The Jennings – Chapter Six

Previously in The Jennings:

Elizabeth Carlisle is attacked by a monster.

Christopher Jennings rescues her, using Second Sight and a hint from the Slate.

Elizabeth’s father has disowned her, believing that some error in her behaviour must have prompted the attack on her.

Jennings, sympathetic with her situation, offers his hand to Elizabeth.

Seeing no other option, she accepts.

He introduces her to the Slate, which gives them the message, “Find my lost child.”

Jennings sees images of a house, a green box, and a blue dove. With these scant clues, he and Elizabeth set forth to solve the mystery and help this spirit who has reached out to them.

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 The Lost Child

The next morning found Mr. and Mrs. Jennings on their way to Curzon Street.  They had dressed in dark and simple clothing in hopes of being mistaken for grieving visitors; Jennings’ experience with the slate suggested that the spirit who had contacted him was in fact only recently gone from the mortal world, and it seemed as likely as not that the household would still be in deep mourning.

“It would help immensely,” Jennings murmured to Elizabeth as they walked up the street. “If we knew the name of the family.”

“I have in fact turned to Mrs. Raleigh on that score,” Elizabeth revealed. She had recovered her strength to a great degree, but their progress was much slower than she would ordinarily have adopted; she leaned rather heavily on Mr. Jennings’ arm, and paused every now and then to catch her breath. “She had the Gazette from the last few days,” she went on. “There are two families in Curzon Street who suffered a loss in this week, one three days ago and one yesterday.”

Jennings looked at her in some surprise. “Two?” he repeated. “Were they connected in some way? Some sort of illness?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I do not believe so,” she said. “A young man named Folliott was thrown from his curricle during a race; he did not survive the incident. The other was a man who, while not particularly elderly, had been unwell for some time, and – according to the notice – finally succumbed after a lengthy and bitter struggle.”

“This Folliott,” Jennings said. “How old was he?”

“I believe it said he was two-and-twenty,” Elizabeth answered. “Old enough, I suppose, to have a child. Neither man was said to have had any heirs, however. Mr. Bertram – the older man – has a daughter, but his estate is entailed on a cousin.” She paused, frowning as she attempted to remember the name listed in the notice. “The honourable Clement Parrish,” she said finally. “He inherits everything.”

“Did the notice list the names of the mother and daughter?” Jennings asked. He had stopped walking and now gazed patiently down at her.

“The daughter is Miss Miranda Bertram,” Elizabeth said. “And the mother – Amelia Forster Bertram – passed away four years ago. Mrs. Raleigh seemed to recall that she had been taken in child-bed, and that the infant had also been lost.”

Jennings considered this information. “I wonder,” he said thoughtfully. “If Mr. Bertram was married before.”

Elizabeth shook her head again. “It did not say so in the notice, nor did Mrs. Raleigh know anything along those lines.”

Jennings looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “May I ask,” he said with a trace of humour. “With what pretense you plied Mrs. Raleigh with these questions?”

Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled. “I gave none, sir,” she told him frankly. “I was not certain if your servants were aware of your gifts – although I imagine they are – so I simply asked my questions, and she simply answered them.” A dimple appeared. “Whatever questions she may have had for me, she did not reveal.”

Jennings chuckled. “I am sure she has had many questions that she does not ask, since the first day of her employment.” He nodded his head toward the house just before them. “This is the house I saw,” he said. “We must be prepared to ‘know’ whichever family opens the door.”

“I will be very circumspect,” Elizabeth promised him.

Together they walked up to the house, and Jennings lifted his hand to knock on the door. Before he could do so, however, the door was opened by the butler, and he looked out dispassionately at the couple on the doorstep.

“Good morning, sir,” he said soberly. Turning to Elizabeth, he gave a slight bow. “Ma’am,” he added. He held the door wide and gestured for the visitors to enter the house. “Miss Bertram is in the small salon,” he announced, leading them across the entryway to a closed door. He opened this door and stepped inside, inviting the Jennings to follow him.

