In that instant I was outside of my body to see the pistol ball come erupting out of my chest in a gout of blood and gore and watched myself pitch forward to fall on the carpet. Caroline screamed and then fainted as I turned to see Edward standing near the moving drapes, the pistol still smoking from the fatal shot that had killed me.
We both heard the sounds of running feet coming towards the chamber and Edward quickly opened the door just enough for him to call out that there was nothing to worry about. The pistol had accidentally discharged itself and it had just alarmed the Countess, that was all, and he closed the door on the servants who had come at the sound of the shot.
He turned and laid the pistol down and with a disdainful look at Caroline, half naked in her swoon before he took hold of the carpet and dragged it with my body on it, back to the door. He opened it quietly and looked out to see that the hallway was deserted before moving out with his burden. I followed him as he dragged my body down to the furthest room, not bothering with candles as he knew his way round the house without the aid of the light. It was into this chamber that he pulled the carpet and there I saw him touch a panel and it opened to reveal a priest’s hole. I hadn’t known of this, but as he had been the future Earl, father had shown him of the hall’s hidden secrets. The priest’s hole also had a narrow stone staircase that must have led down to either the kitchens or out into the stable yard. Well it was into this niche that he dragged my body, carpet as well. He left the panel open as he returned to the room I had been sleeping in and there proceeded to open my trunk and put my uniform and things inside. This too he pulled down the corridor to place it alongside my body before closing the panel and returning to Caroline’s room.
Caroline was just coming out of her swoon when we arrived and she cried out as she came fully awake to see Edward standing by her bed.
‘What have you done with Richard?’ she asked in a scared voice.
‘Your secret lover you mean,’ he sneered. ‘He’s gone to hell where you will go if you breathe one word of what happened in here tonight.’
‘You beast! You murderer! I hate you!’ she cried and then gave a small scream and clutched her stomach. ‘Oh God, not now!’ she gasped. ‘The baby’s coming.’
Edward turned towards the door but stopped before he reached it and turned to her. ‘Remember. Not a word or you will follow him,’ he snarled before opening the door and calling out to the servants to come and attend the mistress and to send for the doctor. As he left the room I went and knelt down at the side of the bed and tried to take her hand to comfort her, but I couldn’t make her feel my touch. My heart cried out at the pain and anguish that I saw in her face, the face that I loved.
‘Oh Richard, Richard,’ she wailed, ‘what shall I do, what shall I do?’
‘I’m here my darling,’ I said, trying again to hold her hand but was frustrated that I could not. I could see her eyes looking at me but she was unable to see me and I gave out a howl and rocked back onto my heels as I screamed out my anguish at not being able to help her through this terrible time. Then the room was suddenly full of maids to see to her, one of them actually passing through me as she went and wiped Caroline’s brow with a damp cloth as she gave out another cry as the pain came again.
I stayed in the room wringing my hands in my helplessness as the pains became more frequent, the two attending maids doing their best to comfort and aid her. It was dawn before she gave out her last scream and our baby son was born, arriving before the doctor who came into the room just a few minutes later. He took over from the maids and saw to the cord and the afterbirth before handing over the child to be washed and placed in his mother’s arms. I could see that the doctor was very worried as towel after bloody towel was taken from the bed to be replaced by fresh ones.
Caroline gave a weak smile to the baby before falling asleep and one of the maids took the baby and placed it in the cot that had been prepared for it. Edward was then allowed into the room to see the child that he thought was his and the doctor told him that he was worried about Caroline and that she might not live. Both Edward and I cried out at this, him that he might lose his wife, me that I might lose my love, though in fact I had already lost her to the evilness of my brother. I vowed that if she should die, he too would die and that I would be instrumental in bringing that event to pass.
My two sisters then came in to see Caroline and the baby, tiptoeing about so as not to wake her or the child, and only spoke in whispers.
‘It’s a pity Richard isn’t here to see his nephew,’ Joan said in a low voice.
‘Where is he? I haven’t seen him since I got up this morning,’ Emily asked, her voice kept low too.
‘I heard Edward tell Hanson,’ that’s our major-domo, ‘that he left early this morning. They’d sent a post chaise for him to join his regiment as soon as possible. They were about to leave to go over to France.’
