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PROLOG

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4 Jan 1941

Dear Diary,

 

I can scarcely believe all that has happened in the past few weeks.

 

I do not know what I would have done without my cousin, George Gracey, by my side during the funeral, and the difficult days that followed.

 

I want to go back to school, to the Academy. I want Mama and Papa alive again.

 

Cousin George says that I must remain at home this term. He says that there are many things for him to do, to sort out my family's finances. Oh, but there are so many papers to sign, and the words on them make no sense to me. I am so very grateful for Cousin George's help with these matters, but none of this is fair.

-Emily

 

 

7 Jan 1941

Dear Diary,

 

This is happening far too quickly. Cousin George has brought me to his home, Gracey Mansion.

 

When we arrived late tonight, the gate looked ominous and I felt faint, as if all the life was being drained from me...

 

Cousin George said that it is simply the stress of travel, and all that has happened in recent weeks.

 

He says that in the morning, the fog will have lifted, and the sun will shine, making everything right again.

 

I hope he is right, but this sense of foreboding has gripped me in the very worst way.

 

I cannot sleep now, and cannot figure what to do.

 

-Emily

 

 

14 Jan 1941

Dear Diary,

 

Cousin George says that he has found Mama's notes confirming a discussion he had with her, right before the accident.

 

Cousin George says that my dear parents had suggested a marriage. To him! What shall I do? He is too old. He must be at least 50, and I am just 16. I am sure he is handsome enough, if you don't mind that his skin crinkles when he smiles. Fortunately, he rarely smiles. He is too old for me. I will ask to see Mama's notes.

 

But why would George lie to me?

 

I want to leave this horrid place. I want to go back to my school in Switzerland.

 

-Emily

 

7 February 1941

 

Dear Diary,

 

Cousin George still won't show me Mama's papers. He says that I am too upset right now. He is right that I am not well. My stomach is tense and I cannot sleep at night.

 

George's friend and houseguest, Madame Leota, is most concerned about my health.

 

I will call him "George", rather than "Cousin", but I will not marry him.

 

The engagement announcement and party is in a week. What shall I do?

 

This is an awful old house, and I wish I had never come here.

 

-Emily

 

 

1 May 1941

Dear Diary,

 

Today was the first day of warm, almost sunny weather. It seems as if I have been kept a prisoner within these walls, ever since dear Mama and Papa died. I thought the dismal weather would never cease.

 

I went exploring the grounds here at Gracey Mansion.

 

The property is a bit wild and overgrown, but intriguing. It would be far better for hide-and-seek than my boarding school in Switzerland ever was.

 

But who to play with here?

 

I found the oddest little family cemetery in the thorny and wooded area behind the house. One stone belongs to a Captain Stevens, a previous owner of the Mansion, who'd distinguished himself in the War Between the States.

 

He seems to have died rather young, and his stone is outside the perimeter of the small cemetery. Perhaps he was a sinner. There is no other reason for his stone to be removed beyond the cemetery walls.

 

There are a few other stones, too covered with weeds to read. I will investigate them another day.

Almost everyone else in the cemetery has the surname of Blood. It's a common enough name, but nevertheless, rather disturbing.

 

I inquired of my brother Augustus' friend, Ezra, about this. He has it on good authority that the Blood family once owned this estate, before the Stevens family did. He said that a former groom at the Mansion, an elderly gentleman, recalled seeing a few members of the Blood family in town, before each met a tragic end.

 

Ezra was not surprised that I feel drawn to the headstone of Abel Blood in particular. According to local legend, Abel Blood haunts the cemetery. He was from another branch of the Blood family.

 

No one seems certain if he ever actually lived in the Mansion. He died about four years before the Stevens family took up residence here, and apparently his life's mission was incomplete.

 

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On dark nights when his spirit roams, they say that the index finger on Abel Blood's gravestone points down, indicating the way back to his home, in Hell.

I mentioned this to George, who seemed quite agitated but not entirely surprised by my discovery. It was as if something else was troubling him. I could see a muscle twitching in his cheek, though he turned away from me quickly.

 

He says that he will not forbid me to visit the Blood Family Cemetery again, but he would prefer that I find more cheerful pursuits.

 

Madame Leota, who seems quite brusque with me most of the time, responded in a curious manner. She urged me to visit the grave more often, and to tell her if I observe anything odd.

 

With Madame's unhealthy preoccupation with Spiritualist matters, I cannot claim to be surprised. However, this is the first genuine interest she has expressed towards me.

