Call it a quirk of fate if you wish, though I am more of a quirk than the fact that both Grace, wife of Henry, and Sophie went into labour at the same time to produce their offspring in unison. In some way I was pleased that the doctor was seeing to Grace and it was an experienced midwife who attended Sophie at the moment of the births. Grace produced a daughter that they named Alice, while Sophie bore a son, much to the delight of Thomas and a fact that didn’t please Henry in the slightest.
As with Sophie, I was there at the birth, but this time of her son and I knew that I had found my conduit into that human world again when he smiled at me as he was washed before being laid in his crib. I was with him most of the time forsaking all others, spending most of his waking hours within his small body, teaching him things that were actually beyond his comprehension at the time, but I was getting desperate in my purpose of having the truth of my death revealed.
I was proud of Richard, convinced in my own mind that he was actually my son and not that of Thomas. Proud that he was walking earlier than any other child of the family, began to speak earlier too apart from his quickness to pick up every nuance of a child in the process of growing up.
It was around this time that letters had been received that both Elaine and Mary were expecting and Anne begged to be allowed to visit and spend time with them both until the children were born. As both were living just outside of London in Hertfordshire and not very far apart, she was allowed to go on the promise that she should keep the family informed as to all that happened.
It was a depleted Hall for that Christmas of 1792 for it was deemed that Elaine and Mary couldn’t travel up to us as they were not far off from their expected dates of delivery. Percival saw to our Christmas devotions and Anne left soon afterwards to be with Elaine who gave birth to a daughter to be named Elizabeth a few days into the New Year and then scooted across to Mary’s place in time for the birth of her daughter that would be named Catherine. With Alice and Richard being born on the same day in mid December and the other two in January, the christenings didn’t actually take place until the end of March so that all four could be baptised in our chapel under the care of Percival.
I was delighted that I could invade the body of young Richard and experience again those first faltering steps towards the open arms of Sophie, to be held and cuddled before the nanny took over.
Later that year we also saw that Grace, Henry’s wife go into labour and produce yet another girl. A sickly child that was quickly baptised with the name Hope. Hope that she would live to see her first birthday more than anything, and I’m happy to say she did so. But it was again another bitter blow to Henry that he now had two daughters and no son as yet. It was also the year that Sophie’s father died and so the Wetherby estate was handed down to Sophie’s brother George. Now there was a dark horse if ever there was one. I overheard nearly everything that was said in the servants quarters because they just didn’t know that I was there. It was rumoured that George was in fact a homosexual, but that wasn’t the term used in those days. Just that he was a man who preferred the love of another man rather than that of a woman. It was well known below stairs that he was actually living with a man by the name of Liam Neilson in London. A fact that was confirmed when the two of them came up from London to take up residence upon George coming into his inheritance. Sophie remarked one night at dinner that she was glad that she was now living with Thomas and not have to suffer the indignity of having to dine with the pair of them. Words being kept at a minimum because it wasn’t polite for ladies to talk of such matters about the opposite sex.
I tried many times to make contact with Sophie but sadly could not and so I had to pin my hopes on young Richard who seemed to take to me as much as she had in her childhood. It wasn’t until he was nearly five years old were we able to actually talk to each other, but then only at night when he was sleepy and more accessible to my approaching him. Mind you, he did get quite some telling off for saying that he would often speak to a man in his bedroom at night. This was put down to nightmares by the nanny but gave Sophie herself some qualms remembering the times she had seen me. I was there one evening when she asked Richard if he could describe the man he spoke to and he gave a fairly accurate description that made her go quite white. She knew then that he was the seeing the ghost that she had last seen when she was a child and so believed him where others didn’t. This she kept to herself.
As I could only really communicate with Richard at night when he was tired, I spent most of my daytime looking over William and Henry. The latter appeared to be ageing fast and so did Henry when William eventually called him to his study and then began to explain all about the problems of the estate. I think it was I who noticed that Henry was the more sicker of the two, but Richard was too young for me to get this across to him and the family that Henry didn’t have much longer to live and the time William was taking to explain to him about the estate was a futile exercise.
