MAGDALENA'S GHOST: THE HAUNTING OF THE HOUSE IN GALLOWS LANE (18 page)

To think that such a talented woman with independent means, could be so badly treated by the cad of a husband as was described in the news reports, was hard to digest. She should have grown old with her family around her, a family who she had supported, cared for and provided for. But instead she was driven to madness through despair, sorrow and tragedy. Lucy couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the husband eventually. He must have scarpered pretty fast whilst Magdalena and the daughter were away in London after what he’d done. She had read that mother and daughter were in London because Beryl, the daughter, was auditioning for a place in a world famous ballet school, and if that version was in fact true, it highlighted what a talented family they must have been. Pity the husband couldn’t lay claim to any talent other than gambling; he had obviously been the ruin of them all. And what did really happen to Billy? Did he survive the years that followed? Or did the trauma he must have clearly suffered at the loss of his dear, sweet and loving mother cut short his young and innocent life? Did his amazing talents remain with him wherever he went, or were they lost to the world from that moment on? Or was it remotely possible that his genius stayed behind in Juniper? One thing for sure, they were never going to know now. It was an old, forgotten story, a story full of myths and speculation which had long since been confined to those archived files labelled
unsolved crimes
– that is if a crime had indeed ever been committed.

Lucy couldn’t imagine a father giving away his son, as it was not in her psyche to think that way. She believed that children were born out of love. Maybe he didn’t have a choice. If a set of gangsters took the child as was rumoured, he might have had no say in the matter and then took off before his wife returned because he couldn’t face her. Maybe he had taken his own life; after all he didn’t seem to have had one without Magdalena. If he had no other means of support, he too would have faced ruin. That made it even sadder than ever in Lucy’s mind, as she thought of an entire family being destroyed by one man’s foolishness. But of course who’s to say that any of it was true? And who’s to say they didn’t return? The papers may well have forgotten about the whole saga and even lost interest, in their pursuit of newer, more tantalising news.

By now she had worn her brain out and she didn’t want to do any more thinking. It was tiring and had muddled her mind. She was probably more confused now, than before reading the newspaper reports. Prior to those it had all seemed much simpler – that the house was haunted and they should sell up and leave. She breathed a deep sigh, as the weight on her shoulders now seemed even heavier to bear.

As the evening drew close Anton continued to work in the room upstairs. He had emptied it of all its valuables, including the violin, and stored them elsewhere for safekeeping. He had removed the worktops, most of which were only connected by brackets, and piled them neatly together against a wall with the intention of making use of them somewhere else later. He stopped to have a rest whilst he stood and admired the fireplace, which seemed to be all intact although evidently not used for some time. He walked over to inspect it more closely and noticed that it appeared to have been fastened to the wall with a couple of eyelet brackets to the sides. He thought it strange, because it was obvious to him that it was very old and had been there for a very long time – probably as long as the house. And it wouldn’t have been screwed to the wall in such a flimsy way originally. On closer observation, he also discovered that it was only very loosely connected to the wall. He pulled on it to see if it moved, but it was so heavy that its weight alone would have held it in place. He therefore he concluded that it had been removed at some time or another and refitted, albeit in an inappropriate manner. His curiosity aroused, he picked up his tools again and began to unscrew the fasteners carefully. He hesitated, knowing full well that it would weigh a ton and it must have taken more than one man to remove it and put it back again. There must have been some essential work required to the chimney breast for the need to remove the fireplace. But it wasn’t level, he’d noticed, and so he decided it needed to come out in order for him to refit it properly.

It unscrewed quite easily, but he had a dilemma on his hands. How was he going to remove it on his own? It was cast iron, and Lucy wasn’t strong enough, or big enough, to be of assistance, so he took the gamble and proceeded to pull it loose on his own. He inched it out of the opening bit by bit, until the gap was just wide enough to see behind. It was quite stable as its weight kept it upright, and so far as he could see it was all in one piece. He picked up a torch from his tool box and shone it into the space behind. He couldn’t see much at first, until his eyes grew accustomed to the dark and finally fell upon what looked to be a roll of carpet along with a load of junk. He inched the fireplace out a little more, but the weight had him beat and he knew he’d moved it as far as he was able to on his own. He had, however, managed to move it sufficiently to squeeze his body behind. It was tight, but there was sufficient space for him to examine the brickwork with his torch, as well as the rubbish that had been left behind. He presumed that someone had sealed up the chimney at one time or another, and dropped all the rubble down the chimney breast beforehand, which was normal practice to some builders.

But very soon he was squeezing his body back out again. He left the fireplace in the same position knowing it was stable enough for the time being. He very quickly put some of the worktops together and made a make-shift door with which to block the entrance, in an attempt to temporarily seal off the room again. He went downstairs to find Lucy, who was busy unpacking some of the boxes which were still in the hall.

