Ginger Stuyvesant and the Case of the Haunted Nursery
She hopped out of her car, tossing her cloche on the front seat. With any luck, the hat had controlled the worst of the damage to her hair on the drive up from London.
The front door of the manor house flung open. In a flurry of crepe chiffon, Lucy Rhodes hurried down the stairs. “Ginger, darling! Thank heavens you’ve come.” Even in the daylight, circles of fear rippled through her aura.
Ginger eyed her friend, trying to ascertain the cause of her unease. Flashes of blue made her think of Lucy’s son. “Is Eddie well?”
Glancing at the manservant, Lucy smiled prettily, but her aura grew more jagged. “Eddie? Or course. Lovely day for a drive.”
Ginger let Lucy change the subject and followed her up the grand stairs into the manor. Chattering about nothing, Lucy showed her to a splendidly furnished bedroom in the north wing. Heavy walnut furniture gave the room a weight which was balanced by rich green brocade curtains and bed linens.
As soon as the door shut on the hallway, Ginger said, “Now. Tell me. What is bothering you?”
Lucy stood with her back to Ginger, with her hand still on the doorknob. Her shoulders slumped. “I’m afraid I’ve invited you on false pretenses.” She turned, aura circling in a confusion of hope and fear. “It’s Eddie–I think the nursery is haunted.”
The skin on Ginger’s back tightened. “What are the manifestations?”
Lucy laughed, fluttering her hands as if waving away her fears. “It’s such small things. Fires won’t light in the nursery. Drafts blow out matches or candles. And Eddie . . . he keeps talking about Nanny and what Nanny says but until we came here, he called his nanny, ‘Miss Kinsey’.”
The first pinpricks of excitement danced down Ginger’s arms. “It does sound like a ghost. Have you been able to light fires in the nursery before?”
Lucy hesitated. “This is the first autumn we’ve spent in Fairbairn Hall since Eddie’s birth so there’s been no need before.”
“I thought this was the Rhodes’s ancestral seat?”
“It is, but after Edward’s father acquired the house in Bath they seldom came here, and then, I gather, only for hunting parties.”
Which meant this spirit could have been lurking for a quarter century or more, unnoticed. “We can hold a séance to see what the spirit needs to be set to rest.”
“Oh. Does it have to be a séance? I thought perhaps you could just commune with the ghost.”
“Not without a circle. It isn’t safe.” Perhaps another medium could, but Ginger needed a circle to anchor her in this realm. Her spirit already beat against the confines of her body, anxious to be free. She watched Lucy’s aura dance with jagged pulses. “What else is the matter?”
Lucy paced to the window, hugging herself. “Edward does not tolerate talk of ghosts and hauntings or spirits. I’d rather he not know why I’ve asked you here.”
Ginger massaged the bridge of her nose, trying to organize her thoughts. “But Sir Edward knows you’re a Spiritualist.”
“He knows I was.”
The words hung between them, almost as tangible as a spirit. “I see.” If Lucy felt the need to hide her beliefs from her husband . . . Ginger shuddered. Despite the use of Spiritualist mediums during the Great War, some people still thought them a hoax. She had once testified at a trial where a man had attempted to lock his wife in a sanitarium “for her own good.” Ginger shook her head. “Tell me what you want me to do.”
“Edward is returning to London for business tomorrow. After he’s gone…”
“Why would a spirit be interested in my little Eddie?”
Ginger hesitated. If it were specifically interested in Eddie, then it probably came with a warning that he was in danger. But until she had an opportunity to observe the spirit, she did not want to frighten Lucy. “It might simply be acting out a scene from its life. Likely it died in the nursery.”
“But surely we would have known about that.”
“Sometimes people want to pretend bad things never happened.” Ginger sighed. “After Sir Edward leaves, I’ll take a look.”
Ginger entered the parlor, smoothing the silk panels of her champagne evening gown. The parlor at Fairbairn Hall faced south and caught the last light of the setting sun. A fire flickered behind an embroidered screen, making the room cozy.
