Photo from JSTOR Daily, Grant Shreve, “When Women Channeled the Dead to Be Heard,” 2 February 2018. https://daily.jstor.org/when-women-channeled-the-dead-to-be-heard/
All Hallows Eve: A Saint Maggie Short Story
Chapter 4: The Séance
Mrs. Knightsbridge took a breath. “Now… let us be in absolute silence.”
One minute passed.
Mrs. Knightsbridge finally spoke up. “I feel the veil opening. I call upon the spirits of this place. Come forward.”
Frankie shifted uneasily on her chair, while Eli wondered how long he could put up with this balderdash, Josiah looked around the darkened room, Lydia wished she could be with her husband, and Maggie felt a chill go up the back of her neck.
“Is anyone here who would like to speak with us?”
“Are any spirits in this room with us?”
Something thumped the bottom of the table enough to make it jump.
Frankie gasped. “Is… is that a… a…”
“I think the word you’re looking for is ghost,” Eli replied. “And no, it’s not. It’s a device under the table.”
With a more powerful bang, the table tipped to one side, forcing the séance participants to push it back down.
“Yes,” the medium intoned, “I feel the presence of a spirit. I know there is an unbeliever amongst us. But show yourself so that he may believe.”
Somewhere in the dark something shook a tambourine.
“Thank you! I am glad you are agreeable to proving your existence.” Mrs. Knightsbridge closed her eyes. “Will you come to us now? Materialize so that we may see you.”
A low moan issued from a corner of the room.
“Who dares disturb me?” a male voice lamented.
“Seekers,” the medium replied. “Seekers who want to speak with you, who want to see you.”
“So be it.” In the corner where the voice had come from, something white and filmy emerged.
“With whom are we speaking?” Mrs. Knightsbridge asked.
“Why are you a wanderer?”
“I did something wrong. Something terrible.” The shape began to float around the table behind the participants’ chairs but just out of their reach.
“What did you do?”
“I took a life.” It glided past Mrs. Knightsbridge.
“Years and years and years ago.” It was moving past Josiah now.
Frankie leaned toward to Lydia. “Do you think it’s Mr. Ma – ”
“Shh!” Lydia commanded. “Don’t say anything.”
The wraith passed by Maggie’s chair.
“What is your name?” Mrs. Knightsbridge inquired.
The women all gasped, some repeating his name.
But Eli reached under his seat, grabbed his cane, and stuck it in the path of the shrouded figure just as it reached his chair. He felt a leg make contact, heard a strangled cry, and then a loud thud.
“Lydia,” he barked. “Grab whoever that is.”
Lydia leapt from her chair and lunged for the person on the floor, landing on the alleged ghost and sending her hoops in the air.
“Stop it,” Mrs. Knightsbridge cried. “Stop it this second! You’re scaring them away! You’re scaring…” With an abrupt gasp, she fell back against her chair, and said nothing more.
“Spirits never were here to begin with.” Eli dragged himself to his feet.
“Liddy!” Frankie hopped up and, hitching her crinoline cage, plopped down onto the mysterious figure’s back just as Lydia rolled off.
Thankful that the room was quite dark, Lydia stood and rearranged her clothing. “I’m afraid we’ve been made fools.”
“Get up,” Eli ordered to the figure on the floor.
A man rose, removing his shroud as he did so. He was small in stature and balding.
A chill swept across Maggie’s shoulders. No windows were open. Why was she so cold? She wrapped her arms about herself and shivered.
“Mr. Knightsbridge, I presume?” Eli was asking.
The man nodded.
Josiah was on his feet now. “Fraud! How dare you?” He turned to Mrs. Knightsbridge. “And you!”
But she sat silent, head lolling forward.
“Do you not hear me? Speak!”
When she said nothing, Josiah touched her hand. “She’s cold! Someone light more candles. Quick!”
Maggie was freezing now. And the room felt like it was closing in on her, as if to push her out of herself.
Frankie leaned across the table, took the single taper and lit the two others on candelabra. As light grew in the room, she saw Mrs. Knightsbridge. “Liddy! Look.”
Lydia immediately went to the medium’s side. “Mrs. Knightsbridge?” She gently patted the woman’s face. “Mrs. Knightsbridge!” She took hold of her wrist and felt for a pulse. “She’s alive.”
“What’s wrong with my wife?” the little man asked.
“I don’t know.” Lydia patted the woman’s face again. “Hello. Can you hear me, Mrs. Knightsbridge? Are you able to speak?”
The medium’s eyes fluttered open.
“Very good,” Lydia murmured. “That’s the stuff. Can you speak?”
The woman looked anxiously from and then in a breathy voice said, “I… I…”
The woman gasped for air. “Where am I? Why am I in here?”
“You were conducting a séance, Mrs. Knightsbridge and – ”
“Stop calling me that name.” Panicking, she glanced around at the others. She appeared terrified. “No. No! No, not now!”
Lydia was concerned. “What do you mean?”
“Her,” she breathed. “She is coming. She will… she will…”
“Who is she?”
“Her! You opened the door. She’s on her way.”
Mr. Knightsbridge hurried around the table to be near his wife. “Can this be?”
Lydia looked up at him. “What?”
“Can she be… possessed?”
On the other side of the table, Eli rolled his eyes. “Bunkum! She’s faking.”