‘Well he could at least have come in to say goodbye,’ Joan pouted.
‘I looked in his room on the way here and saw that his uniform and trunk had gone, so it must have been quite early that he left,’ Emily finished, but stopped saying more as one of the maids had come into the room. My two sisters, after another look at the baby, left the room and the maid settled herself down in one of the arm chairs and I assumed that she’d been instructed to sit there and keep an eye on Caroline.
The doctor came back into the room and lifted up Caroline’s hand and felt her pulse for a few minutes before laying her hand down on the cover. He left the room shaking his head and muttering to himself and I could see the look of concern on his face as he passed through me. I went over and stood by the side of the bed and looked down at Caroline’s drawn and haggard face that was almost the same colour as the pillowcase, white.
I paced the room, fretting at my inability to do anything for her and cursed my brother for killing me and putting me into this limbo of being here in this spiritual state and yet not here in body form. The room was very quiet as was the whole house in deference to the doctor’s wishes that Caroline should get as much rest and sleep as possible, though he still had doubts that she would survive the day.
I watched as the maid who was supposed to being watching over them both, fall asleep in the chair as I continued my pacing of the room. I heard a low groan come from the bed and I quickly went over to see Caroline’s eyes open. They were dull and I could see that the all the zest of her had gone, what with the shock of seeing me murdered and then having to suffer the pangs of birthing, it was enough to send her over the edge.
‘Richard,’ I heard her whisper. ‘I’ll be with you soon, I can feel it.’
‘No!’ I screamed at her. ‘You’ve got to live! For the sake of the baby, you’ve got to live!’
‘I must let them know,’ she whispered, and I’m not sure if she heard me. Her hand slowly pulled the covers off her and she slowly eased herself off the bed and fell to her knees on the floor. I watched her agonised crawl across the bare boards to get to her writing desk and painfully pull herself up to sit down on the chair. She sat there for several minutes, her head in her hands as she fought to keep her strength up before reaching for a quill and some paper.
She sat there, writing, the only sound being the scratching of the quill as she laboriously filled the page before putting it down. I was just about to lean over to read what she had written when she picked up the piece of paper and folded it and pulled a book over and inserted her letter inside. I saw the title as she put it back with the other few books there and wept when I saw what book she had chosen to hide the message. It was Milton’s Paradise Lost. How apt that she should have chosen that particular volume and how true it was for both of us.
She then picked up the quill and began to write again, but she didn’t finish this letter. I saw her begin to sway and the quill drop from her fingers as she went sideways and fell off the chair. The noise was enough to waken the maid who quickly ran to the door and shouted for help. When it arrived, she was struggling to get Caroline back to the bed, and with the help of another maid, managed to get her back under the covers before the door burst open and the doctor and Edward where there with Emily and Joan close behind them.
The doctor, ordered them all out and held Caroline’s wrist as he lifted her eyelids to see her eyes and gently let them close again as he straightened up. The maid who was supposed to be the acting nurse had stayed in the room and began to cry as the doctor pulled the sheet from under the white hands and slowly drew it up over Caroline’s face.
I looked wildly about the room seeking her spirit, but couldn’t find it. How could she go without me seeing her? I was dead too! Why and where had she gone, I screamed out?
‘I only closed my eyes for a second,’ the maid wailed. ‘She got out of bed and went to the desk.’
I was quickly over there before the doctor and saw just the one line that she had written. ‘Look after my baby….’ was all that she had managed to get down. But what about the other full page, I shouted at the doctor as he picked up that short note? He just shook his head and, holding the note, went out to break the news that Caroline had passed away most peacefully. He didn’t think it right to tell them about the maid falling asleep, she would have to suffer that knowledge as it was without being dismissed for her lack of duty.
I heard the wailing of my sisters start as they were told and Edward entered the room for one last look at my Caroline. I vowed there and then that I would bring about his death for the killing of us both, for he surely killed her as much as he had me.