By the fire, Sir Edward read in a chair. Beside him, Lucy worked at tatting. Seeing Ginger, she set her tatting aside and sprang to her feet. “My dear, what a becoming gown!”
At his wife’s words, Sir Edward noticed Ginger and rose. He picked up his walking stick to steady himself as naturally as if it were an extension of his body. “Pardon me, Miss Stuyvesant. I was so engrossed I did not see you enter.”
“Not at all, Sir Edward.” Behind Ginger, the parlor door opened again and the hair on the back of her neck stood from a sudden chill. She turned, already looking for the ghost.
Eddie stood in the door with his nanny. The little boy, in a clean sailor suit, looked up at his nanny for permission to enter the parlor. Miss Kinsey’s face looked strained and tight. Behind Eddie, fear and pain hovered in a roiling aura.
Ginger caught her breath. This was not a simple haunting, limited to the space where it died; the spirit held an ungodly amount of trauma within it and it was focused on Eddie. Good lord. What did the spirit fear would happen to the boy? She reached out for the spirit trying to extend herself just enough to see past the veil separating the planes.
Miss Kinsey said, “I’m sorry Lady Rhodes, he wouldn’t go to bed without seeing you.”
Lucy glanced at the fireplace, blanching as Sir Edward said, “Come say good night.”
Eddie ran to his father, delight on his face.
Cold dry wind screamed across the parlor, swirling in a vortex about the fireplace. Sparks flew from the wood and danced in the air. Lucy shrieked, slapping at them as they twirled around her.
The wind stopped. Then reversed.
Eddie rose and flew backwards through the air, laughing with delight. He landed on his feet, halfway across the room. “Again!” He ran toward the fire.
Something stopped him. This time Ginger could almost see the spirit–a woman–as she scooped Eddie up and carried him away from the fire.
Ginger reached again for the spirit plane, ignoring the danger that she might lose her grip on the earthly realm. Her awareness of the room guttered back and forth between planes, buffeting her mind like wind trapped in too small a space. With an almost physical snap, the veil between the planes pulled aside and Ginger’s vision extended. She saw the spirit fully.
A woman. Despite her matronly figure, she had been young, no older than Ginger. The spirit looked at Ginger, her soft round face creasing in confusion. Around them, phantasms of memories twirled in tempting whirlwinds.
Sir Edward shouted, reaching for his son.
Like a door slamming, Ginger lost her connection to the spirit plane. She could still sense the manifestation of energies, but the specifics of the spirit eluded her.
As she sank back into her body, it pressed against her with an unfamiliar weight, like the dress on a drowning woman. The taste of her own flesh turned in her mouth.
Lucy caught Eddie before he could run at the fire again. Oblivious to the black aura that hovered around the boy, she clutched him tight.
Miss Kinsey, half-sobbing, wrung her hands. “I’m sorry, my lady. It’s every room now.”
Sir Edward wheeled on Miss Kinsey like a raptor. “What is the meaning of this?”
“I don’t know sir.” Trembling, Miss Kinsey dropped a low curtsy, keeping her eyes on the ground.
The spirit detached from Eddie and settled upon the fire, smothering it. Ginger reached for it with her mind but the turmoil in the room was too great for her to slip past the veil. The flames guttered and then died out.
From where she knelt, Lucy laid one hand on Sir Edward’s knee in supplication. “The fire won’t light in the nursery.”
“I’ll have the workman out to look at it.”
Ginger pointed at the cold hearth. “And here as well?” Surely after witnessing the levitation, Sir Edward would not put Lucy in a sanitarium. Ginger caught Eddie’s eye. “What is behind you, Eddie?”
He looked over his shoulder at the spirit’s aura. “Nanny.”
Sir Edward looked from the empty space behind the boy to where Miss Kinsey stood in the doorway. “Your nanny is there.”
Laughing, as if his father had tried to trick him, Eddie said. “No. That Miss Kinsey.” He reached up as though he were taking someone’s hand. “Nanny, here.”
Ginger let Sir Edward absorb the vacant space behind Eddie. Her heart pressed against her throat.
