October 17, 1805
Cousin Margaret has repaired to the country and to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner at Ramblehurst, and has sent a letter to London to ask me to join her. She is to be ward to Mr. Gardiner where she will continue her studies under a tutor whose services have been arranged between Uncle Benjamin and Mr. Gardiner. The city air has exacerbated the lung ailment that has plagued her since girlhood, and it was upon the orders of her physician that the Lake District envrons would be more forgiving. She told me before she embarked that she relishes the thought of a lengthy stay in the land of Misters Wordsworth and Coleridge, hoping perhaps to see the good gentlemen on their rounds as they go about gathering their immortal visions as inspired by the grandiosity of creation. I share in her enthusiasm of such a possibility, although I am not as convinced that such a thing as a meeting with the immortal poets could come to pass as she. Yet, perhaps a visit from their Muse may not be so far from the realm of possibility.
I am not to travel alone, fortuitously as Mr. and Mrs. Ralston of Mayfair are visiting their maiden aunt in the village of Birthwaite in Cumbria and I have been invited to travel with them. When I reach Birthwaite, I will meet with Mr. Bodkins, Mr. Gardner’s man. It is Mr. Bodkins who will take me to our beloved Margaret at Ramblehurst. I know you think me headstrong, and impulsive, being my older and wiser sister. Yet it is these very characteristics that also sharpen my wits and my senses, making me the ideal candidate to keep our Margaret company until winter passes in scenic Cumbria. Even at fifteen, I feel the moorings of childhood unfastening inside of me, and I am of the belief that the voyage to womanhood calls. It is time for an adventure, however small. I believe that my influence will bring Margaret out of her shell and I shall endeavour to make her my constant companion in whatever unfolds.
According to her last missive to me, it seems that the days Margaret has spent in the gardens of Ramblehurst with her dogs have grown melancholic rather than enjoyable. Visits from the local clergy have connected her to members of the parish. And yet as you know, our Margaret had always been diffident when it comes to the society of those who would otherwise seek her friendship immediately. Once again, I believe that it will be my presence that will serve as an effective a balm to her spirit, even as the very air of the countryside that her physician deems to be so beneficial, will serve as a balm to her body. I shall leave with Mr. and Mrs. Ralston by coach on Monday week. I shall make every effort to send letters when I may.
Your loving sister,
November 10, 1805
I trust you have received my last few letters, which were I must admit mere sketches of the things I have done and seen through out my journey northward. This letter I hope will satisfy your curiosities as to some of the specifics of my adventures here in the Lakes now that I have officially arrived. I have seen off the Ralstons today after Sunday services in Birthwaite village, although we have vowed to visit again, and as often is possible. The Ralstons have a similar itinerary here in the Lake District as I, although they are to return to London before me. It has been a long, tiring journey, but one I shall treasure always since I have seen almost the whole length of England with my own eyes, and made lifelong friends of the Ralstons, and many others besides along the way. Yet, the pleasantness of our future association has been darkened somewhat by the weather which has turned rather sour. There is a morbid canopy of cloud hanging balefully above us, heavy with rain, crackling with lightning, and with thunderous complaints to match the wrath of Zeus. Mr. Bodkins has fetched me from Birthwaite on schedule, and transferred my luggage from the chapel hall to that of Mr. Gardiner’s coach with a display of vitality that I wouldn’t normally associate with a man of his age. He is a taciturn man with a permanent shadow of a frown on his face. He is not a bad fellow, I don’t believe. He is merely distant, perhaps shy. I have extended the virtue of patience to him, confident that I should win his affections during my extended stay.
We reached Ramblehurst by the light of the lanterns in the courtyard. Margaret had retired for the evening upon my arrival, as had Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. No one greeted me but for Mrs Perkins, the housekeeper, a woman in her early thirties, quite handsome and yet somehow hard-edged too, and wearing an expression of what I can only describe as that of scarcely concealed ambivalence. It seems strangers to this part of the country must be scrutinized at length before favourable judgement is transformed into expressed acceptance and welcome. Yet even though we have just met, I believe that such favour ever to be granted to me by Mrs. Perkins is remote. After a modest and uncomfortably silent late supper of bread, cheese, cold roast lamb, and pale wine, she saw me up to my room exchanging no words with me, and with Mr. Bodkins carrying my valise behind me. I’m sure the house itself is perfectly nice, although its nature and scale has been difficult to ascertain fully by candlelight, or under the influence of my less than warm welcome. I shall conduct a full tour of the house and grounds tomorrow morning in the full light of day, after I have settled in and have exchanged affectionate greetings with my hosts.
