What Became of Marjorie – Chapter Five

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter 5

The following morning, Maisie couldn’t wait to see if Marjorie was still there. Sure enough, the two were back in the kitchen drinking coffee. This time they were laughing.

‘Well, it looks like I need to get my own breakfast this morning.’

‘No, it’s almost ready. We can eat together.’

Maisie was itching to ask what had happen to Marjorie for all those years but for now, she just enjoyed the friendly chit-chat around the breakfast table.

Later, when the breakfast dishes had been washed and put away, Marjory went upstairs for a long hot bath and dressed in very outdated but clean clothes Katie found in the attic that had belong to one of the older sisters. Then, they all sat in front of a blazing fire in the sitting room. It was clear that Marjorie had explained some things to Katie but after a deep breath she began her story.

‘It was the summer that Meryl came to stay for the duration of her pregnancy. I was barely fourteen and Meryl a couple of years older. Meryl made my life a misery and bullied me whenever no one was nearby to witness her behaviour. About three months later’, Marjorie paused momentarily. ‘Meryl must have been in her sixth month of her pregnancy and I had  gone into town alone to purchase a few sewing items for my grandmother and some ribbon for Christine. While visiting Suzie, I met a seven-year-old boy. Peter was a scruffy little fellow but a hard worker. He did odd jobs for Suzie, like bringing the wood in for the fire. Tom had never met him because he was in his shop most of the day.’

‘Why hadn’t Suzie mentioned this?’ Maisie looked from Katie to Marjorie.

Marjorie shrugged. ‘Anyway, I discovered he lived with his father in a small abandon cottage in the bush not far from town.’

‘You mean, that was him I saw, or rather heard yesterday?’

‘Peter? Yes sorry. He was just looking out for me.’

Maisie signaled her to continue.

‘I would sneak out at night with blankets and bandages. Little things at first. His father had been kicked in his chest by a horse he had bought so they could head south again before the winter hit. I had to do something. One night, Meryl followed me as far as the wood pile that Peter and his father had built away from the cottage. She told me she had waited there for a few hours for me to emerge. On my way home, I found her on the ground crying at the edge of the cemetery. She had tripped and fell belly down on a headstone that had fallen some time ago. I helped her back to the house and upstairs to her bed. I offered to summoned the doctor or at least Mother but she wouldn’t hear of it. A few days later she threatened to tell my father that she saw me with a boy and I was sharing a bed with him. I convinced her that he would want to know how she knew, which would get her into trouble too. After she got back on her feet, she bullied me even more. One night when I arrived at the cottage Peter was crying. His father had died earlier that evening. I couldn’t leave him alone with his dead father in the one-room house.’

‘Oh, that poor child,’ Katie gasped. ‘And you. Only a child yourself.’

‘It took all night to dig the grave on the far side of the cemetery close to the bush. We didn’t dare drag the body during daylight so I stayed all the next day and into the night. We used the thin mattress his father was on and rigged it up like a stretcher and used rope to tie it to the horse’s saddle. It was a slow process but we finally made it to the grave. It was a nightmare and it was after sun-up by the time we returned to the cottage and guess who was waiting for us?’

‘Meryl?’ Katie answered.

‘You guessed it. I had some explaining to do but it wasn’t going to be to her. She yelled at me and called me names I won’t repeat. Peter began to cry, so I sent her away telling her to tell whoever she wanted whatever she wanted. I never saw her again, not even when I returned to steal food.’ She looked over at Katie. ‘I only took enough for the boy and a little more for myself. He only earned a few coins for the odd jobs he did for Suzie. We had to let the horse go. We just couldn’t afford to feed it and I couldn’t let Peter try and sell it on his own. I’ve seen it a few times since. It’s a bit wild I suppose but it looks healthier. There’s plenty of dams and grassland closer to town.’

‘Why didn’t you trust any of us?’

‘I guess I thought I knew what Meryl had been saying and I just couldn’t leave the boy.’

‘Where is he now?’ Maisie asked.

‘He found full-time work at a farm just before his fifteenth birthday. It’s the old Thompson’s farm on the other side of town. I’m not sure who owns it now. I had taught Peter to read and write, gave him little history lessons about the country, where he lived and where the capital cities are. He was quite bright and always asked questions. When he moved into accommodation at the farm, he visited every few days and brought me food and purchased little things in town. He found the hooded cloak in a shed on the farm. It helped in the cold months and recently when I began to sneak into the house again. About a month back, Peter told me he was going on a trip with his boss to buy farm machinery. He said it would only be a couple of weeks at the most but he didn’t return until yesterday. When I ran out of supplies, I decided to return to the house. I had only seen the one car which was still a surprise because it’s off season.’

Katie paused Marjorie’s account to properly introduce Maisie. After the introduction, Marjorie continued.

‘The day before Peter left for the trip, I told him it was time I needed to work things out. He had new responsibilities and I had to find some way to support myself, but he made me promise not to go too far until he returned. I was contemplating heading to Melbourne or Sydney but most of my own personal items were still in my room. Hence my sneaking about upstairs. I also wonder why Maisie would be here on her own.’ She paused. ‘I’m sorry I went into your room. It was inappropriate.’