“Shall we have a brew Luce?” he asked, as he walked past her and towards the sitting room.

She followed him willingly, glad that he’d finally come down but quick to notice the seriousness in his voice. She knew he’d been working far too hard, and the consistent labour without the benefits of breaks to abate the monotony, was not good for the soul.

“I’ll do it,” she offered, as she made her way to the scullery. “You sit down and have a rest.” She pointed to the old rocker which was in its usual place in front of the fire. She wanted to be on her best behaviour after all he’d been working jolly hard and the last thing he would feel like doing was listening to her and her normal rantings.

Anton was deep in thought as he sat down and stared into the fire. He had a lot of explaining to do to Lucy and he didn’t know just where to start. She soon returned with two mugs of tea and some cake and sat down opposite.

“I built the fire up because it had gone very cool,” she said, as she warmed her hands on the hot mug.

Anton didn’t reply. He looked at her and for the first time saw the tiredness etched in her face. Lines which had never been there before were now visible across her forehead and around her eyes. He watched her gazing silently into the fire as she tried to warm her small hands on the large mug, and he reflected on how little she smiled these days. He remembered clearly how she used to laugh until she cried, and how light hearted they both used to feel as they enjoyed their simple and uncluttered life together. They’d had no worries, no problems and they were happy, and could only have envisaged a bright future ahead of them. In those days life was fun. But he had failed her. He knew that now.

He drank his tea as he remained engrossed in his thoughts. It didn’t escape Lucy’s notice but she had grown weary with the arguments, and his sullen expression only encouraged her to remain silent. She could hardly say anything these days without it spurring Anton into action, which often resulted in a full-blown row.

But several minutes later Anton jumped up.

“I have to go out,” he said, without explanation.

Lucy jumped up too, not wanting to be left alone in the house. The evening had grown dark, and it was a time when strange things seemed to happen whenever she was alone in Juniper.

“I’ll come with you,” she said eagerly.

But her expectations of escaping the boredom of being indoors, as well as the fear of any unexplained visits, were dashed to a pulp when Anton told her to stay where she was as he disappeared without explanation. She was miffed when she heard him drive off. She had no idea where he was going, or why, and once again she felt the pain of being excluded from his life. What was so important that he didn’t have time to explain? She couldn’t understand why he was behaving in such a manner, but by now it was becoming commonplace and she simply had no choice but to put up with it – at least for now. But she was tired and weary with everything and if she couldn’t resolve the problems between them, she would have to take a serious look at their future together.

14

Anton didn’t return for two hours, by which time Lucy was frantic. She ran to the door when she heard his van pull up, but as she opened it she saw a police car drive into the grounds and park behind him. She rushed outside to see what was wrong, but Anton ushered her into the house and told her to go back to the sitting room and wait for him.

He led two policemen upstairs, and as she stood in the hall below she watched them remove the barricade from the room where Anton had been working. She remained there for a while, listening and wondering what on earth was going on. She could hear some shifting and bumping and muffled voices from within the room, but she couldn’t fathom out what was happening. Unless, of course, they were removing the valuable sculptures and artefacts which had been discovered, which would make sense. She retreated back into the sitting room, and went into the scullery to boil the kettle in case they all wanted a brew. But several minutes later Anton bounded into the room and told her to get organised for the two of them to spend a few days in the camper van. He informed her that as the early season had begun, they were going to spend some time in their favourite village and he’d explain everything on the way.

Obviously Lucy was delighted and could hardly believe it, but she knew something was wrong and she didn’t know what – but she didn’t intend to rock the boat. Keeping shtum was the best thing she could do in the circumstances. She hurriedly gathered the bare essentials together and piled it all in the van, whilst Anton checked that everything downstairs in the house was safe to leave. They were gone within minutes, but the police stayed behind. Although Lucy was puzzled about the entire situation, she knew that Anton would get round to explaining it eventually.

Over the next forty-eight hours Judge Fields was a hive of activity and speculation was rife, as police cordoned off access to the property and labelled it as a crime scene. Residents peered out of their windows, and others wandered up to the house to see if they could find out what was happening; but information was not forthcoming. Camera crews lined Gallows Lane, most of which camped out in the hope that they would be the first to discover what had happened. But some canny reporters had investigated the history of Juniper House and put two and two together when they’d discovered the disappearance of Magdalena’s husband and son. Whilst they could only speculate on what was going on inside the house, they were confident enough to spill the beans on their own theories and speculations, which served only to get the village tongues wagging no end. Some reports said that the husband and son had been found buried in the grounds, others speculated that they had been found in a cellar. Some of the residents gossiped about the couple who had recently moved in, as they speculated on where they had disappeared to; concluding that they had been arrested for some heinous crime.