I write this letter from my room by candlelight. I cannot sleep, for my mind is disquieted. I saw a strange thing along the way through the rain and the burgeoning darkness. As the last rays of daylight waned, I gazed out as the coach thundered along the road, and as the shadows lengthened. It was a dog, a black dog that I saw, looking rather like a black shuck of the kind you might observe in the fens of Essex. He or she ran along a fair distance away, keeping pace with the coach somehow, or seemed to do so, in great bounding strides. The figure of the dog was large, almost unnaturally so. It provoked feelings in me that seemed to be the product of great fear and a still-small sadness all in one, defined in that spectral canine shape. The road turned downward, and the wild grassy terrain on which the dog followed disappeared from my view. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, or of the gathering dark, against an unfamiliar setting that my eye could not fully record with any certainty or accuracy. Perhaps it is Mr. Bodkins’ unfriendly presence that has made me jump at every shadow. Or maybe it is due to these new surroundings that hold a certain unspoiled beauty, but a fearfulness too, as if the presence of men and of young women is not altogether welcome. Perhaps it is this same spirit of disaffection that I have noted in Mr Bodkins’ and later in Mrs. Perkins’ demeanour, with these two being merely a part of the landscape to which I am a stranger. I cannot say.
As I mused on the nature of that real or imagined canine shape, we passed a grim hall in relief against a darkening sky. It was a ruin, with a wide, empty courtyard. The house was adorned with twin towers on either side rising up like horns, their windows blind, yet staring. The ground floor windows were equally absent of life, with east and west wings stretching forth like great reaching arms on either side of the expanse of courtyard. For a moment, the moon flickered through the darkened clouds like a great jaundiced eye opening. Then, the lid of the clouds closed shut for a fitful night’s sleep as the rains resumed. The road rose up again, and the vision of the ruined mansion was gone in a blur behind us. The darkness closed in almost immediately, and the last light of day faded and abandoned us entirely, leaving Mr. Bodkins’ lanterns as our only source of light.
After breakfast and the requisite niceties, I must inquire as to the name and history of the forlorn house we passed on the way to Ramblehurst. I find that it has captured my curiosity utterly.
November 25, 1805,
Although the weather here is cold, and the days are short, I am feeling very much at home then when I first arrived. I have rekindled my affections for our Margaret from such a long absence in each other’s company. And where I shall never be as close to her as I am to you dear Emily, I feel that our companionship has been secured for all time. The same goes for the Gardiners who have been very generous and kind. Mr. Gardiner will be away in Yorkshire a good deal of the time I am here, working on his “steam engines” and establishing his factories. Mrs. Gardiner is a kindred spirit, with a vast library here at Ramblehurst being her pride and joy. Since her son Christopher has joined his father in Leeds, and since their daughters Anna, Sophie, and Margery have married and moved south, Mrs. Gardiner has embraced a second life as a local historian, amateur naturalist, and watercolourist. The three of us split our time between walking the dogs, painting, and rambling (this is a most fascinating landscape, and I have truly taken to the rambling life), the archery range, and embroidery (not my strong suit as you well know!). Margaret and I are both continuing our studies in music. My viola playing is coming along, although my bowing is still rather crude, according to Ms. Grayson our appointed governess. My command of French and Latin is, again according to Ms Grayson, satisfactory. We attend church services regularly of course, and conduct regular visits to the most delightful teashop in the village. Mr. Bodkins takes us, dutifully and sullenly in equal measure.
I have been written about in the local society newsletter, although the Katherine Spencer talked about in the pages of that publication seems rather like a different person to the one who stares back at me in my vanity mirror. Yet, I find that I was right about my influence on Margaret, with her circle of friends greatly widening as she and I make more and more contact with our neighbors as a duo. The ladies and the gentlemen here are of the finest quality, although many of the latter tend to be rather distracted by thoughts of cotton fields and tobacco plantations in the Americas. Travel to these places and the expansion of their perspectives interests them less than the expansion of their fortunes. And as to the former, the ladies have allowed themselves to be largely subsumed by the passions of their industrious male counterparts, although with more romantic visions of what a new world can offer them in the form of creature comforts after marriage rather than the promotion of British industry. This in turn makes them more pleasant curiosities to me as opposed to intriguing conversationalists. But, no matter. Margaret has come into her own (and her breathing has improved vastly). Mrs. Gardiner’s library keeps me occupied during the frequently rainy and snowy days as winter approaches.