Maisie leaned forward in her chair. ‘Forgiven. We’re just glad you are here now. Did Peter know much about himself? His birth date? Full name? What happened to his mother?’ She stopped. ‘There I go again. Even as a small child, I was known as the interrogator. Dad said I should be a detective.’

Marjorie smiled. ‘That’s fine. His father Ruben kept his papers and his family records in order. His mother’s name was Susan. She was killed by a stampede of horses on a property up north at Lightning Ridge where his father worked as a property manager. Peter doesn’t remember the incident and his father only told me little bits before he died. Susan had taken their only child Peter to the river for a paddle. Peter says they went many times and remembers things like paddling barefoot and chasing butterflies but that’s about it. After she died Ruben couldn’t bear to stay there so he packed a few things on to his horse and hiked south. He hadn’t intended to stay here but his horse became lame.’

Here she frowned and spoke directly to Katie. ‘Sorry about the roast. It was his birthday and I wanted to give him something special. There wasn’t much already prepared in the refrigerator so I took the chance of anyone seeing the smoke from the wood stove.’

‘Why didn’t you come home? The family searched for you and when the last of your family were buried the solicitors tried to find you—as far away as Ireland.’

This appeared all too much for Marjorie. Her voice lowered. ‘I watched the burial of my grandparents, Father and Mother from the bushes. After they died, I couldn’t bear to return.’

Katie held Marjorie’s hands between her own. ‘Your sisters moved away. They have passed on too. You knew of Stan’s death?’

‘Yes, I was here when you first came to live with us, but I was so afraid of what everyone thought they knew.’ She sat for a moment in silence. ‘I think Father knew I was here sometimes. He may have even known a little of where I was. I would sneak into my room and sleep for hours. One night I thought he was sitting in the chair near my bed. It felt so real, but times I was so tired. I don’t sleep well in the cottage.’

Maisie shook her head. ‘I’m still amazed that no one saw you. How could you be there for all those years and not be found? Not even by a bush-walker…’

‘Or the police,’ interrupted Katie. ‘They were here for a week looking for you. I think they were actually homicide detectives from Sydney or Melbourne; because of the blood.’

‘The blood? Oh yes, I remember. I lost my scarf. I cut my finger cutting a piece of leftover meat in the kitchen here. I had wrapped the scarf around the finger to help stop the bleeding. We hid most of the time if we heard anyone but we saw no police.’Maisie leaned back and looked up at the ceiling while the other two chatted away. Finally, she spoke but more to the ceiling then the women: ‘The cottage is concealed from the road and it is about ten miles from here…and the cemetery is only 100 yards from the gate. Perhaps the police didn’t search that far.’

Katie broke into her thoughts. ‘You could be right. There’s a lot of bush between the cemetery and town and the police seemed to concentrate much of their time interviewing the family, our guests and people in town, especially Tom.’

‘Tom!’ the two younger women spoke in unison.

‘Why Tom?’ asked Maisie.

‘Tom had always been bad-mannered and can be quite unpleasant when he wants to be. He’s mellowed over the years but I was always thankful I didn’t marry him.’

‘Are you saying the police thought he had done away with me?’

‘Tom was the main suspect. He was in custody for almost three weeks before they released him. The police never returned and listed you as a missing person. Your parents were beside themselves with worry. There were rumours about a hitchhiker serial killer at the time but your parents finally decided that wherever you were, you were alive. It was the only way they could move on with their lives but they were never the same. It was your father who demanded we left your room as you left it.’

‘So, it’s possible your father knew more than he was letting on?’ Maisie waited for her reply.

‘Perhaps. I never stopped to think about how they felt. Not until years later. Peter became like a son to me. Other times he was just my little brother.’

Maisie stood to stretch her legs. ‘I hate to finish on a low but the authorities will need to be informed that you’re not a missing person anymore.’

‘She’s right,’ Katie said. ‘I still have the contact details of the family solicitor. I’ll call him today and ask his advice. He could take us to the police and explain things to them.’

Marjorie looked like a scared kid.

‘I don’t think you will get into too much trouble but you and Peter will have to show them where you buried his father, and the cabin. For now,’ Maisie said. While Katie goes into town to use the phone, why don’t you try on some of my clothes. We’re about the same size.’

This brought a small smile to Marjorie. ‘I guess I do look a sight’.

Final Notes:

Maisie stayed on for a month focusing on her new mystery novel. Marjorie and Katie spent a few days in Melbourne to clear things up with the police and shopped till they dropped. The solicitor wanted to make Marjorie the official owner of Kelly’s Inn but Marjorie insisted he left things as they were until Katie retired or passed on. They planned to share the management of Kelly’s Inn and insisted on Maisie making an annual booking—off season of course.

Peter came to visit twice while Maisie was there that winter. Her suspicions were correct. He was the young man she had met at Suzie’s and the one who had spooked her that same day. After the police closed their investigation, Peter and Marjorie invited Maisie to return with them to the cabin one last time. Katie had also been invited but declined because she needed to “right” upstairs as she always did in the afternoon. They marked Ruben’s grave with a memorial plaque that also acknowledged Susan.

The End

© Chrissy Siggee

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

What Became of Marjorie – Chapter Four

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Back at the inn Maisie turned the engine off and took a few slow deep breaths. She stared at her image in the rear-view mirror where blood had congealed along small scratches on her forehead. Brushing her long fringe over the wounds, she opened the door and headed inside and upstairs to the bathroom to clean up before tea.

