MAGDALENA'S GHOST: THE HAUNTING OF THE HOUSE IN GALLOWS LANE (17 page)

The silence that followed in that split second had Lucy trembling in fear, she knew she’d done it this time and there was no turning back. But that man had been there, she knew it. How on earth could she possibly explain that to Anton? She decided to keep quiet, and she cast her eyes towards the fire as if nothing had happened. Maybe he’d think he’d had a nightmare; after all, he’d been accusing her of the same thing often enough, so why not turn it on him.

“You frightened the life out of me,” she cried. “You screamed out loud and woke me up. I wondered what on earth was happening.” She cringed inside as she fibbed her way out of it. It was a small white lie, but it had to be done in order to calm him down before he throttled her. “You must have been having a nightmare.”

She’d never been afraid of Anton before, but he was a changed man – the house had done that to him, and she no longer knew what he was capable of doing.

And for a moment he looked confused.

“I thought
you
were the one who screamed and woke
me
up. Are you sure about that?” he quizzed suspiciously.

Lucy nodded furiously but kept quiet. She watched him sit down again, knowing full well that he wasn’t convinced, but at least it had pacified him for the time being. It didn’t take long for him to fall asleep again, and once the snoring started she pushed her chair right up to the rocker in order to be as close to him as possible. She felt safer that way, in case anyone appeared again. And before long, she too was sound asleep.

13

Lucy awoke the following morning with her body freezing cold and stiff from being hunched up in the chair. Anton was stretched out on the floor scrutinising all the newspapers which were spread out around him. He was so engrossed that he didn’t even notice Lucy get out of the chair and make a brew. She was miffed that he hadn’t even covered her with the blanket which he’d left casually draped on the rocker. He didn’t seem to care about her at all these days, which made her long for her old Anton back even more.

“I’ve made a brew Anton,” she called, as she brought two mugs over to the table.

Anton looked up in surprise and scrambled to his feet to join her.

“Those papers reported a lot of news about something that happened here in this house,” he eagerly conveyed to her, as he drank from the hot mug. “It all happened in the fifties. I’ll tell you what it’s all about if you’re interested.”

“Of course I’m interested – why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, you’ve never shown much interest in the house before,” he said nonchalantly. He got up and collected some of the papers, which he spread out on the table. He started to tell her what had happened, as he read through snippets of information from the ones which he felt were the most relevant.

“Apparently, a family lived here in the fifties consisting of two children, a husband and wife. Magdalena, the wife, was a sculptress, an artist, and an accomplished musician. She played the violin and the piano. She was quite famous it seems, from what I’ve read about her in some of these reports. Her sculptures were well-known and sought after all over the world, so the ones we’ve uncovered upstairs are evidently hers. They must be worth a fortune.”

“So why would they have been hidden like that?”

“Who knows? We were told that the last two occupants went mad, and as you suggested madness makes people do bizarre things.”

“Maybe it was to stop them from being stolen.” Lucy suggested.

“Yes, I suppose you could be right. Now you mention it, the authorities did say an old woman lived here alone and was continually being burgled. So it would make sense to keep the valuables hidden away in the house. Anyway just listen to what I’ve read in these old newspapers. The husband was called Sinclair and they had two children who were called Beryl and Billy…”

“That’s the name I read in the dust upstairs,” she interrupted him excitedly.

He glared at her. She’d made him jump when she’d rudely interrupted him whilst he was reading something of great interest to her. The silence suddenly cut the atmosphere and he didn’t need to speak – his expression said it all.

“If you’re not interested I won’t bother to tell you anything else. You’re clearly overwrought, and maybe this information won’t do the balance of your mind any good.”

Lucy glared back. She may sound like an imbecile to him, but she knew what she’d seen, regardless of what he thought. Nevertheless she bit her tongue and restrained herself from reacting the way she felt. So she smiled graciously and begged him to tell her more, whilst keeping her seething thoughts to herself.

Anton continued to pick out the snippets of information which intrigued him the most.