In the meantime Anton and Lucy had booked in at a campsite in their favourite village, and although the weather was still quite chilly there was plenty of sunshine, so they were able to do lots of walking before ending up at the local pub each day.

Anton had explained to Lucy that he had discovered what appeared to be human remains wrapped in a roll of carpet, which had been concealed behind the fireplace. Neither of them wanted to speculate on what, or who it was. He’d been shocked when he first discovered it, and had to think long and hard at what to do. He didn’t tell Lucy immediately after the grizzly find, as he didn’t want to unnerve her any more than necessary. So he had temporarily blocked the room up and chosen to report it to the police first, to see what they would do about it.

Lucy had remained silent about it all, but she had her own theories influenced by the bizarre incidents she had experienced in the house. It was now evident, as far as she was concerned, that when the child appeared to her before disappearing through the door, he was trying to lead her to the truth of what had happened to him – and perhaps his father – all those years ago. There was no doubt in her mind that the skeletal remains would prove to be the boy. Maybe the father had killed him? Maybe the three men had never existed, apart from in the mind of some villager wanting to get in on the act? Or maybe they were both murdered and concealed behind the fireplace; only time would tell when the police finished their investigations. And then the horror of Magdalena’s plight came to the forefront of her mind. That poor woman! Living alone in the house for all those years not knowing that her beloved child lay dead in that horrible room – and even maybe the husband! What did Magdalena know? Did she know anything at all? Was she perhaps a witness to what went on – or maybe, even maybe, she was involved in some way? Then her thoughts went to Beryl. Nothing seemed to exist in the history of Juniper involving Beryl. She had seemingly disappeared too. Was she involved? And who sealed up the room? Was it to hide all the valuable sculptures, works of art and artefacts? Or was it something more sinister – perhaps to stop the bodies from ever being discovered? Her head began to ache again as she wore her brain out with her speculations and theories once more. She wasn’t much of a detective really, and never had been, so trying to work it all out had made her feel sick and dizzy. Of course there was nothing to prove that the body, or bodies, or parts, had anything to do with Magdalena’s past – they could be completely unrelated; maybe even more skeletal remains of a pet, or pets. She didn’t want to dwell on it any more, as it was all far too stressful and too complicated.

She wasn’t sure what they would do now. If the skeletal remains turned out to be human ones, and as yet no-one was prepared to say, then surely they couldn’t return to the house after their gruesome discovery, and knowing what had happened there sometime in the past? But where would they go? They couldn’t live in the camper van. The questions in her mind were endless, but that’s where they would have to remain for the time being because she didn’t intend to spoil their idyllic moments together.

They took advantage of their desperately needed time together in a more relaxed and pleasurable environment, and within a couple of days they were both feeling de-stressed. Anton had been deep in thought, and not much conversation had passed between them. But they were both safe in the knowledge that the longer they stayed away from Juniper, and its influences, the more their feelings for one another were being rejuvenated. Lucy felt that her old Anton was slowly coming back into view, and the forces which had held him in their spell during the time they lived in the house, were gradually being drained away. It was like old times again, nothing had changed. They were both the same carefree people once more, just enjoying the simple things they had in common, and treasuring each other’s company. Without the strong influence of material wealth being worn around their necks like a ball and chain, they were free to discover each other all over again. And this time Lucy didn’t intend to let him go.

Five days had passed and neither of them wanted to think about returning home, because home is what it was and that was something they could not escape from. But Anton had been making plans in his mind as to what he thought they should do. One evening as they both lay in bed listening to the stirring of the wind beating gently against the side of the van, he spoke:

“I’ve been thinking Luce,” his voice serious.

Lucy looked up at him, a swift moment of fear in her eyes as she thought he was going to tell her something that she wouldn’t want to hear.

“I think we should put Juniper back on the market for sale.” He waited for her reaction, but she was too surprised to take it in.

“I can finish what I started. I know I can get the house decent enough to interest buyers, and in the meantime I think we should see if our old flat is still available.”

Lucy sat up in bed and stared at him, unable to believe her ears.

“What’s made you decide that all of a sudden?”

“I don’t want you going back to Juniper. It’s over, finished, there’s nothing there for us and I now realise that there never was. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought whilst I’ve been free of its influences.” He pulled her to him and slipped his arm around her. “I don’t how to begin saying I’m sorry for the beastly way I’ve treated you. Somehow that house put a spell on me. I felt as if I were someone else. It was almost as if a stranger had inhabited my head and I was no longer in control of my thoughts or actions. I can’t explain it Luce, but I now feel as if I’ve been untethered, set free as it were. My mind is now clear and it’s been made up. We’re getting out of there Luce; my first responsibility is to you. I took us there and it’s up to me to make sure I get us out of it, before our relationship is destroyed altogether. No-one is to blame but me.”