‘I thought I heard you come in’, Katie said before lifting the lid of the pot of stew.

‘Yes, I’m back. Can I make myself a cup of coffee?’

‘Sure, help yourself. How was your trip to town?’

With Katie busy at the stove, Maisie was relieved that they couldn’t see each other. They chatted with small talk until the coffee was ready. Reluctantly, Maisie returned to the larger kitchen and sat on a stool.

‘What happened to you?’ Katie was panicked.

Maisie touched her face where fresh blood had dribbled onto the bridge of her nose and down her cheek. ‘It’s just a scratch. I stupidly went bush-walking without planning it.’

Katie fussed over Maisie and her scratches before insisting that she didn’t go off on her own again. ‘What were you thinking? You could have been mugged or murdered.’

‘Now Katie, don’t try scaring me.’ She sighed. ‘Actually, there was someone out there. I think he just yelled at me when he caught me watching his cabin.’

Katie pulled a kitchen stool closer and sat looking at Maisie. ‘What are you saying Lass?’

Maisie told her all she did that afternoon, including the unplanned bush-walk. ‘Does someone live there?’

Katie sat in thought. ‘You have been a nosy one since you’ve arrived.’

‘I should mind my own business. Right?’

‘Well since you’re a writer, I shouldn’t be surprised.’ Katie stood and switched off the hot plate. ‘Let’s talk.’

‘There is a mystery about Kelly’s Inn. I honestly don’t know the full story but I do believe it has something to do with Stan’s youngest sister, Marjorie. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was never allowed to clean nor enter her room. I’ve been tempted believe me, especially when odd things happen around here this past week; upstairs, downstairs, in the garden, even in here.’ She looked around the room and waved her hand. ‘Things go missing. Food is taken from the refrigerator.’ She sighed again. ‘That’s why I had to return to town yesterday. My roast disappeared.’

‘Why don’t you tell the police? Or ask Tom to look around.’

‘Because I don’t want trouble. Because I want to believe it’s just a frighten homeless child or a lonely person that doesn’t know they shouldn’t steal. Whoever it is, I come to believe he or she is not dangerous.’

‘Katie, whoever comes into your home has been in my room.’

With this newest bit of information, Katie looked frightened. ‘When?’

The past few days had been quite eventful and Maisie realised that something more serious may have or may happen if Katie stays on her own in the house.

‘I think we need to find out what’s going on. First, we need to open the door to Marjorie’s room.’

Katie looked shocked but then nodded. ‘You’re right. Let me get the key.’ She stepped into the small kitchen and opened a drawer. ‘Let’s go.’ She took hold of Maisie’s hand and marched off.

Maisie grinned and marched with Katie down the hall and up the stairs before Katie defiantly put the key in the lock and flung the door open. In that instance, the curtains shifted in the gusty breeze that had begun earlier.

‘Why is the window open, Katie?’

‘I don’t know. Everything could have been ruined. We get nasty storms and heavy rains at times.’ She rushed over and closed the window.

Maisie joined her. ‘Surely it hasn’t been open for all these years.’

‘I wouldn’t think so.’ After closing the window securely, Katie check the room closely. ‘There’s nothing missing that I can see but it’s obvious that someone has slept on this bed recently and with muddy clothes.’

The two examine the bedding before locking the door again on the way out.

‘How do you suppose they got into my room?’, Maisie asked.

Well there’s more than one key. She held up the small bunch in her hand. ‘These are the spare keys for guests if they lock them self out of their room. They have always been in the drawer.’

‘Where do you keep the main keys?’

‘In my room.’

‘Okay. Let’s think. Tell me about the garden gate?’

‘It used to squeak terribly and it woke anyone who slept on that side of the house. We thought it was the wind but it was checked before bedtime. Every night until Marjorie vanish, it squeaked.’

‘Then what?’

‘It stopped…until recently.’ Katie’s eyes widened. ‘What do you think it means?’

‘I’m not sure,’ Maisie pondered. ‘But it means something.’

‘It’s getting late, Maisie. Let’s go eat some of that stew.’

While eating, both women were quiet for most of the meal.

‘What kind of food goes missing?’ Maisie finally asked.

‘Well, besides the roast, which was the biggest haul, it’s usually only leftovers really or the odd cake or loaf of bread.’

‘Katie, are you up to a bit of staking out?’

‘Steak?’ Then reality hit. ‘Oh, you mean catch them in the act?’ She shook her head slowly. ‘I don’t want anyone to get hurt.’

‘It’ll be fine.’

Later that evening, the house was locked as usual for the night; the kitchen cleaned up and the leftovers put in the usual place. The two sat in the dimness of the small kitchen, like shadows they sat still as they could; talking only in hush tones.

Katie stifled a yawn. ‘Maybe we scared them off.’

Maisie was about to answer when they both heard the distinct squeak of the gate. A few minutes later the back door opened with a creak.

Katie held her hand to her mouth and Maisie tipped-toed across the floor to see better. The refrigerator door opened, spilling light across a thin face of a woman.

‘Hello Marjorie.’ Maisie spoke clearly but not too loudly.