I fretted at the funeral service two days later that was held in the chapel, and I watched as her coffin was carried out and taken into the family crypt beneath. I should by rights, also be in there, but my brother had seen to it that I was incarcerated in that priest’s hole. For the past two nights he had laboured back and forth up that narrow staircase, which I found out led to a panel just outside of the kitchen and next to the door that led out to the stable courtyard. He carried up enough bricks and mortar to wall up what was to be my tomb and had the small space effectively sealed off in those two nights for where I was to lay for many years.
What galled me more than anything, was that he had all of Caroline’s things placed in trunks and carted up to the attics. I watched and prayed that the maid clearing the writing desk would glance inside that book and find her letter, but my plea went unanswered, and I watched as it was packed with the others to be taken downstairs and into the library. Who or when or even if, I wondered would it ever be found, for I’m sure she had written what had become of me. Not my present resting place, for I do not think she knew that, but had she related the real cause of my disappearance? This took many years before it was revealed to a later descendant. But that was well into the future of which I had no means of foretelling. I might be a spirit in the hall, but I had no connection to any other such person in the same straits as I. Even Caroline’s spirit didn’t remain to comfort me nor for me to assuage the unpleasantness of her departure from the world. If I was doomed to spend the rest of eternity in this nether world, so be it, but I would do my damndest to see that Edward suffered too.
The first hint of what I could do came a few days later down in the great hall where the family had their meals. The massive table that almost ran the length of the hall was only used for special functions or when we had more than twenty guests. When there was a ball, it was manhandled off to one side and used as a buffet so that dancing could take place, but other than that it stayed in the middle and wasn’t used. We had a much smaller table that ran crosswise near the top like a separated cross part of the letter T. This was closer and more convenient for the kitchens and the staff to serve us our meals. It was irreverently called Staples Corner, being a pun on our name coined by one of our predecessors in relation to our food. The table itself could have seated twelve people at a squash, but we had spread ourselves so that only us six now, or used to sit there.
With the death of my father, Edward now sat at the head of the table and my mother at the opposite end, which was still close enough for a normal conversation to take place without any shouting. Caroline had sat at his left hand while I had sat opposite her with Emily to my right and Joan opposite, so that mother had the two girls to talk to on either side. Now from where I would sit, I faced the wall between the two doors to the kitchens, and this had a smaller fireplace than the big one further down the hall, and above this, was the latest acquisition to the family portrait gallery. That being a painting of brother Edward in his prime as all the past Earl’s had been painted. The artist had been good in covering up the indentations to his forehead by the locks of hair, and somehow managed not to convey the cruelty that I now realised showed in his eyes.
The meal I sat down to was one of a rather morose affair. I sat down in my usual place though to an onlooker, the two places either side of my brother were vacant. Everybody had been served, except me for obvious reasons, and the talk was inconsequential, everyone avoiding the mention of Caroline.
‘I wish Richard had stayed,’ Joan said, breaking away from talk of the weather.
‘I’ve told you before!’ Edward said rather too loudly, slamming his knife and fork down. ‘He was called away early from his leave.’ That outburst brought the subject of myself to a close. It was several minutes before Emily brought up the subject of the new mare she had and at how skittish it was when it came to fences. I had seen the mare and knew that all it needed was a strong hand on the reins and tried to convey this thought across the table to her, but she wasn’t receptive to my thoughts.
‘Richard wouldn’t have a problem with it,’ Joan piped up.
‘Damn it! Richard isn’t here, nor….Let’s hear no more of this!’ Edward stormed, and I could only just sit there and seethe, my hate I felt going out in waves towards him, but not just to him, but to that smiling portrait of him that was on the wall opposite where I was sitting.
‘Well how would you handle the mare?’ Emily asked of Edward. ‘Could you ride it without falling off?’
‘I would never fall………..’
At this point, the portrait of himself came away from the wall to fall with an horrendous crash onto the floor. Everyone turned in alarm at the noise it made as it clattered to the floor, breaking the frame and tearing the portrait in two. I smiled because I knew that I had caused that picture to fall, and I mentally clapped my hands at now finding a way to get to Edward.
The table was instantly quiet and it was Joan who broke the silence before the servants came rushing in.
‘It’s an omen,’ she said in an awed voice.
