“Oh look Ichabod, the sea!” Katrina said, squeezing her husband’s hand.
Ichabod leant forward in his seat to look out the carriage window and onto the beautiful coastline, which stretched the length of the island leading down to deep blue waters. Katrina had never been to the coast before, and Ichabod had only been once, during his childhood, so this trip was a welcomed experience.
“Will you be working the entire time we’re here,” Katrina asked. “Surely we will get some time to ourselves?”
“There’s very serious work to be done, Miss,” Masbeth, Ichabod’s trusted apprentice, said.
Katrina gave a small nod, her eyes drifting sadly to her lap.
Seeing this, Ichabod leant close to her, placed a loving hand on her shoulder and said; “I’m sure there will be time to spare for a walk on the beach.”
Katrina smiled at him.
The carriage climbed the winding cliff path until it came to the Seaview Hotel.
“We’re here,” Katrina announced, and Ichabod helped her from the carriage, followed by Masbeth with their luggage.
The manager was sitting at the front desk, he was at least seventy years old, and had more hair growing from his ears and nostrils than he had on his head.
He passed a suspicious eye over them and then said; “You’ll be expecting a room, no doubt.”
“We’re booked in,” Ichabod replied, “Under the name Crane.”
“Hmmm,” the man said, leaning his ancient head down to look closely at the guests register, “Mr. I and Mrs. K?”
“And is this your son?” The manager asked.
“No,” Masbeth said indignantly, “I’m Masbeth, Ichabod’s trusted apprentice!”
The man said; “After you’ve been shown to your room, if you would like to go through to the dining room, dinner is being served-“
“Actually,” Ichabod said, “We only just ate a few hours ago. We were hoping to go on the local tour.”
“The tour?” The manager said.
“Yes, you see, the main purpose of this trip is-“
“But the tour is leaving now!” the manager snapped.
“Oh,” Ichabod said, turning to Katrina, “We had better be on our way then. Will you be okay, dear?”
Katrina smiled; “Yes, I think I’ll wander the garden for a while and then have a read,” she patted the pocket of her skirt, which held her novel.
“Garden’s that way,” the manager, thumbed the direction.
“Thank-you,” said Katrina.
She kissed Ichabod on the cheek and then left for her walk.
After she had gone, the manager said; “So you won’t be wanting any dinner?”
“We’ll probably want something when we get back,” said Ichabod.
The manager let out a disgruntle sigh and said, “Oh, very well! We do have set dining times but I wouldn’t want that to get in the way of your fun.”
Ichabod was taken back by the manager’s tone, but he still mustered a polite smile.
“Actually sir, we’re not here for fun. We are on a very important business trip. You see—“
“Yes, yes,” the manager said dismissively. “If you want to go on the tour, you had better hurry, they’re leaving right now!”
“You already mentioned that,” Icabod replied with a tight smile, “Come Masbeth.”
They were halfway to the door when the sound of the manager’s voice brought them to a halt.
“Oh, we’ll be taking those upstairs for you then?” he said, pointing to the luggage.
Ichabod’s face dropped.
“Only if it’s not too much trouble,” he said.
“Oh no, no,” the manager grumbled, “Don’t you worry.”
“Thank-you,” Ichabod said, swallowing a lump in his throat.
“The horseman is out front,” the manager said.
Ichabod felt a chill spread through his stomach.
“Yes,” the manager said. “He leads our tours.”
Ichabod and Masbeth exchanged a look of anxious horror. Ichabod pushed his young apprentice towards the door, and waited as he slowly peered outside.
The young man turned back to them, a relieved smile on his face.
“It’s okay,” he said. “He’s got a head!”
Ichabod let out a thankful sigh and chuckle, but quickly composed himself when he noticed the look of curious confusion on the manager’s face.
When the tour was finished and they had returned, Ichabod met Katrina in front of the hotel. She was sitting on the grass, pretty as a picture, her sketch book on her lap. As he came closer he could see her drawing, it was of the hotel.
