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Authors: Lillian Stewart Carl

Shadows in Scarlet (6 page)

BOOK: Shadows in Scarlet

Carrie stood and stretched. “Why don't you ask Cynthia where the miniature came from? Art dealers aren't always as picky as they should be about provenience, but Lady C. would never buy something that wasn't authentic."

"Thanks a lot, Carrie. You're a big help."

"No problem. Can't have you wandering the groves of academe all by yourself, you might get mugged by a footnote."

"Isn't that the truth.” Careers were made and broken on the strength of your sources. The problem was, Amanda had a source she couldn't footnote at all.

"I'd better run,” Carrie went on. “Every now and then I have to maintain the illusion I'm a responsible housewife and mother. See you tomorrow."

"Take care.” Amanda hauled herself to her feet, saw Carrie out into the amber-rich sunlight of early evening, and locked the door after her.

She stood for a few moments listening. The house was silent, like the chattering groups of tourists had taken sound away with them. The moist air echoed hollowly in her ears. Not a breath stirred.

Smooth move.
If Hewitt managed to identify James Grant's body, she was going to owe Carrie some kind of explanation for her premature interest in him. And yet she couldn't bring herself to wait for proof that might never come.
What a coincidence,
she rehearsed,
that I should just be asking about the man....

Don't worry about something that hasn't happened yet, she told herself. She went into the library and searched the shelves for an atlas. The only one she found dated from the seventies. Wayne's name was pencilled on the flyleaf in the painstaking hand of a child who's just learned to write cursive. Dundreggan wasn't listed in the index. She turned to the map of Great Britain and stared blankly at it, but no mental light bulbs went on.

She replaced the book and headed back to her apartment for her evening ritual of cat food, T-shirt, inspection tour, and a quick meal. Nothing was changed from the night before, unless it was Lafayette's pose on the windowsill, left-to-right instead of right-to-left.

She considered going to see the Brad Pitt movie—there was style for you—but since she'd told Wayne she had to work honor dictated she sit down and work. Using Melrose's inhabitants as examples did fit what she was doing. She could start out with Page building the house in the best model of the Age of Reason, and then contrast those ideals with the meager possessions of the servants and slaves below stairs....

She booted up and checked her e-mail. Two engaged college friends were asking for advice on wedding dresses. Speaking of the socionomic significance of clothing—like you're really going to be able to wear that bridesmaid's dress again....
Always a bridesmaid?
Amanda asked herself, and answered, better to be the bridesmaid than to connect with the wrong guy.

Lafayette raised his head and looked out into the deepening twilight. Footsteps crunched along the gravel path. “Amanda?” called a woman's voice. “It's Lucy Benedetto, dear."

"Come around to the door,” Amanda called back. “I'll let you in."

Lafayette laid his head down again, not one hair ruffled. The steps wended their way around the end of the wing. Amanda turned off the security system and opened the back door.

The elderly woman materialized from the gloom outside the halo of lights. “I made too much pie for our supper tonight. Vernon and I thought you might like to have some.” She held out a pie plate, carefully wrapped in a clean dishtowel.

The odor of cinnamon wafted upward. Gingerly Amanda took the warm plate. Its weight implied an entire pie. “That's really nice of you. Thanks. Come on in...."

"Oh no, no, I need to get back, it's almost time for the Pavarotti concert on PBS. We just—well, we just wanted you know we're right up the way if you need us. A nice young girl like you being all alone here and everything."

"Thank you,” Amanda told her. “But I'm doing just fine. Really. No problem."

"Oh. I see. It's all right, then. Well, good night.” Lucy retreated into the darkness.

"Good night. And thanks a lot for thinking about me.” The woman was gone.

Amanda took the pie into the house. It was apple, she discovered. She cut herself a monster piece and closed her eyes while its butter and spice melted on her tongue.

So what was that all about? she asked herself, suspecting that the pie was only an excuse for Lucy to act protective. Maybe she'd seen some horror story on a talk show about young women living alone or something.

Wayne, the Benedettos—everyone wanted to protect her. They meant well. They didn't mean to patronize her. She didn't have to get into anyone's face with the “I am woman hear me roar” routine. Why, she'd even seen a ghost and handled the situation just fine.

