Ginny Wattersfield knelt beside her mother’s final resting place in the graveyard behind St. Dunstan’s Church, and moved her hand over the place where her mother was buried. The connection Ginny felt to her mother was as strong today as when her mother was alive, the guilt that gnawed at her as painful today as ever. How could it be otherwise? It was Ginny’s fault her mother was dead. Her fault that her mother had escaped their rooms during her watch, and run out into the street to be struck by a delivery wagon.
“I’m sorry, Mama.”
Ginny swiped her hand over the damp grass one final time, then rose to her feet. She’d stayed here longer than usual and the little sun that had struggled to peek through the foggy London day was nearly gone. It was nearing dusk and the fog was thick and heavy as Ginny took her first steps back to the shop she and her two sisters owned—Wattersfield’s Emporium. Her sisters would be concerned if she didn’t return before dark and could be counted upon to reprimand her for being out so late.
Instead of taking the usual route from the graveyard, she took a shorter, less traveled path. She was anxious to make her way home as quickly as possible. The fog had settled over the city like a soggy blanket, making it difficult to see where she was going and chilling her bones.
She pulled the hood of her cloak over her head to keep the dampness from her face and hair, then clutched it tightly beneath her chin as she scurried down the path.
Ginny wasn’t superstitious. Neither was she afraid to visit the graveyard after dark. Coming to St. Dunstan’s to see her mother didn’t frighten her as it did her siblings.
Her older sister by two years—Ardella, who to most of the world was just Della—made as many excuses as possible to avoid visiting their mother’s grave. Lucy, two years younger than Ginny’s twenty-five years, was terrified of visiting the cemetery. She refused to come on all but the sunniest of days. And seldom even then.
Ginny was the only one who came regularly. Della was of the opinion that visiting their mother’s grave reopened wounds each of them should be trying to let heal. She didn’t want the constant reminder of what a tortured soul their mother was, and how tragically her life had ended.
Yes, their mother was a tortured soul, Ginny thought as she made her way through the heavy fog. Their mother’s mind and memory had failed her to the point where in the end she didn’t even recognize her daughters. She didn’t know where she was. Even more agonizing were the conversations she had with her long-dead husband, and even longer-dead mother.
Ginny couldn’t imagine the torture her mother had suffered thinking that she’d been abandoned by everyone she’d loved. She couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for her mother to live in a world of strangers.
Ginny brushed at an errant tear that spilled over her lashes. The gate to St. Dunstan’s graveyard was within sight. She would be glad to reach the street and make the familiar twenty-minute walk past Leadenhall Market to Cornhill and the rooms where she and her sisters lived above Wattersfield Emporium.
The pleading words of a female voice slicing through the fog stopped her midstride.
Ginny whirled about, struggling to see through the dense fog. But it was impossible to see more than a foot in front of her face. She looked a moment longer, but seeing no one she turned to go.
“Please. Help me.”
Ginny stopped again and turned in the direction of the voice. She pushed her hood from her head and looked around. “Who’s there?”
The voice didn’t answer but remained silent.
“Who’s there?” she repeated. But she was answered only by eerie silence.
Ginny’s heart raced in her breast. The fog had thickened dangerously. The voice couldn’t be real. She’d no doubt imagined it. That was the only logical explanation.
Ginny waited as she stared into the foggy darkness. Shivers raced down her spine and she felt a harsh spike of fear that someone who was in the cemetery with her would play such a cruel trick on her. She was desperate to leave and took the next steps almost at a run.
“Please. Find my killer.”
“Stop it!” Ginny cried out. She was no longer frightened. She was angry. Angry that a trickster was playing such a cruel joke.
“Where are you? Show yourself!” she said as she stomped in the direction of the voice. “I’m not afraid, you know. But I am getting angry.”
She continued toward the voice.
“Don’t let him go free,” the voice said through the fog. “Find my killer.”
Ginny’s heart skipped a beat. A painful knot fell to the pit of her stomach.
“Please, help me.”
Ginny followed the voice until there was no place for her to go. She looked down at the tombstone she’d nearly stumbled across and knelt down to read the name inscribed on it.
Elizabeth de Wolfe
Beloved sister of Moira, Constance and Katherine
b. 1835 – d. 1855
“Elizabeth? Oh, dear lord! Elizabeth! Who killed you?” Ginny asked.
“He did,” the voice answered.
Ginny bolted to her feet, then staggered. She’d never been so frightened in her life. Someone was talking to her from the grave. “W… who did?” she asked.
“Tell me his name!”
