Authors: Sonia Gensler
But Miss Atherton had been cold and distant throughout breakfast, rising to excuse herself long before everyone else had finished eating. Asher had stood quickly, banging his knee on the table as he did so.
Look at me before you go
, he’d thought.
Just one glance
But she’d never turned his way.
The revised plan involved drowning his sorrows at a public house. Asher had even peered into a promising establishment by the river, but its dark, low-ceilinged interior, the air thick with smoke and laughter, made him feel very young and very
American. So instead he wandered along King’s Parade to Trinity Street.
Having studied his
the night before, he recognized King’s, Clare, and Caius Colleges. He dutifully admired their handsome facades and garden courts, the ornate chapels with their marble floors and medieval sarcophagi. All this luxury made such a contrast to the Puritan plainness of Harvard.
This had drawn him to Cambridge in the first place—the medieval grandeur of the men’s colleges. He’d had no desire to visit Summerfield. An upstart college for spinsterly bluestockings was the furthest thing from his notion of a worthwhile social call, not to mention the fact that a notorious spook chaser resided there.
But his uncle had insisted he pay a visit to Oliver Thompson.
“I don’t share my brother’s fascination for metaphysical research,” Francis Beale had said. “I’d much prefer that phantasms stay in the realm of fiction. However, Oliver Thompson was a Trinity Fellow and remains one of the most learned men I’ve ever met. Both he and your father would be offended if you did not make yourself known to him while in Cambridge. In fact, Thompson is likely to ask you to stay with him at Summerfield College.”
If only that damnable Poole girl hadn’t ambushed him at the gate, he could have presented his card and left it at that.
He turned back to
with a sigh, determined to salvage something worthwhile out of this Cambridge visit. As the morning dragged on, however, he found himself walking past buildings that ordinarily would have made him pause. The medieval walls, gardens, and chapels of each college were blurring together so that he could no longer tell them apart. His senses were overwhelmed, and he was starving.
He purchased a meat pie from a street vendor and sat on a
bench near Saint Michael’s Church. The pie filled the gnawing void in his stomach, fortifying him to cross the road and take in the grandeur of Trinity College. This was where Oliver Thompson had taken his degree, as had greater minds like Newton and Bacon. Asher stared at the gate for some time, craning his neck to admire the tall, crenellated towers. Above the heavy wooden doors was a statue of the college’s founder, Henry VIII. What might one have found in his own town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, when King Henry held the throne of England? Meadows and trees?
Nothing so grand as this.
He passed through the gate to the Great Court and gaped at its dimensions. As he visited each spot recommended by Baedeker, he paid special attention to the gleaming woodwork in the Tudor chapel, the portraits in the dining hall, and the view of the River Cam from the Wren Library.
He crossed the river, leaving the ornate buildings behind. Beyond the bridge an avenue of linden trees curved over him like the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral. The branches trembled in the breeze, offering fleeting wafts of a heady fragrance. Asher didn’t consider himself religious, but in that moment something tugged at his heart—a spiritual ache, if one could call it that.
On either side of the avenue lay a meadow. He veered off the path, avoiding the bees that buzzed through the low-hanging branches, and stepped into the grass. No one tried to stop him. After several paces he paused, looked around, and sank down. If he lay on his back, no one would see him. He placed his hands behind his head and stared at the clouds. Birds trilled in the trees, but otherwise it was peaceful. One might forget that this wide green space stood at the center of a busy town.
“This could be mine,” he said aloud, closing his eyes.
When he woke—an hour later, according to his watch—he
knew it didn’t matter that Elsie refused to smile at him, that the Thompsons were eccentric, or that his father might actually be proud of him for reaching so high as Trinity College, Cambridge.
He needed to be part of this place. It had called to him somehow, and he planned to stay and listen.
After such an epiphany, Asher could only be pleased that Elsie Atherton
smile at him upon his return to Summerfield. She greeted him quite warmly, in fact, and met his gaze more than once during supper.
As the five of them settled in the sitting room afterward, he noted an unusual animation to her expression. That morning she’d been cold and remote. Now, however, her eyes shone brightly. She did not fidget—nothing so unladylike as that—but when he looked up from his book to steal a glance at her, she seemed attuned to the atmosphere rather than withdrawn from it. He forced himself to look away, feigning indifference.
“I hope you weren’t expecting to have port and cigars in the dining room, Asher,” said Mr. Thompson. “I suppose it’s what most gentlemen do, but I’ve always preferred to stay near my wife when in my own home.” He and Mrs. Thompson shared a smile.
“Of course, sir,” Asher mumbled, embarrassed by the display of affection, modest though it was. He turned back to his book, but minutes later he found he’d read the same sentence three times without comprehending it. A sigh broke the silence, and Asher raised his head to find Elsie’s eyes on him.
“You know, I would so enjoy a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum,” she said airily.
Mrs. Thompson looked up from her sewing. “How nice, my dear. They have many treasures.”
“I was thinking of visiting tomorrow, in fact.”
Asher noted the furrow on Mrs. Thompson’s brow. Even Kate, who’d been ripping seams on a brown skirt, looked up with interest.
“If you would wait until Saturday, Elsie, we could all go together,” Mrs. Thompson said. “I’m afraid your uncle and I have too many engagements tomorrow, and Miss Poole has her duties in the library. You ought not go alone.”
Elsie sighed again. “It’s just that I am feeling much better and would like to see more of the town. All I’ve seen so far are the buildings and garden of Summerfield.”