“This is not a funny game, Eddie,” Sir Edward said.
Ginger said, “It’s not a game. He sees someone. A woman, dressed in nanny’s clothes from the 1890s. She is a little shorter than me, with mousy brown hair pinned tight under a cap. She is stout and round in the face.”
Sir Edward shivered; his face paled. “A ghost.” He swallowed. “You expect me to believe in ghosts.”
“Is the description of someone you recognize?”
He crossed the room, limping, but no less powerful for that. “I will not tolerate such parlour chicanery in my house.” He blinked and then turned to his wife. “Oh, Lucy. No. I thought you gave that up.”
She flinched and shook her head.
Sir Edward’s aura sparked with angry red. “I see.” He turned back to Ginger. “And I suppose you have told her you are a medium and can contact the dead.”
“Yes.” Ginger lifted her chin, meeting his challenge.
“And this problem began with your arrival. An interesting coincidence, I think.”
Ginger shook her head. “It began before I came.”
“A faulty flue. No doubt you wait for such things to provide fodder for your tricks.” He sighed heavily. “I am afraid that I must ask you to leave, Miss Stuyvesant. I cannot allow you to deceive my wife like this.”
“Deceive! What do I stand to gain by tricking one of my dearest friends?”
“I wonder what drives a charlatan . . . is it a sense of grandeur? Or do you feel inferior because you are an American?”
The red of her own aura was so intense it almost blinded her. “What if I’m not a charlatan? What if there is a spirit with a message about your son? Are you willing to risk the possibility that he might be in danger just to put me in my place?”
“Better to ask if I am willing to risk my wife and son’s sanity to indulge your superstitions.”
“You saw him levitate.”
“Did I?” He raised his eyebrows. “I saw Peter Pan fly when I was a boy, but I do not believe in fairies. While I admit that I do not know how you made it look as if Eddie flew, I am certain there is a rational explanation.”
“Miss Kinsey said it happened in every room.” She flung out her hands to encompass the entire manor. “Do you think I had time to prepare every room for this . . . this illusion? Wouldn’t it be simpler to believe in ghosts?”
Sir Edward looked from Ginger to Lucy. “I can see why she has taken you in. But do not worry, there are remedies for such delusions.”
“These are not delusions!”
Sir Edward shook his head as if she were a twelve-year old insisting that Santa Claus was real. “Very well. I am willing to believe anything that you can prove.”
Ginger clenched her fists so that her nails bit into her palms. The man would send Lucy to an asylum unless she could offer proof. But he would destroy any proof she presented with his “rational” views. There had to be a way to convince him that the spirit was real. “Make a wager with me, Sir Edward. If you can light a fire while Eddie is here, I will apologize and pack my bags. If you can not, will you participate in a séance?”
“You are shameless, aren’t you?” He snorted and summoned the butler. “We will delay dinner so this unhealthy belief does not fester any longer. Lay a fire in . . . well, pick a room which Miss Stuyvesant has not yet entered.”
“And in which Eddie is present.”
Sir Edward shook his head. “I am willing to take your wager, but not with a stacked deck. If you can duplicate the levitation without a chance to prepare, then I will participate in your séance.”
Shaking with the effort to not slap him, Ginger took a breath. “Thank you, Sir Edward. I appreciate your consideration.” She sat in a chair in the corner, wanting to bite someone.
Nodding briefly, Sir Edward held his hand out to his son. “Come along, Eddie.”
Eddie looked at his mother and then to Miss Kinsey in confusion.
Lucy stood up. “It’s all right, Eddie. Let’s go with Father.”
“No, thank you.” Sir Edward shook his head. “I do not want to open the door for more trickery.”
Lucy pulled back as if he had slapped her. He took a step toward her and for a moment, Ginger thought he might apologize, but he took Eddie by the hand and left. Lucy sank to the couch and stared at the door.
“Lucy, I’m so sorry.”
She shook her head. “I knew that he wasn’t a believer when I married him.”