“Be careful. He’s not what he seems.”
“Not what he…who are you talking about?” she asked. But her question was met with a terrifying silence.
When no more words were forthcoming, Ginny rose, then stumbled from the grave.
This couldn’t be happening. She had to have imagined that someone spoke to her. No one was there. It must have been a combination of the near darkness and the fog and her imagination. It had to have been.
Ginny clutched her cloak tighter around her and raced through the gate then on to Fleet Street.
She was out of breath by the time she reached the thoroughfare and only slowed twenty minutes later as she neared her destination. She knew Della would be furious with her for being away for so long. It was dark now. Nearly time to lock up their shop and retire for the evening.
Ginny stopped to calm herself, then walked casually through the shop door. Della looked up when the bell over the door tinkled to announce her arrival.
“Don’t tell me you’ve been at the cemetery all this time,” Della said. There was annoyance in her sister’s voice and accusation in her words. She paused from her task of putting away several colorful pair of gloves she must have removed to show a customer.
“Very well,” Ginny said as she walked past her sister to hang her cloak on a hook near the fire in the back room. “I won’t tell you that’s where I’ve been even though it was.”
Ginny tried to keep her voice calm and hoped she succeeded.
“When will you realize that Mother’s death was not your fault?” Della said following her to the back room.
Ginny halted with her cloak midway to the hook. “I know her death wasn’t my fault, Della. I regret that I wasn’t attentive enough to stop her from leaving her room, but I know she was no longer in charge of her actions. For some reason none of us understands, she was desperate to go to the house where she grew up. Even though that house is no longer there.”
“Mother was ill, Ginny. She had an illness of the mind. She heard voices that weren’t there, and there was nothing any of us could do for her.”
A shiver ran down Ginny’s spine. She finished hanging up her cloak and fanned it out so it would dry more easily, then turned to face her older sister. Since she’d heard the voice in the cemetery, she’d been consumed with a sense of panic that perhaps she, too, suffered from the same illness as her mother.
“I know that’s true, Della. But what if she isn’t the only one of us who suffers from that same—”
Before Ginny could finish her sentence, Della closed the distance that separated them and clasped her fingers around Ginny’s upper arms. “Don’t you dare think that. You may look the most like Mama, and resemble her in many ways, but you are not her.”
In the face of Della’s denial Ginny couldn’t bring herself to tell her sister what had happened a half hour earlier in the graveyard.
“It’s not healthy for you to visit Mama as often as you do, Ginny. Promise me that you will not go to the graveyard again for at least a week. Or even two.”
“Please, Ginny. Promise me. I don’t want you to go there again for a long while. I can’t think it’s good for you.” Della looked at her with a sincere expression on her face. “Please, Ginny.”
Della’s earnest plea moved her and at last Ginny nodded several times. “I promise, Della. I’ll stay away from St. Dunstan’s for at least a week.”
“Very well. I’ll try for two.”
Della gave Ginny a sisterly hug. “Thank you, sweet. Now, let’s close the shop and go upstairs. Lucy will undoubtedly be waiting dinner on us.”
Ginny helped Della turn down the lamps, lock the front door and shutter the windows. When Wattersfield Emporium was secure for the night, she and Della climbed the stairs to the rooms they shared above the emporium.
A hearty stew simmered atop the stove, and Lucy filled a bowl for each of them once they were seated around the table.
Ginny was glad when talk of her trip to the cemetery changed to the large sale they’d made while Ginny was gone. Business was thriving, and that eased their financial burden. Ginny didn’t need more worries. After her trip to St. Dunstan’s, she had enough straining her nerves.
Ginny took several spoonsful of the warm stew and realized how chilled she still was. And how frightened. She tried to tell herself that she’d imagined the voice that had called out to her. But she knew she hadn’t. The voice had been real. The plea for help real.
A shiver overtook her when she considered what she should do. There wasn’t an answer, other than that she should try to forget what had happened. Perhaps in a week she wouldn’t remember the voice. Or the cry for help.
But Ginny knew that wouldn’t happen.
. . .
It had been a week since she’d heard the voice in the graveyard. A week of long days and endless nights in which she hadn’t slept. She didn’t know how much longer she could continue like this before she became ill.
Ginny sat in the floral cushioned chair beneath her bedroom window and stared out at the slowly lightening sky. Her head throbbed from lack of sleep and the nightmares that plagued her when she did fall asleep. She hadn’t been able to eat or sleep or even rest since she’d returned from the graveyard. The voice cried out to her each night as soon as she closed her eyes. And the cries didn’t ease, but became more desperate each time Elizabeth de Wolfe called out to her.
