Tuesday, March 11, 2014

GATEHAVEN: Part 6 of 10

By Molly Noble Bull 

Shannon already missed Andre, her baby brother, and they had only been gone a little over an hour. Andre had looked a bit small for a newborn on the day he was born, and Shannon was the first to hold him. Ever since, she’d felt guilty that she might have caused the baby to arrive too soon. Nevertheless, Andre thrived on his mother’s breast milk, and Mama predicted that one day Andre would be as tall as his father and his brother, Peter—and as handsome, too.
At least Ian finally agreed to study under the vicar at Saint Thomas Church. He was traveling with them, which made leaving home for the first time easier.
Shannon still didn’t know why her mother was so afraid for her to go to England. The English were certainly different from the French and the Scots, but not that different.
The middle-aged spinster, Miss Foster, had been living in the family’s hunting lodge in Scotland since her parents moved there when she was a child. Miss Foster claimed to enjoy visiting the earl’s family in England and said she could hardly wait to get there.
Shannon confessed to Miss Foster in whispers that she loved the earl. However, he hadn’t said much to Shannon or to his aunt since they left her village. He hadn’t seemed especially interested in the few comments Shannon made during the long ride in his expensive-looking carriage.
Like the earl, Ian never talked much. However, he was always willing to listen. Shannon was glad that Ian and Polly, Miss Foster’s maid, and Dickson, the earl’s valet, were traveling in the carriage right behind them and that she would be seeing Ian often once they arrived in England.
Nevertheless, she missed hearing the sound of the earl’s deep baritone voice. Maybe he kept quiet because he would rather that Miss Foster not hear what he had to say. Still, he looked at Shannon longingly now and again. For the present, she would have to settle for that.
She’d hoped to discuss marriage plans with the man she loved during the long trip. But his aunt kept discussing other topics—dark, disturbing ones—that would probably cause Shannon to have bad dreams at the end of her first day of traveling.
Stranger still, her father had made an odd comment shortly before she climbed up in the carriage beside her chaperone.
He’d hugged her real close and said, “Do you know the meaning of the word wiles, Rachel Shannon?”
“Wiles? No, Papa, I do not.”
“I was told it means beguiled. Your brother thinks the earl has beguiled you.” Her father handed her a sheet of parchment folded in half. “I have written a scripture from the Bible regarding this matter, and I want you to set it to memory. Will you promise to do that?”
“I will read the scripture verse, Papa.”
But she refused to promise to remember it.
“I love you.” Her father kissed her on the forehead. “Godspeed. And may the Lord go with you.”
“And go with you and Mama, too.”
She’d put the parchment in the sack her mother had fashioned to match the gold material in her dress. She loosened the gold string and pulled out the message, written at her father’s desk with pen and ink.
Put on the whole armor of God, she read, that you may stand against the wiles of the devil. Book of Ephesians, chapter six and verse eleven.
 Shannon shook her head. The message held no meaning for her. How could someone put on the whole armor of God? Where would she find such a garment? The earl had told her of metal clothing that men once wore into battle and that he kept such an item of clothing at his hunting lodge. He’d urged her to come to his hunting lodge and see it for herself, but she never had.
She folded the parchment and put it back in her carrying sack.
They traveled through what appeared to be a hilly wilderness where trees were seldom seen. Everything she saw looked new and fresh. Shannon couldn’t get enough of merely gazing out the windows on first one side of the carriage and then the other.
But she missed Ian and looked forward to visiting with him when they stopped for the night. He knew a lot about the Bible. Maybe he would tell her the meaning of the scripture verse.
Miss Foster began a discourse on the merits of owning a crystal ball and the insights she’d gain from hers. Shannon hadn’t known what a crystal ball was or its use until her chaperone volunteered to tell her. However, the explanation sounded odd to say the least, and a bit unsettling. Shannon turned her thoughts to a different kind of ball—the ball in Luss held on the day she met the earl for the first time.
She was standing with her father and mother, waiting for Ian Colquhoun to claim his dance. However, she’d thought of nothing but the handsome Earl of Northon since he entered the hall. She found herself dreaming of meeting him, but at first, he neither sought her out nor glanced in her direction.
The young earl appeared to be searching for someone. Obviously, Shannon wasn’t that person.
All at once he walked right in front of them.
Shannon sucked in her breath.
He wore a long, black coat over the finest white shirt and dark breeches she’d ever seen. What looked like a diamond glittered from his frothy cravat.
“Rachel Shannon,” her father said.
“Yes, Papa.”
The earl had started to walk off, but he turned and looked right at her.
“We will be leaving the ball soon,” her father added in French. “Dance with Ian once. And then we will go.”