“She isn’t,” the little man barked. “I know my wife. She’s never done this before.” He stopped by the medium’s chair and, taking on of her hands in his, knelt before her. “What is your name, my dear?”
A pair of confused blue eyes locked onto his. “My name? Why, it’s Leah.”
Maggie’s hand flew to her mouth. “It can’t be.” She was beginning to feel light like a feather.
“But Leah is…” Frankie began, but stopped.
Josiah spoke up. “Who is Leah?”
“Our cousin. She… she was murdered in 1861. Poisoned.”
Using his cane, Eli thumped over to the medium. “Come on, Knightsbridge, you and your wife knew what happened Leah all along, didn’t you?”
Maggie was beginning to feel as if she were floating, somehow outside of herself. Peculiar, she thought. Why do I feel so peculiar.
The little man stood up. “We read about the murder in the papers. But…” He glanced worriedly at his wife. “For the life of me, I’ve never seen this. It’s not an act, believe me.”
Mrs. Knightsbridge suddenly flew to her feet, her face ashen. “She’s on her way! She’s almost here. God help us! Good help –”
The candles blew out and the room was swallowed in darkness.
“Damn,” Eli hissed. “Damn, damn, and damn! Has anyone got a match?”
A wild wind blew through the chamber. It was followed with a wicked, high pitched laugh.
Eli felt something fly past his shoulder, so close it nearly touched him. Whatever it was hit the floor with a crash. It sounded like a plate. “What the?” he muttered.
“Hold on, Smith. I’ve got matches.” There was the sound of a match tip striking a surface and then light broke the gloom once again.
No sooner had he shaken the match out, than Josiah alerted to something moving toward him. He ducked as a wine glass flew over his head and shattered against the wall.
Hands trembling a bit, he straightened up and took a candle from the holder. “There are some lamps on the serving tables.” He tried to sound in control, but his voice had a tremor to it.
“Papa?” Frankie’s voice small, like a child’s. “What’s going on?”
Eli gimped over to his stepdaughter. “I don’t know, but if this is some kind of trick, someone’s going to pay.”
Josiah managed to get two oil lamps lit, which pushed the darkness into the corners now.
“It’s not a trick,” Mr. Knightsbridge was insisting. “I swear it. We never intended any of this madness.” Suddenly his face grew pale. “Look!”
They all turned in time to see an oil painting crash to the floor.
Mrs. Knightsbridge began shrieking, “She’s here! She’s here. My murderer!”
Wicked laughter echoed in the chamber and bounced off the walls, ceiling, and floor.
Maggie abruptly found herself on the other side of the room. She wondered how she got there. She could see the group gathered around the table. But who was that other woman? The one wearing the same dress as she.
Then a horrible thought came to her. No. This can’t be, Maggie argued with herself. But it was. She was on one side of the room, and yet she was on the other side, except she was without her mind and her soul.
“Get out,” a disembodied voice boomed. “Get out!”
Angry now, Frankie stiffened her back and shouted, “Is that you Carrie Hillsborough? The one who killed my cousin? The one who nearly killed my mother?”
The laughter cackled again.
That was when the other Maggie stepped into the middle of the room, put her hands on her hips, and shouted, “Now see here! I will not stand for this nonsense in my house, do you understand?”
The laughter ricocheted off the walls.
“Leave my house this instant, you troublemaker!”
“Make me,” the voice hissed. “Go ahead.”
“You bad, evil girl,” Maggie snarled. “Do you think I don’t know who you are? Do you think I wasn’t around long before you showed up, making sure my house was safe? Did you not think that I wouldn’t see you seducing that young minister? Putting ideas in his head about poison? You are not welcome here. Now get!”
The laughter reverberated once more, but it did not sound quite as arrogant and threatening as it did previously. In fact, there was a touch of fear in it.
“That is right, missy! I will not stand for this nonsense. I call down God’s angels and the forces of heaven to chase you out of here and into the darkness an unrepentant soul like you deserves.”
“No,” it whispered.
Maggie shook her fist. “I say, yes! May God’s angels fill this room with light. Now, scat! Go to the darkness and stay there until you ask for forgiveness. Go!”:
Suddenly the room blazed with a flash of light so bright that it caused the others to cover their eyes until it was safe to look around again.
Candles and lamps now bathed the room in a comforting yellow glow. There was no sign of broken glass or china. Even the painting was back on the wall.
Josiah managed to say, “What just happened?”
“Your land has been cleansed,” Maggie told him.
The voice did not belong to his wife. Concerned, Eli hurried to her side. When she gazed upon him, it wasn’t Maggie that he saw behind her eyes. It was someone else. For a moment, he lost his voice and was only able to croak, “Who are you?”
She smiled. “Letty.” Then her eyes rolled back, and she fell forward into his arms.
Lydia ran over as Eli worked to set his wife onto a chair. Once that had been accomplished, Lydia took Maggie’s arm and felt for her pulse. “She fine.” She looked up at her stepfather and smiled with relief.
“What was that I just saw?”
“What do you mean?”
“That… that wasn’t Maggie. I mean, it was Maggie’s body, but her eyes… someone else was looking at me.”
Maggie suddenly sighed.
“Sweetheart! Are you all right?” Eli took her hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed the back of it. When she opened her eyes, he saw with relief the Maggie he always expected to see. “What happened?”
She tried to recollect her thoughts. “I don’t know. For a moment there, I imagined I was on the other side of the room, watching everything as if it were a play.”