‘Nonsense!’ was all that Edward could say, but it was nice to see that his face had gone white and his hands were trembling. Amid all this outburst, I turned my mind to the salt cellar on the table, trying to use my will power to move it. It wasn’t until I suddenly flung out the thought that I hated that damn thing that it moved. Only an inch, but it moved! How I clapped my hands and then turned my thoughts towards one of the candles burning in the candelabra. Snuff out I commanded without any result, until I said that I hated that flame and it should be extinguished, and the flame then wavered, flickered, and died.
This, like the salt cellar went un-noticed by the others at the table, but I was beside myself in glee that I did have a little power over some of the material things of the living world. I spent weeks practising this art of moving objects that has now been given a name though I prefer my own of destaplination. It was my aim destabilise the mind of one Edward Stapleton. I know it’s quite a mixture of adverbs, but that’s how my mind was working of how to disrupt the mind of my murderer.
I started off with simple things like making a picture suddenly tilt as he passed it in one of the corridors. A candle snuff out to leave him fumbling in the dark, this I used later to great effect. I did nearly everything I could when he was alone so that nobody else was there to observe the movements that I caused. You name it, I moved it, and I can say with great satisfaction that it caused him considerable consternation at these moving objects that nobody else saw. Like when his glass of wine suddenly tipped over to send the contents into his lap, he had to splutter and say that he was getting clumsy, but I could see the fright in his eyes and it made my heart glow.
Over the next two years I saw my son, who had been christened with the name of William which I didn’t disapprove of, grow and begin to walk. At the same time, I was perfecting my manifestations to frighten and alarm Edward. The best of these was when I was able to do this to my own person, though it was only Edward who saw me.
Mother was declining fast and though I was sorry that she was not long for the material world, it gave me a chance to take her seat at Staples Corner and sit opposite my brother at my first materialisation. God what a picture his face was as he saw me at the other end of the table. Just the same as the night that he killed me. Though he couldn’t see my breeches beneath the table, my shirt with the red ragged bloody hole where the bullet exited my body was clearly visible to him. He was in the act of lifting his glass of wine up to his lips when he saw me, and what a surprise it was for him as I smiled.
At first his eyes went wide and round and then came the sign of fear as he dropped his wine glass and began to choke. The hand that had held the glass turned into a shaking finger as it trembled as it pointed towards where I was sitting.
‘No…no…It’s not right!’ he stammered, his face as white as a sheet, and I’m sure that his sideburns actually began to curl in his fright at seeing the ghost of his brother seated at the far end of the table.
‘What?’ queried Emily as both she and Joan glanced towards where I was sitting and then looked back at Edward with a somewhat perplexed expressions on their faces not having seen me.
‘Richard!’ he gasped. ‘It can’t be.’
‘Richard?’ echoed Joan.
‘Don’t be silly. He’s with his regiment in France,’ said Emily.
‘I…I…thought I saw him sitting there,’ Edward said, sweat now pouring down his face.
‘Oh God! Don’t say it’s an omen,’ Joan blurted out, ‘that he’s been killed!’
‘Don’t be silly,’ Emily repeated herself.
‘Well why haven’t we received any letters in the two years he’s been gone?’ Joan demanded.
‘Well I have received a letter,’ Edward said, wiping the sweat from his face. ‘It…it was from his Commanding officer to say…to say that Richard was missing. It doesn’t mean he’s dead,’ he stammered, ‘but he asked if we’d had any communication from Richard. I had to say no.’
As they wrangled over the state of the postal service between them and our troops abroad, I just grinned at Edward and made the gesture of drawing my finger across my throat that made him gasp again. This caught the girls attention and became their concern over the almost apoplectic state that Edward was now in. He was gasping for air and his arms were waving wildly and what speech he had was unintelligible as two of the menservants came to his aid. They helped him from the table and out of the hall and all I could do was sit there and laugh, laugh at the power that was steadily increasing within me.
It took me years to curb the malevolence that I acquired in my pursuit of Edward. He had turned me into an evil spirit and as I said, it took me years to become more of a benevolent ghost after I contrived his demise.
But there were still a few years to go before I was able to bring this about, and in the meantime, there was still my son to look after and other questions kept cropping up. How I sometimes wished that I’d had a friendly ghost to look after me, and maybe I wouldn’t have been in my present state. It took time, which I had plenty of, to look after my son as he began to grow. There were many things into which I didn’t interfere because I knew and really felt that there were many things that he had to learn for himself.