The woman rushed to the back door leaving the refrigerator open but Maisie and Katie stood between her and the door. Her long monk-like robe dragged along the floor; the hood on her shoulders.

‘Marjorie!’ A sob caught in Katie’s throat. ‘It is you.’

Marjorie stood staring at Maisie for a long time and then at Katie. ‘How did you know it was me?’

‘We didn’t know for sure but it was a reasonable assumption.’ Maisie had answered knowing she really didn’t know until now.

The young woman dropped to the floor and sat weeping.

Katie squatted uncomfortably beside her long-lost sister-in-law and held her while she sobbed.

Maisie switched on lights and closed the refrigerator door. Not knowing what to say next, she put the kettle on.

It was a long way past midnight and after the two Kelly’s caught up on a smidgen of their lost years, Maisie said: ‘Even this nocturnal writer needs to get some sleep.’

They looked up at her as if in a dream.

‘Will you two be OK if I go to bed?’

They both nodded.

© Chrissy Siggee – 2019

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

What Became of Marjorie – Chapter Three

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter 3

While waiting for Katie to call her down stairs for what promised to be a wonderful old fashion roast, she sorted her notes into themes.

The upstairs rooms were fascinating; one in particular since Katie brushed her passed its locked door. Because Katie had chatted the whole time throughout the tour, she managed to ignore some of Maisie’s questions. ‘Perhaps they remind her of some painful memories,’ she whispered. She couldn’t wait to start typing a mystery that had collided with her jumbled thoughts.

The roast dinner was superb and Maisie had to finally insist she couldn’t eat another bite, but then Katie brought out the apple pie and cream. She sat now rubbing her rather full belly wishing she didn’t eat so much. ‘I hope Katie doesn’t expect me to eat like that every night.’ She smiled despite the ache.

With notes spread around the room, Maisie sat crossed legged on the bed and typed madly away on her laptop. She laughed to herself as memories from the day of exploring interrupted her thoughts.

It was almost midnight. She stretched her legs to regain movement to now stiffened joints. The enticement to step out onto the balcony was more than she could bare as a gentle breeze kicked up the hem of the curtains that hung from the glass doors. Outside the chill of the night stung her face. She rubbed her warm hands over her cheeks and allowed the peace of the night hug her.

The crash startled Maisie and she held the railing tightly with her hands that somehow found themselves outstretched. She instinctively bent her knees so she could see past a branch that protruded across one corner of the balcony. There, just like the night before was that same hooded figure but this time it seemed to be picking itself up off the ground. She was tempted to call out but fear seemed to mute her. The figure stood and brushed itself off. The sound of glass tinkled in the still night air. Focusing on the location she tried to memorise the distance from the gate to the bush where the figure had fallen before it disappeared into the darkness.

Maisie retreated to the warmth of her room and stood momentarily with her back to the double doors she had closed behind her. She quickly drew the curtains and climbed onto the bed. Who is it? It couldn’t be Katie. This person is thinner and appeared more agile. Do I ask Katie, again? She didn’t want to upset the friendship they had formed. What’s going on around here? She paced the room anxiously then silently open the bedroom door that opened into a dimly lit hallway. She listened in the silence but there was no sound. She had learned during the tour that Katie’s room was at the other end of the long hallway but there didn’t seem to be any light showing between the floor and the bottom of the door.

It felt like hours before she closed the door again but the clock confirmed it was only a few minutes. The adrenaline she felt on the balcony began to slip away and tiredness began to overwhelm. She laid on her bed fully dressed and dozed off.

There was no knocking on her door the following morning; just the sun shining on her face. She opened her eyes then let them close. With a jolt she sat up. Hadn’t she closed the curtains the night before? She shuddered and attentively peered out. Perhaps she didn’t. Or, maybe I’m spooked by the history of this place. Closing the curtains, she gathered her toiletries and headed to the bathroom.

‘Good morning,’ young Maisie’, Katie sing-songed when her only guest entered the kitchen.

‘Good morning, Katie. I wouldn’t have thought it but I’m starving this morning.’

‘Ah, the country air is working it’s magic.’

Katie was obviously in a very good mood this morning. She glanced at her watch. ‘So, shall we call this brunch?’

Katie looked up. ‘How about scrambled eggs and hash browns?’

‘Is that what I could smell coming up the hall?’

‘Probably but I’m also cooking up a stew for this evening—unless you will need lunch too.’

‘No thanks.’ She laughed. ‘Katie, did you hear a crash last night? Around midnight?’

Katie hummed while she cooked. ‘No. unless my snoring rattled some china.’ She snorted then continued stirring the eggs. ‘So, are you hungry or not?’

Maisie left any further questions about the incident alone and ate her hearty brunch. Swallowing her last mouthful down with the rest of her coffee she stood. ‘I’m going into town. Do you need anything while I’m there?’

‘No thanks. Don’t forget to call in to see Tom.’

‘I won’t.’ Maisie rushed upstairs to clean her teeth and grab her laptop. ‘That’s strange.’  She knelt down to pick up her notes that were now scattered on the floor. The door to the balcony was still closed and the only window in the room was too small for any breeze to disturb the pile of notes. She shrugged it off, grabbed her keys and headed for the car. She slowed her steps and looked toward the side gate. Something glittered in the sunlight. ‘Glass! So, I didn’t imagine it.’

