Excerpt from A Loving Spirit

   
England, 1811
     "Why is it always so cold in England?" Cassandra Richards murmured, burrowing deeper into her fur-lined cloak as she watched the Cornwall landscape roll by outside the carriage window.
     "I think my toes are frozen." said her friend Antoinette Duvall. "They will never be warm again." Her usually merry coffee-colored face was glum, at odds with her bright red-and-black printed turban.
     The two of them sighed, and leaned against each other disconsolately.
     Cassie's aunt, Charis, Lady Willowby, called Chat by all her many friends, looked across the carriage at them and shook her head. "You girls! It is only October. There is barely a nip in the air. What are you going to do when it is December and snow is thick on the ground?"
     "Snow!" Cassie cried. She had lived for the last fourteen years in hot, sunny Jamaica; she had not seen snow since she was five. All she remembered was that it was very cold and very wet.
     And that her father used to make little balls of it, and throw them at her laughing mother.
     That memory of her parents, who were now gone and left behind in the small cemetery of their plantation near Negril, gave her a sharp pang. How she missed them! How she missed their life together, a life of sunshine and warm sea.
     Even four months in England had not erased her homesickness.
     But at least Antoinette had agreed to come with her, she thought, reaching out with the toe of her half boot to nudge the flannel-wrapped brick closer to her friend's feet. Home never seemed quite so far away when she could hear the lilting, musical cadence of Antoinette's voice. And Aunt Chat really was trying to make her feel welcome. She had given parties at her house in Bath to introduce Cassie to all her friends, and now she had organized this trip to Cornwall to visit yet another of her friends, the Dowager Lady Royce.
     Cassie knew that Aunt Chat hoped that being near the sea would help cheer her up. The least she could do was enjoy it.
     She smiled at her aunt. "I cannot wait to see Royce Castle, Aunt Chat! It sounds most intriguing. We don't have buildings that are over five hundred years old in Jamaica."
     Chat smiled back. Her pretty, round face was relieved beneath her plumed bonnet. "I am sure you will enjoy it, my dear. My friend Lady Royce is wonderful, and the castle itself most intriguing. There are underground tunnels, secret rooms, and supposedly many ghosts in residence."
     Antoinette brightened a bit. "Ghosts, Lady Willowby?"
     "Oh, yes. Several, I believe, though I do not know the details. Melinda or her son should be able to tell you all about it." She shivered a bit. "Though I certainly hope we do not actually meet any!"
     "Oh, I do!" Cassie said, clapping her gloved hands in delight. "A ghost would be ever so exciting. Did you bring your mother's book of incantations, Antoinette?"
     Antoinette was already digging about in her valise. She came up with a thick, worn, brown leather-covered volume. "Of course! I never travel without it. One never knows when one might need an incantation. I also brought some herbs and potions." She pulled a bottle out of the valise, and held it up to the pale sunlight. Small flowers and stems floated about in a clear liquid.
     "Wonderful!" Cassie said. "Antoinette's mother was a Yaumumi priestess, Aunt Chat. She taught Antoinette to find all sorts of things that we cannot see. If there are any ghosts, she is sure to find them."
     Antoinette nodded firmly. "Yes. And if there are unfriendly entities, we shall banish them."
     Chat eyed the bottle a bit nervously. "My dears, are you sure this is a good idea? Perhaps we should leave the, er, entities alone. We wouldn't like to get them upset, now would we?"
     Cassie gave her a reassuring smile. "You mustn't worry, Aunt Chat. Antoinette knows exactly what she is doing. Now, tell me more about your friend. And her son! How very fortunate that they live in such a spirited place. They must be terribly interesting people."
     * * *
     "Dearest, I do hope you are going to change your clothes before Lady Willowby and her niece arrive," Melinda Leighton, the Dowager Lady Royce said to her son, when she came into the library on a wave of lilac scent. She proceeded to open the draperies at all the windows, sending sunlight into the gloomy corners of the room.
     "What is wrong with what I am wearing, Mother?" Phillip, the Earl of Royce, said distractedly, not even glancing up from the volume he was perusing.
     "What is not wrong with it? The edges of the coat cuffs are frayed, and is that a hole in the elbow? You should put your new green coat on. And a fresh cravat. You have made ink spots on that one."
     Phillip turned over a page. "I will. Later."
     "But they will be here at any moment!"
     "Surely not. You said they would not be here before teatime."
     "It is already past four, dearest."
     Phillip did look up then, squinting through his spectacles at the clock on the mantel. "Oh. So it is."
     Melinda came over to the desk, and pushed all the piles of books and papers aside to lean over the volume he was reading. "What is it that you find so interesting, Phillip?"
     "Thucydides, Mother. It's a very important source for the monograph I'm writing." He marked his place in the volume, closed it, and reached up to remove his spectacles.
     "The Pelo-Pelo..." Melinda murmured, running one finger over the gilt letters on the book's cover.
     "The Peloponnisian War," Phillip said, rubbing at his eyes. He had been working for hours, since just after breakfast, but had not realized at all how late it was growing.
     "It sounds horribly depressing," Melinda said. "I am truly glad we are to have some company. You spend far too much time in this room, Phillip. A little society will be good for you."
     Phillip leaned back in his chair and smiled up at her. "Poor Mother. I know it's terribly dull for you here in the wilds of Cornwall, with only my sorry company."
     "We were not speaking of me! We were speaking of you. Of how excellent it will be for you to be around people for a while."
     "I am happy with the way things are. It's very important that I finish my work on the Peloponnesian War; it is a very vital part of my series on ancient Greece."
     Melinda shrugged, as usual not listening to her son's obsession with the order and rationality of the ancient world. She was always far more interested in the confusion of the modern world—gossipy letters from her friends, good works at the church, soirees on the rare occasions she was in Town.
     She went to a mirror on the wall and straightened her cap and her lace shawl. "Nevertheless, dearest, you can take the time to be polite to my friend." She laid her palm against her still-smooth cheek. "I wonder what Chat will think of me. It has been a long time since we saw each other, though I get a letter from her every month. I was much younger then."
     "She will think you have not aged a day, because you haven't," Phillip said, coming around to kiss her cheek. "But didn't you say she is also bringing a child with her? I shouldn't think there would be much here to amuse a child."
     Melinda laughed. "Her niece is not a child, Phillip! She is eighteen or nineteen, I believe, and she has only just come here from Jamaica. Or maybe Barbados."
     Phillip drew back suspiciously. "Eighteen or nineteen? Mother."
     She gave him a wide-eyed, innocent look. "What, dearest?"
     "You are not matchmaking again, are you?"
 
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