In this interim period, Sophie had another son that was named Charles a month before Elaine dropped John. The following year, Mary bore her second child that was named Peter. Then came Anne’s first child, another boy for the family and she and Percival named him Simon rather than Peter and hoped that he would grow up to be a fisher of men as in the Bible.
Then, much to the surprise of the family but not to me, Henry caught pneumonia in the autumn of 1797 which went to his lungs and he quickly expired. He never did see the birth of his sister Elaine’s third child Arthur, which came a month later after he was buried.
William aged another ten years overnight at Henry’s death, him without a son to inherit the title that would now go to Thomas as being the next eldest son. This put William to bed from which he wouldn’t leave until his own death.
There was one other event which put a damper on the family and that was the death of Sophie’s brother George in mysterious circumstances. He was found at the bottom of the stairs of Wetherby Hall with a broken neck and completely naked. His live in lover, one Liam Neilson claimed no knowledge of the circumstance as to how the accident, as it was reported, happened. He did, however, lay claim to a court in London, that he was entitled to the estate as being the closest friend of George and been promised the estate in his will. A will was never found and so his claim was contested by Sophie who eventually won the day and had the estate turned over to her. This meant, that under the current law, the property now came under the control of her husband Thomas, which was a godsend for the family’s finances.
Even so, what with the Wetherby estate being joined with that of Stapleton, didn’t appear to help Thomas who was now thrown into the deep end of trying to manage two estates without the slightest clue of how to go about the running of them. It was this year that Anne gave birth to Faith, another girl that brought the total of my grandchildren up to twelve.
This struck me as being ironic, for if I could convince Richard, as I think I already had, of my past existence, and he could convince the others, I would then have twelve disciples to search for the truth of my death. So I directed all my energies into that six year old child to see and recognise me for what I was, a ghost of his past, and that with his help, uncover the truth.
His mother, Sophie was now convinced he was seeing the ghost of her past and encouraged him to ask questions of me in that respect. The questions asked and the answers given just underlined the fact that he was telling the truth for there was no way he could have known the correct answers to the questions that he had asked of me. To Sophie, they demonstrated that he was indeed in communication with a person long dead and though they didn’t know it then, not buried.
Now I knew my periods of manifestation were of a limited period and that not all could see me and this was worrying. I had managed to get across to Richard that he should assemble all the children at such time when all were at the hall to the far bedroom to see if I could achieve this appearance so that they would believe in me. I did stress that no adult should be present for this might hamper me in my attempts to do so.
I had to wait until the Christmas of 1799 before all twelve grandchildren were present in the hall at the same time. Richard had already spoken to his mother of this request and she had agreed to help in setting up this possible meeting. The fact that their ages ranged from one to seven years old didn’t matter. It was the fact that all twelve should be present. So it was with some excitement that the children gathered together in that bedroom on the evening of that Christmas Eve to see, if possible, the famous Stapleton ghost of which they had heard many stories about.
That day was really the first I ever went to the chapel with a most fervent prayer to the Almighty. My past visits to this place as a child had been merely by rote, but now I was there for a purpose. To pray that if I had been left to haunt the earth, it must have been for a reason and therefore begged to be given the strength to appear to these children so that they could uncover the truth and let me go to my rightful rest. I had never prayed so hard in all my life and wondered if my past lack of prayer would be an obstacle to my earnest request now. The only answer would be if I could actually appear to all twelve and thereby set the wheels in motion to set me free from these earthly ties.
I spent all that day in the chapel and only went into the Hall at the end of dinner in time to catch Sophie telling the other adults at what she and Richard were planning to do. There was much argument from the others, but as the first lady of the house, her word was law and overrode all objections, even that of Grace and Clare.
Joan, Arthur and Faith were already in bed was one argument put forward, them being of that tender age. No matter, said Sophie, all the children must be there she insisted.
So from the onlookers point of view, I watched all these preparations being made. Those still up were shepherded up to the bedroom while the three youngest were got out of bed and placed in the circle while candelabra were lit and placed round the room to give sufficient light.
‘Now children,’ Sophie said to them. ‘You may now tonight be able to see the Stapleton ghost, but do not be frightened. He is a friendly ghost, I know, for I have seen him as Richard has. Do not be afraid for he will not harm or hurt you. If he speaks, listen to what he has to say. I will be just outside of the door to see that all is well. Now, just concentrate.’