‘MAISIE!’ Katie called from the front door. ‘You left your phone on the kitchen table.’

She jogged towards the waiting Katie with an outstretched hand. ‘Thanks. I’ll be back by the time your stew is ready to serve.’ She waved and hurried to the car.

With a quick glance in the rear-view mirror she released the brake but not before noticing Katie heading toward the gate with a brush and pan. ‘So, she did hear it. My instincts tell me there is something mysterious going on—but do I want to know?’

Tom was a rough but nice enough old guy. His stories were hilarious and a little scary. His belly would bounce up and down with his enthusiastic laugh. Maisie ask question after question and probably got more answers than she needed. She also doubted if any of it was true. After she read her emails and sent the necessary replies, her mind wandered back to the past two nightly events.

Maisie chose her words carefully. ‘So, is there any ghosts still around at Kelly’s Inn?’

‘Well now, that young couple that died in the fire could be still haunting the old place.’

‘Besides the fire, what about the family that we’re there prior to you knowing Katie and Stan? Maybe even later. Has anything else occurred there?’

Tom eyed her for a moment. He stepped around the counter and returned to his chopping block and smashed a meat axe through the carcass that he had placed there as she was entering the shop earlier.

The sound of the axe slicing the bone and the silence that settled afterward startled her. She was about to speak when Tom roared laughing.

Maisie smiled gingerly not knowing what else to do or say.

‘There was the incident with Stan’s little sister. Just fourteen she was.’ He rubbed his bristled chin. ‘Now what was her name?’ He slammed the blade down hard into flesh spurting a few droplets of blood onto his butcher apron. ‘Ah, yes Marjorie. She had a feisty spirit that one. Sneaky too. She would sneak out of the house at night to meet up with some boyfriend. Rumour has it that one night she just ran off with him, or so they say.’

Interest soared and Maisie dared further questions. ‘Do you think she still alive?

‘Could be alive. Could be dead. No one recalls if any young fella disappeared at the same time. There was nothing taken from her room.’ He pointed the meat axe at Maisie. ‘Did you know her room has never been touched since that night?’

Maisie sat still—thinking. ‘Why would that be?’ she finally asked.

‘I don’t rightly know and Katie is tight lipped about it.’ He paused; meat clever in mid strike. ‘I just thought of something. I do remember something about a blood-stained scarf had been found caught on that old garden gate out beside the Inn. Police were all over the place for weeks but nothing else was found. Marjorie simply vanished.’

To change the morbid subject, Maisie asked about Suzie, Tom’s wife.

‘She’s out the back in the kitchen.’ His smile was crooked. ‘Why don’t you go and say hello. She doesn’t get much company these days. Katie stops by when she’s in town. That’s about it.’

‘Thanks Tom, I will. Can I charge my phone out there?’

‘Sure. There’s reception if you stand on the step ladder near the pantry.’ He winked and returned to his work.

This was turning out to be an interesting afternoon. Suzie was a shy woman but it was obvious to Maisie that she enjoyed her visit. They talked about Kelly’s Inn, Katie and their years of friendship and about life in a little country town.

A handsome young man stopped by to visit with Suzie but didn’t stay long. She never did get to ask his name. There was no further conversation about Marjorie even when Tom closed up the shop for the day and joined them for a cup of tea.

Before returning to Kelly’s Inn, Maisie walked round the small town and explored lanes and the very few shops in the main street then got back into her car. At the fork in the road that would take her left back to the inn or right to the main highway, she stopped to talk to a man who appeared to be a farmer. He was a cheery bloke and gave Maisie some information on local places she might like to visit. She had thanked him and made the turn back to her accommodation.

From the inn to town was about twelve miles. It was only a few miles from town when she decided to take a walk down a narrow bush-track she had seen on her way to see Tom earlier that afternoon. She had left her camera back in her room but she could use her phone for a few shots if she needed too.

Maisie picked up a small broken branch and plucked off the leaves and smaller twigs and held it out in front of her. She giggled and began to use it like a sword. ‘I have you now!’ She spoke to the dense shrub and stepped onto the narrowing path swinging the crooked branch back and forth.

A bird squawked. It rustled the bushes and flew off to avoid the approaching stranger. Maisie looked up. ‘I won’t hurt you.’

After walking about ten minutes, she decided it was getting too late to be traipsing around unknown bushland, but as she turned to go something caught her attention a little off to the right. Using the sword, she carefully pushed back prickly branches of a huge shrub and crouched low. There in a small clearing was an old run-down cabin.

‘What are you looking at!’ a voice barked from behind.

Maisie cried out when the branches smashed back into her face. By the time she recovered from the fright the bushes around her were empty. There was no one there. The cottage door slammed shut. Maisie tossed her sword into the bushes and ran back to the car. She drove off without looking back.

© Chrissy Siggee – 2019

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

What Became of Marjorie? – Chapter Two

Chapter One
Chapter 2

It was just after noon when Maisie returned from her car with her laptop when she almost bumped straight into Katie crossing the hall.

The older woman was all smiles again. ‘Lunch will be served in a few minutes if you would like to join me. I hope you like homemade vegetable soup.’

‘Thank you. Yes, soup sounds lovely.’

‘OK, I’ll take it to the Great Room, as it was called. I can fill you in on its history while we eat.’