This time in solitude in Mrs. Gardiner’s library has allowed me to explore the local history of this immediate area enough to have uncovered the story behind the grim hall that I passed on my way to Ramblehurst. It is called Lochsbyrne Hall, once the ancestral home of Lord and Lady Lochbyrne. There is a rather tragic tale behind the house, and it is abandoned as I suspected it was. Lord Lochbyrne had expanded his fortune in sugar plantations in Barbados and in partnerships with those in the shipping trade. He’d had the house built twenty-five years ago. He and his Lady were all but childless but for their only son and heir, Master Peter Lochbyrne. But, in July of 1790, master Peter went missing near the lake on the grounds while the family, friends, and servants had taken a summer picnic to celebrate the lad’s ninth birthday. The boy remained missing for some hours, even as it threatened to rain and to get dark.
At dusk, the search parties braved the inclement weather, including Lord Lochbyrne himself. It was thought that the boy had wandered too close the the mudflats, and had been swallowed by quicksand as reported by one of the hysterical scullery maids who had taken part in the search. Lord Lochbyrne followed the girl, taking with him his dog, whom he called Coal because of his glossy black coat. The distraught maid returned in tears to the rest of the search party in the hours after midnight. Lord Lochsbyrne too had vanished, as had Coal his dog. It was a week later that evidence that both Lochbyrnes had been taken by the sand. Coal returned to the grounds bedraggled but alive some days later.
In her grief, Lady Lochbyrne demanded that the dog be banished forever for failing to protect his master. The Lady then took to her bed and died soon after. The family line was cut, and with no heirs to it specified in the will, the family fortune was turned over to the state, with a portion going to Lord Lochbyrne’s business associates due to separate legal agreements that bound the funds elsewhere. The servants left and the house was abandoned. Since then, a shadow of fear has grown around the old pile, with the belief that Lady Lochbyrnes’s madness, and Lord Lochbyrne’s hoarse and crying voice calling out to his lost son had seeped into the very mortar of the house. No one goes near it to this day, according to the sources I found in the library, and the word around the village. And none of the locals will speak of it at length beyond the plain facts, including Mrs. Perkins, and Mr. Bodkins, both of whom are still cold to me.
But as cold and dark as it is here, I find myself greatly drawn to the tale, and the vision of the house haunts my memory. I find that I must soon exercise my growing skills as a rambler, and visit the shadow of the formerly celebrated house for myself. Headstrong and impulsive as always, I shall report my findings, dear sister! I wish you could see me in my woolen rambling clothes and tall boots! I look rather like a highwayman!
December 3, 1805
I write this letter to you with gratitude being at the heart of every word. For the events that have unfolded in the last week had given me cause to believe that I would not write it, or any other like it ever again had my fortunes been anything other than they were. For I have faced an ordeal and the woeful promise of eternity itself, yet have come out the other side unharmed but not wholly unchanged. I should add that I’ve done so with no small amount of aid from those whom I now can call my second family. Let me explain.
My mind had been captivated by the dark romance of the tale I found concerning Lochbyrne Hall to the point where I resolved to explore the remains of the great mansion and its grounds myself to see for myself the setting where such tragedy had unfolded. Perhaps second only to abandoning such folly altogether, I should have at least continued to dedicate myself to the vow of including cousin Margaret in all my adventuring, and yet I found I wished to keep this particular expedition to myself. It was the act of a foolish girl, and not the woman I hope to continue to become. Where my decision to set off alone felt like bravery at the time, I now know that it was more an act of selfishness, and self-absorption. I wanted the romantic tragedy of the tale of Lochbyrne Hall all to myself, to hoard it like a miser keeps his gold. I shall have to check this flaw in my character more effectively in the future if I am to eventually rule it completely. Needless to say, I ventured out from Ramblehurst in woolen cloak with a hood to keep the rain off of my head, wearing high boots, carrying a fire in my heart, and with no companion to check the wisdom of my intentions.
