morning in the library classroom. ‘I’ve seen Richard’s ghost and so have quite a few others, but it’s always been upstairs in the bedrooms or the upper hallways. Do you think this could mean anything?’
‘By God’s breath, I think you’ve hit upon it Richard,’ he exclaimed recalling all the known sightings but had not made the connection. Lessons were aborted which pleased the other children as Hugo began to review his notes again. After half an hour he beamed at Richard and said to them all that the most sightings had taken place in the very bedroom he was at present using.
I clapped my hands at them finally arriving at the right place and I kept up with them as they all went up to his room to watch them start to inspect the bedroom in the most minute detail.
They all began to start tapping on the wall panels and Hope was admonished for tapping those by the window as being the most stupid place to look for a secret passage. It took them half an hour to find the right panel that had a different sound and was most likely the place to concentrate on. Ten minutes later, I couldn’t quite see which child found the switch that made that section of panel open, but there were gasps as it slowly opened.
Everybody seemed to shrink back from that opening panel as if they expected my body to come hurtling out at them from the darkness behind it.
‘That’s just where he disappeared,’ Hugo said with bated breath as it swung fully open. He then turned to his bedside and struck some tinder to light his candle. With it burning properly, held it up and went and looked through into the gloom and could see a staircase that led downwards. This he was telling the children behind him as he described the walls and steps.
‘Don’t go down,’ cried Joan, covering her eyes with her hands.
‘I must,’ said Hugo stepping through the gap and began to go down the steps. Richard, bless him, followed, not wanting to miss out on whatever may be found down there. It was a great disappointment to them when they reached the bottom to find a catch which opened a panel to let them out down by the kitchen door. Not waiting to find the way in from down there, Hugo drew the panel to close it and with Richard, returned back up the narrow steps to the bedroom, much to the relief of the others still waiting expectantly for their safe return.
‘So we found a secret passage or staircase from a bedroom to the ground floor,’ he said to the others when they were back in the classroom. ‘But it hasn’t taken us any further in our search,’ he said somewhat dispiritedly and the news was taken the same way by the family when he related the afternoon’s events during dinner.
‘Do you think that that was the room he was murdered in?’ asked Anne.
‘I shouldn’t think so,’ Thomas replied. ‘That isn’t the best of rooms, sorry Hugo, but it wouldn’t be where Lady Caroline would have slept. Her room would have probably be the room that Sophie now uses. Close to the staircase and far more sumptuous. It’s probably where Edward had taken Richard after he had killed him. That’s why he’s been seen there the most. He was taken through that panel and down the stairs and probably buried somewhere out in the gardens.’
By all the Gods in the heavens, I raged at them though they couldn’t hear me, when they all seemed to agree on this hypothesis of my final destination. Such was my anger and ire at this false premise, I was able to bring down no less than four pictures from the walls as I passed by them in my rage. This was something that I hadn’t been able to do for years now.
There were gasps from the table and I could see that they had gone white in the face as each successive picture crashed to the floor as I passed it.
‘He’s here,’ Sophie cried out. ‘I can feel his presence,’ which was more than I could say or believe. She hadn’t felt me for years now and I think it was the falling pictures that gave rise to that supposition, but I was there and I couldn’t think of any other way to get their attention to move in the right direction. Now that my rage was dissipating, so was my power to move things, try as I might, I couldn’t even move a single spoon or whatever that was upon the table.
‘Give us a sign Richard,’ Sophie called out in anguish and they all waited expectantly, but no sign was given as I tried to comply with her wish.
‘I think that’s all we are going to get,’ said Hugo in a quiet voice after waiting several minutes.
‘All? There’s got to be more,’ Sophie cried as she sat back down and Thomas patted her hand.
‘There dear, there dear. If there was more, we would have seen or heard it by now.’ So, dinner was continued without any further interruption from me, though I did try.
From there on, the interest to find my resting place seemed to dwindle and it was only by listening to snippets of news that told me of how the years were passing and I was no nearer having my remains found than I was over fifty years ago.
England was at war again with France against that upstart Napoleon and Sir Harold Cholmondley died, Mary’s husband, of influenza that I found out that it was now 1804. She, plus the children, Catherine and Peter came back to Stapleton Hall because Sir Harold’s house that had been her home, still belonged to the Cholmondley family. Rather than now be the widow living there under their patronage, she opted to return to the place of her birth taking her children with her. She had managed to extract some money and possessions from her home before his family took over and with this, returned.
To Thomas, it was another blow to his and the family’s precarious financial position, but he couldn’t deny her the right to come and live back in her old home. Even with the money she brought with her was nowhere near enough to stave off the ultimate collapse of the Stapleton estate that was forever looming nearer. They had managed to sell off the house of Wetherby, strangely enough to one General Sir Wilberforce Spencer, a distant cousin of Sophie’s father. He only wanted the house for his retirement and wasn’t interested in buying the land that went with it.
Though Thomas hadn’t wanted the extra mouths to feed, the other children were most happy that their cousins had come back to live with them. So the Hall now had six boys and six girls racing around the Hall and grounds ranging in ages from twelve down to six. It also was an extra burden on Percy and Hugo in their attempts to teach and educate them up to their high academic standards.
It’s to Thomas’s credit that he refused to sell any more land but rather let workers go. The Wetherby land was untouched and left to grow wild as he didn’t had the men to handle it as well as Stapleton apart from the fact that it was the river that stopped them from joining the two together.
But the pressure of looking after the family and the estate was making itself felt on the health of Thomas. Even though he was only thirty six years of age, he looked closer to fifty as the constant worries wore him down. What didn’t help was the irascibility of Grace, Henry’s widow, as she got older though she was only forty years of age. But she became a victim of the flu epidemic that winter along with two of the children. Nearly the whole family went down with it but most recovered except for Grace, her daughter Alice and Arthur, Elaine’s third child. Clare also died that winter though not because of the epidemic. She’d been bedridden for the past two years, but her time had come and so just before Christmas, all four were laid to rest in the family vault to much weeping and sorrow.