A soft brush against Amanda's leg made her jump. It was Lafayette, demanding to know what she was eating.
she told herself.
Yeah, right.
She offered the cat a bit of apple. He sniffed. With an indignant snort of tuna-scented breath he stalked away.

Amanda took her plate to the desk, sat down, and inserted a Pearl Jam CD into the changer. Then she sent a search engine into cyberspace. In for a penny, in for a pound, she thought. Knowledge is power. She was groping for yet another rationalization when a long list of “Highland Regiment” sites scrolled down the screen in front of her.

Saturday and Sunday were Melrose Hall's busiest days. Amanda didn't have time to eye the staircase. Wayne didn't have time for any of his eager-puppy numbers. Carrie didn't have time to discuss miniatures and morals. Amanda curtsied, and spoke her lines, and was glad to notice she was getting less jumpy about her supernatural experience the further it receded beyond her event horizon.

By the time she fell into bed Sunday night she was just about ready to conclude the house wasn't haunted after all. Maybe she had imagined that quick, bright laugh Wednesday evening. She sure hadn't heard the least bump in the night since then.

Amanda pushed the sheet down so that the breeze from the ceiling fan blew on her T-shirted chest. James Grant's appearance had been a momentary novelty of time and reason, she told herself. Someday, way in the future, she'd have a good anecdote for historic preservation conferences:
You know, I never believed in ghosts until....

Funny, how disappointed she was.

[Back to Table of Contents]

Chapter Five

After a couple of weeks without air conditioning, walking into the cool interior of the Rockefeller Library raised gooseflesh on Amanda's arms and shoulders. Virginians in the eighteenth century hadn't suffered as badly from the heat as their modern-day descendants, she decided. They'd expected to sweat. It was knowing you didn't have to that caused some sort of temperature dissonance.

Carrie was barricaded behind stacks of books, papers, magazines, and catalogs. Other publications crept ameba-like out from the main pile on the desk, across the floor, over a chair, and up the shelves. Family photos traced the progress of Carrie's sons from infancy to Little League. A scrawny pot of ivy sat on the windowsill next to a plaque reading, “A Tidy Desk is the Sign of an Empty Mind."

"Hi!” Amanda said.

Carrie looked up, over the top of her glasses. “Even if I didn't work at Melrose three days a week I still wouldn't get all this cleared away. It generates itself. Spores."

"Hello? It's me!” Amanda raised her hands defensively.

"Sorry. I'm on a guilt trip.” Carrie picked her way from behind the desk and hoisted a book the size of a small tabletop from where it leaned against the wall. “Old Ordnance Survey maps of Scotland. One mile to the inch. I found Dundreggan."

Amanda helped Carrie get the book balanced and opened atop the desk. “I'm way out ahead of you—I found it on the Internet last night. Not that a computer grid is nearly as cool as an old map.” She inhaled the book's heady odor of paper and mildew. “I'm with Captain Picard on
Star Trek,
even with all the electronic stuff he likes to sit down with a book."

"There it is,” said Carrie, pointing to the left-hand page. “Dundreggan House. Not a town but a building."

"They're calling it a castle now, but then, it has to be over two hundred years old if Grant lived there.” Amanda's eye left the square marked “Dundreggan House” and moved over its surroundings. Not all the names on the double-page spread were weird: to the right of mouthfuls like “Invermoriston” and “Drumnadrochit” the length of Loch Ness lay like a thick serpent diagonally across the map.

From beneath the book of maps Carrie pulled out a smaller book titled
Chronicles of the Highland Clans.
“How about this? Seats of Clan Grant: Castle Grant. Kinveachy. Dundreggan, foundations laid circa 1282. In possession of the Grants since the fifteenth century. Current owner Alexander, Lord Dundreggan.” She flipped to the copyright page. “As of 1981, at least."

"Sweet,” Amanda told her. “I didn't get that far. I spent most of my time with the 71st Highlanders. But I figured Captain Grant would have a pedigree. Officers were automatically aristocrats."

"They had to be. They had to buy their commissions. So what did you find out?"

"According to the roll of the 71st Regiment of Foot, aka Fraser's Highlanders, there were two officers named Grant, Captain James of Dundreggan and Lieutenant Archibald of Drumullie."

