The road wound away from the barn until they were beside the mansion again.
With a flashlight in hand, Geoff showed her to the back of the house. Marble columns with a balcony lined the door, while rows of boxwoods led the way to the river. The couple strolled along the grassy path. Magnolias and dogwoods spread across the lawn. A screened-in gazebo stood on her right side. “That’s odd,” she commented.
Saber dashed ahead of them, and Geoff glanced in her direction. “What’s odd?”
“The columns are larger on the river than around front.”
“That’s because this is the ‘front.’ During Colonial times, most guests arrived by boat.”
And she had worried that she might miss Boston’s history museums. Poplar Ridge was a museum. A small brick building stood to the far left. “What’s that used for?”
“That’s the necessary. It even has a built-in fireplace to warm your backside during the winter,” he answered with a laugh.
“Always so proper. Backside?“
“What would you rather I’d say?”
“Do you really think I’m so delicate that I might melt because you used the word that was really on your mind?”
His grin widened. “That thought had never occurred to me, ma’am.”
“Ma’am,” she muttered. “You certainly had me fooled when I arrived.” To this, he gave no response.
They continued strolling. Finally, they reached the mist-covered river. The waves lapped against the bank. Chris meandered along, and the breeze numbed her face. While the house and grounds were certainly beautiful, she couldn’t imagine living this far from civilization. She looked in the direction where Geoff’s gaze seemed fixed. A windswept island lay in the middle of the river. A glow entered his eyes. It was clear that he loved the land. Born a city girl, she was a fool falling for him the way she was. Then again, lust didn’t necessarily equate to love. She breathed in the river air.
“I’ve seen a ghost here on several occasions,” Geoff said slowly. “A man in uniform.”
He nodded. “I’ve seen him in a few other places around the estate, but I see him here most frequently. His uniform is faded blue or gray. I really can’t tell which.” Geoff led the way to a clump of bushes. “He vanishes over here.”
Chris couldn’t see anything unusual until Geoff parted the bushes to a door—an old cellar door. He withdrew the flashlight, fiddled with an old skeleton key in the lock, and opened the door to a black pit.
She swallowed hard. “Where does it lead?”
“Back to the house. It was made during Colonial times as a way to escape from Indians.” He started down the steps.
“Geoff… I’m not certain about this.”
“I’ve been down here a number of times. It’s okay.”
Chris took a deep breath and followed him down the six steps. The flashlight cut through the darkness, and she finally reached the brick floor. The tunnel was about three feet wide and six feet tall. In the tight quarters, Geoff had to duck to keep from hitting his head.
Their heels echoed against the bricks. After several feet, the tunnel still stretched in the darkness before them. They continued forward until entering the main section of the cellar. Honeysuckle descended upon Chris.
* * *
Missing both legs, the soldier with the reddish peach fuzz lay on a bed of straw. As Margaret drew a tattered blanket over him, his eyes fluttered open. “Mother…
“I’m not…” She thought better of her words. What harm could come from giving a dying boy comfort? She grasped his hand. “I’m here.”
Under the lantern’s dim light, he gazed intently upon her face. “Thank you,” he whispered. Then he closed his eyes and took his final breath.