They found themselves in a cozy sitting room. The curtains were still drawn across the windows, so that even though the sun was very bright outside, the room remained in a dreary twilight. On a sofa sat a young girl of perhaps sixteen; her eyes were rimmed red from crying, and her expression was one of the utmost sadness. When the butler opened the door, she looked up from her hands that were clasped tightly in her lap, and greeted her guests in a small, solemn voice.

“Good morning,” she said, coming to her feet and approaching them with an outstretched hand. “Thank you so very kindly for coming to condole with our family on this dark day.”

Jennings bowed over her hand. “It is we who thank you, Miss Bertram,” he said sincerely. “To receive visitors when you must certainly wish to be alone.”

“Indeed, sir, I do not,” Miss Bertram assured him. “I have in fact been looking forward to friends and family being in the house, for it was desperately quiet here last night without…” She paused, struggling to keep her composure. “Without Papa here,” she finished, and bestowed on the Jennings a wan smile. “I think I do not know you,” she went on, looking at Jennings and then at Elizabeth. “You knew my father?”

“Who did not know him?” Elizabeth said, keeping her promise to be circumspect. “He was, I am sure, the best of men.” In real sympathy, she reached out and took Miss Bertram’s hand in hers. “I, too, have lost a parent,” she confessed. “I feel extremely for you.”

A glint of tears shone in Miss Bertram’s eyes. “I thank you,” she murmured, her voice choked with emotion. “Please forgive me,” she said, wiping at the corners of her eyes with a lace handkerchief.

“Not at all,” Jennings said quietly. He had never heard of this family in his life, but this girl’s grief was so evident that he felt his own heart hurting for her. “Will you not sit?” he asked her, indicating the sofa. “You needn’t dance attendance on us. We are here for you, and are entirely at your disposal.”

Miss Bertram smiled through her tears. “You are all kindness, sir!” she said, and sat once more on the sofa. “Everyone has been so kind. Even my cousin has not abandoned me, a girl he met only a fortnight ago.”

“Your cousin?” Elizabeth asked, sitting next to Miss Bertram. “He is assisting you with all of this?”

“Indeed he is,” Miss Bertram replied. “My father has been ill for some time, and…” She looked away for a moment, then turned back to Elizabeth. “We did not have any particular hope of his recovery,” she continued. “He was in fact barely able to speak to us. My cousin Parrish is to inherit my father’s estate, and he journeyed here two weeks ago to apprise himself of the estate and to arrange matters.” Somehow her woebegone expression became even more melancholy. “He is planning to sell the estate,” she said. “And the house here in town. He has no use for them, since his own estate is more … grand … and I believe the money would benefit him greatly. While he was here, he made me the offer to take me in as his ward, and said that I might live in the lake country with him.” She gave another wistful smile. “My grandmother too, who lives with my uncle’s widow, she and my aunt have also extended an invitation to live with them in the north.”

Jennings tilted his head to one side. “You do not wish to accept these offers?”

Miss Bertram gave a slight shrug. “As to that, sir,” she said. “What can I be but deeply grateful that so many have considered my situation? It is just that my life is here, and my friends.” She wiped away a tear. “You must find me so silly! – to think of such a thing. But I will miss my life here so much, and I will never again be in the place where I lived with my mother and father, where in fact both of them – and my brother too! – took their leave of this world.”

Elizabeth leaned toward Miss Bertram and put a comforting hand on her arm. “Brother!” she repeated, her brows drawn together in concern and sympathy. “You have lost a brother as well?”

Miss Bertram nodded. “He died at his birth, and my mother followed him.” She dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. “And now my father too. All I have left of them is this house and the estate … and I cannot help but wish that I could keep them, just as they are.” She looked at her visitors with a sudden look of abashment. “Forgive me!” she said again. “I did not mean to importune you in such a way!”