 

I hope this may bridge the gap between us, for I cannot fathom why she has taken me in such dislike, apparently from the start.

 

I know that George visits Madame frequently, after the rest of the household is in bed. He denies it, but perhaps he thinks it unmanly to have a friendship with a woman - and a very odd woman, at that.

 

Ezra has hinted that there was once a romantic involvement between George and Madame.

 

However, I am certain George would never dally with someone so unsuitable. Sometimes, Ezra is like an old woman with his tales.

 

After all, George and I are engaged, and that bears great importance among people of our social standing. George would never jeopardize his reputation by trifling with that woman, I am certain.

 

Ezra is a dreadful gossip, and I fear he will lead my brother Augustus to misfortune. Already, Augustus insists that his name is "Gus", at Ezra's urging. "Gus" sounds so common to me, when Augustus is such a grand name. I cannot imagine what that is about, but humor Augustus by playing along with this.

 

Madame Leota has asked to accompany me to the Blood Family Cemetery tomorrow. I hope it is another fine day, and that Madame is a cheerful companion.

 

-Emily

 

   14 Aug 1941

Dear Diary,

 

I can still recall how beautiful Gracey Mansion appeared, the first time I saw it. Even then it was sadly overgrown with rosebushes and weeds, but it seemed to capture my soul nevertheless.

 

Yes, at first I thought I hated it, but I've become so much more sensible since then. And now I realize that it truly is my home. Perhaps it always has been. It's as if the house wants me.

 

But, oh, the garden! George will not hire a gardener since the death of his cousin, Huet Gilbert. Huet was the gardener until he was accused of Lillian's murder. Then Huet died and I'm not certain what to think of that.

 

Despite the well-stocked potting shed at the farthest corner of the property, George says he will not have me tending the garden, not even to pick a few flowers for the table. He says that flowers remind him of the funeral of his late wife, Lillian.

 

The house seems rather cheerless, as if nothing could grow within its walls. Such a magnificent house should be cheerful. A few flowers could make such a difference, but I dare not cross George on anything right now. When I mentioned that I'd visited the potting shed, George flew into a rage and seemed to pound upon the ballroom organ all night, playing Bach fugues somewhat out-of-key. He would not explain the inordinate amount of poison in the shed. I know that arsenic is useful to control rats, but I have seen no evidence of pests.

 

George's uncle, my cousin Asa Gilbert, works as a handyman here at the Mansion. Cousin Asa says that there have never been rodents at Gracey Mansion for the twenty years that he's been here.  Though his son, Huet, was the gardener, Cousin Asa also cannot explain the jars and jars of arsenic. Asa mentioned something about another gardener, Eddy, but no one seems willing to talk about him.

 

I am troubled by George's apparent fits of temper, and the many inexplicable things that I have found at Gracey Mansion. I doubt that my dearest Mama and Papa knew that Cousin George had these dark moods, when they suggested this marriage. I can hardly believe his fits of temper, myself. I hope that life turns cheerier soon.

 

-Emily

 

31 Aug 1941

Dear Diary,

 

I felt much better when I awoke this morning.

 

In fact, I felt so much better that I went for a stroll through the wooded area behind the Mansion. George has forbidden me to go there now, but something draws me to the Blood Family Cemetery. It is as if someone there is trying to tell me something, perhaps a warning. It is such an odd sensation; I dare not mention it to anyone.

 

Since I became ill, George watches me with great concern. It becomes more and more difficult to slip out of the house, to visit the cemetery. However, George had gone into town today, to meet Madame Leota's train.

 

With Augustus, Phineas, and Ezra riding the rails like hobos this week, and Cousin Asa driving George's carriage to the train station, I was free to explore at will.

 

It taxed my strength greatly, to cut back the thorn bushes around one particular stone, and I am sorry that I did so, for several reasons.

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Of course, I am still rather an invalid, so my endurance is brief. However, what disturbs me more is the image I discovered when the brambles and thorns were cleared away. It is a strange old headstone, apparently representing Mary Magdalene.

Perhaps in another setting, the statue might be charming. It measures barely three feet tall, and the figure of Mary resembles a miniature person.

 

What chilled me the most, was the face on the statue. Although this is another Blood family headstone, it could be an exact portrait of Madame's daughter, Little Leota. Of course, the statue is too old to be a portrait of her. And Little Leota could not possibly sit still for a sculptor.