Shannon’s eyes seemed to connect with the young earl’s sky blue ones, and his with hers. He looked at her as if she was the only woman in the room, and then he disappeared into the crowd. She never expected to see him again, and when Ian returned to collect his dance, she gladly accepted.
“This will be my last dance of the evening,” Shannon explained as Ian escorted her back to her parents. “Papa said we would be going home now.”
But as soon as Ian walked away, the earl and Laird Colquhoun, the leader of the Clan, walked up and joined them. Laird Colquhoun introduced Shannon and her parents to the earl, and he managed to convince Shannon’s father that it was much too early to consider leaving the ball.
All eyes turned to Shannon Aimee when the earl led her out for a country dance. Their eyes probably opened even wider when he asked her to be his partner a second time.
“I wish to dance every dance with you,” he whispered in a breathy tone.
“But this is the second time you called me out, my lord. It would be unthinkable for us to dance again.”
His wide grin warmed her heart. “I know a bench where we can sit and talk. I am eager to learn all about you, and the bench is very private, indeed. Nobody will be able to hear us. Yet your parents can watch us from afar—as you would expect them to do.”
Shannon never expected her father to agree to such an arrangement. However, Laird Colquhoun convinced him to accept. And her father’s attention never moved from that bench during the time that she and the earl sat there talking.
“Miss Aimee,” Miss Foster said, cutting in on her recollections. “Are you enjoying your journey thus far?”
“Oh yes, ma’am—very much so.” Shannon returned her chaperone’s brief smile and gazed at the earl, hoping he would make some sort of comment. When he glanced her way, she continued. “Lord Northon, where will we be spending the night?”
“At an inn your father mentioned. But on the morrow, we will stay at an inn near a chapel I would like for us to visit. I am sure you will find it as interesting as I do.”
“Then we will be attending church?”
“Church?” He laughed. “I said we will be visiting a chapel—not attending services there.”
Shannon turned her head at an angle. “If we will be visiting a chapel, why not attend services? I am sure my parents would like that very much.”
“I would not,” he retorted. “We will tour the building—inspect the carvings and other objects of interest there—and then we will leave. I will take you and my aunt back to the inn, and I will attend an important meeting with friends from the village.”
Shannon nodded. “I see.”
But she didn’t.
The earl had seemed so aloof since they left Luss—almost as if he was a different person. It had to be because Miss Foster hung on their every word. Things would return to normal once they arrived at his estate.
Shannon had thought—hoped—that she would be having her supper that evening with the earl. She’d dreamed that they would share a table for two—that he would whisper sweet love words as he had done in Luss. But that did not happen.
The earl left the inn as soon as they checked in.
Later, Shannon sat at a table below stairs long after Miss Foster turned in for the night, hoping the earl would return. Ian sat with her.
“To keep you from being lonely,” Ian said.
During the long evening, Shannon told Ian of the message with the scripture verse in it and asked if he knew its meaning. He confessed that he did not.
Then Ian reminded her of their happy childhood in Luss and told a funny story or two—perhaps to cheer her up. Soon she felt a lot better, and when she actually laughed at some of his remarks, she realized that a merry heart really was like a medicine.
Peter Aimee stood just outside the circle of light coming from lamps—lamps that hung from a tree and from the eves of the Lion’s Inn. His sister, Shannon, as well as the earl and his party were staying the night at the inn. Peter would be sleeping in a field nearby on a blanket he’d brought from home.
He’d followed the earl after he left the inn to another establishment further on where he heard loud music coming from inside. He peeked in a window and saw a lot of men drinking from large mugs. The earl was one of them. And young women showed their ankles as they danced on a lighted stage.
Peter saw enough to know that the earl was up to no good. He’d mounted his brown horse and headed back to the inn. He wanted to check the time when the earl returned and the condition he was in when he staggered inside.
The entry door to the inn opened. Ian Colquhoun stepped onto the stoop out front.
“Ian,” Peter said from the darkness. “I’m over here.”
“Yes. Over here.”
Peter watched as Ian moved toward him.
“It’s awfully dark out here, my friend,” Ian said, “and the dim light coming from the inn helps but a little. Will you join me at a table inside? You must be starving.”
“True, I am hungry. But it’s too risky for me to be seen at an inn where my sister is sleeping. She would be furious if she knew I followed her here. I have no wish that the earl find me here either.”
“Shannon was very tired and went up to bed.” Ian shrugged. “I cannot say where the earl might be.”
“I can. I followed him, and the earl went out for a night of drinking. I doubt he will return until the early hours of the morning.”