“Do not consider it,” Elizabeth told her sincerely. “We are all eagerness to help you in any way we can.”

Jennings nodded his agreement. “If I can offer any service to you at all, Miss Bertram, you need only say.”

Miss Bertram sat for a moment in a state of grateful bewilderment. “It is so gratifying,” she said at last. “To know that my father had such excellent friends. It is a great comfort to me.” She smiled, and added in a rather conspiratorial voice, “I thought I heard him last night. In his library. I heard the sound of his chair, and the drawers of his desk, and the way he would puff on his pipe. I even thought I smelled the smoke, and because I was not yet used to the notion of his being gone, I skipped into the library as I always did, fully expecting to see him at his desk, or in his reading chair.” Her smile faded. “But of course the room was entirely empty.” She frowned then, and looked puzzled. “His treasure box had moved, though.”

Jennings raised one eyebrow. “Treasure box?”

“His jade treasure box,” Miss Bertram explained. “He brought it back from the Orient many years ago. It always sat on a high shelf in the library, but last night it was on his desk, as though he had sat to look in it and had forgotten to put it back.” She shook her head. “You must think me mad,” she said, her voice breaking. “But I did believe in that moment, that he had just been there looking in the box. And I know that it is his box of personal things, and that no one else would want it, so I took it off the desk and brought it to my room.”

“We do not at all think you are mad, my dear,” Elizabeth said. “I believe very sincerely that the spirits of our loved ones make every attempt to say good-bye to us before they travel on. Perhaps your father wanted to remind you of the box, so that you might have it as a memento of him.”

Miss Bertram was clearly comforted by this notion. Her shoulders relaxed, and she leaned back on the sofa. “It has my mother’s portrait in it,” she said. “And portraits of my father’s parents. My mother had sewn caps for both me and my brother, and those are in the box. And many, many letters from my mother.” She sighed wistfully. “All of his memories in a single box, and now they are all I have as well.”

Elizabeth took a breath as if to speak, then paused, thinking better of it. Miss Bertram looked at her expectantly, and after a few more seconds, Elizabeth began hesitantly, “Would it be too much to ask, Miss Bertram, to be allowed to see your mother’s portrait? I have heard many good things about her, and I was never given the opportunity to know her.”

Miss Bertram brightened considerably. “I would be delighted to show you!” she declared, coming instantly to her feet. “I will go and fetch it!”

She left the room and bustled upstairs, leaving her guests alone in the sitting room. Jennings turned instantly to his wife and whispered in her ear, “The jade box must be the ‘green box’ I saw yesterday.”

Elizabeth nodded. “We need only find the ‘blue dove’,” she said. “And then, of course, we must figure out to what these scant clues direct us.”

Jennings smiled. “This work will be made much simpler with you, my dear,” he said. “You are quite resourceful, I think.”

She smiled back. “It is a great deal easier than I had anticipated,” she said, adding drily, “My life with my father certainly taught me to speak in a way that allows the listener to feel he has all the power – so many things that I have wanted for myself or for the household, I have only been able to achieve by convincing my father that it had all been his notion in the first place.”

Jennings gazed at her admiringly. “I believe I shall enjoy getting to know you, Mrs. Jennings,” he said softly.

Miss Bertram returned then, carrying an oblong case made of wood and inlaid heavily with green jade. She sat down on the sofa and propped the box up on her knees, unlocking it with a key that hung on a cord around her neck. “Here,” she said warmly. “Here are all my family!”

She cheerfully showed the Jennings the small portraits of her mother and her grandparents. “I have a portrait of my father, too!” she said. “And it will be in here, along with a lock of hair from my mother, and a necklace my grandfather gave me.” She blinked away more tears. “It is my treasure box now.”

Elizabeth bent over the box and ran her fingers carefully along the edges of the pile of letters. “All these are from your mother?” she asked.