Mr. Knightsbridge said, “You were possessed “ He glanced at his wife, whose hand he held. “So was my wife.”
At that the medium came around. “Whew!” She put a hand to her head. “That was a bit forceful.”
“Are you all right now, my dear?”
“Oh, yes. Quite fine now.” The plump woman stood, although she wobbled a bit, something that was corrected when her husband put his hand around her upper arm. “How are the rest of you?”
Frankie replied, “I don’t think I’ll be sleeping much tonight.”
“Oh, you’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” Mrs. Knightsbridge took a deep, cleansing breath. “Yes. Apparently, all this commotion was just a bit of bad business between two spirits.”
Eli turned to Josiah. “It’s time to come clean. We didn’t tell you that a Methodist minister, Jeremiah Madison lived in the boarding house from 1860 to 1861. He flirted with my wife’s niece, Leah, and had to marry her. When the marriage didn’t work out, he found solace in the company of her maid, Carrie. Carrie was a bad sort and brought poison into the picture. Because Mrs. Smith got too close to the truth, Carrie tried to kill her with arsenic. But she did manage to kill Leah. Eventually the truth came out. Madison was brought to trial, but before Carrie could be arrested, she took her own life.” He grimaced. “The reason I limp today is because she shot me three times. One of the bullets lodged in my leg. Haven’t been the same since.”
Gathering up her skirts, Mrs. Knightsbridge walked toward the others. “And because of the suffering and distress caused by the situation, Leah and Carrie’s spirits remained attached to the property. But they are gone now and shall not return.”
“So my hotel is safe?”
“Completely.” At this the medium held back a smile. “Well, safe from the activity of the dead, that is. As for the living… well, that’s your problem, is it not?”
Josiah managed a weary laugh. “I believe that is something we can handle.”
Mrs. Knightsbridge turned her attention to Maggie. “And you, my dear, a spirit momentarily inhabited you.”
“But I don’t believe in such things.”
“It doesn’t matter. It found a momentary home with you. Do you know who it was?”
“Letty,” Eli answered for her. “It was her Aunt Letty.”
Maggie’s eyes widened.
“She was protecting her property.” He gave her a loving smile. “And her family.”
Worried, Maggie frowned.
The medium took her arm. “Don’t worry. It won’t happen again.”
“How do you know?”
The other woman lifted an incredulous, blond eyebrow. “My dear Mrs. Smith! Do you need to ask me that?”
Maggie laughed tiredly. “No. I don’t imagine I do.”
Maggie’s Journal, 31 October 1864
Like Frankie, I don’t believe I shall sleep tonight. When we returned home, I spent a good hour on my knees, searching for God’s love and light until it filled me and held me close.
I believe Grandpa is right. The veil is the thinnest between the living and the dead on All Hallows Eve. And I believe Emily is right, too. Such things as spirits and ghosts should be left to their sleep – or whatever it is that they do – and are not to be trifled with.
Lydia and Frankie both seem shaken by the experience, as were we all. But I know the two will comfort each other and talk long into the night until they finally fall asleep.
As for Eli… well, he got the bottle of whiskey down from the cupboard. Instead of giving him my usual talk, I simply told him not to drink too much, kissed him on the head, and went upstairs to our chamber, so I could nurse our little Faith.
I hope Josiah’s hotel truly is free from trouble. When we left him, he was quite disturbed by the evening’s events, as were we all. It may be that he will not think of this ever again. But perhaps he will. And perhaps he will realize that there is something out there greater than money and hotels, mills, and factories. But I will let God and time see to that.
As for me, I think I shall tread more thoughtfully next All Hallows Eve and shall stay home in the company of my household.
I hope you enjoyed this special Saint Maggie short story. Happy Halloween, everyone!
Photo by Alina Vilchenko from Pexels
All Hallows Eve: A Saint Maggie Short Story
Chapter 3: The Medium
Once Maggie had found Josiah Norton in the crowd, she led him back to their table, explaining that they were interested in taking part in a séance. After giving them effusive thanks, Josiah led them out of the Grand Ballroom and into the hotel’s massive reception area.
“I have obtained the services of a medium, whom I have been told is quite reputable,” he was saying.
“What’s her name?” Eli asked.
“Mrs. Knightsbridge.” He led them down a hallway to their right. “I realize I am taking extreme measures to employ such a person, but I just don’t know what else to do.”
Eli considered the other man’s words. “You did make sure that the occurrences here weren’t the work of a prankster or the nighttime imaginings of easily-frightened people?”
“I did. And, Mr. Smith…” Josiah turned to face Eli. “The people who reported the goings-on were sincere. In fact, some told me that things have happened in broad daylight. Voices. Books flying off shelves. Water glasses breaking. It’s all very disturbing.”
“Oh, dear,” Maggie replied. “How frightening for your guests.”
“Yes, indeed.” Josiah hesitated before adding, “Actually, there’s more. This is the first time I have told anyone about this. The staff who work in the stables have told me that they’ve felt cold breezes pass over them, even in the heat of summer. And one stall in the stables spooks the horses.”
“What do you mean?” Eli asked.
“They cannot find a horse who will submit to going inside it.”
Frankie whispered to Lydia, “That’s not good.”
Lydia nodded in agreement.
Josiah continued, “The stable hands have no idea what causes the horses to be afraid of that one stall. But they fully admit that they, too, feel uneasy in the area.”
