After the seance came to an awkward end, the party was over. Everyone made their way upstairs to their rooms. Sarah, Lady Jane’s maid, did not make an appearance to help her undress, and Gabby assumed she was busy helping Lady Jane get to bed. The author had been looking after herself for many years, however, and had little trouble getting out of her dress, hanging her clothes in the large wardrobe and dressing in her nightgown. A fire had been lit in the small fireplace, and plenty of coals had been set in the scuttle, with a poker and a pair of big tongs to place them on the blaze. She banked up the fire for the night. The room was chilly and the wind outside had picked up as the storm settled in on the countryside, rattling the windows and stirring up tiny drafts of cold air. The en suite bathroom made it easy for her to wash up and brush her teeth without the risk of encountering any amorous footmen on the stairs, and she locked the door firmly before slipping under the covers of the very elegant four-poster bed in her room.
Someone had put a hot water bottle in the bed perhaps an hour before, and though the real warmth had seeped away by now, the huge bed was at least not freezing cold. Under the thick blankets and eiderdown cover, she soon warmed up a little cocoon of space and drifted off to sleep, wondering what she had witnessed this evening and whether her friend Jane was in any danger from malignant spirits.
She dreamed at first of the handsome footman, an embarrassing, fumbling dream in which he was watching her from various doorways and she kept realizing that she wasn’t wearing any underwear and that her skirts were in constant danger of being lifted up by strong winds or closing doors. One of the doors did slam loudly behind her, and she started awake in the darkness of the night convinced that the young man was in the room with her.
The faint glow of coals from her fire provided enough light, however, to see that she was alone in her room. Nothing but a silly dream.
She rolled over to go back to sleep. And then she heard steps outside her door. Not the heavy tread of a man, but the lighter patter of a woman’s footsteps hurrying past in the corridor that lead to the back stairs.
When I hear the creek of someone walking past my door, I sit up in bed and listen. I look to the door and see no hallway light under the door. I hesitate, then my curiosity gets the best out of me. I slide out of my warm bed and quickly yet quietly move to my bedroom door pressing my ear to it. Not hearing anything, I look around my room for a light source. Not wanting to turn on the lights in my room or in the hallway, possibly waking up everyone, I find an old metal lantern by the fireplace. I pick it up and light the wick inside. Im cold in my silk night gown and bare feet, but it I take the time to find my robe and slippers, the opportunity might be gone.
I slowly open my dolor and peek outside into the hallway, holding the lantern out to see better.
Gabriela’s feet were freezing cold as she quietly unlocked the door to her room and ventured out into the shadowy corridor. The earlier snowfall had stopped and a setting moon cast bars of bright light across the hallway. Her wristwatch on the bed side table had told her the time was shortly before three o’clock in the morning. She was fairly sure the footsteps she had heard had been heading towards the back stairs. These were not the servant’s stairs, but a lesser staircase used by guests to reach their bedrooms without passing through the main upstairs suites. Tip-toeing along the hallway, she came to the top of the staircase and caught a brief glimpse of a white nightgown swirling away towards the back of the house.
In a trice, she had run down the stairs and was in hot pursuit. On the ground floor, however, she became temporarily disoriented by the maze of storage rooms, pantries and sculleries that surround the kitchen. But she found herself in a few minutes at the back door, which stood partly open to the night.
Bitter cold air wafted inside, setting the half-naked girl to shivering. Moving forward to push the door closed, she glanced outside. In the moonlight she could see a clear set of very recent footprints in the snow, leading away from the house.
I’ll quickly look around for a coat or even a blanket to wrap myself with. Even if I have to use the rug from the floor. Then hopefully someone has an old pair of boots by the boor I can slip on. Assuming a servant or gardener uses this back entrance into these rooms.
I’ll peer outside from the door and try and determine where the person might be heading. Why would someone be going out into the cold night at 3:00am. Let alone wearing a white night gown. Could it be Jane or Eloise? Is there another building close by? Or God forbid they’re heading to the old church.
There are heavy coats hanging on pegs by the back door and a range of mud boots as well. It does not take more than a few moments for Gabriela to wrap herself up and find a smaller pair of Wellington boots to fit her feet. There is a good amount of moonlight outside to see by, and there are lanterns also hanging nearby with boxes of matches on a shelf beside them. She does not have her pistol with her.
The foot prints lead out into the gardens at the side of the house, not in a direction that Gabriela is familiar with — but she’s not very familiar with the grounds at all.
