TARBY MANOR (95,000 words) is a romantic comedy set on a haunted London estate. When Ned and Nell Tarby are held accountable by God for accidentally killing each other in 1747, they are imprisoned in purgatory in the confines of their mansion. When the Darbinger family moves onto the estate in 1993, Ned falls in love with Grace, one of the beautiful Darbinger daughters, while Nell lusts for Gerard, the handsome gardener. Innovatively incorporating virtually every ghost story cliche into the narrative, TARBY MANOR weaves comical situations into a meaningful and hilarious novel of love and redemption. To read the first four chapters scroll below the table of contents.
Table of Contents
1) A Seance
2) The Old Tenants
3) The New Tenants
4) Settling In
5) Strings in the Kitchen
5) Strings in the Kitchen
6) The Gerardener
7) The Flea and Firkin
8) An Icy Rejection
9) The Haunted Tree
10) Gabrielle’s Discovery
11) The Lover’s Complaints
11) The Lover’s Complaints
12) The Second Seance
13) More Flea and Firkin
14) First Publication
15) Avril’s Entrance
16) Avril’s Exit
17) Invitation and Embarrassment
18) The Lonely Princess
19) The True History of Tarby Manor
20) Two Presents
21) Neal’s Arrival
21) Neal’s Arrival
22) Plans Failed, Conceived and Pondered
23) Marital Relations
24) Peter on Love
25) Hannibal’s Conquest
26) The Unseen Hands of Fate
27) Grace’s Ruse and Ferdinand
28) Gerard’s Failures
29) The Final Firkin
30) The Food Fight
In June of the 1929th year since Christ, and six months after the Morseley family abandoned Tarby Manor in great haste, four members of the Society for Psychic Research arranged to conduct a séance on the premises. Richard Flaugherty, then the foremost medium in Europe, and his wife Madelaine, accompanied by another married couple, Edward and Caroline, bravely ventured into the mansion in an attempt to contact Ned and Nell Tarby, the infamous apparitional inhabitants of the estate. On a Monday evening they gathered in one of the sitting parlors. The whole room was festooned in gossamer and coated with a thin sheen of dust. The four formed a circle and positioned a letter board upon their knees. Richard led them in a proper period of meditation, then commenced by telling each to lightly set a finger upon one of the four arms of the pointer. “We come only in peaceful curiosity. Is anyone with us in this room?” he asked in a soft, droning voice.
The pointer darted at once, and rapidly spelled out: YES. YOU EACH HAVE THREE WITH YOU.
“Do you have a name?”
DO YOU HAVE A NAME?
“We are Richard, Madelaine, Edward and Caroline. Who are you?”
CAROLINE. NO, MADELAINE.
“Is your name also Madelaine?”
I AM MAD AT ELAINE.
“How should we tune our vibrations--”
YOUR INQUIRIES ARE INANE.
“Will you tell us anything about who you are, or were?”
YES. NO. ALL.
“Where would you like to begin?”
MID NEAR END START.
“Can you begin by telling us your name?”
YOUR NAME RICH HERD.
“What could I ask that you would answer directly?”
LOOK YOUR TIE, RICH HERD, NOT THE THIRD.
He looked down, and it flopped up into his face.
UGLY TIE. TOO MANY DOTS.
“Are you Ned or Nell Tarby, as purported?”
WHIFF WITH SNIFFER.
A hideous stench filled the room, and they all gagged.
“What is that horrible odor?” Richard inquired.
AH MY WIND HA.
Edward opened a window then rejoined the circle. It slammed shut. “Are you upset at our being here?” Richard asked nervously.
NO. LOVE YOU. NICE PEOPLE.
“Why are you so evasive? Can you give me at least an idea as to what I should ask?”
AN IDEA: RICH THIRD THE HERD, POUR BIRD.
“What does that mean?”
NONCE ENTS NUNCLE.
The motion of the pointer became herky-jerky.
GIVE--GO AWAY--GIVE ME--FIND YOUR OWN MEDIU--GIVE WAY! I WAS FIRS--LET ME SPE--GO OFF NED!
“Everyone let go for a moment,” Richard ordered. “I think there are two entities struggling for control of the board.” They lifted away their hands, but the pointer continued darting rapidly over the board.
The pointer suddenly flew up and smashed into the ceiling, and the fragments rained down upon everyone, heightening the tension. Then Richard spoke in an effeminate voice that was definitely not his own. “Stop trying to force me out of him! I was in here first! Go to, to a different body, Ned!”
The battle waged for control of Richard resulted in his suffering violent convulsions, while garbled utterances shrilled forth from his tongue. He thrashed about in fits for several moments, then suddenly went limp and collapsed on the floor; at the same moment Madelaine jolted upright, entranced, and in a husky voice (Ned’s) said: “He's yours Nell. I've slipped inside something more comfortable.”
Richard suddenly bolted aright, and through him Nell replied: “How did you get in there? I couldn't find a seam when I tried.”
“I'm privy to the secret and ancient art of entering women.”
“Is that so?” Nell answered through Richard.
“That is so!” Ned rejoined through Madelaine.
“Well now that you've found a crack, let me get inside. I want to embrace one of these men from the body of a woman!” Madelaine quaked as the battlefield relocated to her body. “Move on Ned! Go occupy Rich herd!”
No! Out, Nell! I was quite comfortable inside this lovely woman before you horned in--I can't get inside anyone else, so let me have her!” Madelaine’s head thumped against the wall. “Three's a crowd Nell, so subtract yourself and let me enjoy her company--uuuuh! Ge...et...out! She's mine!”
Ned and Nell struggled for control of Madelaine until she slumped; then she lifted her head, warily surveyed Richard and Edward, and spoke in a voice more similar to her own, which was Nell’s. “O! Dear God no! You could not have presented two uglier men from whom to choose! I'm not sure I even want to--of course I want to! Carpe diem! I'll close my eyes, and not put my mouth above the neck. Carne de Dios! Now which would be the less nauseating of this pair of bloated, dumpy devils?”
Edward and Caroline had moved to the corners; they were aghast, frightened, and unsure what to do. Richard was sitting motionless, staring vacantly into the ceiling. After scrutinizing the other two, Nell, inside the woozy Madelaine, approached him, saying, with resignation: “Well, since you are married to this woman I occupy, and you are the less hideous head, I will--”
“Don't come near me!” Ned cried through Richard. “I don't ever want to kiss you again!”
“Ned!” Nell shouted through Madelaine. “Move out of Richard and on to the other one! Don't make me choose the troll; let me use this merely grotesque ogre to enjoy the pleasures you cannot now and never could provide.”
“No! I'm not moving again,” Ned obstinately replied from the warmth of his temporary shelter. "And fortunately both ladies are as beautiful to me as the men are unsightly to you. I see a goddess and a nymph.” Richard involuntarily and suavely approached his wife, and when the tips of their lips were just inches apart, said: “I wouldn't kiss you if it were the only escape from the greatest torment and eternal damnation.” He then lunged left at Caroline, and before she had even an instant to react and flee, gave her a long, deep smack on the mouth.
