The road wound away
from the barn until they were beside the mansion again.
With a flashlight in hand, Geoff showed her to the
back of the house. Marble columns with a balcony lined the door,
while rows of boxwoods led the way to the river. The couple
strolled along the grassy path. Magnolias and dogwoods spread
across the lawn. A screened-in gazebo stood on her right
side. "That's odd," she commented.
Saber dashed ahead of them, and Geoff glanced in
her direction. "What's odd?"
"The columns are larger on the river than around
"That's because this is the 'front.' During
Colonial times, most guests arrived by boat."
And she had worried that she might miss Boston's
history museums. Poplar Ridge was a museum. A small brick
building stood to the far left. "What's that used for?"
"That's the necessary. It even has a built-in
fireplace to warm your backside during the winter," he answered
with a laugh.
"Always so proper. Backside?"
"What would you rather I'd say?"
"Do you really think I'm so delicate that I might
melt because you used the word that was really on your mind?"
His grin widened. "That thought had never occurred
to me, ma'am."
"Ma'am," she muttered. "You certainly had me fooled
when I arrived." To this, he gave no response.
They continued strolling. Finally, they reached the
mist-covered river. The waves lapped against the bank. Chris
meandered along, and the breeze numbed her face. While the house
and grounds were certainly beautiful, she couldn't imagine living
this far from civilization. She looked in the direction where
Geoff's gaze seemed fixed. A windswept island lay in the middle of
the river. A glow entered his eyes. It was clear that he loved the
land. Born a city girl, she was a fool falling for him the way she
was. Then again, lust didn't necessarily equate to love. She
breathed in the river air.
"I've seen a ghost here on several occasions,"
Geoff said slowly. "A man in uniform."
He nodded. "I've seen him in a few other places
around the estate, but I see him here most frequently. His uniform
is faded blue or gray. I really can't tell which." Geoff led the
way to a clump of bushes. "He vanishes over here."
Chris couldn't see anything unusual until Geoff
parted the bushes to a door—an old cellar door. He withdrew
the flashlight, fiddled with an old skeleton key in the lock, and
opened the door to a black pit.
She swallowed hard. "Where does it lead?"
"Back to the house. It was made during Colonial
times as a way to escape from Indians." He started down the
"Geoff... I'm not certain about this."
"I've been down here a number of times. It's
Chris took a deep breath and followed him down the
six steps. The flashlight cut through the darkness, and she
finally reached the brick floor. The tunnel was about three feet
wide and six feet tall. In the tight quarters, Geoff had to duck
to keep from hitting his head.
Their heels echoed against the bricks. After
several feet, the tunnel still stretched in the darkness before
them. They continued forward until entering the main section of
the cellar. Honeysuckle descended upon Chris.
* * *
Missing both legs, the soldier with the reddish
peach fuzz lay on a bed of straw. As Margaret drew a tattered
blanket over him, his eyes fluttered open. "Mother...
"I'm not..." She thought better of her words.
What harm could come from giving a dying boy comfort? She grasped
his hand. "I'm here."
Under the lantern's dim light, he gazed intently
upon her face. "Thank you," he whispered. Then he closed his eyes
and took his final breath.