Eli’s dark eyebrows knit in a frown. “Where are the stables located?”
“At the back of the property. Nearest First Street.”
Eli met Maggie’s eyes. “That’s where my print shop was.”
Maggie’s whispered, “Oh, no. It can’t be.”
This, of course, did not pass Josiah’s notice. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s just…” Maggie stopped, but then pushed on. “Well, it’s just that something happened there in 1861.”
“What was it?” Josiah wanted to know.
Maggie opened her mouth to tell him, but Eli stopped her with a hand to her arm. ”No. Don’t tell him.”
“Why on earth not?”
“Because I don’t want Mrs. Knightsbridge to get any more information about this hotel and the buildings that were there when you owned the property. People sometimes say things unintentionally, which a medium can use to piece together knowledge about a location or a situation. We want to make sure that Mrs. Knightsbridge is as ignorant about this place’s background as possible, so we may see whether or not she really is in touch with the spiritual realm.”
There was a silence on Josiah’s part, until he murmured, “Yes, I can see where that would be logical.”
“So are we agreed not to give her any more information than she needs to know?”
The group, including Josiah, assented.
Josiah then over walked to a closed door labeled “Private Dining Room” and knocked. He glanced over his shoulder at the others. “Mrs. Knightsbridge insists on privacy so that she may prepare.”
“Hmm…” Eli muttered, eyes narrowing suspiciously.
Within a few seconds, the door opened to reveal a pleasingly plump woman in a cheerful, teal gown. Her strawberry blond hair was arranged neatly in snood at the back of her neck and she was smiling warmly at the group. “Ah! Welcome, Mr. Norton! Welcome to you all! Do come in.”
The room was dark, with the exception of a single candle at its furthest end that had been placed upon a cloth-covered round table. Maggie understood that the little table was where the séance would take place.
“Mrs. Knightsbridge,” Josiah was saying, “these are my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Dr. Frost, and Miss Blaine.”
“I am pleased to meet you.” She tipped her head. “What has Mr. Norton told you?”
“He spoke to us of the odd occurrences taking place here,” Maggie replied. “And, since we are friends of his, we thought we’d like to come with him to this… séance.” She found it hard, and a bit blasphemous, to say the word. It just didn’t feel right.
As Eli’s eyes gradually became adjusted to the gloom, he noted that the regular dining tables had been pushed aside and against the walls. And then he spotted something unusual: a tall cabinet positioned near the séance table.
He said, “Excuse me, Mrs., Knightsbridge, but that cabinet. Is it yours?”
“Oh, it is, indeed,” she cheerily replied and motioned for them to follow her to the round table. “It is my spirit cabinet. A portal, if you will, through which spirits travel from their realm to ours.”
Eli held back a skeptical smile. “You don’t say.”
“Elijah,” Maggie whispered. “Behave.”
“I shall, my love. I shall.”
Mrs. Knightsbridge indicated the table. “Please take a seat.”
They arranged themselves on six of the eight chairs there. Obviously, Mrs. Knightsbridge expected a group – and most likely that was because Josiah had told her he would be bringing other people.
Eli’s newspaperman instincts began kicking in, telling him that this situation indeed would make an interesting story, perhaps even an exposé.
Mrs. Knightsbridge removed the spare seats as she said, “If you will, please space yourselves around the table so that you are evenly distributed.”
There was some shuffling as they rearranged themselves and then waited quietly for more directions.
Frankie was excited and wondering what would happen next. Would they see a spirit? Would it be someone she knew? Would there be celestial music? A guitar or a piano, perhaps? Or maybe table knocking. She scarcely could wait.
Lydia, meanwhile, was dubious about the proceedings. Seated beside Eli, she peeped at her stepfather and fellow skeptic.
Despite the dim lighting, Eli saw her and threw her a sly smile. Lydia immediately saw that he was up to something and answered him with raised eyebrows. He responded with a slight nod, indicating that she was correct. Lydia nodded in reply, her way of saying, “Fine. Just don’t upset Mama.”
Maggie was the only one feeling any anxiety. Perhaps Emily was right, she ruminated. Perhaps they shouldn’t be part of such a thing as a séance. And, regardless of what time of the year it was, maybe it was wrong to attempt to contact the dead. What if All Hallows Eve really was the time when the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest? And what if someone really did come through? Someone who was dead? Some who –
Maggie blocked the last thought, praying, Lord, protect us. Please!
Mrs. Knightsbridge’s gentle, alto voice broke the silence. “Are all of you ready to begin?”
The group replied with a variety of nods.
“Excellent. Now, if you all will place your hands upon the table so that you are touching the hands of those sitting beside you.”
They did as they were told.
Seated to the other side of Eli, Maggie felt their pinkies come into contact. When her husband gave her finger an affectionate tap, Maggie looked over at him. She could see Eli’s face, although it was distorted by flickering candlelight and shadows. But she clearly saw his smile and somehow got the impression that he winked at her, too. Both of which, calmed her jittery nerves.
“Now,” Mrs. Knightsbridge was saying, “once we begin the séance, do not break contact with one another, as it will break our connection with the dearly departed. Also, no matter how shocking or frightening things may appear, please know that you are perfectly safe here, as long as you remain at the table.”
Maggie’s mouth suddenly became uncomfortably dry.