“Richard! How could you say such a terrible thing to your wife, and then kiss me?” Caroline cried in shock.
“Caroline,” Edward answered, “I don't believe that was Richard acting, but the apparition in possession of his body.”
“That's no apparition, that's Ned, my useless husband,” Nell said through Madelaine, and promptly slapped Richard’s face (wherein Ned, too, felt the sting). “How dare you kiss another woman in my presence! How could you perpetuate the infidelities that made our marriage an event to be endured, not enjoyed?”
She went to Edward, and towered over him like a stalking huntress; he hunkered away, and when she had him backed into the corner, and was about to slake her insatiable mouth on the homely prey, Richard yanked her arm and spun her about, yelling: “Strumpet! It is your whoreson lusts that perpetuate the infidelities that brought us and our marriage to this ruination!”
She lurched for his throat, and they fell wrestling and screaming to the floor, appearing to be struggling as much within themselves as with each other. Edward and Caroline tried to halt the fight and separate the unwilling combatants, but the violence of the battle frightened them back. There were scratches, blood, several clumps of hair, howls of agony, and it finally ended when Edward and Caroline began shouting: “Richard! Madelaine! Come back to us! Nell and Ned be gone! Richard! Madelaine! Force them out! Return to us!”
With assistance from a strange, unknown force, the two hosts successfully evicted the invading spirits from their bodies, though they were exhausted by the effort, and collapsed in gasps. Edward and Caroline tried to administer to them as best they could, but there was little else to be done except wait nervously for them to recover on their own. That required several minutes, during which interval all four trembled at every slight creak in the house and rattle of the breeze.
Once composure was regained, Madelaine, clearly back in full control of her own voice, addressed her husband: “Why did you kiss Caroline?”
“That wasn't me, dear, that was Ned Tarby,” Richard said. “You know that.”
“I know you can say that, and I can forgive the awful words you said as coming from him, but I certainly was not going to allow her to force me to kiss Edward. Why do you think she was having such difficulty moving?” Madelaine explained.
“My love, it happened so quickly that I had no time to resist. Certainly you can understand how I was more than a bit overwhelmed at the moment.”
“I'm not so certain you wanted to resist,” Madelaine rejoined, eyeing him sharply.
“Aaaaaaaah!” came the sound of a terrible moan of anguish in the air.
“Oh!” Caroline cried. “One of them is trying to enter me!”
“We’re right behind you!”
And so they departed in haste, though while running down the lawn Madelaine did not stop questioning her husband about the kiss, and insisted that her suspicions about his designs for Caroline had now been confirmed.
Inside Tarby Manor a grumbling voice could be heard breaking the silence. “Nothing disgusts me more than a happy marriage.”
The Old Tenants
“That damn dog's been dead for ten years, and you still haven't fixed the door!” she said.
“Bloody hell, Nell! The dog has been dead for over two centuries, and you know I can't repair any door with intangible hands,” he replied.
“Well then Ned, I suppose we'll have to spend the afternoon in the lagoon plucking rings of sausage from the necks of wet hens--but only those composed of a fine Yorkshire pudding.”
“Brilliantly articulated and well-imagined, Nell; verily, a wit fit to be writ in stone, to entertain and edify the generations for centuries to come, even unto the end. Now do you suppose you could leave off your linguistic odyssey for a moment--we have a matter of importance to discuss.”
“I know, I know, I know…I know every syllable rote. Language is a beautiful instrument that should be played freely, not confined to communication. With so many lovely sounding words that would not otherwise be uttered in conjunction, it should be perfectly acceptable and permissible in every society for any person to string together whatever collections of words and phrases, without regard for sense, and without fear of being regarded insane, but purely for the aesthetic pleasure of the speaker, and anyone else who may wish to listen. I've heard that short speech ten thousand times in the last two and a half centuries…you need not repeat it.”
“Then start playing your horn instead of merely talking through it.”
“Claptrap and tomfoolery; will the house of sense ever rise and dominate your planet?”
“It could, if you were to sing me a pleasant melody.”
“Aaaah, fine! Fine, fine, fine! I'll mutter some nonsense to satisfy babble buzzard, but only if I have her assurance that she'll forthwith be ruled by reason for a few pages.”
“Ah fine? Nay. Ah choo choo!”
“The handsome page of her heart sounds his clarion and announces: Nell's next paragraph will be seasoned with reason.”
“Very well,” Ned said. “I will compose you an elegy for a doughnut.
O doughnut, heartless yet filled with soul,
Good doughnut, what custard has passed through that hole?
Sugared with spice,
Chocolate and ice,
Sweet doughnut spread glaze on my pole.
How was that?”
“That was a limerick, not an elegy!” Nell exclaimed. “And the only line I liked was, ‘chocolate and ice,’ thou cruellerless shadow of a man.”
“O, resorting to the bawdy again, eh? What a surprise. What you will, dry well Nell. Honor your promise.”
“Dry well! Ha! Moist well. Verily, a very moist well. If the water bucket were lowered into my well….”
“It would plummet the darkest depths of hell! Now speak sensibly with me Nell!”
“Very well. I'm assuming--no! You promised me an elegy for a doughnut, but that's not what was delivered. An elegy is a mournful poem normally composed in classic distichs, having the first line a dactylic hexameter, and the second a pentameter. Recite an elegy for a doughnut and I will speak as you wish; until then, as I do. Crimson were the pimple shards upon my true love's gourd, and--”
“All right! Ach! If I knew when I married you in 1726 that we'd still be together in 1993, I'd have waited and used my dying gasp to propose.”
“And if I had known the same I'd have answered: 'Nay, Ned! All is said! Drop dead upon your bed, for thee I’ll never wed!' An elegy for a doughnut now, or I will Nellegy thee into Hellegy!”
“Impossible. You are the embodiment hell, and being impalpable are incapable of driving me into you.”
“Fie on you, Ned! You couldn't drive me when we dwelled within our bodies.”
“Me? Are you yet again trying to place blame with me for the dysfunctional conjugal relations in our marriage? Yours was a desolate, arid, withered scrubland of crabgrass, where no rains ever fell, no trails were blazed, and no life was ever engendered. It was your springs that were shut off, and never gave offspring.”
“You were supposed to provide the rain," Nell complained, "but however often I performed the ceremonial dance, your cloud never gave forth. Perhaps your shoot was cut from a sapling, for your lumber was tiny timber, and your sap without sugar. My elegy please.”
“Sit tight," Ned snapped. "We have an unfortunate overabundance of time.”
“Orange and mahogogogany!” Nell sang loudly. “Sweet glass, sweet glass, as chewy as black wooden grass sprouting down from wet sky.”