Maisie thanked her again before off-loading her laptop into her room.

The soup was delicious and Maisie said so as the two chatted at one end of the grand antique dining table that could seat twenty easily. ‘I can’t imagine sitting at this table filled with guests. Do you actually cook for them all?’

‘Not so much these past ten years. I do remember assisting the housekeeper Hilda and a second cousin of Stan’s.’ She leaned forward as if to tell a secret. ‘Cousin Merle stayed until she gave birth to her still-born son, but we won’t go into that.’ She paused while she spooned another mouthful into her mouth and tore a small piece from her home baked dinner roll. ‘When I married my husband Stan, we bought a modest cottage in town. I didn’t want to burden his parents and grandparents with another mouth to feed and to be honest, I hated the house back then and it wasn’t over friendly at times. Merle was a spoiled brat when she first came but I think her situation and Stan’s parents parenting skills changed her by the time she left.’ Katie ate a little more before speaking again.

‘Remember I mentioned Tom earlier?’ She waited for Maisie’s nod. ‘Well he was courting me for a while before I met Stan. Oh, we all turned out to be good friends, especially when Tom met Suzie and married before Stan even proposed to me. We lived in town a few years before both Stan and Tom went off to the Gulf; Stan was Navy and Tom was Army. They never set eyes on each other again.’ Her voice was almost a whisper. She cleared her throat and continued. ‘Stan was killed when his ship struck a mine just after his ship entered the Gulf. Tom returned a year later with an injured leg. He still walks with a limp. Anyway, Stan’s father wouldn’t hear of me living on my own. Besides, I couldn’t pay the bills or buy food for myself.’ She smiled at the memory. ‘Stan didn’t want his “little lady” working after we were married.’ She cleared her throat again. ‘Now, where was I? Ah yes. There were no local jobs I could do so I was contemplating returning to Parramatta where I still had family…’

‘How interesting,’ Maisie interrupted. ‘That’s where I live. Sorry. Please go on.’

Katie shook her head. ‘That’s fine. Fancy that?  Anyway, that’s when the invitation came from Stan’s parents. Of course, I had to work for my keep and I was only asked to help where I could until I settled in. After a few months, I found myself taking care of Stan’s grandmother who by then was confined to bed. She was a cranky old thing but we grew to love each other and enjoyed spending long days together doing needlework and chatting. After she died, I took over the care of all the upstairs rooms. Oh, and Merle had returned to Sydney by then and became a mid-wife or so we heard. After guests left for the day, I cleaned and readied everything up.’ Here Katie smiled. ‘I guess that’s how I got into a habit of cleaning upstairs in the afternoon.’

Maisie smiled too. ‘So how was it that you were left with this huge place. Surely there were other family members around.’

‘Sadly no. Stan wasn’t the only son who died during the Gulf War. There were three other sons and three daughters. The youngest boys both died before they married. Stan’s eldest brother returned but never married. I think he died from a broken spirit. He never spoke much about the war but it was obvious that it caused him more than physical pain. Stan’s father died in his late seventies and his mother soon after. Stan and I hadn’t been married long, so we had no children of our own.’

‘And the sisters?’

‘One went to Melbourne and married there. We heard soon after that she had died from natural causes. I never knew what. She was only in her early thirties. One sister, Christine, was living in town with her husband but they were much older than Stan and I. They never had children and Christine didn’t want the place. She died only last year in a nursing home. There was one other sister, Marjorie. She was the youngest. The solicitor who managed the affairs when Christine died even tried looking for her back in Ireland. Nothing. It was like she just vanished into thin air.’

After Katie had been silent for some time to finish her soup and bread, Maisie quietly asked about how she managed on her own for so long.

‘I down sized, I guess you could call it. I only cope with up to six guests at any one time. I open up the house on occasions for bus trippers but just for afternoon tea and a guided tour. It helps with the bills.’ She sat up straight. ‘You know what? I haven’t given you the guided tour. I won’t charge you,’ she laughed. ‘I just know you would appreciate it.’

‘WOW! Thanks! That sounds wonderful. Would this afternoon be a good time?’

‘Give me an hour while I tidy upstairs. It’s just you and me so it won’t take long.’

‘I can clean up these dishes if you like.’ Maisie stood and picked up her empty bowl.

‘Well, I don’t see why not. Thank you. You’ll find everything you need in my little kitchen. Oh, just put the lid on the soup pot and check that I turned it off. I’ll deal with it later.’

The afternoon was everything Maisie expected and didn’t expect. The building and all its history turned out to be the perfect place to break her recent writer’s block.

© Chrissy Siggee – 2019

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

What Became of Marjorie? – Chapter One

Chapter 1

It was a glorious night with an Autumn full moon and a canvas of twinkling stars that stretched out before Maisie. She stood now on the only second-floor balcony of this quiet country retreat. Huge Banksias all but obliterated the front of the historic building; the perfect location to write her new mystery novel. Taking in a slow deep breath of the crisp air she took the few short steps to the railing and took in the outline of the surrounding landscape beyond the front garden.

The Last Stop Hotel had been built in 1869 but was renamed Kelly’s Inn in 1880 after a fire partially destroyed the ground floor on the same day as Ned Kelly’s death. One hundred years later, it was converted to a bed and breakfast by an Irish family of the same name who immigrated during conflicts that took the lives of family members and friends. Generations later, Kelly’s Inn had still retained its name and function. It was inherited almost a decade earlier to the Australian born Gulf war widow, Katie Kelly.

