Feeling the effects of the jetlag and not having slept well the night before Jennifer was still eager to see more of the place and to get familiar with things. The guest-house was a short walk on the grounds to the West of the Manor, and is located in one of the towers where the castle remains are located which is where the grounds keeper stays.

Blinding yellow flames lit the hillsides around her. The oaks were angry red bombs scattered among the more common birch and aspen. Lower down, the maples formed a simmering orange heat.

The cloudy morning sky shown a Reddish Orange like waves on an ocean, the smell of dry oak leaves filled her nose as she entered the guest-house, humbled by the battle all around her. Most of the structure of the original castle still remains but over the years it has been modernized to accommodate guest-houses of today. The guest-house had modern heating, electricity and even the Internet. After exploring the guest house Jennifer returns to the manor house and notices Cindy in the kitchen putting some things away. Jennifer decided she would ask her some questions about this place.

“Hi Cindy”

“Oh hi Ms. Ferimore, is there something I can get you?”

“No thank you, but I did want to ask you something.”

“Oh…and what is that?”

“Why is everyone acting so strange around here?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well earlier today Ms. Baxter acted strange when we were meeting in her office. When I asked her questions she would avoid answering them.

“Oh well…yes, Ms. Baxter is the”.

Jennifer then interrupted Cindy “The office manager here I know but”.

“No…you don’t understand Ms. Ferimore”.

“Call me Jennifer”.

“Very well Jennifer, you don’t understand she and Mr. Witherston are”.

John walked in the kitchen just when Cindy was about to finish.

“I will be out for a while I need to deliver some papers to another client of mine I should be back this evening.”

“Ok, we’ll see you later”, Cindy said

“Jennifer I’ve noticed strange behavior from Ms. Baxter for some time now. I’ve seen her and Witherston having secret closed door meetings late in the night in the office. Oh and watch out for her dog Dex. He doesn’t like her and isn’t always accepting to strangers. She doesn’t really like the dog that much but has had it for about six months now. It was a rescue.”

“Really well I love dogs.”

“Yes but that’s not all. I have seen her get into Witherston’s car many times and they are gone for hours and I’ve seen them looking around the property like they are trying to find something specific but they are not sure where it is.”

“That’s weird.” said Jennifer

“OK, look don’t say anything to anyone. Keep this discussion between us. In the mean time I will use the computer in her office, and see if I can dig up something.”

Patting her on the shoulder Jennifer hurried her way into the office which was fortunately unlocked and got on the computer. It was password locked but Jennifer knows her way around computers. She noticed a photo on the desk of Ms. Baxter and Dex. So thinking of the dog she was able to guess the password by the third try. Rubbing her temples feeling the lack of sleep, Jennifer begins to look for information on the computer.

She quickly searched the hard drive for any files that might explain what is going on. She found a folder labeled Shaldorn and inside it another folder called Witherston. She opened that one and saw a lot of files. There were documents and photos of different areas of the property and specifically the outside remote areas. The documents talked about hostile takeover plans of the estate. Monies paid to a judge and something about purchase of Shaldorn property.

Oh my God, what the hell is going on around here?

So she decided that she needed to get more background on the history of this place and talk with John when he gets back. She wasn’t expecting to be working on a computer so she didn’t think to grab the thumb drive out of her room so she looked around the desk and inside the drawers. She didn’t find one and about that time she heard car doors outside.

“Oh shit”

Frantically she raced to email herself with attached copies of the documents and photos. Nervous she watched the upload take what seemed like forever. She could hear voices down the hall. The email finished sending and she scrambled out of the room and across the hall into another room to hide.

When it was clear Jennifer decided that since she had all this free time she would make good use of it so she went to the library where she had talked with John and looked around a bit. Her eyes fixed on the impressive collection of books. They had so much classical literature she couldn’t believe her eyes The Iliad, The Odyssey and more.

There were hundreds of books. She looked at the books along the shelf, and there it was the black shiny leather looked well kept. It was fatter than the others and stood a good couple of inches higher sealed by custom designed metal clasps. As soon as she touched it she knew it had been loved. She pulled it from between its neighbors.