The details of the cobblestone structure were beautifully captured in the lines of her work. Each window and doorway and portion of the thatched roof was careful accounted for, drawn with confident pulls of the pencil. It was quite lovely. There was however, something sincere in the way the sun threw a long, deep shadow of the building.
There was also something strange about the portrait that had caught Ichabod eye. It must have also come to the attention of the hotel manager, who had appeared behind them, because he said; “You’ve made a mistake.”
There was a middle-aged couple and a young woman of about Katrina’s age, sitting together on a bench in front of the hotel.
The older woman called out; “Don’t you be so rude Mr White!”
“Yes,” added the young woman. “We’ve all taken a look at it and think it’s simply wonderful.”
It was the man’s turn to have his say; “Don’t you listen to him Katrina, he’s an old fool!”
Mr White’s cheeks turned scarlet.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t a good drawing,” he grumbled. “I said she’s made a mistake.”
“Show me,” Katrina said in interest, holding the picture up so that her error could be pointed out.
“It’s nothing really,” Ichabod assured her. “Not worth mentioning at all.”
The manager gave a grunt.
“Show me, Ichabod,” Katrina pressed, her voice light and even.
Clearly she had taken no offence to what Mr White had said, and so Ichabod decided not to either.
He knelt on the grass beside her and indicated with a long, slender finger.
“Just here dear,” he said. “See? You’ve drawn some kind of a hatch, or a trap door, but there isn’t one.”
He pointed to the hotel, to the place where the opening should have been, but instead there was only solid stone.
“Oh,” Katrina said, her eyes narrowing as she looked. “I was sure… I must have made a mistake after all; how strange.”
“It’s still a beautiful drawing,” the young woman on the bench said.
“Yes, it artist license,” the man added. “Sometimes the imagination takes over and changes reality for the better.”
Mr White rolled his eyes, he had clearly had enough.
“Thank you Mr Robinson,” he said. “Thank you for enlightening us all. Now you,” he turned to Ichabod, “I want a word with you.”
Mr White stomped back into the hotel and Ichabod followed.
“Where’s your son?” Mr White asked.
“He’s not my son,” Ichabod replied. “He’s Masbeth, my trusted apprentice, and he went with horseman to tie up the horses. I would have helped, but I’m not good with them.”
“Not good with sons or with horses?” Mr White asked.
Ichabod resisted the urge to roll his eyes and said; “What is it you wanted to speak to me about?”
“Some sliver’s gone missing from the dining room,” Mr White replied.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Did you take it?” Mr White stepped towards Ichabod, jabbing him several times in the chest, with an old bony finger.
“No!” Ichabod was astonished by the accusation. “Don’t be ridiculous. I haven’t even been here,” he added.
“I can check that, with the horseman,” Mr White said, taking another step forward, giving Ichabod a sharp shove.
“Please do,” Ichabod countered, straightening up.
“Okay,” Mr White replied, obviously satisfied that Ichabod was telling the truth. “You weren’t here, but your wife was.”
Something snapped inside Ichabod; how dare this awful little man accuse Katrina of such a thing.
“Look here,” Ichabod snapped, knocking Mr White’s hands away, and stepping towards him, his own finger wagging in the man’s face.
“Oh thank goodness!” Mr White suddenly wailed.
Ichabod jumped when he noticed Katrina and the others, including Masbeth, standing in the doorway.
“He turned on me,” the old man said, faking a tearful tone, “Like a madman!”
“Ichabod!” Katrina said in shock.
Ichabod swiftly retracted his finger and backed away from Mr White, embarrassed. Mr White turned and left the room without a word.
“You should have knocked his block off,” the man from on the bench said. He stepped forwards to shake Ichabod’s hand; “I’m Frank. And this is my wife Eleanor.”
“Hello,” Ichabod greeted them.
“And I’m Rebecca Green,” the young woman said, “And Katrina, what ever was going on, I’m sure Mr White started it.”
“We’re just about to go for a drink,” Eleanor said. “Perhaps you would like to join us.”
“Yes, thank-you,” Ichabod replied.
“I’ll just go and put my sketchbook away,” Katrina said, and both she and Rebecca headed for the staircase.