Ginger could offer her no comfort. She sat in silence watching the clock. Though no more than ten minutes passed, Ginger felt as if she had been awake all night.
The door to the parlor opened. Ginger’s stomach knotted as the butler entered. His face was pale, and against the door, his aura stood out in swirling shock. “Sir Edward sends his compliments. I am to inquire what you need for a séance.”
The room Sir Edward chose for the séance served as Fairbairn Hall’s breakfast room. A wall of windows opened onto the garden and light from the rising moon caressed the participants, making Sir Edward seem gentler than he was. When Ginger entered, he grunted but seemed unwilling to speak to her.
On the floor in the middle of a circle of chairs, Eddie played with a toy horse. The spirit nanny hung draped around him. Against the darkened walls of the room, her aura was so clear that Ginger half-expected other people to see it.
“Thank you for agreeing to participate in the circle.” She gestured to the chairs. “If you would all take a seat and join hands.”
Sir Edward chose the chair opposite hers, no doubt so he could keep an eye on her.
Lucy hesitated and sat on Ginger’s left side. Her hand was clammy and trembled slightly. The butler pulled out the chair on Ginger’s right for Miss Kinsey, before sitting next to Sir Edward.
Ginger took a breath to calm herself. “You may see or experience phenomenon from the spirit world.” She paused to look at each member in turn. “Pulling aside the veil to the spirit world is not lightly done. You are my path back to the mortal world. Please do not break the circle, no matter what happens.”
She shut her eyes and gathered the human anchors around her. Then Ginger reached out.
The currents of the spirit world eddied around her. Phantom touches caressed her with hints of faraway places. Carrying memories of smell, spirit breezes touched her nostrils. Ginger sighed as the weight of her body lightened. Radiance suffused her. She floated for a moment, rapturing in the palpable aura which cradled her, before turning to the task at hand.
In this space between worlds, she could see and hear the spirit of Nanny clearly. The woman knelt behind Eddie, with her back to Ginger. She rocked and sang without thought. “Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posie, Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
Dimly, Ginger was aware that Lucy had stiffened beside her. She could hear the spirit now that Ginger held the door between realms open.
Ginger said, “Nanny, can you hear me?”
The spirit lifted her head and turned. Her face was raw with grief. “Yes?”
Miss Kinsey’s hand twitched in hers.
“What troubles you?”
“I killed him.” She turned back to Eddie and rocked harder.
Ginger looked at the little boy, a chill seeping into her soul. “Killed who, Nanny?”
“Eddie.” She began to sob.
“Eddie is alive. Do you mean someone else? Or is this something that will occur rather than something which has?”
“Alive?” Nanny pulsed with guilt. “But I saw him burn.”
Ginger tried to follow the spirit’s thoughts, but was blocked by the guilt swirling around her. “When did he burn?”
“With me. I tried to stop him, but he got too close to the fire.”
The circle broke. Miss Kinsey and Lucy still held her hands but someone had let go. Without the anchor, Ginger rocketed up from her body, ecstasy blossoming through her even as her hands grew numb. From her vantage in the spirit world, the auras of the circle participants obscured their bodies.
Sir Edward had backed away from the circle, dark with fear and guilt. Pulses of red anger shot through him.
Ginger’s spirit contracted with understanding. He was the Eddie that Nanny thought she had killed. Though why did Nanny believed she had killed him? Ginger turned her attention back to Nanny and Eddie. “You did not kill him. This is his son.”
Turmoil burned in the room, distracting her. Someone was shouting. Lucy?
Ginger pulled farther away from the distractions and tugged Nanny toward Sir Edward. “Here he is. He is alive, I promise you.”
“Eddie?” Nanny reached out to caress Sir Edward.
The darkness of fear billowed around him. Caught in the dark were memories of fire, echoed in Nanny’s thoughts. A single tragedy shared by two souls. Ginger plunged into them, trying to understand.
Nanny holds a letter; her love has proposed marriage. Eddie snatches it from her hand, angry that she will leave him. He’ll burn the letter and then she’ll stay for always.