Before embarking, I transcribed a crude map of the area so as to make good my plan of exploring the Lochbyrne Hall grounds, and perhaps even the abandoned estate itself. I had no intention of using the road, since I wanted my movements to go unseen by any passers by. I resolved instead to cut across the wildlands, which had struck me as the more romantic route. The sky was pale yet clear when I left, but soon a light snow began to fall, adding to the sparse coverage of snow that already dappled the rolling, grassy landscape laid out before me, decorated intermittently with clumps of trees, black and leafless, reaching upward and outward like grasping fingers. Winter had not yet made his full presence known, since the unfrozen ground was spongy beneath the pressing of my feet. Soon my boots were smeared with fragrant earth and clay, with gouts of reddish-brown, muddy water bleeding outward at every step, luridly staining the snow and flattened grass as I quickened my pace.
After a time, I glanced at the crude map I had made and attempted to get my bearings, according to those techniques Mrs. Gardiner had taught Margaret and I. But, I could not determine the position of the sun, or indeed my own position in relation to the expanse of wilderness in which I found myself. I looked around, and Ramblehurst had disappeared from view, and the surrounding countryside took on a dull sameness, with the horizon line showing no indication of the high towers of Lochbyrne Hall, as I had expected. I felt a sort of thrill that was not unlike panic. My head went light for an instant, and something in the back of my mind told me that I should abandon my journey immediately, and make haste to return to Ramblehurst as best I could before the weather turned for the worst. But impatient to reach my goal and to sate my curiosity, and full of defiance as I was, I pressed on as the snow turned to frosty rain. I suppose it was some form of temporary madness that came over me. For I knew that I was utterly lost in this beautiful and barren land and that my powers of reason had been entirely spent. Yet I refused to admit to fear, or to failure. It was the devil’s sin of pride itself that pushed me onward, and which made me its own.
As I continued, I felt another unpleasant feeling that I was being followed, or even stalked, as a wolf stalks his prey, although I could not verify this sensation with facts. I found myself in a low valley with the hills rising up on either side of me, and I felt as if I were being drawn inward to a place where there could be no turning back. I turned around many times to see if I were truly alone in this place, and I suddenly remembered the apparition of the large black dog I’d seen on my way to Ramblehurst on my first night here, while conflating that vision with my studies of Lochbyrne Hall and Coal the dog who had been banished. My dark imaginings suggested that perhaps the spirit of the dog still roamed these lands, bitter, hungry, and feral, or even supernatural after such a long passage of time; a hound of hell itself.
Soon enough, the ground sloped upward and the gap between the low hills widened, I reached its crest and turned, as the rains came down in earnest. Behind a copse of gnarled trees behind me, I thought I’d seen the movement of something dark behind the boughs. But, as I focused as best I could through the rain, I saw nothing to confirm what my sixth sense had been telling me; that I was indeed being stalked. I cast off the fantasies about Coal the dog as best I could and reached the rise of the hill where I was rewarded by the first indication of progress I’d had since my journey to find Lochbyrne Hall had begun. I saw the horn-like towers of the hall itself through the rain although now from the rear of the house. I had come at it from an altogether different direction than I had intended. Still, I felt my fears abated, and a rush of accomplishment and (that word again!) pride took their place. Yet, another obstacle stood between me and the hall. It was the lake on the property where poor Master Peter had lost his life in the bogs that surrounded it.
I pushed forward and downward toward the lake with the idea that I must find the path around it, my face nearly numb with the cold rains. I could feel the cold wetness seeping through my woolen cloak, and even my petticoats. My legs were painted with reddish brown clay, with mud spattering my attire as a whole. I must have looked a fright, although I was not conscious of it at the time. I no longer knew the true reason for my curiosity of the place. The bloom of romance was off of the expedition. But, I was determined to bring something away for the price of my efforts.
I found myself moving closer to the edge of the lake, even though my intentions were to skirt around it toward the house. My eye found a rut in the terrain, and my feet followed. But, soon the rut was swallowed by the wild stalks of long grass and my path was lost again. It was then that I realized that it had grown far later in the day than I had thought, and the light began to falter even if the rain did not. A crackle of forked lightning tore its way across the angry sky, and I turned suddenly, looking up the hill from whence I had come. There against the cloudy, darkening sky I spied a figure in dark clothing, with a cloak not unlike my own. It was a fearful, ghostly figure that instantly sent a spike of ice-cold fear straight to my heart, and before I knew it I was in a mad dash down the great hill toward the dark lake, not knowing precisely where I was running. Reason had fled, and animal instinct seemed to possess me. I felt a stitch in my side, and my breathing quicken. And then the ground seemed to heave under me, and I fell in a bank of reeds, my clothes sodden with dirty water cold enough to knock my breath from my body. I turned myself over as best I could, stifling a sob. For even in my panicked state, I knew that I did not wish to face this adversary while blubbing like a little girl. I would face my fate as a woman.