“Rebecca won’t be joining us,” Frank explained. “Her husband’s unwell and in bed, and she worries if she’s away from him for too long. We somehow managed to drag her away for a walk today, and we met your lovely wife on our return.”
“What bad luck to fall ill while on holiday,” Ichabod said.
“They are not on holiday as such,” Eleanor said. “They were passing by this way when he had a fall and broke his leg. They were forced to stay here while he recovered. Poor lamb’s been laid up for weeks, can barely sit up in bed to take meals.”
“How long have you been here,” Masbeth asked.
Frank and Eleanor let out a laugh.
“We’ve lost count of the months,” Frank chuckled.
“It’s the sea air,” Eleanor added, “One breath and you’re hooked!”
Katrina returned from upstairs and the group went into the hotel’s tavern. There was a young man with thick, curly brown hair serving behind the bar.
“This is Ted,” Frank said. “He’s the hotel’s barkeep, luggage handler, maid,” Frank laughed, “Did I miss anything out Ted my boy?”
“No, I think you mentioned it all,” Ted replied with a good-hearted chuckle. “Mr White likes to keep me busy.”
“Ted and a young lady called Alice - sweet girl - are the only employees of Mr White,” Eleanor explained.
“He wouldn’t like to fork out for any more wages than that,” Frank added with a wink.
“And he’s given her the heave-ho,” Ted said.
“Caught her stealing,” Ted explained, shaking his head, “Money missing out of his room, jewellery missing from another room; terrible business. And he’s been on the rampages today on account of some sliver’s gone missing out of the dining room. But he can’t pin that on Alice, she’s been gone since yesterday.”
“He, um, tried to ‘pin it’ on me,” Ichabod said.
“Yes,” Ted said with a small nod. “I understood he was going to have a word.”
“How ridiculous,” Katrina said, “Ichabod’s a man of the law. Besides he hasn’t been here.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Ted said. “But Mr White got it into his head that you arrived today and the silver disappeared today, and so the two must be connected. He’s probably misled it somewhere himself and is too embarrassed to admit it.”
When they had given their orders and taken a seat, conversation turned swiftly from Mr White to everyone’s plans for the following day.
“We were hoping to find an interesting nature trail of some kind,” Katrina said.
“It depends on whether you’re planning to go on horse or foot,” Frank said, mulling over the request.
“It doesn’t really mat—“ Katrina began, but then catching Ichabod’s stern eye she quickly said; “Foot! Not horseback; we’ll be travelling by foot.”
Ichabod let out a relieved sigh.
“Keys Cross is a nice route,” Frank said. “Lots of flowers and wildlife along that way – what do you think dear?”
He turned to his wife, but she didn’t seem to be following the conversation at all. Her eyes were hazy and her mind was miles away.
“What?” She said finally, as if waking from a trance.
“Keys Cross; a good walk,” her husband repeated.
“Oh, yes, yes,” she agreed.
Frank turned his attention back on Ichabod.
“So Katrina told us that you’re on some kind of business here; what exactly is it you’re doing?” he asked, lighting his pipe. “I’m sure what ever it is, it makes for interesting conversation.”
“Yes, I suppose it does,” Ichabod replied, “The main reason I’ve come here is—“
“Your drinks,” Ted said, appearing at the table with a tray in his hands.
“I’ve been waiting all day for this,” Frank said, taking a long drain of his ale, “Best in the country if you ask me.”
As the clock ticked on, Ichabod noticed Eleanor Robinson, who had seemed distracted all evening, was becoming more and more anxious. Soon he felt compelled to comment on it.
“Are you quite already Mrs Robinson?”
“Yes,” she replied, a little too quickly.
“Are you sure,” Katrina asked, concern in her voice.
For a moment it seemed as if Eleanor was wrestling with something; trying to decide whether to confide in them or not.
She said finally; “I become a little nervous around bedtime.”
“Ellie not this,” Frank said.
It was clearly something he had heard a number of times before.
“Oh please,” Ichabod said, “We’re all ears.”