The leather had a surprisingly smooth feel, for such a hard object. The pages fell open in her hand, there was just a hint of foxing towards the edges of the pages, and a faint scented musty smell touched her nostrils. This book was quiet old. She noticed a passage marked with a silk book mark and it read:

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate.
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
~ Edgar Allan Poe

She set the book down as her curiosity got the best of her when she noticed what appeared to be a small door that was in-between the bookshelf and the fireplace. Jennifer glanced around the room making sure she was still alone. It was small but enough to allow her to crawl through it. Inside it appeared to be a hidden passage. The soft light from the library had shown enough that she noticed a small metal box sitting on a shelf. It didn’t appear to be locked so she opened it and found a document and a key. It was too dark so she walked back out to the library. She was still alone so she knew she would not be interrupted. Opening the box revealed a smaller piece of paper that fell to the floor. Picking it up and opening it she noticed a poem written on it:

Tis the age of darkness,
The age of ruin
By sunlight’s shadow,
The stones may reveal
Hidden passages strange but real,
With screams of the night
This too shall cast
When you next encounter
The treasure of the past

The treasure of the past…why would someone put such a poem inside a letter and hide it in a hidden passage?

Scanning the document it was a letter from a bank to her great uncle Tom indicating a lock box with a key.

Why would someone hide a key to a lock box in here, unless my Great uncle was trying to hide it?

She dusted herself off and closed the small door. Straightened the books and went looking for Cindy. She found Cindy in the kitchen ordering supplies. She needed to investigate so she talked with Cindy and inquired about a car to get into town. Cindy asked Jennifer is she had ever rented a car in England or knew how to drive on European roads.

So Cindy told Jennifer she would have the driver that brought her to the manor drive her to town as he was staying here anyway. Once in town Jennifer stopped at the bank. She walked inside and asked to speak with a manager. A man walked over to her and introduced himself

“Hello, I’m Henry Driscoll, the manager here” shaking her hand

“Hi Mr. Driscoll, it’s nice to meet you I’m Jennifer.”

“Ferimore yes your Great uncle told me all about you?”

Geez, does everybody in this town know about me?

“Well…he never told me he had such a beautiful niece. Won’t you come in to my office.” he said leading the way.

“I imagine you’re here about the estate?” Sitting down in front of his desk Jennifer started telling him about what she found, and how strange everyone was acting. She showed him the letter and the key.

“Ah yes, it’s a key to your great uncle’s lock box.”

“Right this way” said Mr. Driscoll as he led her to a rather large room with a table and chairs accented by many modern lock boxes on the wall. Using the key she gave him he opened a large lock box on the wall and pulled out another box. This one was different. It was about the size of a hardback book and about four inches deep, and made of metal with a strange looking top like it was handmade.

“It’s a hand-wrought antique miniature Lock Box just like larger strong boxes, but on a much smaller scale!” said Mr. Driscoll

“Hang-on” he said opening an envelope pulled from his desk that was sealed. Opening it he pulls out another key and hands it to me saying “you will need this to open this box”. Your uncle gave me this sealed envelope long ago and advised me not to open it unless an heir even if distant one was present.

Looking at him with curious eyes she took the key and insert it into the key hole slowly opening the box revealing paper documents and what looks like a good size piece of old leather. Reaching into the box to grab the old leather Mr. Driscoll stops her saying “No…wait you’ll need gloves to prevent damage.”

Looking at him in shock thinking gloves?

She put on a pair of white gloves the kind you would use to handle really old paper and carefully opened the leather.

“It has writing on it and its quite old but I can’t make out what it says” Jennifer said with inquisitive eyes

“I don’t recognize the writing”.

Mr. Driscoll looked at it saying “Oh my it’s old English maybe Latin; we will need help interpreting it.”

“Maybe you know someone around here who can help or you could try the University.” said Mr. Driscoll

“Also I see a series of numbers. They look like roman numerals and there is what looks like a man with a shovel and…Mr. Driscoll do you have a magnifying glass I could use?”

“Sure I have one right here in my desk.” Handing it to me she held it over the man with the shovel and could see a headstone. “This looks like a graveyard maybe.” said Jennifer

“Yes you’re quite right” said Mr. Driscoll

Just then Jennifer remembered seeing a small and quite old graveyard when she rode a horse on the property with Nigel.

“Oh boy…what is going on around here; first I get a letter saying I’ve inherited this estate then meet this crotchety old woman who is somehow involved with this Witherston character that no one likes, my lawyer telling me things that I don’t understand and now this lock box with more secrets.”

“Excuse me Mr. Driscoll but I’ll take this stuff and return to the estate. Hopefully John will be there and we can start to get to the bottom of this.” Thank you so much for your time and your help.

“Of course Ms. Ferimore you’re most welcome. Let me know if you need me for anything”

“Please call me Jennifer” Very well Jennifer it is

“Good day sir” I said as I walked outside to the car and drove back to the estate my mind swirling with thoughts like a sink drain the entire way.