The dark hooded figure stood over me, the identity of the person in question was temporarily hidden from me in shadow. When the hood was thrown back, I found myself looking into the scowling face of Mrs. Perkins, her hair in disarray and her eyes burning with fiery hatred. For an instant, I felt as though she would scold me for my undertaking, castigating me for such a foolhardy venture such as this on an inclement afternoon. But, instead she gritted her teeth and said: “Give me the map you stole. I know that you know where to find the boy!”
Then, it was as if the pieces of some great puzzle had been put together before my very eyes. And although I was frightened, the panic had receded. The Boy must have meant young master Peter. She must know the story of Lochbyrne Hall as well as I, and perhaps more so being local. And I myself had asked Mrs. Perkins about the history of the great lonely mansion. Her reaction then had been one of irritation, and greatly disproportionate to the nature of my inquiry. It had seemed strange then. But, somehow it occurred to me as I lay in the muck on the bank of the lake staring up at a demonically angry Mrs. Perkins that some personal connection to the tale could be the only explanation. And why should she need to know the location of the boy who had been lost so long ago, and never recovered? Surely she knew that the dangerous sands had taken him? Yet of course she knew, I mused; she had been a part of the household, and the search party. It was a hunch, and I decided to voice it. “You were there, Mrs. Perkins”, I said. “You were there when Master Peter disappeared.”
Then, she said a shocking thing. It was so shocking that the force of its utter dread only struck me much later. She said “I had to kill the boy. You know that or you wouldn’t be here. He had the key. His foolish, cruel father had had the temerity to give it to him on that very day, for his birthday on a chain like a medallion. And the lad wouldn’t give it up to me when I got him alone. Nine years old. What should he have done with the Privateer’s treasure? To him it was a bauble, but to me it was the key to riches, and a houseful of servants of my own! He wouldn’t give it to me, and so I throttled him.”
I noted with amazing stillness of mind that Mrs. Perkins must have been the scullery maid spoken about in Mrs. Gardiner’s book of history detailing the tale of Lochbyrne. She had seen the boy. But, she’d not got his treasure. Then, something else occurred to me: “He got away from you,” I said to Mrs. Perkins slowly, and with great calm. ” He escaped your grasp …”
“He ran into the bog, and I followed. But, he’d gone too far in, past solid ground and into the quicksand. I followed, and then I saw him up to the waist, then the neck, in the mud. I couldn’t get to it. I couldn’t find the key he wore …” At this point, she wept like a little girl in the midst of a tantrum. “I ran to get help, and his Lordship himself grabbed a hold of me. He made me take him to the place where the boy had sunk, along with that damnable dog. And I knew that if the boy lived when we got there, I should have to kill them both if I was to get the key to myself. But, he was gone. And His Lordship grabbed me and made me tell him where the brat had gone. I knew then that he himself wanted to take the key back. He’d thought that his son’s neck would be the most unassuming place to hide it. And it had eluded him as much as it had eluded me. His Lordship bounded into the sand himself, along with his cursed black dog.”
“How did you know about the key Mrs. Perkins? How?” I asked her.
“I had overheard His Lordship’s conversations with his foul partners in crime when they had come to Lochbyrne Hall; a hidden treasure from the Caribbean, and a key to unlock the chest, or passage, or secret chamber. The treasure was in one place, the key in another. His Lordship hid the key, and the Privateer captain hid the treasure, for they did not trust one another. And I know you have the map, girl. I hid it myself in the library after keeping it with me for so long, getting it from the lascivious Privateer in exchange for my charms so long ago, although he did not know of the cost of the trade. And I know you know about the boy and where he lays. So you must tell me what clues you have found to remind me of his final resting place. I have waited so long for one such as you to lead me back here. You must help me.”
She slid a long knife out from the folds of her cloak and raised it savagely. She must have procured the knife from the kitchens at Ramblehurst. Her face was a mask of madness itself, her lips pulled back from her teeth like a hungry predator. “Tell me where the boy lies. I have forgotten the place, driven mad by it. You must tell me, or you shall die as surely as he and his foul father have …” She lunged forward then, and I hitched a breath to let out a scream that did not come.