Falling out of trees, cut knees, scolding from the nanny and many other small attributes that are part and parcel of growing up. I didn’t take a hand until he was five years old and was given his first horse to ride. He fell off a few times until he got the hang of it and it was only when I saw that his technique was at fault that I stepped in.
I must say that it was quite involuntary that I did what I did, and that was to actually be able to enter another person’s body and, well, not to put too fine a point on it, take over as it were.
I had been watching him ride when I saw that he had lost one of the reins and as he came so close to me, I instinctively reached out and took hold of the loose rein. Before I knew it, I was pulled along and was able to swing myself up into the saddle.
The shock was that William was still there in the saddle that I came to occupy, and I felt an immense thrill to be able to guide his hand to gather the other rein and take control of the horse. What an experience to have my hands in that of William’s, to pull on the reins and guide the horse to flat ground and then let then animal go. I swear I could feel the wind blowing the locks of William as if they were my own. I couldn’t help but yell out at the exuberance that I felt as the horse pounded across the grass and I was able the take a firm grasp of the reins to lift the horse over a small stone wall. To the onlookers, it seemed that William had finally grasped the essence of how to handle a horse and when we trotted back, we were greeted by cheers from the grooms but a severe talking to from Edward.
I had taken it upon myself to leave William’s body and watch from the sidelines as it were and listen to the comments from other observers. The one that alarmed me was an acute observation from one groom to another.
‘D’you know, I could almost swear that was Master Richard taking that horse over wall. I see ‘im many times do it just that way.’
‘Don’t be so daft,’ the other groom replied.
‘Lookee here you young whippersnapper. I taught young Master Richard to ride an’ that there child is riding the same way as I taught the other young master, an’ that’s no lie.’
I didn’t catch the reply, but Albert, the groom was right. He had taught me how to present the horse to the wall and my respect for him doubled at his observation of how young master William have performed on the horse. I just hoped that his simple mind wouldn’t interfere or hamper my future attempts to help William in other of the fine arts.
So now, as well as attempting to disarrange the mind of Edward, I spent a lot of my time with my son William. As time went on, I found it easier to enter his body and help control his movements, but only at the times of stress. I had tried to do this with others, especially the body of Edward, but to no avail. If that had been possible, he would have been dead many years earlier, so all I could do was harass him with what power that I could manifest. Since my death and my machinations, he now looked ten to twenty years older than his actual age. His hair had already started to go white and he always had a hunted look in both expression and appearance.
Already the servants were questioning each other about the Earl’s sanity as my persecution of him continued. He managed to cover up a lot of the mishaps that occurred at the dining table but had to cope himself with those that happened within his own rooms. A shield falling down, the chamber pot suddenly tipping over to give the room the dank, obnoxious smell of stale urine. Then came my odd manifestations of myself whilst he was in bed that made him scream, which aided the servants into their assessment of him possibly losing his mind.
Apart from my harassment of Edward, I spent a lot of my time looking at, and after William. One of the highlights being when he was with my old fencing master. William was now eight years old and had two years of practice with a fencing foil and was now learning the finer points of the use of the sword.
‘Now this is one of my favourites,’ the tutor said as he advanced with his blade just above the horizontal, and before he could complete his move, I entered William’s body and directed his arm. I parried the twirl of the tutor in reverse, and low and behold, the swirling of blades pulled his rapier out of his hand to fly across the room.
‘My God,’ the tutor gasped as he looked at his sword clatter and slither across the floor. ‘Nobody’s ever done that before.’
I tried to kick William for the smug expression that I knew he was giving. Though I had taught him how to riposte that fine example from the sword master, I let him also suffer the humiliation of a simple thrust. This at least, assuaged the tutor from his earlier defeat.
But I must also confess that I did help William in his use of the pistol in his marksmanship, but found that, though I think to my inside tuition, became a very fine shot in his own right.
But this wasn’t enough for me to teach my son how to ride, shoot and fence. I still had to account for my brother, and it was taking longer than I thought it would.