 

Lately, Little Leota seems worse. She wanders the halls of the mansion, singing ditties rather like some mad Ophelia. I fear she may come to a similar end.

 

I have not missed Madame and Little Leota while they have been in New Orleans, visiting their relatives. Nevertheless, I know the cooking will improve when Madame is back in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on each dish, particularly mine. With the amount of food Madame insists on feeding me, one would think I'd have put on considerable weight. It is this odd illness, I'm certain, which prevents that.

 

I would agree with Madame, that it is only her cooking which prevents me from wasting away altogether. However, even George has noticed how much more robust I have been since Madame has been on holiday. Perhaps there is some seasoning that Madame uses, which aggravates my health?

 

She has been so attentive to me in recent weeks, I dare not suggest that. She has a delicate temper and I have been grateful for her recent interest in my welfare. But I keep thinking about that rather frightening statue in the cemetery, and my thoughts turn morose.

 

Only to you, dear diary, will I admit that the figure seems to be mourning for me. No doubt, my thoughts are still clouded from my recent illness.

 

-Emily

 

4 September 1941

Dear Diary,

 

Everyone is out of sorts since Madame’s return. Madame and Cook had an enormous fight. George ordered Madame to stay out of the kitchen, and Madame stormed off, shrieking that Cook would pay dearly.

 

Cook replied that Madame would no longer have an opportunity to poison us. Cook is being melodramatic, of course. Madame’s efforts in the kitchen may have been misguided, but the thought of poison is preposterous.

 

Isn’t it?

 

George has been short tempered with me since Madame’s return. I feel as if I am a disappointment to him, and I do not know what to do.

 

-Emily

 

 

 16 September 1941

Dear Diary,

 

My health has greatly improved since Madame stopped preparing my meals. Yet I retain the hope that my illness was nothing sinister on her part, but rather, as I speculated previously, that it was nothing more than some spice or other that was disagreeable to my stomach. Perhaps it is an allergy I was unaware of.

 

With my new strength, George agreed that I had no further need for round-the-clock assistance from the domestics, and I have been able to move about the mansion with less effort.

 

And while everyone seems glad that I am doing better, nevertheless I still find it curious that no one would fetch a doctor even during the hardest times of my illness.

 

-Emily

  

 

 25 September 1941

Dear Diary,

 

I have not at all been fond of dwelling in the same house with George, now that we are engaged. It seems to me most unchristian, since we are not yet married.

 

I have expressed to George that I have no desire to be the subject of small talk and gossip at tea time among the upper class – of which our family is a part. But he believes that the immense size of this house, and the great distances between our two chambers, dissolves any apparent inappropriateness.

 

I protested this, but George says that I am being silly and that I am yet too young to fully understand the differences between the European etiquette I’d grown accustomed to and the etiquette practiced in America.

 

I suppose I will have to trust his wisdom and experience in these matters. Nevertheless I remain uncomfortable, and I wonder how sweet Mama and Papa would have felt about this.

 

-Emily

 

10 October 1941

Dear Diary,

 

Though I have mixed feelings about Madame’s character, yet am I very aware of her high pedigree, and to that I have respect. Which is why I cannot abide the devilish behavior of her daughter who, though only a few years older than I, behaves at once like an undisciplined child and a common strumpet of the street.

 

She entertains gentlemen at all hours while adorned in the most shameful attire, and her unlady-like peals of laughter and revelries shake the rafters! I marvel that Madame tolerates such behavior, and I marvel the more that George tolerates it, seeing that he is rather strict with me. I am even the more intrigued by George’s own behavior around Little Leota (as everyone calls Madame’s brat of a daughter). He seem captivated by her, though that does not seem to be of a lascivious nature. Rather, it is though he were under some hypnotic spell when in her presence; a veritable King Herod and Salome act, to the extent that I very nearly expect him to offer “up to the half of my kingdom” if she would but dance for him.

 

And I have told him so; though I should have known by now that any biblical references would be totally lost on him. When I pushed him further, he became furious and ordered me to be silent, “never to speak of such nonsense again”. This hard-heartedness that George often displays toward me, together with the pent up sorrows and fears that I have endured since my parent’s death, finally drove me to tears. To my surprise (and to his as well, I think), George put his arm around me, apologized, and for the first time spoke words of comfort to me concerning my parents.

 

It was then, when I had regained my composure, that he told me of the attic and of what great adventures I might have while looking through all of the old things up there. But I grow weary, dear Diary, so I shall tell you of the attic another day.

 

-Emily

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