But, there was to be no need for my scream to alert help. For another shadow loomed over us both, and a gutteral utterance that was not human seemed to rival the thunder above us. For it was indeed a dog, huge and black, and snarling. It careered into Mrs. Perkins from behind, and sent her reeling into the reeds. There was a tremendous splash. I scrambled to my feet as best I could, although the heaviness of my wet clothes made it a trial of no small scale. The Dog stood in the place on the bank, the bent reeds framing the vision of Mrs. Perkins struggling in the dark morass of mud and lakewater. The dog stood stock still, and I was momentarily paralyzed by abject terror at the presence of the spectre of Coal, the banished dog who had seen its master die at the behest of a madwoman. And yet my senses returned quickly, despite being in the presence of an apparition. I took off my cloak, and flung one end into the sand next to Mrs. Perkins who thrashed about, but she ignored her only means of salvation.
“It’s here! It’s here! I know I have finally found it!”
She sank fast, and I felt the bile rise as her head swept under the murk. The Dog remained stock still in the stillness that followed. Then, the dog turned its head toward me, and I realized that it was no more supernatural then you are, sweet sister.
Then I heard a voice calling “Cally! Cally!” It was a voice of yet another figure who ascended the great hill. It was Mr.Bodkins. My spirit fell, backed against the deadly quicksand, and with certain death at the murderous hands of yet another assailant cutting off my escape. I turned and balled my fists, feeling a great anger at being so victimized, even if I was about to face a violent end. But, then the dog turned happily, its tail wagging affectionately, and bounded to meet the ascending figure of Mr. Bodkins, who greeted it with tenderness and goodwill.”Are you all right, Miss Spencer? I saw what happened.”. And he had; he’d seen Mrs. Perkins standing over me with the knife, and Cally dashing into her to protect me. And he’d seen my fruitless attempt to save her. His voice was as warm and tender as any voice I had ever cherished. In fact, it reminded me of my early days of girlhood, and of Father’s similar tones that would soothe my childhood pains and fears. And I had not expected it from Mr. Bodkins, even as I had suspected that he was in league with Mrs. Perkins in the moments before his voice uttered the tones that set my suspicions of him adrift. He had always been distant with me, and I had assumed he harboured dislike toward me. Yet, I remembered in that instant that it had been shyness that I’d first noted in him, not cruelty. I had gravely misjudged him. I nodded in response to his question of me. No words could escape from my frozen lungs and fear-choked heart.
“Let me take you out of this place,” he said. Were he not an older man, I should have thought this to be one of the most gallant sentences anyone has ever uttered for the benefit of one who had only narrowly escaped the edge of a murderess’ knife. It seems too that he had observed me set out, and had in turn observed Mrs. Perkins stalking behind me. He had never trusted her, it seems. His beloved Cally found him on the way as was her custom.
Mr. Bodkins escorted me back to Ramblehurst, and the journey seemed to take no time at all. We returned in good time, well before dusk. Even the rains had ceased. Cally came with us, bounding ahead and returning to us as if she were more an impatient child than a large black dog. Cally was Mr.Bodkins’ pet, an energetic and protective animal that lived with him in his modest lodgings not far from Ramblehurst. His wife and sons took care of her while Mr. Bodkins served the household, and accompanied him on his hunting trips for quail and pheasant. Cally often chased the coach driven by her master on the way to and from Birthwaite, given that Mr Bodkins’ quarters can be found along that road. It had most likely been she I’d seen on the night of my arrival. I had misjudged Cally as I had her master, not a hound of hell, but rather my angel of protection.
Mr. Bodkins related his own account of his knowledge and experience of Lochbyrne Hall. He too had been among the search party who looked for Master Peter all those years ago, and in the employ of Lord and Lady Lochbyrne as a footman. Although Mr. Bodkins was middle-aged when the tragic events took place, he knew of Mrs. Perkins and had always suspected her of nafarious intent even while she was a young girl, although he had no such proof of it. But, he knew that Lord Lochbyrne had become embroiled in a plan to reap a percentage of booty taken by a Privateer, called Perkins no less, who also raided British vessels as much as he had been the scourge of Spanish and French ones in the Caribbean. Lord Lochbyrne was in the thrall of Perkins as an adventurer and treasure hunter and pirate, who would make appearances at Lochbyrne through out the year. And so apparently was the young girl who would soon take on the name Perkins herself.