“Then I see no reason why you cannot come inside.” Ian motioned toward a path at the side of inn. “There is a back door to the eating area. Go around to the back, knock, and I will open the door. We will take a table near the door. And while we talk, you can eat your supper.”
Peter nodded. “I might regret this, but I am too tired and hungry to argue. I will knock on the back door shortly.”
“And I will open it as soon as you do.”
Ian went back inside.
The plump, middle-aged woman who had served their supper stood just inside the door. She sent him a toothless smile.
“Lass,” Ian said as if he thought he was talking to a much younger woman, “please send someone to the table in the back a bit later. I will be likin’ to eat another bowl of stew.”
The woman laughed. “Eatin’ again, are ya?”
He nodded and grinned.
“You’re a handsome, lad, you know. But if you keep eating two suppers a night, you’ll soon be lookin’ like me husband.” She motioned toward the rotund little man with the bald head standing behind the counter.
Ian couldn’t keep from laughing. “Wait a few minutes before bringing my order. As I said, I’ll be hungrier by then.”
The woman’s loud giggle echoed all around him as Ian hurried to the back of the eating area. After a moment, he heard a knock and opened the door.
“Come in while nobody is watching.” Ian motioned to the table nearest the door. “We will sit there.”
Ian pulled out a chair and sat down. Then Peter did.
“The mutton stew is good here.” Ian grinned. “In fact, it is the only meal they serve.”
“Then I feel sure I will be having stew.”
They both laughed.
“We will not be traveling all the way to Edinburgh on the morrow as I would have thought,” Ian said. “We will only be going as far as the village of Rosslyn. The wife of the innkeeper here is a talker, and she told me a little about strange doings in that village.”
“Strange doings?” Peter leaned forward in his chair. “I am eager to hear what she said.”
“Well, the innkeeper’s wife claims that Rosslyn is known as a place where the wee people live—as well as ghosts and goblins. And she says that she knows for a fact that a Black Mass was held there once.”
“A Black Mass, did you say?”
“You heard right.”
Peter’s forehead wrinkled. “So why would the earl be stopping there on his way to England?”
Ian shrugged. “I have not one idea in my mind.”
“I will travel to Rosslyn before ya—if I can,” Peter said. “I want to find out what business the earl might have in Rosslyn and more about the village. I don’t believe in the existence of fairies and the like, but the Black Mass concerns me. I have heard of odd happenings around here, and I want to know more about all of this.”
That night before blowing out the light in his room, Ian read his pastor’s second letter again—the one from the vicar in England.
Dear Pastor Petit,
I was delighted to hear from you. However, I was sorry to learn that you are related to the murdered woman. Please accept my belated condolences. Most of what I know is hearsay, and as men of God, we cannot condemn a person to prison without two witnesses. I have none. Here are the facts I do know to be true.
The murder of your cousin, Magdalena Petit, took place in the English village of Cert. A well-dressed Frenchman, a man in the clothes of a monk, and two or three other men spent the night of the murder at an inn in the village.
A young barmaid employed at the inn told the innkeeper that the handsome young Frenchman she found so interesting said he was born in England of French parents. However, the monk told someone else in the village that they had only recently arrived in England from France. Another witness stated that he saw a monk and two other men walking away from the area where Magdalena lived after the fire started, but nobody saw who started the fire or who killed Miss Petit.
The next morning after the murder, the Frenchman and the other strangers moved on. They were never seen again.
You said in your letter that your late cousin was a French Protestant or what you would call a Huguenot. Could that have been the motive for your cousin’s death? Or was it perhaps for reasons unrelated to religion?
Some in my parish are telling tales of witchcraft in our midst and of young girls disappearing and never being seen again. I am sure it is merely idle talk started by gossips with little to keep them busy at home. Still, I do wonder. Do some members of your congregation report such mischief as well? Or is this unique to my parish?
Ian shook his head, folding the letter in half. He’d tried to convince Shannon’s parents not to let her go to England. But after they met Miss Foster, they gave their permission.
Apparently, the earl’s aunt made a good first impression. Ian could only hope Shannon’s parents were right about the woman, but he had doubts. He put the letter with the others and tried not to think about the missing young woman the vicar mentioned.
Each time he read one of the letters, he became more convinced that he was a part of an important mission. The letters were keys that fit unknown locks. Doors needed to be opened if he hoped to save Shannon and find a murderer. Somehow, he knew he must act as a watchman on the wall until his mission was complete--no matter how long it took.
For now, he would read and study the Bible, and then he would go to sleep.


To read Part 7 of the Gatehaven series, go to Emma Tcheau's blog. The address is below.


Then scroll down and read "Welcome Back, Teresa Slack."  

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