“Shall we begin?” the medium chirped. “Excellent! Let us pray the Lord’s Prayer to settle our minds, hearts, and souls and prepare the atmosphere for our departed brothers and sisters. Let us pray: Our Father, which art in heaven…”
As they chanted the well-known prayer, Maggie’s heart continued her own prayers for her family’s protection.
Why did she have this pervasive sense of foreboding?
Image from Victoriana Magazine, "How to Have a Victorian Ball."
Chapter 2: The Ball
From All Hallows Eve: A Saint Maggie Short Story
Eli brought the buggy to a halt in front of the Norton Arms Hotel. They were met by a liveried footman, who took the reins as soon as the horses came to a halt. “Whose carriage may I say this is?” the man asked.
“Smith,” Eli replied as he clambered inelegantly out of the driver’s seat. He was about the gimp his way around to the other side in order help his wife down, but second footman got there first and was offering Maggie a hand.
Eli heaved a sigh of resignation and turned to the carriage. “Liddy?”
Lydia emerged and, taking her stepfather’s hand, stepped into the crisp night air. Not waiting for Eli, Frankie leapt out right behind her and landed on her feet with a thump.
“That’s not how you make an entrance,” Lydia whispered.
“Why should a man help me do anything?” Frankie whispered back. “It’s demeaning.”
“Girls,” Eli said.
“It’s polite,” Lydia countered
“It’s stupid,” Frankie shot back.
Eli rolled his eyes and this time said loudly and firmly, “Girls!”
When the two looked in his direction, he indicated the steps leading up to the hotel’s wide veranda. “Shall we?”
Next, he took his wife’s arm and proceeded up the stairs behind his stepdaughters, all the while muttering, “I think we need to do a better job instructing Frances how to behave in polite company.”
Maggie chuckled softly.
They walked through front doors held open by yet another set of footmen.
“What’s so funny?” Eli wanted to know.
“It’s just that Frankie reminds me of myself when I was her age. A bit of a know-it-all. Independent. Stubborn.”
“Make that pig-headed,” Eli grumbled.
“Now, now. Don’t be rude, my love. Look at how beautifully they’ve decorated the reception room!”
Indeed, the area was bedecked with pumpkins, gourds, and apples arranged artistically on round tables scattered here and there. The room, lit by oil lamps, gave everything a warm golden patina.
The Smith family followed a procession of well-dressed people to the end of the large reception area and in through a door marked “Grand Ballroom.”
Near the entrance was a cloakroom. Eli took off his overcoat, gathered up the women’s wraps, and went off to store their things. While he was gone, Maggie and her girls surveyed their surroundings. Here all was lit by a combination of oil lamps and candlelight. An orchestra, complete with a strings section, was playing soothing music at one end of the room. At the other end was a buffet table and clusters of chairs at small tables. People wearing their best chatted amiably with one another.
“Oh…” Frankie breathed. “I’ve never seen the like!”
Maggie smiled lovingly at her second-born daughter. “You should have experienced this a few years ago.”
“I don’t mind, Mama. I mean, we never were… like these people.” Frankie thought a moment. “I still don’t think we are. We just have money now.”
Taking Frankie’s hand, Maggie whispered, “That’s right. Don’t change, Frances. Ever.” The two shared a conspiratorial smile.
Eli returned to them, stuffing a chip with a number etched in it that would identify their outer wear in the cloak room. “Well! What next, ladies?”
“I don’t know.” Maggie craned her neck. “Oh! I see Abigail and Sam! Let’s go visit with them.”
The evening promised to pass enjoyably. After all, there was music, food, dancing, and hobnobbing with friends. And of course there was Josiah Norton, who as the evening’s host was in his glory. At one point, he decided to approach the table where the Smiths were having a bite to eat from the buffet.
“Good evening,” he said to the gathered family.
“Good evening,” they responded, and politely stood up.
“Are you enjoying yourselves?”
“Oh, yes,” Maggie replied. “This is a delightful occasion. Thank you for your kind invitation.”
“I’m glad you all are having a good time.” Josiah turned to Eli. “With your permission, Mr. Smith, I was wondering if I might have the next dance with your wife?”
Eli maintained a composed visage as he said to his on-and-off-again opponent, “If she consents, then I’ll permit.”
Maggie smiled at her husband. Then she said to Josiah. “Thank you, Mr. Norton. I would like that very much.”
He offered his arm to her and led her to the dance floor just as the orchestra struck up a waltz. As the two began to spin around with the other couples, Josiah commented, “This land was once yours, was it not, Mrs. Smith?”
“Yes, sir. I had my boarding house here. And Mr. Smith had his print shop in an outbuilding.”
“Your boarding house was not as large as the hotel, I daresay.”
Maggie wondered where Josiah was going. “No. Of course not. I think it would have fit into perhaps one third of this building.”
He nodded and seemed lost in thought for a moment or so, until: “Mrs. Smith, may I be so bold as to ask an odd question?”
“It depends upon how odd, Mr. Norton,” she joked lightly.
He narrowed his eyes in what appeared to be nervousness. “This may sound strange, but did you ever have any unusual occurrences in your boarding house?”
“Unusual occurrences? What do you mean?”
“Well… noises and voices…”
Maggie was confused. “Of course, we had noises and voices, it was a boarding house.”
“No, I don’t mean the normal type of things you would expect in a house full of people. I mean… well… things happening that shouldn’t happen.”
Maggie nearly stopped dancing. “Mr. Norton, would you please be plain?”