“You’re a dolt!” Ned cried.
“IF I COULD SWIM SWANOCEROUSLY, FLYING IRON BEES WOULD FLEE FLEEING FLEAS!” Nell shouted, then sighed dramatically. “But alas, poor disagreeable Punt, whose inveterate golden needle--”
“May there be silence while the poet recites his work, puh-lease?” Ned implored. "Ahem!"
“I've been waiting, and patiently.”
Ned harrumphed, then recited his extemporaneous poem.
“Elegy for a Doughnut
When I was a boy, I owned a shine ring,
The tiniest shine me on my knee thing.
It slipped on the finger of my betrothed
Against my wishes, and will, what woe!
One night I snuck and plucked it off
(She could not hear through whooping cough);
Then into our chamber slithered the lizard,
In a poof glow of smoke snapped into a wizard.
He fingered the ring, slipped off a doughnut,
Plainly told me that I need not de-bone it.
But I was that ring, I was not a necklace,
And my Nell woke up and ate me for breakfast!
“Elegy for a doughnut, posthumously composed by its subject, Ned Tarby. How did it taste to kill me, Nell?”
“An elegy is a remembrance after death, not an account thereof; and though your style is in desperate need of a chisel, I am feeling generous and will consider your obligation fulfilled," Nell offered, feeling philanthropic. "Since there's little else we would need to discuss rationally, I surmise that you wish words regarding the new tenants. They seem like lovely people, and I simply cannot wait until they are in residence. Fresh faces, finally! And fresh voices and vices to go along! Thank God! I'm going to have a little fun for the first time in fifty years. I've thought up some new gags I'm simply itching to try on real people, and upon my guarantee, we're all going to have a rollicking good time.”
“No we are not!” Ned exhorted. “We are going to behave like good children, that our Father who art in heaven will finally reward us by letting us come into the house. We have to treat this family differently than the others. We can't abuse our powers for senseless pranks anymore.”
“Must I again remind you who pulled the first one?” Nell said. “The one and same who was so amused by suspending Colonel Tinder's peruke above his head, that he did the like with Lady Tinder's wig?”
“I only discovered the power accidentally, and you know quite well Nell, that it was you who carried it far out of hand. ‘Twas Nell, not Ned, who traced the monster in the dew on the window pane that precipitated Mariel's heart attack--Peter extended your sentence for that.”
“Ah-ha-ha-he-ha-he-ha-hem! As I recall yours was also extended, for wishing she would die.”
“I only thought that if she passed along the crime of murder would send you to a deeper level of hell, and farther apart from me,” Ned explained. “But even that didn't teach you anything, for not ten years later you peppered the carnations in Valerie's bouquet, causing her to sneeze into William's face at their wedding.”
“You know I never liked her.”
“That does not matter! It was you, Nell, not I, who perpetrated the ten thousand jests and japes that have driven every family from Tarby Manor, the estate I built not knowing it would become my cell in hell! That's right Nell--Hell! Because every time Peter denies our entrance and leaves us in this indefinite purgatory, it is hell with a capital N! Each moment is death, and I couldn't bear to spend another century with you, so you're going to behave properly, so that at least I get released from this accursed place, or I'll--”
“You'll what? Strangle me? Ha! You've tried before, but you can't touch me any more than you can comb that bald head! And your hair was air even before you died! Believe me when I say that I want to leave even more badly than you, and I pray for it just as often, but likewise I see no wrong in having a little amusement along the way. We won't be freed unless it's God's will, and until the time He wills it, so everything that happens is fated, and only if it is my destiny will I at last enter heaven.”
“Your destiny!" he shrieked. "We might have been there years ago, possibly before the turn of the eighteenth century, had you not screwed up every last opportunity we've ever had. Sixty years, Nell--sixty years! It's been six long, protracted decades since the Morseleys gave up our estate, and the city boarded it shut. No one's dared enter here since you scared them off by throwing open all the windows and doors during the worst storm to hit London in memory. Everyone in the whole bloody world knows that Tarby Manor is inhabited by a miserable pair of malicious, mischievous poltergeists, and the only way to convince them otherwise is to let someone live here undisturbed. At least then if we ruin this chance, the next one may come right along.”
“Well, it's not my fault we're here!" Nell protested.
“NO! NOT THIS AGAIN! You know we wouldn't both be here if we weren't both at fault!”
“It was you who plied my head with wine in a pathetic attempt loosen my body,” she casually recalled.
“The only loose part of your body was the tongue!” he barked.
“And yours was the screws.”
“Clever, Nell, very clever,” he responded dryly. “So clever in fact, that I have no recourse but to retire my cap and quit the Pundits Association. My very essence is so scattered by that most majestic of witticisms, that I am now in grave danger of being carried to the corners of the Earth by the four winds, and lost forever. O, loose screws. O perilous jeopardy. Lord, the wit of the woman you brought me to wife. How could I possibly retaliate a hot-air blow of such magnitude? I suppose I could say that you screwed loosely, to imply that you were a slut, but the opposite was the sad truth. The screws used to board you up were tightly fixed in their holes.”
“Phoo on you!" she grunted. "You never put your screw to it because you could never get the turtle’s wrinkled neck out of its shell.”
“I wish I’d had even the slightest of the thousand lovers you boast of having enjoyed, and I regret not having taken them when they were availed to me. Your mouth is as crass as your mind is crude. You disgust me.”
“If I disgust you, then why did you pour a fountain of wine down my throat on that last night? Answer the charge.”
“Very well,” Ned replied mechanically. “I did get you drunk with amorous intentions, but it was you who were flouncing and dancing around the library like an idiotic marionette, and you who tipped the lamp that started the fire which killed us.”
“I wasn't flouncing and dancing, I was trying to escape your lecherous clutches.”
“Can we stop beating this deceased equine? Please?” Ned pleaded. “I was implicated for feeding you the wine, and you were guilty of knocking over the lamp while intoxicated. The Almighty is holding us accountable for each other's deaths, and we can't be born until we've found a way to redeem ourselves. We both knew that even before the fire burned out, so why, even now, must you constantly bring it up for discussion?”
“You failed to mention your adulteries, and the time you swore by God that a falsehood was the truth, and your torture of small animals, and.…”
“Let's not drag the chains of sin out from the dark closets!" Ned interrupted. "Yours is long and weighty, but I know that with a concerted effort I could haul it up from the slimy tunnel wherein it has festered in rot these three centuries, and given a decade or two expose each of the ninety billion links in their entirety, even the one you earned for nicking a tomato when you were barely two, thou lying, covetous, murdering adulteress!”
“I may be guilty of those charges,” Nell rejoined, “but only because society forced me to imitate my husband as the paragon of behavior, thou false, filching, homicidal cuckold!”
“Harlot! I was cuckolded even before leaving the altar, for you were simultaneously violating three commandments by stealing kisses from the flower boys while I was still sliding the golden doughnut down your third finger, and the steel cuff onto my own wrist.”
“It was only because your repulsive lips were glossed with drool as you looked not into my eyes with love, but into my wealthy father's with greed, that I had to turn to the lads for attention.”
Ned puffed up and spoke with deep pride: “I parlayed your dowry into a substantial fortune.”
“O how dreadfully fortunate for me. Lord! Lord! I'm so bloody bored! Bloody, bloody, bloody, bloody, bloody, bloody bored! I'm bloody bored with this bloody place, and bloody tired of the bloody sight of my bloody husband’s bloody face. From the very first moment I set foot into this mansion I've been plumbing ever deeper the vast recesses of tedium where they are carved into the crevasses of monotony. I've counted every crook, crack and niche therein, and they number twelve billion and two. And I now fear that time has at last ground to a stand still, for this last day until the Darbingers move in is creeping along more slowly than the three centuries that preceded it. Ah tomorrow! The only and most reliable friend I’ve ever had, my one and last hope. I cannot wait! I'm finally going to confront the featureless monster that is the beastification of boredom, and I am going to slay him with my creaking, moaning rapier,” Nell concluded with full confidence and a ghostly flourish.
“Why don't you stop rambling for a moment and think upon what you actually say? This marriage is as tired for me as it is for you, and I too am looking forward to having life in my house again, but I'd like to have the Darbingers stay longer than the two hours it will take you to frighten them off. But you're going to do it, aren't you?”
“Well….” Nell pondered.
“Why? Why must you? You'll enjoy a few minutes of excitement as everyone goes scurrying, and then before dusk I'll be enduring yet another dreary monologue on monotony, and beginning another fifty-year countdown till the day the next courageous family attempts to occupy Tarby Manor. Following upon that I will undoubtedly start wishing we were flesh again, so I could kill you; you'll as surely harbor the same murderous desire, and our sentences will be extended indefinitely, or infinitely, or He will simply give up and put us to death. Truthfully, why would you do that?”
“It's based on a combination of factors,” Nell casually replied, “the foremost of which is, as you know, the uncontrollable playful urges that often seize me when in the company of people, but not excluding nor diminishing the euphoric, ecstatic and simply delightful pleasure I still derive from antagonizing you, and watching you fret.”
“And why must you always keep your hand tight on my goat-string?”
“Because it feels good to pretend that I have fingers, and because I get so bloody bored that if I didn't once in a while prod you to life and make you squirm, you would never move, and I would perish for the nothingness.”
“This conversation is now concluded, for I have nothing more to add,” Ned said with great disgust.
“O my silly silkworm, be more cormorant…” Nell sang, “…gather soft bricks in your feather socks, and your courage in the perifidious muck. You have pernicious luck, and...what do you mean by drifting off?" she nagged. "You know well by now there's no escaping me, and that you can be alone only when I allow so by not following you. I've already decided to serenade you with the Sing-Sing Song, so you can have me trail you everywhere sing-singing the unabridged four hundred verse version a largo, or you can sit still like a big horse and swallow your medicine presto, in the condensed version.”
“That you consider rendering that horrendous song unto my ears administering medicine implies that I am ill of health; but the only problem I have with my constitution is you, so what you refer to as an antidote to the affliction would in truth be an overdose of the poison, and I'll reckon what you said a euphemism.”
“Gladly!" she cried with glee. "What rendition will I be presenting, O audience of one?”
“You'll note I haven't budged even the breadth of a hair, by way of requesting the painless and short. And please do something, anything, about the ungodly shrill that is produced whenever you attempt to raise your voice in song.”
“I find it rather lovely and soothing myself.”
“Aye, just as vultures hear music in their own cacophonic squawkings.”
“That crack will cost you another four verses.”
“Just get it on and over with,” he sighed.
Sing, sing, singy, singy, singy, singy song!
Come all you singy singers, sing sing along!
It's really quite simple, there's only one lyric,
It rhymes with ring, and I want to hear it!
It's the sing, sing, sing, sing, sing, singy song,
And if you sing, sing, you can't sing it wrong!
The word is singy! Singy, singy, singy!
Make your mouth a bell, and let it ring ringy!
Sing, sing, singy sing...pla plingy pling...da ding dingy ding dingy ding dingy ding...ra, ra, ring ringy ring ringy ring...fa fa fing...wingy wing wing sing...sing...sing...singy sing sing...do da vo va la ling lingy...tring tring tringle...mix, singers, mingle...sing all together, don’t sing single!”
Perhaps an hour later, and more likely closer to two, she concluded by saying: “I have finished; you may be excused.”
“You're so gracious, your Excellency.”
“Don't get smart or sarcastic; I can just as quickly repeat it entirely twice. If you need me, or just wish to listen, I'll be in the garden teaching the new verses to our ornithic friends the warblers, who, being the innocent offspring of Nature, better appreciate the Heavenly gift of harmony than men.”
The New Tenants
About the eleventh hour on the appointed Thursday morning, the first members of the Darbinger family appeared at Tarby Manor. Cyril, a professor of the paranormal, and his wife Charlotte, an artist, were to be followed in the afternoon by their daughters, Candice, Grace and Daisy. He was a heavy set man, though not obese; with lusterless, wiry black hair, a wide forehead chiseled with deep furrows, the darkness of fatigue under his eyes, and jowls dripping from his cheeks and chin. He was attired in a jacket and slacks, which he sported sloppily. Charlotte was extremely thin and very tall, standing two inches above her husband. Her amber hair was long and straight, her forehead attractively high, and her skin almost ghostly in its pallor.
“Nell, they're here; on your best behavior.”
“They're not here, Ned among the dead, they're out there; and don't be so concerned with how to make a good impression that you overlook your better sense of humor.”
“Your four humors were made vile by imbalanced bile.”
“At least I was possessed of wits and humors to be diminished.”
“Tish! Be silent.”
“What silence? And pish on your tish! They can't hear--”
“Shut up! I want to listen.”
“Did you feel that Charlotte?” Cyril said as he stepped onto the walk and into the air that Nell had chilled before him, as ghosts are wont to do.
“No. Feel what?”
“Nell!” Ned cried.
“Stand right there,” Cyril said, guiding her into it. “The air is freezing! It's the most common manifestation.”
“It is rather frigid,” Charlotte responded. “It gives me the shivers, and not just because it's cold.”
“Let me stand in it again,” he said, but before he took a step it was removed. “It's gone--perhaps it's drifting!” Cyril searched the vicinity while a giggling Nell was chastised by an irate Ned.
“That was queer,” Charlotte said slowly, “and eerier than I expected my first encounter would be.”
“You aren't frightened, are you?”
“No! No! I'm quite excited actually.”
“Just look at this estate!” Cyril cried. “Tarby Manor is a veritable treasure trove! For two centuries one of the most active haunted houses in all of England, and it’s ours to experience and explore. We are walking into a brownstone chest of priceless information!”
“Let's just hope we don't open a Pandora's box.”
“O no Charlotte! We're entering a motherlode of paranormal, and I'm going to dig out every crack and corner, mine every nugget!”
“He's got to be the corniest man not dead.”
“Nell! Stop! Now! Nip it in the bud!” Ned demanded. “Do nothing, not even the smallest pocket of icy air; don’t place your cold heart in any of their paths. We must wait patiently for an opportunity to do some good and get out; and if it's years in coming--even decades--we will wait, and will not tempt Fate.”
Tarby Manor was sprawling, with thirty-three rooms, two porches, four balconies, six gables, three gardens, a gazebo, a fountain, and several birdbaths and feeders; but what had once been majestic was now become shambles. Thick ivy clung like barnacle to the stained and worn stone; the cast iron fence encircling the grounds was chipped, rusted, and broken in numerous places; dozens of slate shingles that had been peeled from the roof by wind were shattered and scattered about the premises; the stone walls had been dismantled by rock thieves in some places, and toppled by vandals and the elements in others. All three gardens were wildly overgrown, and the surrounding lawns were hayfields. The arched trellis over the front door that had in younger days supported roses was choked with thistle and weeds, which same woe had befallen the gaps in the bricks of the walk, and the cracks in the foundation.
The professor and his wife walked slowly up the long slope of high grass before the mansion; and while Cyril surveyed for signs of the supernatural, Charlotte made plans for the work ahead of her. He was on sabbatical from Bathwick University, to study the famed manor. She was a painter, and had come to nurture and create the gardens that would be her models. She also hoped to capture a specter in oils, if one appeared.
Their belongings had been delivered in advance, so after a brief tour of the grounds, Charlotte started unpacking boxes while her husband scrutinized every inch of each room. He sensed the strongest presence in the library, the room wherein Ned and Nell had killed each other in 1756, and so remained in there and shelved his books.
Nell watched him closely, and when he put up Sheldon Sydney's Apparitions and Intuition, cried: “That insipid volume is the singular worst work of words on ghosts ever to waste trees and ink! You, professor, are fortunate that in its stupidity it is short!” She pushed it off the shelf and onto his head.
He jumped and shouted: “Charlotte! Come here at once!” She appeared momentarily. “This book just fell on my head from the top shelf!” He replaced it, whereupon it fell off again. “See!”
“Nell! Stop this instant!”
“What? What's gobbing your goose? It's an 'orrible, 'orrible book, and I don't want it in me library.”
“Let it rest, or we never will!”
Cyril put it up a third time; it did not move. “This is only the very beginning!” he cried joyfully. “Throw all the books you like, it's no bother for me to pick them up!”
Lemuel Burton's Ghosts A Through Z was the size of a log, and the only reason Nell didn't respond by tossing it at his nose was the sudden arrival of the girls. “Ned! Look over here; out front. Do you see her? She looks like me--exactly like me! She would be my twin if I were her age!”
“The semblance is remarkable,” Ned observed.
“How very odd--she's the image of me!”
Nell was referring to Candice, the oldest of Cyril and Charlotte's daughters. She was tall, and had dark, curly hair, thick eyebrows, and eyes soft and lovely, yet piercingly sharp. Grace was a year younger, an inch shorter, light-haired, and spoke in a much silkier voice. She had a bright sprinkle of freckles on her cheeks that perfectly complemented her high bones and fair skin, and added a mysterious, ethereal glow to her beauty. Both girls were in their early twenties. Daisy was the youngest, having been delivered into this world ten years after Grace. Her features were indistinguished by puberty, but she certainly promised to be quite a lovely blonde woman when grown, and was the most agile and athletic of the three.
They entered the house and called to their parents, who shouted that they come to the library at once. “It's begun already!” Cyril said excitedly. “First we walked through a spot of cold air on the lawn, and that book has fallen off the shelf twice in the past five minutes.”
“Why can't I go stay with Aunty Margaret?” Grace protested. “I don't like ghosts; I hate them, and I don't want to live in a haunted manor.”
“We've already discussed and settled that,” her mother replied. “You can't stay with your aunt because your uncle's brother and wife are there. There’s nowhere else for you to go at the moment, and we have to follow your father where his work takes him. There’s really nothing to fear; ghosts are everywhere, including all the houses you've lived in, the schools you've attended, and every place you’ve ever visited. They are the spirits of all who ever lived gathered around us, the living, in their world around our world; but spirits can't harm people, and they can't frighten you if you don't let them.”
“That's not what I've seen in Dad's books," Grace answered. "I read one story about an old woman who was angelic in her behavior while alive, but who after death tormented her son and his wife mercilessly, and in the end strangled their infant daughter. And I read another story about a bloke who moved into a house where a man had been found strangled in the bathtub many years before, and not a week later was discovered dead in the tub with marks on his throat, and with absolutely no signs of any intruders.”
“Grace, sh, look over there,” Daisy said, and when her sister's eyes were fixed in the corner she cried: “Boo!”
Grace jumped a full foot. “Oh! Don't do that!”
“Ah! Ha, ha, ha! Grace is scared, scared of the air.”
“It's not the air the frightens me, it's my tiny sister's enormous mouth," Grace answered, pinching Daisy's cheeks between her thumb and forefinger.
“They can't harm you if you don't let them,” Daisy quipped.
“And maybe if you were one yourself, and didn't exist, we could enjoy a respite from your all too large oral cavity!" Grace exclaimed, thrusting her sister's face away.
“Grace! Look out!” Daisy cried. “Irving Kunkel's Ghastliness, Ghosts and Ghouls is about to float off the shelf, open, and settle in your hair.”
Her family looked at her curiously for making such a strange statement, and scrutinized her in amazement when the specified volume was perched like a small roof atop her sister's head. Grace screamed and pushed it onto the floor, leaping backward in fear.
“How did you do that?” Cyril cried.
Daisy could not answer; first she giggled hysterically, then sobbed uncontrollably. After her mother consoled her, her father repeated the question.
“I don't know how I did it,” she sobbed. “I didn't do it! I just blurted it out and it happened. I don't know how or why, but I don't like it.”
“Who's afraid of the air now?” Candice remarked.
“Shut up and go away!”
“I know what made you say it!” Cyril pronounced. “Everyone start walking around the room; search for cold air and other signs of supernormal.”
“Nell! How did you do that?” Ned demanded to know of his wife.
“I don't know!" Nell answered with exasperation. "I was just testing, how shall I say, the water of their bodies, and when I slipped inside her, and her only, I sensed I could talk. A clever stunt I just engineered, and funny, don't you think? Look how frantic they are. Should I have Daisy put Cyril in the deep freeze?”
“DON'T DO ANYTHING ELSE!” Ned screamed. “If this is our last chance and it escapes us, I'll be trapped here with you till the end of this eternity, and any possible eternities that might follow!”
“I wonder how she sounds when she sings?”
“There is no chilly air in this room, Cyril,” Charlotte said.
“It doesn't matter, I can sense their presence anyway," Cyril declared with all confidence. "There will be more cold spots of air, and book throwings, and drafts, and rappings, and with luck we'll make direct communication when we have the seance, which I'm going to begin arranging immediately. I want everyone to start keeping a journal; record any thoughts, feelings, observations and experiences you have concerning Tarby Manor and the apparitions that are residing here.”
“I don't want to stay,” Grace said, “and I’m not going to.”
“Nor do I,” Daisy added.
“Girls,” their mother said, “for the fiftieth time, there is nowhere else for you to go, and if something does happen that we fear for your safety, which is so highly unlikely as to be next to impossible, we'll make other arrangements; but until then get used to it.”
“I don't object to living here,” Candice said, picking up the book from the floor and returning it to the shelf. “Unlike my tender, timid sisters, I find it intriguing. I'm going to have a look around; if either of you quivering butterflies wish to accompany me you may, but I'm not afraid to go alone.”
“No thank you.”
“No thank you.”
“Very well,” she replied with airs, and sauntered from the room.
“I don't want to stay in here,” Grace said, “and I don't want to be alone.”
"We don't want to be alone,” Daisy amended.
“Why don't you two come help me in the yard,” Charlotte suggested.
“Let's get started now,” said Grace. “I'll do anything to get out of this dusty, musty dungeon.”
“I like Candice,” Nell said. “She's witty, spunky, and absolutely beautiful.”
“Take the mote from your eye before you behold, for she's not half so lovely as Grace," Ned answered dreamily. "Candice seems too much like you, in every ugly way.”
“Then you shall grow to love her as dearly as you already do me.”
“Not in ten thousand ages!" he screamed. "The word of four letters to describe my feelings toward you begins with H and rhymes with fate. If I had the choice to make again, I know already that I would wait until someone as sweet as Grace came along. The only person Nell knows how to love is her own frozen self.”
“Fie, graceless codger! You never had a full candle, much less a flame to warm the inside of my heart. And you waxed colder and colder and smaller and smaller, until all that remained was an infinitesimal icicle. Drip and tickle, drip and tickle, never satisfied.”
“You are a nasty, miserable, venomous witch!”
“Humdrum, doldrum chum, bang you conundrum--dum dum! Humdrum, doldrum chum, bang your conundrum--dum dum! Humdrum, doldrum....”
The Darbinger family spent that evening quietly and nervously unpacking, in paranoid anticipation of paranormal activity at every moment, and all prone to jumping with a start at even the slightest click from their own heels. And though they were all watched closely from beyond, everything was calm when they retired, and again when they awoke.
Bernadette Abbott, the family's friend and housekeeper of many years, arrived the following morning. She was informed of all their matters, and was outspoken with her opinions and advice--more precisely, outspoken on everything. Since Nell had not manifested herself any further since lowering the book onto Grace's head, there was nothing more for them to report when she inquired. She was generally undecided as to whether or not she truly believed ghosts were real, but always spoke on the topic with sarcastic skepticism.
“These premises don't feel haunted to me,” she said to Charlotte, who was the first to greet her.
“O but they are Bernadette, they most certainly are,” Charlotte replied, and went on to explain all that had happened.
“Well, Love, that sounds convincing, but my eyes will have to see before my heart can believe.”
“Then prepare to be converted, for this is as haunted a place as there is in all Mother England.”
“Very well; guide me to my quarters at once so I can throw salt, scatter herbs, chant, tinkle my beads and ring the bells, to clear out whoever may be asleep in my bed before I settle in.”
“Scoff now, but even as the Gentiles you preach about, you too will be converted from unbelief.”
“Ha! Where are my three girls?”
“Grace and Daisy won't leave each other's sides for fright, and have gone into the garden where they feel safe; Candice is in the attic with Cyril trying to contact them.”
“Nell and Ned Tarby.”
“Is that so? Then I will first go to the garden and have a chuckle before visiting the attic for the big laugh!” She walked into the garden and cried: “O, look! There's two pale flowers withering in the wind. Did the ghouls give you girls a good fright?”
“It's not funny, Bernie,” Daisy rejoined, invoking the nickname she had coined for facetious use.
“Quiet, Love; and please don't mutate nor mutilate my name,” the housekeeper replied. “Is it true, what your mother told me?”
“I don't wish to discuss it,” Daisy answered.
“O but please! If you can predict a book is about to settle on your sister's head, would you kindly ask my Arthur to pay me a call from the lands of Avalon? He's been departed ten years this past May, and I would so love to know if he's well and what he's been doing.”
“I don't know how I did it," Daisy cried, "but stop making fun of me or I'll predict a slimy monster with ninety fangs to charge out of the trees and gobble you up! You'll be too terrified to try and escape, so he will dine on you slowly, at his leisure.”
“You've been reading too many of that Mr. Wing's books," Bernadette observed. "You shouldn't bite the hand that feeds, even if it’s vicariously through the mouths of invisible entities that couldn't cut water with their teeth of air, much less my flesh. And what's with your pallid complexion, Grace? Did the phantoms give you a fright too?”
“It's very reassuring to know that someone in this dreary place can find a way to be amused!” Grace snapped.
“These must be fertile grounds for the imagination, for yours are germinating rapidly and wild. If the same result befalls me, I'll be able to find love and travel the world without ever stepping off this property--nay, without ever leaving the confines of my own imagination. I'd stay and chit chat longer, but the bigger laugh awaits me in the attic. I'll see you shortly, girls; tea at half twelve.”
“You'll see for yourself soon enough Bernadette!” Daisy called after. “And when you're white as a ghost I'm going to laugh in your face and tell you I told you so two hundred times!”
“Tut, tut! Ta ta!”
“Please don't tease them,” Charlotte politely chided. “It's been trying enough for Cyril and I, and we were more prepared for it; they're still young, and what happened was traumatic for them, especially Daisy.”
“Traumatic? Howso? You've all conspired to invent this story, or imagined it together; either way you are acting silly,” Bernadette rejoined.
“Just remember: the harder you laugh at us now, the heartier we're going to laugh back when you've been spooked.”
“I was a nurse in the war, love. I saw thousands of souls freed of their bodies on bloody battlefields, and many more in tents filthy with the gripping stench of death. No apparition could ever possibly frighten me nearly as much as my own memory and the nightmares it inspires.”
“Then show some of your compassion to the girls; they're sincerely upset, and it's only going to be more difficult for all of us to live here if they're ill at ease.”
“Foo! I'll make them stronger! Now here's the two I've been sharpening my wit for.”
When they entered the attic they found Cyril and Candice sitting opposite each other on the floor, with their eyes closed and their hands clasped together.
Bernadette folded her arms across her bosom, and loudly opined: “Now isn't this vision even more absurd than the one I just left! Are you two preparing to make bricks or weave a rug?”
Cyril shushed her and said, “Talk to us later; we're meditating.”
“Is that it? And I thought you were practicing an ancient Egyptian form of prayer.”
“Go away Bernadette,” Candice said with great agitation. “You've already disrupted my concentration.”
“This wouldn't have anything to do with the hoax you're perpetrating, would it?” the self-assured housekeeper inquired.
“It's not a hoax,” Cyril replied indignantly. He released his daughter's hand and stood up. “Charlotte and I passed through an intensely cold spot of air on the lawn, and just minutes later both watched a book fly off the shelf in the library. And then the five of us witnessed another book drift off the shelf and settle onto Grace's head.”
“Don't forget to mention Daisy's newly discovered powers of prophecy," Bernadette reminded. "That's an exceptionally colorful detail.”
“It's not the detail of a story, it's the truth,” Candice answered. “And you'd better use up your store of silly jokes now because you won't have anything more to say once they've appeared to you. I hope they hear you mocking them this moment and use you for the brunt of an hysterical prank, so we can all have a jolly laugh at your expense.”
“After all you've done to lighten my disposition, I would subject myself to anything for your amusement. I love you all," Bernadette professed. "And the laughable sight you just provided for me here would cost dearly to repay, nor have I a thought how I could do it. He, he!”
“Turn yourself into a wheel and roll down the stairs,” Candice quipped. “That would suffice for me.”
“My how this place has made you girls violent. If your sister had her way I'd be dinner in some gorgon's belly, and now you'd have me break up my body on the stairs. Perhaps this is a den where a gang of the Devil's demons dwells. But even they with all their power and might are weak, and can't pierce the impenetrable armor of Christianity. Do you hear me?” she cried to the ceiling. “Do whatever you like to Bernadette Abbott. You cannot harm this fortress of faith!”
“I'm tempted to toss her out the window.”
“Mind yourself Nell!”
“O dear. Look over at the two quivering buttercups in the garden. I feel remorse,” Nell said with genuine sincerity.
“Remorse? Nell Tarby?” Ned said incredulously. “Did this monumental first take place in my presence? Did I witness history? Could this truly be?”
“So what if I like them, and don't wish to frighten them away? Maybe I want them to stay, and maybe I'm sorry I startled them so quickly upon arrival; it was an uncontrollable impulse, and I regret it.”
Ned gazed amazedly into the dark abyss, then raised his wispy arms high and cried: “Remorse and regret? Contrition from Nell Tarby? Halleluiah! O God in Heaven, measureless is my gratitude, that you finally allowed it to happen! Now it's only natural that humility should follow short upon, and the next step we take will be onto the stairs into the stars.”
“Hold right there! I like the ending, but that word 'humble' in the middle section was inconsistent," Nell said. "But enough; I want to put Grace and Daisy at ease.”
The girls were seated on a bench in one of the overgrown gardens, holding hands and bemoaning their wish to leave. Suddenly, two white doves flew out of the trees and perched on their knees.
“Daisy, don't move!” Grace whispered.
Daisy ignored her sister, and nudged the dove onto her finger; then she held it out, and then brought it close to her face for scrutiny. Seeing that it had not flown off, her sister did the same. The four creatures looked at each other in silence for perhaps a full minute before the birds glided into the garden and picked sprigs of queen's lace in their beaks. They gently tucked the flowers into the girls’ hair and took wing.
“I like Tarby Manor now!” Daisy exclaimed quietly. “That was amazing!”
“Do you think we'll see them again?” Grace whispered.
“I'm not leaving until I do! Maybe I can bring them back right now. The two doves are about to fly back to our fingers,” Daisy stated, though more as a command than a prediction.
They stared at the trees in anticipation, but the birds did not return. “Let's go tell the others!” Grace suggested. “We can come back here in a few minutes.”
They ran into the house. “Dad! Mum! Everyone!” Daisy cried as she burst into the parlor. “Two doves just landed on our knees!”
“What? Where?” Cyril asked excitedly.
“In their flighty imaginations,” Bernadette remarked.
“It was not in our minds either, Bernadette,” Grace responded as she entered the room. “They flew out of the trees and perched on our knees, then hopped up onto our fingers.”
“Then they picked these flowers from the garden and placed them in our hair before flying away. And that's exactly what happened, honest to Jesus,” Daisy concluded.
“Were they real doves, or apparitions?” their father asked, infusing his voice with an utmost sense of urgency.
“They were not the spirits of doves, they were real. There might even be a feather near the bench,” Grace said.
“I must look up 'dove' in Barsemio's Encyclopedia of the Supernatural!” Cyril announced, dashing off toward the library.
“O father, dearest dad,” Candice called, halting him in the doorway. “I've perused Simon Barsemio's encyclopedia, and though portions of it are credible, in that they are drawn from ancient truths, in general it is a poorly organized and badly written work. I would suggest you refer to the volumes edited either by Von Halt or Werther. They are both by far more interesting, accurate, and articulate.”
“Is that so, my beloved and erudite daughter? And when did you become a recognized scholar of the supernatural? You will stand informed that in both academic and practical circles, Barsemio's is unanimously esteemed the paragon of occult encyclopedias. It is to him that I have and will always refer, thank you!”
“Just because I'm a woman does not mean I'm without a mind!” she cried. “I can read and think, and discern good from bad; and Barsemio's books are bunk--all twenty two of them! If you have difficulty understanding Von Halt then try Werther! Huh!” She took a deep breath. “Why am I so upset? I'm going to have a look about the garden.”
“As a person's name I prefer Simon Barsemio, but as a fiction writer he's not nearly so good as Mr. Poe,” Bernadette quipped. “That inspires me! This family has the greatest and most powerful collective imagination I've ever encountered, so I'm going to gather your stories into a novel. I'll make my fortune when I publish it, then I'll build a comfortable nest for my tidy egg, which I'll marry my handsome editor into.”
“I'll teach her a lesson about skepticism,” Nell snapped. “I'll have Daisy predict that she's going to eat pages of Barsemio's book, and then I'll force-feed them to her. I'll call it Nell Tarby's famous home-baked humble pie.”
“Don't do it!” Ned cried. “Please! I beg you!”
“Stop me, Señor Nada.”
“You should not do that,” an invisible form said.
“How did you change your voice, Ned?” Nell asked slowly and cautiously.
“The question is: how did you alter your voice?” Ned replied, even more slowly.
Then an angel appeared before them, and in unison they cried: “Peter!”
“Still bickering like rival siblings, eh?”
“She started it, as usual!”
“Me? Place blame where blame belongs. It was you who--”
“Stop this moment, both of you!" Peter commanded. "If I still had a head it would ache terribly listening to Ned and Nell Tarby. And you've been here hardly here two centuries. Forbid they become millenniums.”
“Two and a half centuries is a very long time!” Ned cried.
“Excuse me Ned,” Peter replied, “but you know that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. If we combine the time you've spent here in your earthly bodies and the limbo between life and the hereafter, and suppose that you arrived at approximately dawn, it is now just about noon. Six hours isn't such a long time, is it?”
“Two and a half centuries and it's only noon?” Ned answered. “Can we hope to get out sometime today? Six seconds with her is an eon; a week would be an infinity of eternities, with no sunsets to ease the agony.”
“Well, dearest Ned, don't think I could withstand your droll disposition a second day.”
“Quiet!” Peter cried. “You two have me on the verge of cussing, and I'm a saint! Cheese and crackers! Now, given that I haven't visited you in sixty years, and that there's a new family living with you, don't you suppose that I might have a good reason for dropping by? A very good reason?”
“Yes!” Ned exclaimed. “And in the heat of my frustration I failed to mention how wonderful it is to see you!”
“Flattery will not bring you a blink of an inch closer. However, I have been sent by our Father to prepare you for the path ahead, and to give a clue that could lighten your way to the beginning of that road. There is one thing that all men must seek and find ere coming before the Lord's face, and it is through the Darbingers that you may reveal the light unto yourselves, and enter it. And though it is technically not impossible, given the circumstance you’ve created it will more than likely be necessary for you to utilize your powers--which you will find expanded--in the coming years, which could as easily be days, or minutes, or moments, depending.…“
“Depending on what?” Ned cried. “What is it that we must seek?”
“That I cannot divulge,” Peter responded.
“But what if she uses the powers as she always has, and drives them out before they can help us? Will it be another century before we have another opportunity to advance?”
“But what if I'm opposed to her actions? Will it still ruined for me as well?”
“But that's not fair.”
“I suppose not, but that's life," Peter said. "You must understand at least that by now. And besides, you do have the ability to prevent her if she decides to do something foolish.”
“How? What? What can I do?”
“Please Ned, there would be no point if he were to tell you everything," Nell interrupted.
“Can you at least give us any more hints or clues? Please, I beg you.”
“Ned Tarby, you are over three hundred years old, and you still whimper like a boy,” Nell chided. “When will you ever start acting your age?”
“Plug your toothless gap, windbag! When will you ever--”
“Stop! Now! Both of you!”
“Peter, please, you must help me out of here!” Ned pleaded. “I can't bear her any longer. Isn't there anything else you can tell me? Anything? I'll do whatever you say.”
“I was sent--and I was sent--because the Lord loves you, and wants you to take up rooms in His mansion. There's a greater need now than ever, and we have been given license to be more liberal with out hints, so here's a clue in Nell's tongue: what you must seek is inside the dove...” Peter revealed, then started to fade. “...more and more lost spirits are coming home every day...just this morning...the short while that I was there...seventy three souls passed through the glowing gates and were born...the oldest was over fourteen thousand years...my best advice is to start...by getting along with each other....”
“A heart? Is it heart?” Ned cried to the vanished saint.
“No, it's not heart,” Nell answered. “All that's inside doves are guts and feather tips, so maybe the answer is what we'd write using a quill and blood for ink. I'll find a way to make Cyril kill a dove, then I'll pray God have an angel allow me to channel the truth, which I'll have Daisy write out on parchment.”
“Your tongue never ceases flapping, even in the presence of the angel who is trying to save us. If it's not heart, then what on earth could it be?”
“It's not on earth, you buffoon, it's in heaven,” Nell quipped.
“Starting this moment I'm going to deflect every absurd thing you say by refusing to acknowledge the utterance and ignoring its source," Ned responded, then addressing the thin air, soliloquized: "Is it simply truth? I don't think so, but the answer must also in some way be truth. I do have this vague recollection in my memory, of something I once knew...something that could lead me to God. I can almost feel it at times, but just when I think it's going to become clear, it fades.”
“Did you just expel flatulence?”
“Nell! There are no odors here, neither pleasant nor what your bowels eructed only minutes after your mouth consumed a bowl of your infamous crab stew. Infamous? That godawful brew was nefarious!”
“The steam of the stew in your bowels, not mine, was the reason we spent the last twenty years of our marriage sleeping in separate bedrooms.”
“Here we have it,” Cyril said as he came through the doorway. “According to Barsem--where's Candice?”
“She went into the garden to look for doves,” his wife answered.
“No doubt she'll look it up on her own," Cyril said. "Doves, according to Barsemio, are the ancient and universal symbols of both love and peace, and when they appear under extraordinary circumstances in a place suspected of occupation by spirits, it usually indicates a benevolent presence.”
“Candice was right,” Daisy remarked. “His writing is terrible.”
“So now we have two intellectual prodigies in the family,” Cyril noted. “Would you care to drop your two pence in a hat and throw it in the ring to make it three, Grace?”
“I'm not fond of any of this,” she answered; “and if that lovely dove hadn't sat on my lap, I'd be packing to leave if not already run off.”
“I think you both created those birds in your minds, and that's where they're flying now," Bernadette commented. "But if they put you at ease, I'm glad you invented them, because my life will be more pleasant not having to comfort two fragile creatures every time a door creaks.”
“Bernadette,” Daisy shot back, “if you don't stop teasing me, I swear I'm going to have crows eat your eye jellies before the buzzards convey you to the desert inside their bellies.”
“Now, now dear; cruel talk is not nice.”
“Let her keep teasing us, Daisy,” Grace said. “We're just storing up the laughter that will be released when we find her trembling in some closet.”
“Righto!” Bernadette rejoined. “There's only one thing that frightens me in this world, and that's the Lord's condemnation in the next. I have participated in the worst hell mankind could possibly create, and yet what would be considered the holiday region of the real inferno: your mischievous apparitions make good tea conversation, but are of little more substance than themselves.”
“I'm not going to waste any more time listening to this foolish exchange,” Cyril declared. “Which garden were you girls sitting in?”
“The north,” Grace answered.
“Very well, that's where I'll be.”
“Where we'll be.”
“Ned. You're not going to believe what just happened to me, all of a sudden.”
“You've figured out what we must seek?” Ned speculated.
“No. I've fallen back in love with you.”
“It's true, and I'm going to rip up our house until they vacate, to insure that we're together for at least another thirty three centuries, lover.”
“No! Don't do it! Lord, please. I beseech you. Why must I be punished for her sins? Why would you want to spend thirty three hundred years with someone you loathe?”
“Of course I wouldn't!" she snapped like a black witch. "I don't love you, and that's why I'm not going to do anything. I only said it to make you nervous, and if you were flesh it would be shivering, and drenched with sweat.”
“Very funny. Extraordinarily clever. So amusing that I am going to memorize it and—“
“Seeking secrets! I'm seeking secrets! My name was Nell, but now it's Ned, and I'm seeking secrets! I'm peaking where I'm speaking, and the reeking trees are leaking all the secrets I’m secreting….”