She chases him, reaches out to stop him, and her hand brushes his back. He falls forward. Panic fills her and she reaches again. Catches him. She doesn’t know how, but thank God she does. She swings him round and stumbles away from the fireplace. Against her legs she feels heat. Flames eat her skirts. She falls to the ground and tells Eddie to run.
But he doesn’t. He won’t. He comes to her and tries to pull her to the door.
The fire leaps from her skirts to his knickers. Screaming, she beats at the fire until it consumes her. As she dies, she screams, knowing that she has killed Eddie.
Ginger clawed her way out of the memories. “No. You saved him. He lives. There is nothing binding you here.”
Nanny caressed Sir Edward again and the shroud of guilt that surrounded her peeled away. “My little boy?”
“A grown man now, thanks to you.” Ginger summoned all of the resources left to her and pushed Nanny’s spirit up, to the next plane. “Go. Be at peace.”
Nanny kissed Sir Edward on the forehead. Her aura transformed to gold and violet and then she vanished upward. Caught in the wake of the spirit, Ginger separated farther from her body. It would be so much easier to let go than to return to her own oppressive remains.
She followed the spirit, reveling in the light caresses of other souls.
An anchor stopped her.
Ginger cried out in frustration and rage, reaching up, but weight dragged her back down. She looked at the room and the circle was whole again.
Weeping, she slid down the chain into her body. It clung to her with the weight of mud. Ginger drew in a breath of stale, lifeless air and coughed as it caught in her lungs. Her limbs trembled, too heavy to move. Around her, voices shouted incoherently.
A touch squeezed her left hand, and for a moment Ginger could imagine that it was the spirit world and not Lucy.
Like cracking the lid of a grave, Ginger opened her eyes. A rough, woody landscape stretched away from her as far as she could see. Her head throbbed.
As her vision readjusted itself, the landscape twisted. She lay on the floor, half on her side, staring across the fibers of the rug. The room was too bright and at the same time obscure with shadows. Voices opened holes in her skull.
A man’s voice rumbled, his words still without meaning.
Then a woman, high and angry. Lucy. “You could have killed her!”
Ginger groaned and pulled her hands free. The room spun around her. “Almost.”
“Oh, thank God.” Lucy put her arm around Ginger and helped her sit. “It looked as though you stopped breathing.”
“I probably did.” She rested her head on her hands, trying to ease the throbbing. “When the circle broke, Nanny started to pull me with her to the next plane.”
Lucy’s hands trembled on Ginger’s shoulders as she faced Sir Edward. “You wanted proof. If she had died, would that have been proof enough?”
Ginger lifted her head and Sir Edward flinched from her gaze.
He passed his hand over his face, wiping sweat from his brow. “I am trying to think of some way for you to have produced these visions and sounds . . . to have even known about Nanny.”
Lucy said, “Edward, we have been married for five years and you would never tell even me where the scars on your leg came from.”
“I know.” He rubbed his knee so hard that the tendons stood out on the back of his hand. “I have carried this guilt my entire life. As soon as I was well enough to be moved, my parents took me to the house in Bath. I did not return to Fairbairn Hall until university and then only because it is close to Cambridge.” He looked out the window, as if wishing there were no witnesses. “Is she . . . is she still here?”
“She is at peace.” The room pitched around her, but Ginger did not let the dizziness show. “She forgave you, you know.”
Lucy said, “And Eddie?”
“Was never in danger. Nanny thought he was Sir Edward.”
Eddie looked around at his name. He frowned and spun in a circle. “Where Nanny?”
Sir Edward knelt by his son. “She had to go away, Eddie.”
The little boy’s face crumpled as he started to cry. Sir Edward picked him up and rocked him in his lap. “Shh . . . I know. I miss her too.” Sir Edward was crying, but his aura was clear and radiant.
Lucy’s aura stretched out to surround her husband and child, filling the room like daybreak. For the first time since Ginger arrived, no fear dwelt in the house.
She settled into her body, letting the veil between realms close fully. Someday, she would remain on the other side. But not today.