He heaved a sigh and swirled her off the dance floor and into a quieter corner. “The past few months my hotel’s guests have reported things. Footsteps when no one was around. Whispers when there was no other speaker. Things being moved on bureaus in plain sight. Persistent knocking at the door. And once in a while, a shadow. Had you ever experienced such things when your boarding house stood here?”
Feeling a bit disoriented by the music, the whirling couples, and the conversation, Maggie said, “Mr. Norton, are you suggesting that your hotel might be haunted?”
“Shh! Not so loud, please.”
“Don’t be concerned. No one can hear us over the music.” She searched her mind. “There were no incidents in my house except…” She hesitated.
“Except what? Tell me, please?”
A slight chill went down the back of her neck. “Well, the night the boarding house burned down, I was awakened by someone knocking on my door. At first, I looked out the window and saw that Eli’s print shop aflame. But the knocking was persistent, so I leapt out of bed, threw open the door, and…”
“And no one was there,” she finished. “Stranger still, Emily, my daughters, and all my boarders reported the same phenomenon.”
“Had there been deaths in your house, Mrs. Smith?”
She smiled gently. “Mr. Norton, it was a house before it was a boarding house. My answer is yes, people died in the building, including when it was a boarding house. Death happens in all homes. But if you want me to guess who or what was knocking on our doors that night, I have no clear answer. I mean, it very well could have been one of God’s angels as well as a ghost.”
Josiah frowned. “I don’t need to tell you how rumors of a haunted hotel will affect my business.”
Maggie nodded. “I have an idea.”
“So, you understand that this is a real problem. Because of that, I have decided to try an experiment. I wonder if you would like to attend, inasmuch as you owned the property before me.”
“A what?” Eli sputtered.
“Shh!” Maggie leaned across the table and whispered, “A séance.”
“Norton invited you to go to a séance? To sit in the dark, holding hands, mind you, while some charlatan pretends to conjure up the dead?”
“Papa,” Lydia said in her calmest, yet most authoritative physician’s voice, “becoming jealous is not the way to handle this situation.”
He turned to her. “That so? Well, pray tell, exactly how am I supposed to behave?”
“Elijah,” now it was Maggie’s turn. “If you do not calm down, we all shall go home immediately.”
He took his cane and stood up. “Fine with me!”
Maggie sat back in her chair. It was clear she had no intention of going anywhere. “Well, before we do that, perhaps you might like to know that Mr. Norton invited us all to attend the séance.”
After a pause, Eli sank back onto his seat at the table. “Tell me more.”
“He says some odd things have been going on at the hotel and is afraid it will become known as having a ghost.”
“A ghost.” Eli laughed. “Norton is afraid of ghosts?” He laughed harder. “And to think I believed he was a rational man!”
“Sometimes the world is irrational.”
“Look, Maggie, you obviously believe in such things because you’ve told me so.”
She took a breath. “I believe such things might exist, but I also believe that it is not wise to invite them in. In truth, I am uncertain I want to attend Mr. Norton’s séance.”
Frankie was disappointed. “But, Mama! I’ve never been to a séance before.”
Eli, meanwhile, was now considering the idea. “You know, it just might make an interesting article for The Register.” He rubbed his chin in thought. “Hmmm… I know the tricks those mediums use. It would be fun to unmask one.” He grabbed his cane once more and struggled to his feet. “Let’s go!”
Maggie and her daughters sat there, stunned.
“Well? Come on!”
Maggie briefly looked heavenward and sighed. Men… she thought.
From All Hallows Eve: A Saint Maggie Short Story
Chapter 1: The Invitation
Josiah Norton was a rich man and he liked to remind people of that fact as often as he could. For instance, throwing a lavish party always let his lessors know that they were… well, his lessors. Bountiful food, free-flowing beverages, and a talented orchestra able to provide music for every known dance were obvious examples of one’s wealth, power, and status. And Josiah could afford them all.
It was autumn when Josiah suddenly had a magnificent idea: he would throw an All Hallows Eve ball. It would be held at the Norton Arms Hotel and, aside from being an extravagant party, would also showcase the newest and shiniest addition to his empire that until now consisted of factories and mills.
And so Josiah sent out engraved invitations to all the powerful, wealthy, or notable people in the town of Blaineton, New Jersey. These were delivered by hand and a reply requested upon receipt, upon which the messenger would return with a report of who was coming and who was not.
“Huh,” The Blaineton Register’s Editor-in-Chief Eli Smith said upon receiving his invitation. His dark brown eyebrows knit together.
Chester Carson, Eli’s friend and head reporter, happened to be in the office when the impressively liveried messenger was shown in by Andy, the newspaper’s receptionist.
Carson asked, “What is it?” Then he eyed the messenger, who pretended not to see him.
“Um… apparently Norton is having a ball on All Hallows Eve.”
Carson raised one elegant, white eyebrow and stroked his equally elegant, white moustache. “And he wants you there?”
“Ha-ha,” was Eli’s dry response. “Yes. Apparently. he does.”
The messenger cleared his throat. “What is your response, sir?”
“Please tell him that Mrs. Smith, her daughters, and I shall attend, and happily so.”
“Very good, sir.” And after a slight bow, the messenger backed out the door.
Carson waited a moment before saying, “I thought you and Mr. Norton were not on the best of terms.”