But, Lord Lochbyrne could not reveal his association with Perkins for fear that his part in the piracy of British ships would land him an appointment with the gallows. Instead, Lochbyrne would hide the treasure and invest it little by little on Perkins’ behalf, taking a portion of it for himself. All this was known to the household at the time although none dared to speak of it. But, Mr. Bodkin could not confirm that the rogue Perkins was seduced by the charms of a scullery maid who came to take his name as her own in later years, and who had heard the details of the arrangement, deciding to conduct some piracy of her own. Mr. Bodkins also knew nothing of the existence of the key on the chain given to Master Peter on his ninth birthday, the day he died. When I explained what Mrs. Perkins had said about the boy’s death and her part in it, he grew quiet. We spoke not one word more about it before the light of the beloved courtyard lanterns at Ramblehurst alighted on our cheeks, and we found ourselves in the safety of the beloved country manor’s bosom once again.
I have spent the week at rest, recovering from my ordeal, and answering the questions of Mr. Hedges the parish constable who had been sent for by Mrs. Gardiner in response to the events that have unfolded. They have sent a party to retrieve Mrs. Perkins’ body from the bog, and have found nothing. The Lake at Lochbyrne has claimed her to itself. The library here at Ramblehurst has been searched too, to Mrs. Gardiner’s great displeasure although also with her dignified acquiescence, in order to find the treasure map that Mrs. Perkins alluded to that reveals the location of the lost Lochbyrne treasure that the key would have set free, and the map she had in her possession and allegedly hid there. No such document has been found. In its absence, she perhaps had thought that the crude map I had made and held so prominently in my hands when I departed (and that she had observed when she resolved to follow me) was the very one she had hidden so conscientiously, yet had lost to me. The appearance of my interloping, combined with my curiosity about Lochbyrne Hall must have forced her hand. I suppose justice has been done. The murderess has found her fate to be the same as those of her victims. And the treasure that enflamed her madness has remained unfound, with no links to it to uncover it; neither key nor map. Perhaps it is as Mr. Hedges suggested; that both artifacts were the product of a disturbed mind, nothing less than a dark fantasy concocted in an imagination that had long ago become corrupted. In this case, a lost soul has truly been lost. But if the treasure does exist, I hope it is never found.
Meanwhile, I have been written about in the Birthwaite society newsletter once again, with my “intrepid fortitude at facing the murderous knife of a desperate criminal” being the central thesis to be found in the dubious contents of the text. There was no mention of the dead child, or the evil that may well have led to it. I fear that although I shall always love this place, the Gardiners, Mr. Bodkins, and of course our dearest Margaret, it as occurred to me of late that my stay here must come to an end as sooner than my intended plan, and as my body and spirit gain their strength again. I grow sick of this tendency I am finding in the otherwise delightful personages here in the Lakes to remain steadfastly unchanged even by the most gruesome of truths and their implications. To them, they are mere fodder for temporary amusements, or to be ignored altogether. I fear too that I shall find this self-same tendency in those I know all the better in London, and that I had never before noted due to my lack of the requisite wisdom of experience. At seems that I have grown (yes, dear sister!) in the ways of the world where a girl no older than I might possibly kill a child for personal gain, and that it may be written of these many years later after the incidents took place as a mere fancy in newspapers and society newsletters to be voraciously consumed on one day, and forsaken entirely the next. Where at the beginning of this journey, I praised the world for being wide and limitless, I am finding in my darkest hours that the nature of this world may be the exact opposite.
But, we shall see, sweet Emily. We shall see. For such hard-earned wisdom that I have gained through trial, I feel I must be true to it and to welcome such opportunities to expand upon my responsibility to exercise it. I have resolved to embrace what adventures should come to me in the future, using fear as an engine, rather than a cause for retreat. So I have resolved to stay here until the Spring, as planned, and in defiance of fear. Or, perhaps I shall stay longer still, or go north to Scotland, or across the Channel to France, to Spain, Rome, across the ocean to Virginia, or to the sugar fields of the Carribean, or to the South Seas in search of Captain Cook’s Hawaiians!
Headstrong and impulsive as always, dear Emily!
Yours truly, and with great love and affection,