“Beware of the deep hole under the boards, Christina! It’s cold and dark.”
Christina Malcolm Childe, nine-year-old daughter of the Marquess of Hampton, hesitated on the verge of leaping to the top of a stack of old bricks and boards. She could hear her sisters and cousins running through the woods near her grandmother’s home in a game of hide-and-seek—a game she fully intended to win by climbing into the oak tree above the old boards.
Seeking the source of the warning cry, she located an aura forming over the stack of bricks. Though she’d seen them often enough, auras had never spoken to her before. “Who are you?” she called in fascination, before feeling a trifle foolish talking to an indistinct rainbow of color.
To her utter amazement, the aura did what no other had ever done—brightened into visibility. She stared at the simply-dressed little girl sitting upon the old boards. She could see the outline of trees through the girl’s transparent clothing.
“Who are you?” Christina repeated softly, more afraid she’d scare the apparition away than fearing her manifestation.
“Beware!” the girl cried anxiously before fading away.
Stunned, Christina stood there a while longer, watching the colors disappear.
Game forgotten, she raced back down the wooded path with a shriek of exhilaration, shouting “Mama!” at the top of her lungs.
Hermione, marchioness of Hampton, appeared immediately. Plump from the birth of her latest daughter, she still glided with speed across the grass at any call from her children, trailing scarves and hat ribbons in her wake.
Her straw hat flew off her head and tumbled into the bushes as Christina ran into her arms. “There now, child, what’s the matter? Have you skinned your knee again?”
“I saw a ghost, Mama!” Christina shouted excitedly. “Come see. Maybe she’ll return. She says there is a big hole in the woods!”
Unquestioningly, Hermione shouted at the bevy of nursemaids attempting to keep up with the running, laughing children. Ordering them to gather the girls out of harm’s way, she took Christina’s hand. “Show me where, dear.”
Several of the girls escaped the maids to run after Christina, but Hermione shooed them off.
Worried at that action from her laughing mother who always had time to hug a child, Christina clung to her hand. “It’s just a ghost, Mama,” she tried to reassure her. “I know they’re there. I see their auras all the time. I’ve just never seen a whole ghost before. Or talked to one,” she added with the irrepressible excitement of discovery.
“Spirits appear for a reason, dear. Show me where you saw her.”
Puzzled that her mother seemed afraid when she’d always taught them that spirits were harmless, Christina tried to remember the path she’d taken. Old rabbit paths weren’t easy to follow, but she’d crashed through the shrubbery just recently, so she could find the broken twigs. She liked playing in the woods and never got lost.
“In here, Mama. See, that’s where I wiggled between the tree trunks.” She popped between the two slender trees and past the thicket of briars to stand in the overgrown clearing she’d roamed earlier. The bricks and boards really were the only place where a tree wasn’t. She hadn’t explored her grandmother’s woods since she was a little girl. She hated to reveal her new hiding place and hoped the others hadn’t followed.
Christina turned expectantly to her mother, then realized the marchioness couldn’t pop between tree trunks and briars as she could. “It’s all right, Mama. The ghost isn’t here anymore.”
“That’s an old well, Christina,” Hermione called worriedly from behind the thicket of brush. “The boards could fall in, and we would never see you again. Come along out of there. I’ll have someone fill it up before you get hurt.”
“I want to stay and see if the ghost returns, Mama. May I, please? She’s just about my age, and she knew my name. I’ve never seen a ghost before. Maybe she wants to play.”
Hermione set her plump mouth in a grim line that Christina recognized much too well. Her antics tended to bring them to her mother’s lips far more often than that of any of her sisters.
“Come along out of there, dear. That was most likely your great-great-great aunt Iona. She’s given her warning, so you won’t be seeing her again. You may read about her in the library, if you wish.”
Christina didn’t wish. She’d rather talk to a ghost than read about one. “Why can’t I see her again?” she asked, digging in her heels. She was dying to know about an Aunt Iona who appeared as a ghost, but more than that, she wanted to talk to an apparition again.
“She was the last Malcolm to see spirits,” Hermione answered. “And she was lost in these woods when she was about your age. It’s quite possible that old well is where she died. If so, she has stayed here to warn you, and now that she’s completed her task, she’ll return to where she belongs. It’s up to you to act on her warning. Come away now.”
Eyes widening as she comprehended that ghosts were real dead people, Christina followed her mother out of the woods, casting glances over her shoulder in hopes of seeing her Aunt Iona again. Poor little girl, dying here all alone.
Christina wanted to weep at the thought that Iona had no one to play with while waiting so carefully to warn others. She hoped the little girl had gone home to her mother now that she’d done her duty, but Christina really wished she could have talked to her longer.
Just think of all the fascinating things a ghost could tell her! Her imagination could scarcely take in all the possibilities. Had it hurt to fall down the well? Had Iona been scared? Wouldn’t she like to hear about her family? Did she have other secret hiding places like Christina did?
“Why can’t I see more ghosts, Mama?” she asked, desperate to know how she could speak to the other auras she often saw about their home.
Hermione hesitated, threw a glance back at the woods, then shook her head. “I don’t know, dear. Perhaps they come out only when you need them. Study the auras you see, and heed their warnings when they speak.”
Christina didn’t see the danger of a bunch of old bricks and boards. But talking to ghosts would be exciting. She would always have friends then, and that would be a lovely gift indeed.
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