Maisie gasped with surprise at the sight of a shooting star. She watched in awe until it disappeared from view. A squeak that sounded like a gate opening or closing, brought her back to the moment. The following echo of a click confirmed it. There in the moonlight off to her right was a hooded figure who was now heading down the path and into a dark shadowed area that she perceived as the bush-land she noticed when she arrived that afternoon.

With strained eyes focusing, she waited for further movement. ‘Perhaps I just imagined it’, she mumbled to herself. After all, she knew she had an imagination that freaked everyone she knew.

Closing the balcony double doors behind her, she headed for the bathroom to ready for bed. Tomorrow, Maisie hoped, would be a day of exploring and note taking.

 

Maisie woke to a faint tapping at her door. Blinking at the clock beside the bed she wondered for a second where she was. Another slightly firmer knock woke her fully. ‘Come in,’ she said, before thinking about who it could be.

Mrs Kelly entered with a tray atop with a mug of hot coffee, a small creamer jug and a bagel filled with bacon and melted cheese. ‘I don’t usually serve breakfast in bed to my guests but I need to drive into town for more supplies.’

‘Thank you. What time is it? This clock doesn’t seem to be working.’

‘So, you’re not an early riser?’ The woman moved the clock back a little so she could place the tray on the side-table. ‘The clock is working fine. It’s five-thirty in the morning.’

Maisie groaned but it was too late. ‘Sorry, I often write late into the night.’

‘That’s all right’. She grinned. ‘When I return, we can sit down and discuss your nocturnal needs and later breakfast times’.

‘I should have mentioned it yesterday, but an early start would do me good today. I need to make notes and check out this beautiful place’. Maisy looked around the ornately decorated room.

Katie Kelly went to the door before answering. ‘Until I return, can I ask you to keep the “checking out” to the down stairs and surrounding grounds.’ She turned and smiled. ‘I prefer to “right” upstairs after midday.’ She winked and left the room.

Maisie smiled as she placed her feet on the floor and reached for the steaming coffee.

 

The largest room downstairs had obviously been the 1880 refurbished dining room or perhaps a dance hall, which could explain the size and the raised section at one end. The chandeliers above glowed dimly, but the intricate embossed ceilings held her attention.

‘Your mouth is open.’ Mrs Kelly interrupted her reverie. ‘There’s a few dust spiders up there that drop unexpectedly.’

Maisie mouth slammed shut as the woman’s jovial laugh echoed down the long hallway toward the back of the house. She gathered herself and rescued her notebook that had dropped to the floor before following her host.

With a huge grin from Katie Kelly, Maisie stepped into the outdated but awe-inspiring industrial kitchen.

‘This kitchen is amazing.’

‘Yes, it’s that. Too big when I’m here alone during the colder months. I use the old domestic kitchen.’  She pointed to an open door beside the door they had come through. ‘Take a look.’

To her surprise the smaller kitchen was no bigger than an English utility room she had seen on one of those country-life television reality shows. It had all the basics a single person would need. In fact, it was better designed than her own kitchen in her Parramatta apartment.

‘So, how was your breakfast?’ Her host peered from behind the open door of the biggest refrigerator Maisie had ever seen.

‘Lovely, thank you. I’m sorry I put you to all that trouble.’

‘Nonsense, I enjoy spoiling my guests. Even nocturnal ones,’ she added with a wink.

Maisy couldn’t help but like this motherly older woman. ‘So, how can we make this work, Mrs Kelly?’

‘For starters, stop calling me Mrs Kelly. It’s Katie. I’m not the old housekeeper.’ She paused before continuing. ‘Well, old maybe.’

They both laughed.

‘OK Katie. You can call me Maisie. I’m so glad I came across your website. Which reminds me. Do you have WiFi?’

‘No. We are too far out and I like to keep it that way.’ Katie closed the fridge door and placed the last of the shopping bags under the huge work-space that seem to possess the room. She leaned against it. ‘I use the butcher’s computer in town. Tom is happy for my guests to use his WiFi too. Just be ready for his weird tales from the past…like the one he tells about the young newly-weds that stayed in the room above on the night of the historic fire’. She pointed toward the ceiling before adding: ‘then there’s Old Ned himself but I’ll let Tom tell his stories.’ Katie slapped her ample thighs. ‘Let’s go into the sitting room. It’s warmer in there. First on the left,’ she pointed. ‘I’ll bring down a pot of tea’.

The next few hours sped by filled with hot tea, scones and laughs. Katie answered historical questions about the house and family. Maisie interest peaked when Katie mentioned the family cemetery a little way passed the side gate.

‘Last night I thought I saw someone going through the gate. Actually, I heard the gate squeak.’

Katie sat silent before answering. ‘You must be mistaken,’ she snapped. That gate hasn’t squeaked for years. I’ll check it later when I dig up some potatoes for tonight’s tea. Will you eat with me?’ she continued bringing an abrupt end to their pleasant morning.

‘If it’s no problem. I can pay for any extra meals I have.’