"Maybe you should say ‘leftenant', British-style."

"I know you studied there, show-off. I'd sure like to go there sometime.” Reluctantly Amanda closed the book of maps. “I e-mailed the Public Records office in London for both men's military records and gave them your fax number. If you don't mind. Here you are behind on your own work, you shouldn't have to help me with mine."

"It's not as though you were looking up the Maharajah of Bangalore, is it?” Carrie retorted. “Captain Grant—both Grants, I guess—had something to do with the history of Williamsburg. I can probably get an article for the magazine from this."

You think?
Together Amanda and Carrie replaced the book in the corner. “You are coming to lunch with me, aren't you? All I had for breakfast was cold apple pie—I overslept, and the cleaning service ran me out."

"Lunch is not only part of the deal, I'm coming to the lab with you at one. Speaking of magazine articles, Bill Hewitt's planning one about the Melrose skeleton. He's cleaned the insignia and wants me to look them up."

"All right!” Amanda leaned over to pick up her purse.
What a coincidence I'd get interested in the guy just when his body appears....
“I'll go dig around in the stacks."

"Come drag me away at eleven-thirty.” Carrie surveyed her desk, hands on hips, like a lunchroom monitor walking in on a food fight.

Amanda settled down with a copy of Thomas Mason's account books. Sally's son may have had his qualities, but legible handwriting was not one of them. She had to force herself to focus on the issues: Architecture as a design for living. Form follows function. How many structures had been “restored” to something that in no way served their original purposes?

It may look good, but could your toddler fall off it, over it, or down it.... It isn't necessarily the evil that men do which lives after them, it's their stuff. And the good is often hidden with their bones, Amanda concluded, with the feeling that wasn't the exact quote.

After a while she found herself sketching a man in a kilt and high-collared coat on the margin of her paper. Okay, okay, so James Grant's ghost was a lot more interesting than Thomas Mason's possessions. Go figure. She glanced at her watch and pushed back her chair.

Carrie was typing furiously at her computer keyboard. Amanda padded into the office, found a plastic cup in the trash, and filled it at the water fountain in the hall. Carrie didn't look up until she poured the water on the ivy. “It's no use, it's just going to die. I don't buy plants, I rent them. Somewhere out there are dozens of little leafy things wearing haloes and playing harps."

"Is there a heaven for plants?” Amanda asked with a smile.

"Jack maintains there's a heaven for small appliances.” Carrie saved her files, took off her glasses, and pulled her purse out of a drawer.

"If you follow that reasoning far enough,” said Amanda, “the food we eat must be translated to a great restaurant in the sky. I am the resurrection and the sandwich."

"Just find me a piece of chocolate cake,” Carrie returned, “and I'll give it the last rites."

They were still laughing when they settled down in a restaurant in Merchant's Square, just outside the Historic Area. The visitors in their halter tops and shorts seemed more wilted by the heat than the interpreters in their long skirts and waistcoats.
Mind over matter,
Amanda thought. She had to remind herself to speak modern English to the waitress. Every time she was surrounded by tourists her speech automatically thickened into two-hundred year-old cadences, rich in courtesies and subordinate clauses.

"I wonder if Cornwallis and his troops would recognize Williamsburg today,” she mused over her salad and iced tea.

"If not, Mr. Rockefeller and the Foundation have wasted their money,” answered Carrie.

"And what did the lads from the Highlands make of the colonies? The officers probably thought Virginia was Outer Boondock."

"But the troops may have gone back to their villages warbling how everything's up to date in Williamsburg."

"Those who went back,” said Amanda, wondering again why the body of an officer, a patrician, a gentleman, as he would have been labeled in those days, had been dumped like a potted plant.

The waitress whisked away their plates and deposited slabs of chocolate cake. Amanda and Carrie genuflected, murmuring the usual litany over the size of the servings, the calorie content of the ingredients, and the negative effects of both. Then they dug in.

The taste still lingered in the back of Amanda's mouth when she and Carrie arrived at the nondescript, fifties-functional style building housing the archaeology labs. One of Hewitt's assistants ushered them into the long, narrow room of the bone lab. The incandescent glow of the afternoon leaked in around the window-blinds, only partially warming the chill purplish glow of the fluorescent light fixtures.

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