Ginny rubbed her hands up and down her arms, then bolted to her feet when she couldn’t sit in the chair any longer. She tried to be as quiet as possible as she dressed, then made her way down the stairs. She didn’t want to wake either of her sisters. Della especially was concerned about her. Yesterday she’d even suggested Ginny go to see a doctor, but Ginny had only laughed. A doctor couldn’t heal what was wrong with her. No more than a doctor had been able to help their mother.
She descended the stairs as quietly as possible. When she reached the back room of the emporium, she put a kettle of water on to boil. Hopefully, a cup of tea would help the throbbing of her head. She steeped the tea, but turned when Della’s voice interrupted her.
“Can’t sleep again?” she asked.
Ginny turned back to her task. “I simply woke early and decided to get up. Would you care for some tea?”
“If you’ve made enough.” Della walked to the small workroom table and sat.
“Yes, I’ve made enough.”
When the tea was ready Ginny poured them each a cup, then took it to the table and sat beside Della. “I’m sorry I woke you,” Ginny said as she added milk to her cup.
“You didn’t. I was awake. I was waiting for you to rise.” Della took a sip of her tea, then set down her cup. “What’s wrong, Ginny? What’s bothering you?”
Della’s words raised the cruel fears she’d hoped to keep in check. Ginny struggled to keep the tears at bay, but failed. She shook her head as the first tear spilled from her eyes. More followed no matter how desperately she tried to keep them from streaming down her cheeks.
How could she tell her sister what had happened when she’d last visited their mother’s grave? How could she expect her sister to believe that she’d heard the voice of a young girl who’d been dead for two years? Or that she thought Elizabeth de Wolfe had called out to her for help?
“Tell me, Ginny. What happened the day you went to the cemetery that upset you so?”
Ginny took a deep breath, then lifted her chin and looked at her sister. “Do you remember a young girl by the name of Elizabeth de Wolfe?”
Della thought a moment, then nodded. “Yes. She used to come into the emporium with her sisters. She was quite a good customer as I remember. Although I don’t remember seeing her in quite a while.”
“Two years,” Ginny answered.
“Has it been that long?” Della asked. “How can you know that?”
“Because that’s how long she’s been dead.”
The shock on Della’s face was evident. “She’s dead?”
Ginny nodded. “It was getting late as I was leaving the graveyard last week so I took a different path than I usually take. I… I saw her grave.” Ginny swiped at a tear. “She was only twenty.”
“And such a pretty girl.”
“I can’t help thinking about her. I can’t believe we haven’t noticed that it’s been so long since she’s been to our shop. Or that we haven’t missed her in church.”
There must have been such a lot of publicity when a prominent young woman died. Had she and her sisters been so diverted by fear and exhaustion over their mother’s condition that they hadn’t even registered the fact that a lovely young customer had died?
Della reached out and took Ginny’s hands in hers. “And this is what has you so upset?”
Ginny knew she should tell her sister the rest, but she couldn’t. How could she expect Della to understand?
“How could a life be so insignificant that we didn’t even notice that she hadn’t come in for so long? Or that her sisters had but she wasn’t with them?”
Della didn’t answer, but gave Ginny’s fingers a gentle squeeze. “Ginny, the girl could have been off at boarding school, or having her tour on the continent, or living in the country. There are any number of plausible reasons for her absence. But tell me, how did she die?” Della asked. “What happened to her?”
Ginny shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ve imagined every possibility, but I don’t know for sure.” Ginny took a swallow of her tepid tea. “I have to know, Della.”
“How can you find out?”
“I think the only way, other than visiting her family, which I don’t want to do since we aren’t socially connected, would be to search in the papers. Surely they would have a listing of her death.” Ginny locked her gaze with Della’s. “Would you mind terribly if I went to the paper this morning and inquired?”
Della gave her a sympathetic look. “Not if it will ease your mind, my sweet. You can’t continue as you have been. You’ll make yourself ill, and then what use will you be to Lucy or to me.” She cleared their cups from the table then stopped with a sudden thought. “We should ask Reverend Fletcher when he comes for dinner Sunday. He’ll know all about it.”
For the first time in nearly a week, Ginny found something to smile about. “I promise I will not become ill, Della.” Ginny rose from the table and prepared to leave the room. She stopped at the doorway and turned to her sister. “Thank you, Della. And yes, Reverend Fletcher for Sunday dinner will be wonderful.”