Jennifer walked inside and up to her bedroom and put the lock box down onto the dresser noticing some of my personal items had been moved again. Turning to go sit on the bed; to take a breather and reflect on the day when she saw a dark figure in the corner of the room. It was the silhouette of a man. Startled she gasped then it disappeared. Sitting down on the bed running her hands through her hair exhaling she sat thinking.

She decided to go downstairs to get something to eat. Everyone seemed to be gone so she fixed herself a sandwich. She didn’t bother even sitting down. She just stood in the kitchen eating it. She had too much on her mind. It was late in the day and dark outside now when she heard a loud noise like the kind you hear when someone shuts off all the power and the lights all went out.

You have got to be kidding

Remembering the rechargeable plug-in emergency flashlight nearby on the kitchen wall she grabbed it turning it on. She didn’t know where the fuse box was so she decided to stay in the kitchen for a short while to see if maybe the lights would come on again. After about five minutes the lights all came on again. The large commercial refrigerators hummed back to life. She thought that since she was alone she might take advantage of this opportunity so she headed into Ms. Baxter’s room. The bedroom door was open so Jennifer walked around nothing catching her eye; yet when she walked into her bathroom and open the mirror above the sink. She noticed medications. Shinning the light she read one of them. It says haloperidol.

The description on the bottle read used for treating schizophrenia, acute psychosis. Ms. Baxter is taking drugs for a messed up head. Great just what I need as if I don’t have enough to deal with now. That would explain her behavior in the office.

She remembered seeing her head jerk a slight while talking to me. Jennifer could hear the sound of voices now. Great of course someone is here now that way I will get caught looking around Ms. Baxter’s room.

She left the room and went into her own room down the hall.

She needed a hot shower as she knew it would help her sleep. With robe on getting something to wear from the walk-in closet Jennifer noticed the steamed mirror had a message on it. It looked as though someone wrote it with their fingers. It read: “Don’t trust them” Her first thought was maybe Mrs. Baxter is trying to scare me into selling off the place.

Startled but feeling annoyed Jennifer went downstairs to find Cindy or John to inquire about the message she saw on her mirror. Seeing Cindy assisting some delivery guys bring in kitchen supplies she stopped her to chat with her.

“Hi Cindy am I glad to see you, the power went out for about five minutes then came back on.”

“Oh hi Jennifer yeah there was a transformer near the property that blew. Glad you’re ok. Sorry if it startled you.”

“Cindy something really strange happened when I got out of the shower.”

“Oh what was that?”

“Well I know this is going to sound crazy but I was in the walk-in closet getting some clothes to wear and when I returned to the bathroom I saw a message on the fog covered mirror that said don’t trust them.””

“Don’t trust them?”

“You don’t think Ms. Baxter did it to scare me away do you?”

“I haven’t seen Ms. Baxter in quite a while; if she were here we would both know about it.”

“If you don’t mind me saying Jennifer you look awfully tired. Maybe you should call it day and get some sleep.”

“I will believe me I really don’t feel all that well.”

“Would you like some tea or something to eat?”

“No I’ll be fine but thank you.”

The delivery guys were finished unloading in the kitchen and one of them asked Cindy to sign for the delivery. Jennifer watched waiting to say goodnight to Cindy before heading upstairs to her room.

“Well I think I’ll head to my room Cindy, good night.”

“Good night Jennifer, I hope you sleep better.”

Returning to her room she called her sister. She needed to talk with her. She always had a way of helping make sense of things when we were growing up.

“Hello Jen…thank God; I haven’t heard from you sense you left. Is everything alright?””

“Yes everything is ok.” “Susan…you wouldn’t believe this place. It’s incredible and yet mysterious at the same time. The last couple of days have been something.”

“Mysterious what do you mean?”

“Well at the airport a man with a sign was waiting to take me to the estate. When I got there I was greeted by a staff and you wouldn’t believe how grand this place is. Susan this is not the run down rinky-dink property I figured it would be. This is a grand manor with remains of a castle and the property is huge.”

“Well sis looks like you hit it big.”

“Yeah well let’s see how things go in the coming days I mean I’ve only been here for a couple. Well I better get going Susan. It was good to talk to you.”

“Glad you’re ok sis. Keep me posted.”

“I will, love you.”

“Love you too.”

Let’s hope more people don’t find out about this place before I’ve had a chance to learn about it myself.

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