“According to this article Billy was a gifted child. He was a musical genius from the day he could walk. But this is where it gets interesting: In nineteen-fifty-eight, the husband, Sinclair, disappeared from the house with the son, Billy, and neither of them were seen or heard of again.” He looked across at Lucy, his face brimming with enthusiasm as he continued. “But a later report says that a witness from Judge Fields saw three men arrive that day in a big black car and they entered the house. They were described as:
city gents.
Two of them were seen later coming out again, and they had the boy with them. When the third man came out he was alone, the father didn’t go with him. They all drove away in the car. And according to this, Magdalena and Beryl were away in London at the time, so they knew nothing of what was going on.”

He picked up another paper, his face eager and excited.

“In this report it says that the three men who were seen taking Billy away, were known to the police as being part of a gambling syndicate, and it seems that Sinclair was an addicted gambler, although he preferred to call himself a ‘professional gambler’. He had a reputation as a womaniser, living a life of luxury provided by his wife’s earnings. Then there’s a later edition which is really intriguing. It says that the police suspected that the boy had been abducted as payment for Sinclair’s gambling debts, and then the husband absconded before the wife returned. The police had searched for the missing boy for many years, which is clear from the reports in these later editions from the nineteen-sixties. Anyway he was filed away as a missing person eventually, as they suspected he’d been taken abroad and Sinclair had scarpered, and so they gave up the search.”

“So why would they take a child in payment of a debt?” Lucy just didn’t get it.

“Well speculation was obviously rife according to these papers, because apparently he was worth a fortune because he was a genius. Anyway, later reports say that Magdalena went into retreat. She lived in the house as a recluse and never stepped foot outside it. She was hoping that her son Billy would eventually return, and so she never locked the door whilst she awaited his arrival. That would explain her being burgled. It’s a pretty sad story really. She ended up in the madhouse eventually,” he said nonchalantly.

“So the son didn’t return, presumably?” responded Lucy as she picked up one of the newspapers to look at the photos. She stared at one of the pictures and gasped.

“You won’t want to hear what I’m about to say, but this picture of the family is what I saw projected on that screen upstairs. All four of them were in the film, and that is exactly how they appeared. It’s now beginning to make sense, except for one thing: why are they haunting the house, and why me and not you?”

Her ramblings were the last thing Anton wanted to hear, especially in the middle of his excitement at what he’d discovered in the papers. But Lucy was oblivious to his disapproving glare.

“It’s all somehow connected with that old woman. She wants me out of the way, I’m sure of it.”

Lucy seemed deep in thought for a moment, as she tried to figure it out. Her face suddenly lightened with inspiration.

“What if that old woman is Magdalena and she thinks you are Billy? Maybe she thinks you have come home and she’s worried that I may take you away from her again. That would make sense wouldn’t it?” She looked up at Anton and immediately saw the grave look on his face, but it didn’t deter her. He had given her a bone to chew on, and she didn’t intend to let go.

“If you think about it,” she continued thoughtfully. “Magdalena would no longer resemble the beautiful woman she so obviously was in the photos. She would have been physically and mentally destroyed at losing a child, wouldn’t she? So the old woman could easily be Magdalena. I wonder what happened to the daughter though.” Lucy began to ponder once more, as her brain ticked away uncontrollably.

Anton gawped at her as if she’d lost her marbles. How many times was she going to twist and turn all the facts to suit her crazy story? Did she hate the house so much that she hoped to scare him away from it? If she did, she was mistaken. He was not going to give up the house, no matter what. He sighed in defeat. What was the point of continually arguing with her? Perhaps he would be wiser to play her little game and pretend to believe her, maybe that would shut her up and keep her quiet – but he doubted it. He gathered all the papers together and put them in a neat pile, somewhat disillusioned with her behaviour and obvious lack of interest.

“Well, we’d better eat so I can get on with my work, I’ve got plenty to do,” he said brusquely, as he jumped up from his seat. She had just ruined the intrigue which he had been sharing with her. It had just served to set her off on her journey into madness – and quite frankly, he didn’t want to know.

They both disappeared upstairs to get dressed before organising breakfast, and soon afterwards Anton was busy getting on with jobs around the house, whilst Lucy did some cleaning and tidying and preparing food for dinner. Later that day, she heard Anton disappear upstairs to begin work on the room they’d uncovered. He was keen to get it sorted because it was now minus a door. He wanted to move the sculptures into somewhere safe, whilst he removed the worktop which was blocking the fireplace. He was up there for hours. Lucy went up to see how he was getting on.