“True.” Eli leaned back in his chair and rubbed the dark stubble that had sprouted on his face over the course the day. “But my wife is running for Town Council. Whatever Norton may think of women in politics, he’s no fool. He wants to gather notables around himself, hoping to increase his status. And that includes my Maggie. And also includes me – even though I have been less than kind to him in an editorial or two or three.”
“Why should he care who attends? He’s wealthy. His status is high enough.”
Eli issued a sarcastic harrumph. “He always wants more. That’s his problem. He always needs to be bigger and better than everyone else – the big bug in town.” He grabbed his walking stick and stood up. “I think I’d best go home and warn my wife that she’s going to need a new gown.”
Carson laughed. “Most women would love such an announcement.”
“True,” Eli replied as he limped toward the door. “But not my Maggie.”
“A new gown?” Maggie’s hazel eyes had gone wide. Flustered, she used the back of her hand to brush some stray, auburn hair back from her face. She had been kneading dough and the palms of her hands were covered with flour. “For what?”
“For Josiah Norton’s All Hallows Eve Ball, of course.”
“All Hallows Eve?” She frowned. “Why then?”
Eli shrugged. “Lydia and Frankie are invited, too, by the way. As well as all the other so-called important people in town.”
Maggie shook her head in disbelief. “Such an enormous waste of money. I mean, are we to go to Madame Louisa every time there is a ball in this town?”
“Well, you could always use the one you wore to the winter ball.”
“And I would be excoriated for it, I’m sure.”
With a chuckle, Eli said, “When did you ever care about what people think?”
“Never. But now I am serious about my run for Town Council. One has to think ahead and if I show up in just any old rag …” She faded off. “Oh, bother! Sometimes I think we were better off when we were nobodies!”
Eli laughed outright. “Complicated, isn’t it? And it’s such bunkum.”
“Indeed it is!” Maggie returned to kneading the dough, this time with a vengeance, a clear indication that she had misgivings about her attempt to win a seat on the Town Council.
Her husband’s expression softened. Then he noticed the dusting of flour on his wife’s nose and left cheek. “You know,” he murmured, “you look utterly adorable like that, with flour all over your face.”
She glanced up at him. It was a seductive glance. “Why, thank you, Mr. Smith,” she purred. “Perhaps you can tell me more about how you feel later.”
Grinning, he replied. “I would be delighted to tell you that… later.”
Maggie, Lydia, and Frankie – along with friends Emily Johnson and Rosa Hamilton – paid a visit to Madame Louisa’s dry goods store. Once styles had been decided upon and material and sundries purchased, they began a days-long sewing bee, in which there was a good deal of measuring, cutting, sewing, hemming, chatting, and laughing until finally, they were ready.
On the night of the ball, the women gathered in Maggie’s room and helped one another get dressed, aided by Emily and Rosa.
Red-haired, eighteen-year-old Frankie grimaced as she adjusted her skirts. They hung over a petticoat, a crinoline cage, and a pair of drawers. “Oh, why do we have to wear all this get-up?” she complained.
The young woman had no idea how delightful she looked in her cream-colored gown festooned with green ribbons and bows. Even her hair – curly and thick as it was – had been arranged into a neat bun at the back of her neck and held in place by a decorative hair net.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Frankie felt all trussed up, just like a Christmas goose, provided said goose was going to a ball.
Twenty-two-year old Lydia was sitting in front of the bureau mirror, fussing with her own dark brown locks. She was tall and buxom, and her hair always did what she wanted it to do – something that never ceased to make Frankie jealous. She turned to look at her sister. “You can’t just show up to a ball in everyday wear, Frances. The invitation said dress is formal.”
Frankie irritably flicked a random bow at her waist. “But look at these! They’re so fussy! Why did I let Madame Louisa talk me into this?”
“Because it’s fashionable,” was Lydia’s answer. “It’s the same reason we had to get new crinoline cages. They’re flatter in the front now.” She was a vision, wearing a gown of maroon silk with black bows that flattered her voluptuous figure.
Frankie sniffed. “We’d be better off without these things. Crinolines just get in the way. One wrong move and they’re over your head!”
Maggie and Emily had to work hard to keep the smiles off their faces and had the wisdom to keep their mouths shut.
Frankie’s friend, Rosa, however, frowned. “Don’t complain. I wish I was going.” With a little sniff, she added. “Guess Mr. Norton just forgot to invite people who have a little color to their skin.”
Frankie retorted. “Why don’t you wear my costume and a mask, and I’ll stay home?”
The idea made Rosa laugh. “I think they’d still be able to tell I’m not white.”
At this point, Maggie looped an arm through Rosa’s. “Well, then, why don’t we hold a Christmas ball here and invite people of all colors?”
“And then all the white people would stay home.”
“Not all of them,” Maggie replied with a grin. “Just the disagreeable ones.”
“So what do you think? Shall we try it and see?”
“Are you serious?”
Maggie nodded. “Of course. And we’ll visit Madame Louisa and get a gown for you.”
“Then yes! Let’s do it.” Rosa looked Maggie over. “You know, Madame is good at what she does. That gown is beautiful on you.”
Maggie glanced down at her dress. It was forest green silk, decorated with white roses. Once again, the bodice had been cut low. Madame Louisa insisted that a lowcut gown was still all the rage. “And,” the French woman had added, “since you have such a magnificent bosom, why not display a bit of it?”