‘No mother,’ Richard interrupted. ‘I hear inside me a voice saying that we’re not to concentrate, but to let our minds go clear. Think of nothing so we are not distracted.’
‘So be it,’ said Sophie who went really up high in my estimation of how quickly she had grasped what Richard had said. ‘Let your minds float. Let them float free and maybe you will see him. Remember. I am just outside the door.’ She then went out and closed the door behind her and I looked round at their faces as they sat in this circle. Two sleepy eyed and one already keeling over in sleep in that candlelit room, but that was of no consequence for all twelve were here. I could see their anxious faces putting on a brave smile at this facing of the unknown that could almost be classed as witchcraft.
‘Shush,’ Richard exclaimed as they began to fidget. ‘Keep still and unblock your minds.’ They all, well those still wide awake, straightened themselves up and I moved into the centre of the circle and willed myself to appear to them.
I saw the smile begin to light up Richard’s face and I knew then that he could see me. Then came a series of gasps as others began to see me too and I noticed then that they had suddenly joined hands and I think it was through Richard that they could now see me. From overhearing their talk later, I was most clear to the oldest and my appearance diminished by their ages, but all saw something, except poor Faith who had fallen asleep. Though I was still a human shape to nearly all and I could tell by their faces that they could see me and I gave them my best smile and told them not to be afraid.
‘Though I am of the past,’ I said to them, ‘I am also a part of your future. Though I cannot see what that is, is because you must look back into the past to realise your future. I do not have much strength for this, so to all you twelve, look into the library for there is the truth that could lead you to the future.’ The sweat I felt must be apparent as it poured down my face with this effort to remain visible. I could feel my power diminishing fast and my legs were becoming very weak as I struggled to get out my last words before disappearing. ‘Look in…look in,’ and I knew that I had lost the battle to get my last words out of Milton’s Paradise Lost. I could see from their eyes that I was losing them, going from the round wide eyed stares of amazement to bewilderment as I disappeared from their presence, from their sight but not in actuality as I was still there even though they could no longer see me. There was a long silence as they digested what they had seen, the younger ones not really comprehending what had just taken place.
‘Mother!’ Richard called out, startling the others as they looked at him as Sophie came rushing into the room.
‘What is it?’ she exclaimed somewhat alarmed at his shrill cry.
‘We saw him!’ His face full of the thrill. ‘Didn’t we?’ he asked of the others.
‘Yes,’ came a chorus from over half of them.
‘I only saw smoke,’ said Simon somewhat petulantly.
‘He was there, right in the middle of us!’ exclaimed Alice.
‘Wearing a white shirt and brown breeches,’ added Hope.
‘It was him!’ Sophie cried out, her hands coming together as she twirled in a circle before them all. ‘You saw him just as I did. What did he say?’ she asked as she sat herself down right where I had been standing and faced her son. She ignored the fact that Arthur had now keeled over asleep as was Faith and Joan on the point of doing the same.
‘I didn’t quite understand what he said. He said that we were to look in the library to our past and future. What did he mean by that?’
‘I don’t really know. What else did he say?’
‘That’s all?’ she cried looking round at the other children still sitting in their circle. They nodded, even those who hadn’t understood what had been said. ‘I wonder what he meant?’ she mused as she got up and went to the door and called the nannies to see to the sleeping little ones. With those being seen to, she began she get the others up, shooing them out to get themselves off to bed. Alice and Hope went off to their rooms as did Catherine, John and Simon. Richard and Charles went with her to their bedrooms and I followed to see if any more was said. But I think the excitement was too much for both of them for as soon as their mother had tucked them in and kissed them, they were soon asleep.
I followed her down to the hall where she confronted the other members of the family. Thomas sitting at the head of the table with Clare taking the other end as the senior woman. In between them sat Grace, Mary and Sir Harold, Elaine and Peter, Anne and Percival who crossed himself when she told them that they had seen the Stapleton ghost. Sophie sat down opposite Grace and told them what the children had said of what they had heard.
‘Utter nonsense,’ Sir Harold belched out after a hefty gulp at his glass of wine.