‘Now cut that out, Miss Maisie. You’re welcome to join me at any meal. As for breakfast, why don’t I prepare it once you come downstairs each morning. I’ll be somewhere down here. Probably in the kitchen.’ With that, Katie packed up the dishes and left the room.

It took a few minutes before Maisie moved. She was at a loss to the sudden change of mood. She was concerned that she had offended the woman and decided to immediately apologise. Entering the kitchen a few minutes later she searched for Katie but she obviously made herself scarce. With a deep sigh she returned to her exploring. It was too late to drive into town. I don’t want to upset Katie again. Still mystified, she headed back to the large room she had visited earlier.

© Chrissy Siggee – 2019

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The Mystery of Keats’ Missing ‘Endymion’— Solved.

Historian Albert Winslow sat at his desk in a sparsely furnished London office. Using two large wooden tweezers, he gently unrolled the manuscript. Faded calligraphy on tea coloured paper revealed its age and fragility. With a magnifying glass he studied the almost illegible signature confirming the author, John Keats.

Winslow peered over the top of his wire-framed spectacles. He studied the gentleman sitting opposite, who repeatedly wiped his balding head with a handkerchief. ‘Sir, where did you say you found this manuscript?’

‘I didn’t exactly find it. It’s part of my inheritance.’

Removing his spectacles, the historian studied the gentleman sitting on the other side of his desk fidgeting in his chair. ‘What did you say your name was?’

‘Kent. Michael Kent.’

‘Mr Kent, this signature doesn’t appear to resemble a Kent.’

‘It was handed down on my mother’s side. My mother changed my surname when she remarried.’

‘I see. Leave it with me, Mr Kent. I’ll have it valued for you by tomorrow. Leave your details with my secretary on the way out.’ He rose and shook his client’s hand.

 

Winslow’s secretary entered his office the following morning. He looked up as she reached his desk.

‘Miss Harwich, could you please place a call to a Lord David Keats of Hampstead? Give him my name and switch him through to my office. Give me a few minutes though, I need to talk to Scotland Yard.’

‘Yes, Mr Winslow.’

It took just moments for Lord Keats’s voice to be heard.

‘Lord Keats?’

‘Yes, this is he.’

‘I believe I have in my possession your great grandfather’s missing manuscript, ‘Endymion’.’

The line was quiet for so long that Winslow thought he had been disconnected when suddenly Lord Keats continued.

‘How can that be? It disappeared after he died, in 1821?  It’s been almost a century?’

‘Yes, I know. I also know that your father, Lord Alfred Keats, passed away last week, my condolences.’

‘Thank you, but how do you know and what does his death have to do with my great grandfather’s manuscript?’

‘Your father paid me to know. You see I’m a historian and a private investigator. Your father visited me here in London on December sixth last year. The manuscript had apparently resurfaced and he hired me to investigate its location. I sent him a wire last Monday about my findings before his heart attack. Did he mention it to you?’

‘No, and I’m not sure why he would hire anyone. Until Christmas my father and I had been investigating the mystery disappearance together for almost a decade.’

Winslow carefully chose his words before proceeding. ‘Perhaps, Lord Keats, your father discovered he hadn’t been told when someone had found it. That someone decided to use it for his own financial gain.’

‘What are you implying, Mr Winslow?’

‘Let me refresh your memory. Two years ago, your cousin, Michael Kent, inherited a meagre bequest. While clearing out his mother’s writing bureau, Kent discovered a key to a safe deposit box that contained a letter from his grandfather—your grandfather’s younger brother. With that letter was your great grandfather’s manuscript. The letter described in detail how your grandfather cheated him out of his share or their father’s estate. Your great uncle stole the manuscript after your great grandfather’s death in 1821— before he could have it published. Are you following me Lord Keats?’

‘Continue, Mr Winslow. I find your hypothesis intriguing.’

‘Late last year, your cousin decided it was time to show his hand by attempting to blackmail your father. Because your father didn’t want his conniving nephew to get his hands on his money, he came directly to me. We thought it was an open and shut case until I discovered that Michael Kent had an accomplice—someone who wanted revenge for an unrelated incident years before. Unfortunately, that piece of information inadvertently killed your father. The accomplice was you. Am I right Lord Keats?’

‘You’re very clever, Mr Winslow. There’s one thing you haven’t explained. How did you get your hands on the manuscript?’

‘That was the easy part. After your father’s death, you and your cousin-initiated plan B: to sell the manuscript to a publisher and split the profit. However, your cousin decided to have it valued first. Unfortunately for you both, he came to me. I advertise my professions separately and I only display my name on the door.’

There was another notable silence followed by a murmur of voices at Lord Keats’ end of the line. ‘You’ll have to excuse me, Mr Winslow. Apparently, I have visitors.’

‘Ah yes, my friends from Scotland Yard. Blackmail is a serious crime. Good day to you, Lord Keats.’

© Chrissy Siggee

Authors Notes:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

English poet John Keats, born October 1795 in Moorgate, London, died in February 1821 at the age of 26 from tuberculosis. His works had been the target of much abuse including his last epic poem ‘Endymion’. John Keats never married, which should indicate that the contents of: ‘The Mystery of Keats’ Missing ‘Endymion’ – Solved’ set in the early twentieth century, is completely fictional.

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Short Fiction by Chrissy at Riverside Peace