“Some are from friends, and from my father’s mother,” Miss Bertram answered. She reached in and pulled out one of the letters. “This one,” she began. “Is the letter from the servant girl – Betty – who attended my mother at my brother’s birth. My father showed it to me once, and said that he kept it because it was a record of the only moment of my brother’s life, and the last moments of my mother’s.” She handed the letter carefully to Elizabeth, who opened it with a gentle reverence.

“‘Mr. Bertram’,” she read aloud. “‘I regret I must leave your employ on this day. I am so much stricken by Mistress’s death, and the sight of her wee one so still beside her, that I can’t bear the sight of it no more. You’ve always been good to me, and I’m sorry to leave so abrupt, but it distressed me so to watch him laid away, and I can’t come back to the house. Betty.’”

“My mother’s confinement was sudden,” Miss Bertram explained in low tones, flushing slightly at the unusual broaching of such a delicate subject. “The midwife had been summoned but had not yet arrived. Betty attended my mother as best she could, and when all was lost, she took it upon herself to prepare my brother for burial alongside my mother.” Tears began to fall unheeded down her cheeks. “Perhaps I am wrong,” she said. “Perhaps I should leave this house, where so much tragedy has been!”

Elizabeth impulsively wrapped her arms around the girl. “My dear!” she consoled her. “Do not distress yourself! All will be well! – and it seems very clear that your father is looking out for you now just as he did in life.”

Miss Bertram collapsed into Elizabeth’s embrace and sniffled pitifully into her handkerchief. “I feel that too,” she said. “I wish he would tell me what he wants me to do.”

“I am sure as long as you are happy, he will be happy,” Jennings told her. He reached out and took the letter from Elizabeth; when his fingers touched the paper, his eyes closed, and he shuddered as though a chill had gone through him. “Tell me about this Betty,” he said, opening his eyes and looking at Miss Bertram. “Did she have family? Did you ever hear from her again?”

Miss Bertram sat up, attempting to regain her composure. “I believe her family was in Bedford,” she said. “I never heard from her or saw her again. I don’t believe my father ever did either, although he might have and not mentioned it.” She looked up at Mr. Jennings quizzically. “Why do you ask? Is she familiar to you?”

“Not at all,” Jennings replied. He shrugged off the chill that had shaken him, and smiled warmly at Miss Bertram. “I just thought – since she was so affected by what occurred – that she might want to be apprised of your father’s passing. If you are in agreement, I would be happy to send word to Bedford.”

Miss Bertram’s eyes widened. “Oh, of course!” she said. “Thank you so much for your suggestion! I do believe she would like to know; I remember her being very affable, and very friendly with my mother. She seemed almost a part of the family, in fact, before she left.”

“I will send word to her at once, Miss Bertram,” Jennings offered. “You needn’t worry at all about it.”

She took his hand in real gratitude. “Thank you, sir,” she said. “With all my heart. I am as fortunate as my father, I think, to be surrounded by such compassionate people as you two have been, even though I am a stranger to you.”

“You are no stranger, Miss Bertram,” Jennings said. “I feel strongly that your father wishes us to affect some good here, for you and for him, and I will do what I can in that regard.”

“As will I,” Elizabeth said. Since Miss Bertram looked dangerously close to breaking down again, Elizabeth hastily added, “Do you happen to remember, Miss Bertram, what Betty’s family name may be? It will help us locate her.”

Miss Bertram’s fingers twisted around her handkerchief as she thought. “I know she had been married,” she said finally. “But he was never with her in this house, and I don’t know what may have happened to him. So you see,” she went on, giving her guests a little smile. “I don’t know if her surname was her husband’s name, or her family’s name. Her name was Betty Cantor, and I imagine she is still Betty Cantor. Her family owned some sort of inn in Bedford.” She trailed off, trying to recall things that Betty had said to her more than four years ago. “I can’t remember the name of the inn, I’m afraid.”

“Do you suppose,” Mr. Jennings said. “That it might be the Blue Dove?”