‘I cannot believe of such things,’ Percival said.
‘You believe that Christ rose from the grave,’ Sophie retorted.
‘That’s different,’ he said.
‘Why? Just because this ghost may not have had a grave. I still believe it is my uncle Richard and I don’t think anyone will ever be able to change my mind on this,’ Sophie declared. This then brought up the mystery of my not being found mentioned in any military documents as to service or death since 1746, over fifty years ago. The rest of the dinner was spent arguing the pros and cons in trying to explain my disappearance. Sophie had the last word as they left the dining table.
‘Well I believe what the ghost said might be true. That the answer lies in the library and I’m going to look for it after Christmas.’
Most of Christmas day as usual was spent by the family in the chapel. Saying prayers and singing hymns and listening to sermons preached by Percival about Jesus and the spirit of this festival. All the servants and outside workers had to attend at least one of the services that were held that day even though it was still supposed to be a day off work. It didn’t appear to be so to many of them as the kitchens still had to be manned, beds made, animals fed, cows milked and lots of other ancillary jobs to be seen to for the estate to be run.
Mary and Sir Harold, Catherine and Peter stayed till the New Year was seen in before leaving for their London home and the estate then settled back into its old routine. Percival ran the classroom assisted at various times by Grace, Sophie and Elaine, but it was felt that as the children were getting older, a proper tutor should be found for other subjects that were beyond the women’s expertise. This matter of another teacher had been brought up over the Christmas and Sir Harold had offered to find someone suitable in London for the post. This he had done and after a letter to this effect, a young man turned up at the end of January. Hugo Montaine, twenty four years of age and dressed in an ill fitting suit that looked as though he had slept in it, which he had done so on the coach journey up from London. His battered trunk was taken up to where he would be quartered in the Hall and the introductions were made at dinner that evening. Most of the conversation was about him as he gave them a potted history of his life and education. He spoke fluent French due to his mother, that being her natural language though his father was English and the rest of his relatives were of both nationalities. Apart from French, he was also to teach them Latin, history, geography and maths, he also had a working knowledge of other subjects that he could discourse on.
The classroom as such, was really the library which had a large table and plenty of space to have a blackboard placed and the children could be divided up for individual lessons and not be interfered by the others. Arthur and Faith were the only two not included as they were still too young and so they stayed in the nursery to play under the supervision of their nannies.
Hugo was very pleased with the library, never having seen a room with so many books and knew that he was going to enjoy himself in this post as teacher to the Stapleton family.
Meanwhile, Thomas was vainly trying to make sense of the books and financial responsibilities of running the estate. His father, William, had spoken mostly to Henry in this regard, not realising at the time that it would be left to Thomas to sort out. Thomas had long discussions with Sophie about Wetherby that was now part of their estate here, but with the river separating the two made it very difficult to run in conjunction with the home farm. Plus there was the upkeep of the house that they couldn’t really afford, and so it was decided that the place should be sold and the revenue to help keep Stapleton afloat. It was a hard decision for Sophie as it had always been home to her, but she could see that it was the only way for them all to survive. It was midsummer when this decision was made and so a letter was sent to Sir Harold asking if he could find a buyer for the estate.
Meanwhile, it didn’t take the children long to apprise Hugo of the Stapleton ghost. This he accepted with tongue in cheek as the children’s attempt at a practical joke to a newcomer to make him feel apprehensive about walking the corridor at night. I could see that he humoured them by accepting it as fact and dismissed the whole idea of ghosts. It so happened that his room was the very one where, behind the panelling, my remains lay. I often went through that room and panels to look at the wall behind which my body had been placed. I only ever went into that walled up section of the priest’s hole once, about six months after my death and was so sickened at the sight of my decaying body that I never went in there again.