“Perhaps, what ever it is, we can help you in some way,” Katrina added softly.
Again Eleanor seemed to be suffering some inner turmoil, her eyes darting between her husband and her hands, which picked nervously at her skirt.
Frank let out a sigh that seemed to be a signal of acceptance. As if he were telling his wife that if she was going to tell, she should just get it over with.
Eleanor leant across the table, the candle light dancing on her features, “Do you believe in ghosts Mr Crane?” she asked.
Ichabod sat bolt-up, straight.
“Ghosts?” He laughed nervously.
He felt Katrina squeeze his hand, and managed to compose himself.
“There are many strange things in this world,” he concluded, his face serious, his tone sober.
“She’s convinced herself that the hotel’s haunted,” Frank said, knocking back more ale.
“I hear noises at night,” Eleanor explained, “Coming from above our bedroom.”
“What kind of noises?” Katrina whispered.
“They’re almost like footsteps, I suppose,” Eleanor replied, “But there’s a strange scraping sound as well; step, scrap, step, scrap.”
“Here we go,” Frank muttered, pouring the last of the ale down his gullet, and reaching for the jug for a refill.
“Like chains rattling and scrapping across the floor,” Eleanor continued, “Ghostly footsteps they are, and no mistaking.”
“I’ve never heard anything,” Frank said.
“That’s because you’re always drunk and out like a light!” Eleanor snapped.
“I resent that,” Frank replied, swaying drunkenly in his seat.
“Perhaps there are rats in the attic, they make more noise than you’d imagine,” Ichabod suggested.
“That’s what I thought,” Eleanor replied. “So I set Mr White up there to check, but there wasn’t a thing there. Not a living thing.”
After they had finished their drinks and retired to their rooms, Eleanor’s words were still ringing in Ichabod’s ears.
“What’s wrong my love?” Katrina asked, glancing over her shoulder at him in the dark.
“Oh, I’m sorry my darling, this business with the ghostly footsteps is troubling me greatly,” he replied.
“You need to relax,” Katrina told him, sitting back.
“I’m sorry,” he apologised again.
“Would you like me to put on the French accent,” she asked, “Or one of zee costumes?”
“No, no my sweet, I’ll be fine in a moment,” he replied
“Perhaps it would be better in a different position?”
“No, you were fine where you were,” he replied, losing patience slightly.
“Very well,” she said, letting out a sigh and sinking back onto her knees, in front of him.
“What could be making the noise above the Robinson’s room?” Ichabod wondered aloud, “And if it’s emp– Katrina!”
“Sorry, I thought that if I took you by surprise—“
“Let’s just go to sleep,” Ichabod said crossily, settling back on the mattress.
He lay awake worrying about the ghostly footsteps, finally falling asleep a little before dawn. He slept in late, and when he finally woke, Katrina had already gone downstairs for breakfast.
He was very disappointed to find her side of the bed empty, for the inhibition he had suffered the night before were long gone, and he was yearning for a loving hand.
Gathering up his washing-things, he headed out of the room and along the corridor towards the communion bathroom.
As he past one of the bedrooms, he couldn’t help but over here raised voices coming from within. One of the voices he recognized as Rebecca Green’s.
“Why can’t we just send for a coach?” Rebecca was shouting.
“We can’t afford it,” a man, whom Ichabod took to be her husband, shouted back.
Not wanting to eavesdrop, Ichabod hurried on his way.
After breakfast, Masbeth retired to the study to write up the notes Ichabod had made on the tour on the previous day, and Ichabod and Katrina went on their walk.
They crossed the beach, where Ichabod got sand in his boots. They climbed the rocks, where Ichabod grazed the palms of his hands. They walked through the long grass and into a meadow, where Ichabod was chased by a small herd of cows, and had to jump two fences and crawl beneath a bramble bush to escape.
“Oh my poor Ichabod,” Katrina soothed, as they later rested next to a babbling brook.
“It’s been a trying morning,” Ichabod agreed with a slow shake of his head.
With a touch of her hand and a look in her eye, Ichabod knew things were about to get much better.