“How long do you intend to work up here?” she asked, as she peered into the room. He had already moved the sculptures into an empty bedroom and had started to remove the paintings.

“It’s a big job. Those sculptures weighed a ton,” he replied, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. “I’m moving these paintings out of here too, so they don’t get damaged when I start knocking things about.” He stopped for a breather.

“I’ve got dinner ready.”

“Oh that’s good to hear, I’m famished. I’ll just take these last ones into the other room and I’ll be down in a jiffy.”  

Lucy went back down to serve their meal, and the smell of food as Anton walked into the room made his mouth water. He sat down eagerly at the table rubbing his hands with glee. He had worked up a healthy appetite.

They ate in silence, and Lucy brooded over the uncomfortable situation between them which had only materialised since they moved into the house. He clearly wasn’t going to believe anything that had gone on, nor would he believe her if anything else happened. She couldn’t understand. It wasn’t so difficult to take on board, after all, everyone had read, or heard about ghosts from time to time, whether they believed in them or not. Surely he could safely presume that if she’d seen them with her own eyes, it was evidence enough that they existed. But deep down she knew that he didn’t want to believe, because he didn’t want to believe in anything that would spoil his loving relationship with Juniper.

She was lost in her thoughts, as another pattern emerged which was beginning to make sense. If that old woman was the ghost of Magdalena as she had speculated, the distress and anguish of losing her son in the fifties, coupled with the life she must have lived as a recluse thereafter, would have undoubtedly taken its toll both physically and mentally. And if she’d waited in vain for him to come home for the remaining years of her life, maybe after she’d died her spirit had carried on inside Juniper and continued to wait for Billy’s return. The more she dwelt on it, the more convinced she was that this time she may well have just hit on the right scenario. It all somehow made sense.

But what about the child who she now realised was Billy? Why had he shown himself? Was he trying to communicate with her? And why did he disappear through that door? And if his spirit was haunting Juniper too, wouldn’t the old woman know he was there? If she did, and they were together, what would be the point of their spirits remaining in the house?

With those thoughts in mind, she had somewhat annihilated her earlier convictions and she was back to square one. And then there was the question of the daughter. Where did she figure in it all? Her mind was in turmoil again, it all began to swim around in her head until it ached. She shouldn’t be sharing this alone Anton should be on her side. After all it was his idea to buy the house. How could she ever win him back if he refused to listen or do something about it?

It all seemed so impossible to her and it made her feel saddened.

She looked up at Anton as he cleared the last morsels of food from his plate. She still loved him, regardless of anything else. He looked exactly the same – nothing had changed in that sense. But he had become someone else inside. Was she ever going to be able to turn the clock back, or change what had passed between them these last few months? Was it too late to rectify the damage that had been done? She didn’t have the answers, nor was she sure if she had sufficient stamina to keep on trying. She was in a very lonely place right now – and she was in it alone.

Anton shoved his plate aside and got up from the table.

“I’ll get cracking again Luce. No point wasting precious time, there’s plenty left to do up there.”

“Surely you’re not going to try to do everything this evening?”

“I’ll just keep on until I can’t do any more.” He disappeared out of the room and went back upstairs. Soon he was hammering and banging again, and Lucy left him to it. How tedious life had become since Juniper. And as she reflected on the current situation, she couldn’t help but wonder if it mirrored the rest of their lives together.  Could it be that all they had to look forward to from now on was work, work and even more work? She felt downhearted and depressed.

She reached across for the pile of newspapers and casually flipped through them. She began to read some of the reports and just as Anton had said the news had really hit the headlines. Apparently the daughter abandoned Magdalena in the early sixties and so she continued to live alone in Juniper. Lucy shivered as she thought about the implications of it all, and the similarity to how she’d felt herself when she’d been on her own in the house when Anton was away. It must have been even worse for Magdalena as she waited tirelessly and relentlessly for her son’s return, possibly never knowing what had happened to him, or whether he was dead or alive. It didn’t bear thinking about, and it certainly didn’t help to improve Lucy’s feelings towards the house either. She felt desperately sorry for Magdalena as she visualised the life she’d clearly had, which was evident in the film upstairs and the newspapers. She’d been a beautiful and sophisticated woman with an infectious smile, and in the film she’d looked deliriously happy as she played with her young son.

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