I quickly don the heavy coat that hangs on the pegs by the back door and slip on a pair of boots. I’ll take the lantern with me, but leave it unlit. The fresh white snow creates enough light reflecting the moonlight allowing for a bright night. Actually, Im a bit concerned about being seen by another if I go out into the snow. My dark figure will stand out against the white snow. I’ll keep the lantern incase I go into another building and need light.
I slip out into the cold crisp night. The snow crunches under my feet. It’s cold, but not windy so the night air is actually quite beautiful. I walk slowly, looking about for another dark figure against the snow. I’ll look at the footprints to determine if she wore boots at this point too. I’ll follow the tracks into the garden, stopping every so often to look about. Remembering the blue light I saw during the seance, hoping that this is not related.
Thinking to myself, the woman I saw would have to be Jane or Eloise. Wondering who and why is consuming me.
Gabriela stepped out into the bitter freeze of the winter night. The heavy coat she had found kept the worst of the weather at bay, but her breath plumed in clouds of steam in front of her. She looked around in the cold beauty of the night, brilliantly lit by moonlight with stars as bright as diamonds on the black emptiness of the sky, but she saw no signs of another figure moving against the white sea of snow.
Looking carefully at the footprints, she realized that the woman she was following had actually walked out into the snow barefooted. It made her shiver just to think about it, and she hurried forward hoping to catch the foolish person, whoever it was.
The tracks lead clearly down a path in the back garden between mounded heaps of snow that were probably low bushes in more clement weather. Perhaps a hundred paces from the Hall they turned left, definitely now headed towards the road, and perhaps the chapel where she had entered the estate yesterday afternoon.
Gabriela hurried on, and then she saw a curious thing. The foot prints stopped. In the middle of the snow, in the middle of the path, in bright moonlight. They just stopped. And as she watched, in a thrill of utter terror she realized that the foot prints she could see were disappearing, one by one, starting with the farthest away from her they erased themselves from the snow. One second they were fully visible, the next it was as if nothing had been there at all. No disturbance in the snow. No movement, just slowly vanishing footprints.
In horror she watched the trail she had followed from the house erase itself. The trace of non-evidence retreated to her position on the path and then past her. Looking back along the garden path she could still see her own boot prints, but the dual track was quickly becoming one.
Standing in the cold, alone and in the middle of the garden, I attempt to put together what just happened. Did I imagine the woman… the footprints in the snow… everything? Or did I just see a ghost? A shiver runs down my spine when I think of the latter. I look around, recognize that I am alone and quickly run back to the back door, embarrassed that I was outside alone. What if someone saw me… they’d think I was crazy. Am I?
Had she been dreaming? Had it been a ghost? Was she mad?
How could one tell, she thought as she hurried back to the Hall in the bright light of the moon on the freshly fallen snow. Her footprints could not be eradicated. Whoever rose first to make the fires, start the kettles, get the household going would to know that someone had been out in the snow. But so what? A quick romp in the early morning snow by moonlight? How romantic. Even if she was discovered, her artistic temperament would explain the excursion. Wouldn’t it?
I get back inside and remove the coat and boots. I hang the lantern back on the hook and immediately realize how poorly dressed I am in a simple silk nightgown and barefoot. I move quickly and quietly back up the back stairs to my bedroom and close the door quietly behind me. Hoping not to wake anyone else on the same hallway. I re lock my door and move to the small fireplace throwing in a few more pieces of coal. I sit on the hearth warming myself for a few minutes rethinking what just happened. Questioning everything. Should I say something tomorrow to Jane? Should I ask Meadows or Sarah about the estate’s history? What about Eloise? Would she listen to me or think Im being cheeky.
I close the screen on the fireplace a bit and return to my bed. Sliding into my clean sheets I curl up like a child and attempt to go to sleep.
She made her way back upstairs to her room unobserved, she hoped, and snuggled by the fire until some warmth had returned to her frozen feet and fingers, then she climbed into bed, warming a cocoon of air underneath the thick blankets and comforter. Her mind ran over and over the mystery of disappearing footprints. There was no possible logical explanation. Either she had dreamed the whole thing, or she had seen a ghost.
Without noticing it, she drifted into a dreamless sleep, waking suddenly at the ringing of the breakfast bell. Sarah, the young ladies maid form the night before knocked on the door, tried the handle but was unable to enter.
“Breakfast in half an hour, miss,” she called through the door. “I can help you dress or bring you a tray of you’d like.”