He held her in a strong hug and kissed her tenderly. Lucy was reeling with happiness and joy, and the relief was something she couldn’t put into words; but she knew that words weren’t necessary. He had obviously realised how she’d been feeling and that was all that mattered. Her old Anton was back and she was happy for him to take control. He was always right in the end, and whatever decisions he made she knew would be for the good of them both.

“But what if our old flat has been taken?” she asked hesitantly.

“We’re not exactly homeless, so if it’s not available I’m sure something else will be. I know it will be hard going for a while, that is until we sell Juniper. But we should come out with some profit if I work hard to get it looking good, and I can work there of an evening and at week-ends. We’ll find something, I know we will.”

They clung to one another as they slept in each other’s arms. Lucy knew that in time they would be able to rub out the past events of Judge Fields and put it all behind them. One day it would be a forgotten story, and their happiness would be set in stone. She could put all her faith and confidence in whatever Anton chose to do, because once more he was her rock and she adored him.

The first thing they did when they set off back, was to call in at the agent’s office to see if they had any properties on their books which they could move into fairly quickly; and they were both elated when they were told that their old flat was available. Without hesitation the agent gave them the keys and told them that they would draw up a lease in the next day or two, whilst they got the flat organised with utilities etc. Lucy kept pinching herself to make sure she was awake and not the victim of a cruel dream. When they arrived back home, the police had gone and there was little evidence of them having been there, apart from the carpet and its contents having been removed. As there was little or no change in Juniper, they both decided that they would remain in the house for at least a week or two, in order to pack up and get everything sorted in readiness for their move back to the flat. Anton promised her he would not leave her in the house alone again, and with him by her side Lucy had no problem with the arrangement.

A week later Anton called in to see the police and he was told that the remains were at least fifty to sixty years old, and possibly more. They had been easily identified by items of clothing, jewellery and dental records, as those of Magdalena’s husband. They could confirm that he had been stabbed to death and they had found the weapon wrapped in the bundle with the skeletal remains.

The police had been able to check their archives and had discovered in the records that Sinclair and the boy had gone missing in nineteen-fifty-eight, but with no suspicious circumstances. The boy was presumed to be with the father who had deserted his wife and daughter. Back in the fifties it would not necessarily have been considered a crime, as the husband’s rights would outweigh those of the wife. Therefore the records were filed away and closed. If indeed the rumours had been true, that there had been three men seen by villagers to enter the house and remove the child, there was absolutely nothing they could do about it now, it was too long ago and they would all be dead. Maybe they did take the child abroad, as was rumoured, and maybe he lived out his life with a good family somewhere. There was even a chance he could still be alive, after all he would be just another old man by now; but the bottom line was – no-body cared. It didn’t matter to anyone in their jurisdiction, so as far as they were concerned that was the end of it. It was another closed book.

Anton and Lucy knew that none of it was their responsibility. They had bought the house, not its past, and sometimes the past is best forgotten. They had concluded that when the police removed the body, they had removed the silent stirrings of evil which had remained within its walls, undisturbed, until they had moved in.

There was only one thing left to do in order to rid it of its tragic past. They had both agreed to donate the sculptures, and other valuables, to a charity for the protection of children to be auctioned for their benefit. Magdalena, surely, would have been happy with that and should rest more peacefully in her grave wherever that might be. They both believed that they had been drawn to Juniper for a reason that day. It was destiny that they had to move there in order to uncover the tragic events of so long ago, so that its spirits could finally rest in peace. Whilst they could never know the answer, they believed that they were the chosen ones who could enter that world and come out at the other end unscathed. Their job was done, and now it was time for them to move on and get on with their own lives. And whilst Lucy knew that there were still many pieces missing from the jigsaw, they were happy to walk away; their life together in the future was more important than something buried in the past.

Somehow Magdalena had been caught up in a time-warp where everything had simply stood still; it happened when she was alive and again after she’d died. All that time she had spent her days waiting for Billy, something she’d never been able to come to terms with. Knowing her husband to be a bounder, and having her own private earnings, his loss would seem inconsequential in comparison to that of her beloved son. Probably in her mind her husband had stolen him away from her, and her hope was that one day Billy would, of his own accord, find his way back to the loving home he had known with his mother. But it was Billy’s spirit which had returned as a child to guide Lucy to the truth of what had happened to his father; in her view he had to have known about it. But the one thing that puzzled her was why he hadn’t led her to the truth of where he, as a child, had gone on that fatal day in nineteen-fifty-eight. Perhaps the rumours were true, that he had been taken abroad and kept by the people whose debts the father could not repay. It was a tragic story involving cruelty and treachery by the very persons Magdalena had loved, trusted and cared for.

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