The old black house rose up out of the moor like a finger warning off all visitors. The steeples slashed into the cloudy sky and the gargoyle-shaped rain spouts spat water down from their perches. Marie Norrel
Raven now, good Lord.
didn’t like the look of this house one bit.
Her opinion of it did not matter, unfortunately. Much in the fashion of one of those ‘mail-order brides’, she had been shipped off to be the wife of the mansion’s current owner, Maxwell Raven. Technically she was his wife already, and the only good thing about that was the elimination of the ceremony. She had never liked parties, and the idea of having a massive one like that made her stomach hurt. Besides, she’d never looked good in white.
The horses did not like the house any more than she did and the coachman had quite a time of forcing them up to the door. Marie pretended not to hear the swearing and threats he was hurling at the poor things.
“Sorry about them, Ma’m.” he said, once they were stopped. “They never have liked coming up here. Something in the air, I think.”
Marie shrugged. She thought the place was cursed. It probably was. There wouldn’t be so many stories about it if it wasn’t.
Cursed or not, here she was and here she would stay unless she was lucky enough to get a divorce. Or the house caught fire. Either of those would be fine.
She was shaking, but when the coachman caught her eye she mumbled something about being cold. It was cold out here, after all. And the light drizzle wasn’t making it any better. She wondered if she would forget what the sun looked like.
The coachman deposited her bags in the hallway and left to deal with the horses. Marie pulled her coat tightly around her and looked around.
The hallway was deserted. It was lined with pictures and a few mirrors, and there was an old oak table by the door. It had a bowl for cards, but there weren’t any in it. It was dark inside, with only a few candles throwing shadows on the walls.
No servants came to help her or get her suitcases and she wondered if she should go into another room. It was cold in here and she wanted very much to find a nice warm fire.
After a few more minutes, she decided to explore a little. She lived here after all.
Her footsteps echoed in the hallway. The sound only intensified her unease and she wished someone else would come. Surely other people lived here. There was no way she’d gotten the wrong location, as much as she might have wanted to.
She finally came to a door with an envelope tacked to it. The envelope had her name on it in bold, flowing script and she picked it up. What in the world was this?
If you’ve found this letter, congratulations! You’ve gotten past the hallway. I’ve been meaning to get that redone, it’s always given me the creeps.
I’m sorry I can’t be here to meet you. Work has always taken up more time than I would like, but the busy season’s nearing its end. Since you’re probably bored and mad at me, why don’t you wander around a bit? There’s more notes like this one scattered around. See if you can find them. It’ll give us something to discuss besides the weather.
Humph. She was not happy about this, not one bit. She was supposed to get to know her husband through notes? Really?
Well, it would certainly be an interesting story someday. Who knew? Maybe they’d have a good laugh about this twenty years down the road, if they were still married and still getting along. Assuming they got along in the first place.
She tried the door and found that it opened. Inside was a very large fire. The room itself seemed to be a parlor or something. It too was deserted, but there was a tea set on the table, as well as a small envelope. She picked that up first.
You like mint tea, don’t you? Help yourself, I know it’s cold outside. It’s always cold out here, even in the middle of summer. Get used to it.
You have found the parlor! Good for you. You can leave your coat in here if you’d like. And don’t worry about your luggage, it’s been brought upstairs. If you can find it, you can have it back. Don’t worry, it won’t be hard.
Marie did like mint tea. She wondered if he’d had a lucky guess or something else. It didn’t matter, really.
She poured herself a cup and shrugged out of her coat. There was no coat rack here and she ended up leaving it on a wooden chair. It would have to do. If he wanted his furniture safe, he’d provide a coat rack.
Now, to rescue her suitcases. She wanted a change of clothes, preferably warmer ones.
She left the room with her teacup and looked around. The three other doors were closed. At the end of the hall was a sweeping staircase that looked like it had been taken out of a palace. Who knew, perhaps it was.
She looked at it. It seemed to go on and on. It looked sturdy enough, though, and she wanted her suitcase. She would go up.
The staircase did indeed go on and on. Or maybe it just felt that way. Whatever the case, she was relieved to reach a floor with an open door. She was pretty sure it was the third floor. Or maybe the fourth.
She went into the room and spotted her suitcases leaning against the wall. Ah, fresh clothes at last! Huzzah!
She shut the door and felt around for the buttons up the back of her dress. She almost wished someone would show up to help her out.
It took longer than usual to get the buttons undone, but that was probably because her hands were shaking. After a few minutes, she had her dress off. She felt very exposed, standing in here practically naked. Hopefully the door had a good lock.
Once she was dressed again, she combed her hair out of her face a bit and looked around the room. It was a very nice one, all done up in blacks and reds and golds. There was no sign that anyone else lived in this room and for that she was grateful.
There was another envelope stuck in the mirror frame and she went to take it out. What did he have to say this time? That this mirror was a two-way?
You have found your way to your-our? We’ll talk about it later-bedroom. I hope you like it. It’s about…six, I think, so if you want to make your way to the dining room downstairs there’ll be something warm for you.
Sure enough, the clock downstairs chimed six. How had he known what time it would be? That was a little disturbing, actually.
Disturbing or not, she was hungry and she went downstairs to seek out the dining room.
It took her ten minutes to find it-why was this house so blasted huge?-and when she did, it was empty. She was relieved about that. After finding all those strange little notes, she wasn’t really prepared to meet Maxwell Raven quite yet. She didn’t even know what he looked like, for heaven’s sake! All she knew about him had come from the papers, and that information was scarce.