It was on one of my rare visits to gaze at my unwanted tomb that I passed through the room and panel that Hugo saw me. He was in bed and very sleepy and was just about to snuff out the candle when I passed the end of his bed prior to going through the panel. I smiled at him as I moved across the room and was surprised at his reaction and guessed that he had in fact seen me. He had been looking at the candle he was about to put out when he must have caught a glimpse of me from the corner of his eye. He shot bolt upright in bed, his nightcap falling half across his face that had gone quite pale as he looked fully at me as I disappeared through the panel. I chuckled to myself and went back for another look but he was staring slightly off to my left so I knew he couldn’t see me that second time. His body was rigid and his mouth was hanging half open as he stared at the wall. I know he didn’t snuff out the candle but left it burning for the rest of the night and that he didn’t go to sleep at all.
I watched him at breakfast and he was very subdued and haggard looking and when he got to the classroom, he sat down at the end of the big table and asked the children to tell him more about their ghost. Though Richard and Alice had been born on the same day and almost at the same time, it was never quite sure which had been born first out of the two, but came to be accepted that it had been Richard who had the honour of being classed as the eldest. Though all wanted to talk about me, their ghost as Hugo had called me, it was left to Richard to tell him what they knew.
After setting them to work, he sat down himself to write down what Richard and the others had to tell of the ghost. It was amusing to watch him as he later then began asking other members of the family about me. He made lots of notes and I realised that he was now trying to make a history of the Stapleton ghost. He even wanted to hear of hearsay evidence to note down and it was interesting to see how he put all this together. The sightings, where and when, time of day or night. Unexplained happenings, such as the painting on the wall falling off at the time of Edward’s death, things like this. He built up quite a good thesis on me and I was surprised at how accurate it turned out to be when he finally presented it to Thomas and Sophie to read. I of course, read it over their shoulders and gleaned what I missed from his notes that I had previously seen.
We were well into the year of 1801 when he presented this and it then took precedence over the news we were getting about England’s war with France and Napoleon. Though Hugo was half French, he still considered himself to be English and would have no compunction about denouncing Napoleon whenever this subject was brought up at dinner. But as a historian as he liked to call himself, followed this war quite closely and made copious notes that he gleaned from the news pamphlets we received from time to time. He’d also coerced Sophie into getting Sir Harold to send up as many newsprints as he could so that he could devour them in his studies.
But that was a side issue to him now as he was all fired up about the ghost of the Hall and the children backed him up on this as they all wanted to see me again. Now that he was a believer, he listened once again to the story of that Christmas Eve when I appeared to the children and had them repeat it many times as to what I had said. Of course, this changed every time he heard it, but that didn’t matter to him, for through all the different variations ran the same theme that the answer lay in the library.
He even got Sophie worked up to this premise, and so, late in 1802, they began to finally search the books in library for a clue to the enigma that I had created. It was a daunting task and it wasn’t until the summer of 1803 that they finally got to Milton’s Paradise Lost. They had systematically gone through every book page by page for any markings or notations that might be relevant to their search. It was Sophie who pulled this book out from the shelf, having replaced a novel by Dante that she had just gone through. It was almost lunchtime when she turned one page and found Caroline’s letter.
‘Oh my God!’ she exclaimed after she had unfolded it and saw the date at the top. ‘1746!’ she breathed out. Hugo was quickly by her side as she smoothed the creased piece of paper out.
“Today my son was born, just a few hours after his father had been murdered by my husband Edward. I watched him shoot and kill his own brother Richard, the real father of my son. I fear I am no longer for this world and beseech you, who have found this letter, to seek vengeance on my behalf. Caroline.”
I was staggered that that was all she had written as Sophie began crying and had Hugo put her arm round her shoulders to comfort her. Where was the rest of it I cried? I stormed about the library cursing everything and everybody, kicking out at furniture I couldn’t feel or move. That letter had been the whole reason for my staying in this place for nearly sixty years, and what did it tell us? Nothing! It didn’t give the reasons or explain of our love, the passion we had shared, the joy of knowing that we would have a child. I stormed about the place cursing it and everybody expecting it to have revealed where my bones lay.
But the time came when I calmed down and realised that she, my lovely Caroline couldn’t have known where my body had been put. She had swooned at my death and then had given birth to our son, she couldn’t have known, but at least she had said that I had been murdered and hadn’t left the Hall as all had been led to believe. The question now was, would our famous little historian Hugo put these facts together and come up with the right conclusion? This was going to take a lot of effort on my part to point him in the right direction and I wondered if I still had the strength to do this.