Asher chanced a look at her and felt his face grow hot as she boldly returned his gaze. She smiled and turned back to her aunt. “Might Mr. Beale be allowed to accompany me?”
Mrs. Thompson looked at her husband. “I’m not sure that would be—”
“Would be what, Aunt?” Elsie’s expression was all innocence. Asher dragged his eyes from her to look at Mrs. Thompson.
“A young lady accompanied by a young man who is not her brother?” Mrs. Thompson shook her head. “It’s not the done thing.”
Her husband set his book down. “Is it really so terrible, Helena? Surely it isn’t any worse than two
visiting a museum together.”
“But they are
cousins, dear husband.”
“And yet we know and trust his father so well, they might as well be. I’ve never known you to be this old-fashioned! They are merely going to a museum.”
“What would my sister say?” Mrs. Thompson arched an eyebrow for emphasis.
“I’m sorry, my dear,” Mr. Thompson said, “but your sister is a fusspot. I did not agree to have your niece here so that she
could be locked within our walls until we have a spare moment to chaperone her outings.”
“I suppose it would be nice for our guest to have company as he explores all that Cambridge has to offer,” Mrs. Thompson relented, looking at Asher.
He smiled in reply.
“It’s settled, then,” said Mr. Thompson, opening his book once more. “That is, I assume it is amenable to Mr. Beale?”
“Of course, sir.” Asher knew better than to meet Miss Atherton’s gaze. Nor would he glance at Kate Poole, for he could almost sense the sly look she must be giving him. Instead he pretended to study his book most carefully, all the while rehearsing the clever things he would say to Miss Atherton the next day.
iss Poole, I have an early appointment this morning and must let you into the library before Miss Freeman and Miss Barrett arrive. Does this suit you?”
Kate glanced at Mrs. Thompson over her teacup. “You trust me with the books? All alone?”
“I highly doubt you would run away with them.” Mrs. Thompson’s eyes gleamed with amusement. “They are of little value to anyone but scholars. Furthermore, I’m certain there’s nothing in our collection that would be inappropriate for a young lady to read.”
A young lady? Kate squirmed with pleasure to be termed such. “Of course, ma’am. I will unpack books until the lady scholars arrive.”
As she entered the building, it occurred to her that no one had ordered the unpacking to commence
. With that in mind, the first thing she did once Mrs. Thompson left her alone was to survey the stacks of periodicals.
The Summerfield newspaper collection consisted of bound volumes of two London papers dating back to 1880. She also found stacks of unbound copies of the local paper, but they
were sloppily folded and mostly out of order. It would take ages to get them all sorted. She turned back to the stacks of London papers.
The Daily News
appeared to be a smaller publication, quicker to search, so she pulled out the appropriate volume and paged her way to June 1, 1898.
No mention of Frederic Stanton.
She found nothing listed in the following day’s paper, either. In fact, she didn’t find his name in the obituaries until the June 7 edition.
STANTON. — June 1, at Brighton, F. Stanton, late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, age 43
Kate stared at the words until they blurred on the page. How could that be all? She chewed her lip for a moment, then returned to the stacks of bound periodicals. The only other choice was
, and these copies were bound in wide volumes with bright red covers. She scanned the spines and heaved the appropriate volume to the floor next to
The Daily News
. This time she knew better than to expect the obituary to be printed the very day her father died. She turned pages quickly, and her heart leapt when she found a full paragraph.
We regret to announce the sudden death, by misadventure, of Mr. Frederic Stanton, joint secretary of the Metaphysical Research Society. Mr. Stanton, who was born in 1855, was the son of the Rev. Trevor Stanton, late Rector of Marylebone. He received his education at Trinity College, Cambridge, of which college he became a Fellow, after taking his degree in Classics in 1878. Mr. Stanton was the principal author of
The Metaphysical Mind.
He died alone at the Avalon Hotel, Brighton, whither he had gone for a night on business
“Misadventure?” Kate whispered.
What did that mean? She read the paragraph again. Her father had been secretary to the Metaphysical Research Society. The name sounded vaguely familiar. Had she heard it mentioned at Mrs. Martineau’s? If so, the Society must have something to do with spirits and hauntings.
But that made no sense. Her mother had often told her, very proudly indeed, that Frederic Stanton was a serious scholar and gentleman. How could he have been involved in Martineau’s world of séances and spirit apparitions? How could he have written a book on the subject? None of it was real.
She studied both entries again. Her father had been thirty-two years old when she was born, still a Fellow at Trinity. Fellows
allowed to marry, but Kate had to admit that her mother, a woman without education or refinement, could only have harmed his career prospects. Still, he hadn’t abandoned them. They had lived comfortably enough, and Kate had vague memories of his visits. She knew that he’d towered over her when he stood at the door, and those few times when he held her on his lap, his wide brown eyes had seemed sad. The visits had stopped when he’d married, but the money had continued.
Until his death by
Such an ominous word. It brought to mind darker words such as
. When she found the word in the dictionary, she was almost disappointed to find it merely meant
—an accident, just as Mr. Thompson had said.
She studied the title of his book again.
The Metaphysical Mind
. It sounded preposterous, but at that moment the book was the only remaining source of information on her father.
She glanced about the room at the jumbled stacks of books. Could she be so lucky?
Asher’s rehearsed charm failed him the next morning when he saw Elsie Atherton. Dressed in somber grey and an imposing hat, with her camera strapped across her body, she seemed more handsome than ever. The light still gleamed in her eyes, and her tapping foot communicated a desire to be on her way.