There was a steaming teapot on one end of the table, accompanied by-surprise, surprise-a white envelope. She sat down, wondering again at the lack of servants, and picked it up.
Hullo again, Marie.
You have reached the end of the line! Well, for today. It’s getting late. Hopefully these notes haven’t made you too upset at me. Work, remember?
“Can get to know each other as time goes on. Maxwell.”
The sudden voice had startled her and she jumped, the paper fluttering to the floor.
The owner of the voice was standing right behind her, leaning over her shoulder. Presumably this was Maxwell-the black hair was a dead giveaway.
Yes. This was the writer of the little notes and the cause of her nerves. She would admit, earlier she’d entertained giving him what-for for not meeting her when she arrived. Now, though, she could barely squeak out a “M-Maxwell Raven?”
He nodded and looked her up and down. She knew she should stand up, but she thought that if she did she might fall. No, sitting was the best option right now.
“Pleasure to meet you at last.” he said. “Sorry for the notes. They’ve always told me I was a bit dramatic.”
They? Who was they? Never mind, she didn’t really want to know.
He flopped into the chair beside her and tapped his glass. Out of nowhere, a somberly-dressed man darted out with a tray in hand. Where had he been all this time?
Maxwell shook his head when the man made to place something in front of him.
“I’m not hungry, Edgar. Don’t bother.”
“Very good, Sir.”
Marie had started out hungry, but now her stomach was too knotted up to accept anything except tea. Even the tea tasted a little strange.
“So.” Oh, Lord. Conversation time. She hadn’t been looking forward to this, not one bit. “Your trip up was acceptable, I hope?”
“Very nice.” she lied. “Very smooth.”
He laughed and leaned back.
“Mind if I smoke?”
As if she would say anything if she did!
“No, not at all.”
“Good.” He toyed with his lighter for a few minutes before touching it to his cigarette. “Smooth, hm? Lucky you. Every time I came back from school the path hadn’t been redone and I’d end up being knocked around.”
Funny, that had happened to her. She’d wondered if the path had ever been redone, to be honest.
“I meant the first part.”
She was at a loss for words and instead prodded the soup. Onion. She liked onion. Either Maxwell knew more about her than she did about him, or he liked a lot of the same things. She hoped it was the latter.
“Max.” he corrected. “I’ve never gone by Maxwell except at school.”
“Max.” she said. “Where was everyone earlier?”
“I was busy and the servants were on the upper floors. Why?”
“Just curious. For a moment I thought I had the wrong address.”
“Ah. No, you have arrived at the right place. I hope you have warm clothes in those trunks of yours, because it’s cold most of the year here. And wet.”
Oh, great. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the rain, but she hated being cold. The heating had gone out once and she’d insisted on staying at school over the break while it was being fixed. That had been almost as bad as freezing.
“I think so.”
“Good. If not, go shopping or something.”
Well! That was a rather nice change. Her father, rich or not, had never been too pleased to send them shopping ‘just because’. Maybe this wouldn’t be so horrible after all.
They sat in silence for the next few minutes, then Maxwell stubbed his cigarette out and stood up.
“I hate to leave you so soon, but I have to take a short trip. I’ll be back sometime next week and then we can get to know each other better. Get used to the house or something.”
She didn’t dare ask him where he was going. It wasn’t any of her business, obviously, or he would have told her. Her father always hated being asked silly questions. ‘If I don’t tell you, mind your own.’ he always said.
“Oh, before I leave…keep off the moor. It’s not that I mind you going out, but it’s a bit of a death trap. If you fall into the mire, good luck getting out.”
“Thank you for the warning.”
“If you need anything, ring the bell. The servants will help you if you get lost or something.”
Before she could say anything else, he’d left. After a moment, she heard the front door open and close. There was no sign that he’d been there except for the stubbed-out cigarette and the lingering smell of smoke.
* * *
Marie finished her dinner around six forty-five and went upstairs to take a nice hot bath. Maybe that would warm her up. The chill that had settled over her when she first reached the moor simply would not leave.
The bath was nice but all too soon the water grew cold and she had to get out. What a pity. Ah, well. At least she had a little bit of time to get used to this place before Maxwell came back.
Maxwell…she didn’t understand him. She wondered if he would be always be like this, all dark and mysterious and gone all the time. She didn’t know which was worse: marrying a man like her father or marrying one who seemed to be his polar opposite. She supposed she would find out.
The sheets on the bed were soft and someone had slipped in and placed a bed warmer under the mattress. She wondered when that had happened and decided she’d find out in the morning.
She couldn’t sleep and she ended up switching the lamp on to read. She was working on a new adventure novel-one of those ‘lost world’ types that were so popular nowadays-and she had just reached the big lizards. What crazy ideas people could come up with!
It was raining again and she could hear the wind battering against the old mansion. She wondered if this place was sturdy. It creaked and groaned like an old horse and she hoped it was stronger than it sounded.
There was a crack of thunder and the light flickered. Great. Now she couldn’t even read! She put her book down while she could still see the nightstand. Now what was she supposed to do?
Her question was answered by another clap of thunder. The lamp went out and she tugged the blankets up over her head. She didn’t like it here, not one bit.
She’d been lying there for about half an hour when the rain finally began to slow. The lamp flickered back to life. Thank goodness.
Lamp or no lamp, Marie didn’t feel any more at ease. As such, she spent the rest of the night looking around the room and wishing with all her heart that morning would come soon.