“Oh, yes!” Miss Bertram exclaimed. “Oh, yes, that is it! The Blue Dove!”

 

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The Jennings – Chapter Five

Introductions

After luncheon, Jennings led Elizabeth to his rooms, and to the drawer in the desk where he kept the slate.

Although she was smiling encouragingly at him, and he knew even from their brief acquaintance that she was neither judgmental nor skeptical, he felt his heart pounding as he slid the drawer open.

He had never shown any other person what he was now revealing to her.

Nestled snugly in the drawer was a simple piece of slate, misshapen at the edges as though it had been broken unceremoniously off the end of a larger piece.  Written on it in an elegant script were the words, “Find my lost child.”

Jennings blinked at the slate in surprise.  Usually he could sense when the slate was going to deliver a message to him; perhaps his nervousness at sharing the slate with Elizabeth had overshadowed his abilities.

Elizabeth was staring at the words on the slate.  “You have a lost child?” she said finally, hesitating in fear that she was mentioning something delicate.

“I don’t,” Jennings replied, pulling the slate out of the drawer and holding it up in the light from the window.  “This slate tells me things that have not yet occurred, or which occurred in secret.  I can feel the slate speaking to me –”  He put his hand to his chest and pressed his fingers against his heart.  “Here, like a strange constriction.”  He looked at Elizabeth, to find her steadily returning his gaze with kind curiosity and openness.  Sitting down on the edge of his bed, he gave her a lop-sided smile.  “You must think I’m quite mad,” he predicted.  “But my family have always had this … gift.”  He waited then in anxious silence for her response.

She frowned slightly and came to sit beside him.  “Indeed, sir,” she said genuinely.  “I cannot imagine why I would find you mad.  Did you not find me hidden under a bush? – no one would ever have seen me, if they had not known where to look.”  She smiled gently.  “Either you were my attacker, sir,” she added.  “And I know that you were not.  Or you had some ability to discover me that others lack.”  She looked down then at her hands folded in her lap.  “I should not judge you in any event,” she said.  “Since I have told you an unbelievable tale of a clawed monster abducting me from a balcony, in full view of the house!”

Jennings propped the slate on his knee and put a comforting hand on Elizabeth’s.  “I am more relieved at your response than I can say,” he told her.  “I had not known how to broach this subject with you in a way that would not frighten you, or cause you to doubt my sanity.”  His finger tapped absently on the slate, his touch smudging part of the words.  “And of course,” he went on, squeezing her hands warmly.  “We are agreed then?  That neither of us is mad?”  He smiled genially, but inside he still feared that she would not be able to accept his dark talent.

Her eyes twinkled, and he was instantly reassured.  “Mr. Jennings,” Elizabeth said, smiling back at him.  “We are agreed.  And shall we agree, too,” she asked.  “That everyone else in the world must think we are as mad as anything?”

He laughed.  “Accepting that fact will certainly make it easier to bear,” he said.  He grew serious.  “I have inherited this gift from my mother,” he explained.  “Who gave it to me and to my sister.  My mother had it from her own mother, and her grandmother, and all the women in her family before her, as far back as she could remember.  I am, in fact, one of only four men in my entire family tree who are able to receive the visions.”  He laughed again.  “I did not know, actually, if you would be able to see the writing on the slate, if perhaps it was just another part of my visions.”  He gestured to the smudged letters.  “The slate has only been in our family for seven or eight generations; before that, the women of my family had to rely on the accuracy of their feelings, and of the things they saw in visions and dreams.”

Elizabeth reached out a tentative hand toward the slate and also touched the letters written there.  “So you do not write these words?” she asked.  “They appear of their own accord?”

Jennings nodded.  “Yes,” he said.  “And they disappear and rearrange themselves of their own accord as well.”

Elizabeth stared at the message and pondered its significance.  “How on earth are you to act on such a scant clue?  Whoever speaks to you has not even shown who he or she is.”