Why not? Maggie had thought. Well… there were a number of answers to that. Her husband would not like it if other men flocked to her side. So much exposed skin would be cold this time of year. And, of course, her bosom was only “magnificent” because she was still nursing little Faith, the daughter she had with husband Eli.
Self-conscious, Maggie gave her bodice a little yank to hike it up. “Well! It’s time to go downstairs, ladies.”
“Mm, hm.” Emily stepped in front of her friend, grabbed the bottom of the bodice, and pulled it back into place. “That’s better! Now, you’re ready.” She winked at her friend.
To which, Maggie rolled her eyes.
On that All Hallows Eve, the ancient fireplace in the kitchen’s sitting room held a good blaze. James O’Reilly, whom everyone called Grandpa and who had been a household member ever since Maggie’s boarding house days, was holding court there. He had gathered around him Maggie and Eli’s son Bob, Emily and Nate’s son Natey, and Addie and Mary Brooks, two young girls of color who had been adopted by Emily and Nate.
The old Irishman was telling them stories.
“Aye,” he was saying, “on this night of all nights the veil between the living and the ghosts of the dead is thin. So thin that the dead may pass through and cavort amongst the living.”
The children’s eyes were wide as saucers.
“Back in the old country, we used to leave food out for roving spirits as a sacrifice so they wouldn’t trouble our house.”
“What’s a sacrifice?” little Natey asked.
“Why it’s something we give to a spirit as a gift.”
“What would the dead do if you didn’t leave food?” thirteen-year-old Mary wanted to know.
Grandpa sat back in his chair. “Ah, they would be about any sort of mischief, some of it quite serious. They could put a hex on your crops so they wouldn’t grow. They could even bring illness upon your house.”
“I don’t want any dead people coming in our door tonight,” a worried Bob said. He was seven years old and beginning to understand that the world was not always a safe place. “We should get some food for them and put it by our door, that way they’ll leave us alone.”
Eli was dressed in the same black tailcoat, trousers, and silk silver paisley waistcoat that he had worn to the winter ball (and every bit as uncomfortable as he had been then). When he heard his son expressing concern about spirits, he decided to step into the little circle by the fireplace. “That’s enough, O’Reilly. You’ll give them nightmares.”
“Ah,” the old man grumbled. “You’re no fun. No fun at all.”
At this point, Maggie, Lydia, and Frankie made their entrance into the kitchen.
“Well,” Eli exclaimed, “I can’t believe I’ll be escorting such beautiful women.” He reached out for Maggie’s hand.
Smiling and gloved up to the elbows, she let her husband take her hand and give it a gallant kiss. “Why, thank you, kind sir,” she said.
Frankie heaved a sigh. “I wish Patrick had leave. He could have come along as my escort.”
Lydia responded. “I imagine both he and Philip are busy at Mower General Hospital. I don’t expect the army to give either of them leave until the new year.”
“Never mind, ladies,” Eli replied. “I’ll see that you have a good time tonight. Even if I have to dance with you myself.”
His two stepdaughters smiled affectionately at him. The truth was that Elijah Smith was unable to dance, due to an injury he suffered to his leg some years ago. But the girls knew that, had he been able, he would have been true to his word, and that meant a great deal to them.
“I hope you don’t meet any ghosts of the dead on the way,” Bob said with a little shiver.
“Now, where did you hear a thing like that?” Maggie asked.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know the old stories, Maggie Beatty. Your people came from Scotland.”
“My people,” Maggie said, as she walked to Grandpa, “never spoke of them, if you want to know the truth.” Smiling, she bent and gave the old man a kiss on the cheek. “There’s nothing different about this night than any other night, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Oh, does that mean when you were a lass, you and your friends never tried conjuring up the names of your future husbands?”
Maggie blushed. “Grandpa!”
Frankie’s interest was aroused. “Mama, did you ever do such a thing?”
“Well…” she hedged. “Maybe once.”
Excited, the young woman pressed on. “Did you get a name?”
“Yes! I got two: John and Elijah.”
There was a stunned silence, broken only when Maggie laughed.
Frankie frowned, as she realized that her mother was teasing. “Oh, Mama!”
Lydia took her sister by the arm. “If you’re curious, I’m sure some of the younger ladies will try to do some conjuring later. It usually happens this time of the year among those looking for a beau.”
“Which I’m not,” Frankie corrected. “I intend to be married to Patrick by this time next year.”
Emily, who was standing nearby, spoke up. “Whether you’re looking or not, I hope you don’t partake in any of that. Don’t you do that foolishness. Conjuring just might bring up things you don’t want. Bad things.” She frowned. “I don’t hold by summoning and seances and such. The Bible says not to do them.”
“We’ll be careful, Emily,” Maggie assured her friend, taking her arm and giving it a pat.
The kitchen door abruptly flew open. and Nate Johnson stomped in. “Woof! It’s brisk out there, folks. I put some blankets in the carriage for you.” He turned to Eli. “Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?”
Eli shook his head no. “There’s no need, Nate. Especially since Norton didn’t have the good taste to invite you. Nope, I’ll drive.” He offered Maggie his arm. “Shall we go, my love?”
As the foursome walked toward the door, Bob called, “Look out for ghosts!”
Laughing, Frankie glanced at him over her shoulder. “We’ll be careful, Bobby. Don’t worry.”
 “Bunkum,” slang for “nonsense.”
Coming Soon: Chapter 2: The Ball
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder