The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(23) by Lorraine Heath
“Why would anyone require a desk that large?” she asked William, while the servants rearranged one of the sitting areas at the behest of Mrs. Ponsby, who was quite renowned for her ability to commune with the dead.
“It made him feel important,” William responded to her question.
“And I hate the gargoyles,” she said. The hideous stone creatures sat on either side of the fireplace grate. “He took them from a dilapidated church, or so he said. Still, it seemed rather sacrilegious. To be quite honest, there is nothing in this room that I like, except for the books. I suppose I should redo it.” Where there weren’t shelves, there were paintings of battles and people lying about bloodied. They always gave her chills, which was another reason she thought this room would serve them well. It seemed to celebrate death and suffering.
“Are you sure about this, Winnie?” Catherine asked. In the late afternoon, she’d stopped by for a spot of tea, and Winnie had taken the opportunity to invite her and Claybourne to join her that evening for the séance.
“Yes, I’m sure. He made my life quite miserable while he was alive. I shan’t have him doing it while he’s dead.” She squeezed William’s arm. “As you weren’t afraid of the dead when you were a lad, I see no reason that I should be as a grown woman.”
“I’m just not certain that you’re going to speak with him as clearly as you seem to think you will,” William said. “Calling out to the dead has not been proven to be scientifically possible.”
“Have you ever had a patient who you were certain was going to die, based upon your knowledge of the human body and medicine, but he recovered from his illness or wounds?”
She was taken aback by his answer although she knew she shouldn’t have been. That dreadful night, she’d been certain she would die, but she just hadn’t been able to succumb and leave Whit. “There are some things that simply can’t be explained,” she said softly. “Mrs. Ponsby says it’s more likely to work if everyone believes it will work.” She glanced around. “If any of you can’t believe, then don’t feel you must stay. I know this probably sounds absolutely mad, but I have to try. Avendale was a very strong force. I believe his spirit would fight going into the hereafter.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Catherine said.
She turned to look at Mrs. Ponsby. Her hair was black except for a white streak of strands that began at her widow’s peak and trailed back, to be finally tucked into her bun. She wore a modest black dress that buttoned to her throat with tight sleeves that buttoned at her wrists. She couldn’t be hiding anything there. She’d brought no instruments of her trade—no box into which she’d disappear while communing with the dead, no assistant, no magical ball or Ouija board. Winnie liked that she wasn’t about the trappings. “Yes, Mrs. Ponsby?”
“We’re almost ready. We just need something personal of your husband’s.”
“Oh. His rings would be perfect, but a servant must have put them away. I’ll see if I can locate them.”
“I have them,” William said, pulling them from his pocket. “I knew they were upsetting you so I decided to tuck them away.” He handed them over to the medium.
“These will do nicely. Please come join me at the table.”
They did as requested. Winnie sat on her left, with William beside her, while Catherine sat on the medium’s right. Mrs. Ponsby placed the rings on the table with the ducal crest turned toward her. Mrs. Ponsby signaled to a servant who went about the room, dimming the gaslights and extinguishing the flames in lamps until all the light came from a solitary candle on the table. Then all the servants quietly took their leave.
“We must all clasp each other’s hands to form a circle of serenity into which the spirit will fill free to enter,” she said quietly. “No matter what happens, you must not break the connection.”
Hands were joined and Winnie felt her pulse thrumming.
“Avendale,” Mrs. Ponsby sang in a voice that rose and fell like a wind blowing through the leaves. “Avendale, we know you’re an unhappy spirit, unwilling to move to the beyond, that you are trying to make your presence known. We’re here for you. Through me, you may speak with those in this room.” Squeezing Winnie’s hand, she closed her eyes and dropped her head back. “I am your vessel. Come to me.”
Winnie waited. She knew what was supposed to happen next. According to her aunt, there would be a knocking, a cold draft along her neck, the hairs on her nape would prickle.
“Avendale,” Mrs. Ponsby sang again. “Don’t be shy. We’re waiting for you. You need not be agitated with your present circumstance. We shall help you come to peace with it.”
They waited. Mrs. Ponsby sang some more. They waited. More singing, a bit of moaning, a sigh. Mrs. Ponsby finally opened her eyes and looked at Winnie. “I’m sorry, Your Grace, but I don’t sense that his spirit is about.”
Winnie couldn’t have been more disappointed if Mrs. Ponsby told her she would soon find herself residing in the spirit world alongside her husband. “Can’t you try again? It would be just like him to be obstinate.”
Mrs. Ponsby appeared somber. “There’s a void where he should be. I can’t explain it, but I can’t contact him. He’s just not there.”
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