“I see more than the words,” Jennings said.  He closed his eyes.  “When I see the slate,” he began.  “I also see images in my mind.  They are not clear, by any means, and their meaning is often quite … challenging … to suss out.  But I see enough, usually, to proceed.”

Elizabeth’s eyes were open wide.  “What do you see now?” she asked, leaning expectantly toward him.

He turned to look at her.  Far from criticizing or judging, or being upset by something so unusual, Elizabeth seemed instead to be interested even to the point of excitement.  Rather than being one more friend from whom he felt obliged to hide the truth, she could, he thought, become an ally with him in his work of answering the slate.

“I see a house,” he said, after gazing on her for a moment.  “On Curzon Street.  And I see a blue dove and a green box.”

Elizabeth looked from him to the slate and back.  “Is … is the one who writes these words … is it a spirit?”

“It is,” Jennings said.  “The slate – that is – I would not wish to distress you.  But in fact the words are always written by the spirits of the dead, by those who have some unfinished business in the living world.”

“How extraordinary!” Elizabeth breathed.  This wondrous talent he showed her was beyond anything she had ever experienced, and she felt both amazed and exhilarated.  “So,” she began, gesturing to the slate.  “You will find this person’s ‘lost child’?”

Jennings nodded.

“And you will do so by searching for a blue dove and a green box?” she asked.

He nodded again.

She tilted her head quizzically, and her eyes still twinkled.  “You do not find that a daunting prospect, sir?”

He laughed.  “I suppose I am used to it,” he said, giving a slight shrug and leaning forward to place the slate carefully back in its drawer.

Elizabeth sat quietly for a moment, considering all that he had just told her.  “All right,” she said at last, squaring her shoulders and smiling up at him.  “What do we do first?”

He looked at her in frank surprise, and then a smile spread slowly across his face.  “You wish,” he said hesitantly.  “To help me?”

“I do,” she responded matter-of-factly.  “I am your wife, am I not?  I am to help you in any way I can.”  She grinned suddenly.  “And it all sounds rather exciting, doesn’t it?” she said.  “I do not suppose you would be able to prevent me assisting you, since I am now painfully curious to learn what your vision means.”

He gazed at her, his face suffused with a mixture of relief and admiration.  “I would be very happy to share this with you,” he said softly.  “But I warn you,” he went on.  “That it does create some very interesting … hmmm … situations.  This, for instance.”  He waved a hand in the direction of the slate.  “I believe that we should go to Curzon Street, and introduce ourselves where we seem to be led.  As you can imagine, that might prove to be an intensely awkward task, pushing ourselves onto a pack of strangers for no good reason.”

“Nonsense,” Elizabeth said with unexpected conviction.  “You said this person was a spirit with unfinished business.  This suggests that the person has recently died, and so we are – I am sure they will believe – friends who have come to bid him farewell.”

Jennings’ admiration grew.  “That is an excellent notion,” he allowed cheerfully.  “But I do not immediately see if this spirit is a man or a woman, or what the name might be.”

Elizabeth’s shoulders slumped slightly in temporary defeat, but she quickly recovered.  “No matter,” she said.  “It is a skill rather foisted upon a female, I believe, to learn how to find out all manner of gossip without actually being seen to ask anything at all.”  She grinned again.  “You see?” she said.  “I shall be ever so useful to you! – and that will make us both feel better!”  She came to her feet.  “So do we leave for Curzon Street this afternoon, sir?” she asked.  “Or do we wait for the morrow?”

He took her hand and raised it to his lips.  “We wait until morning,” he said.  “Perhaps I might have a dream that aids our efforts.”  He also stood, holding both her hands in his.  “And of course you will want to see the whole house, and grounds, and to arrange your rooms as you wish.  And Cook is preparing something delightful for supper in honour of your coming.”

Elizabeth was overcome, and tears swam in her eyes.  “Mr. Jennings,” she said, her voice choked with emotion.  “Everything is already delightful.”