|Imgae by Alex Kalina|
"Good God, girl, whatever is the matter?" I asked. I was especially surprised as I had not known Elsie to be a fanciful or superstitious creature in the eight months she had worked for me.
"Begging yer pardon, sir, I thought you was someone else." She bent to gather her parcel of wood and paper.
Elsie looked up at me, a somewhat thoughtful expression on her face.
"I din't listen at first, sir, though all the girls was talking about it. But I seen it for myself now."
"What? What did you see?"
"Yer ghost, sir." Elsie replied with no trace of amusement. The girl was deadly serious.
"That's right, sir. The other girls thought it was you at first, but then Sally saw it in the kitchen when we knew you was in the dining room with Mr Hardcastle."
I remembered the incident - Hardcastle and I were enjoying dinner when a scream interrupted our hearty conversation. I hurried to discover the source of the cry, but found the kitchen empty. I presumed it to have not been a scream, but rather the cry of some wild animal outside, and dinner continued once more. I had thought of it no more until Elsie raised the subject.
"But I live, Elsie, as you can see for yourself. I would need to be dead to have a ghost."
"Begging yer pardon, sir, but my mother says the living have ghosts too. They pass on messages then they leave."
I shuddered, considering the possibility of a version of myself that was dead somehow invading my home. I caught the earnest expression on Elsie's face and shook the mood from myself.
"Don't be absurd, Elsie. I have no ghost - there are no spirits in this house. Now run along and finish your jobs before Mrs Peterson awakes."
Elsie bobbed in an awkward curtsey and scurried away. The thought of my abrupt housekeeper no doubt scared her more than some silly ghost story.
I left the parlour, intending to visit my library before I left for town. I stood at the head of the long, narrow corridor that led to the back of the house. Little light pervaded its pre-dawn gloom, and I shivered. I debated with myself for several moments about the importance of the papers for my business in town, before mentally shaking myself. I had allowed myself to become unnerved by an idle report, given by a maid, no less. No, it would not do. I plunged into the darkness in the direction of my library.
I opened the door and the sight almost stopped my heart.
The double of myself stood in the centre of the library, the weak dawn rays falling through the figure onto the carpet. I looked closer and saw that it was not quite the double of myself – the right side of its face was horribly burned, contorted into an expression of the purest pain. My hand flew to my own face, my fingers exploring the skin, yet finding it marred by nothing but stubble.
The figure reached out a hand and opened its mouth, its lips forming silent words. I could not make them out, but felt perhaps they were a warning of some kind. The double took two steps toward me, and vanished into the cold morning air. Before I could consider what the apparition might signify, I fell into a faint, and dropped to the floor.
I awoke some six hours later, with my brother in my room and the doctor scratching his illegible symbols into his notebook.
“Edgar! You return to us!” My brother strode to my bedside and peered into my face.
“Indeed I do. What time is it?” The memory of my intended meeting in town returned to me before that of the figure in the library.
“It is eleven in the morning.”
“I was supposed to meet with Fitzherbert three hours ago!”
“Well you shan’t be meeting with him at all now.” My brother crossed himself, and briefly bowed his head. The doctor, despite his scientific allegiances, did likewise.
“What has happened?”
“A fire claimed Fitzherbert’s house in town this morning. His business associates were able to escape but Fitzherbert did not have their good fortune. God rest his soul.”
I thought of the many other instances when I had avoided some misfortune or other by being somewhere other than where I was supposed to be at that moment, and I fell into a faint for the second time that day.