One would thought I would have gotten used to this long ago.
It's human nature, you see. When confronted with the impossible, we either adapt, or our mind snaps. And I'm not crazy, I assure you.
At least, I don't think I am.
The Covenant estate is far from empty this evening, as it always is. Along with myself, there is the usual banter of servants, although I am surprised each day at the number that remain. It may be some of them still disbelieve what is happening. Or it may be that they stay out of a misguided sense of loyalty to the family name, or to my father who hired many of them himself. Certainly he commands more respect than I do, I expect . . . I know what people think of me. Poor, daffy old Jeremiah, half mad with self-pity for illness and loneliness.
But that would be where they are wrong. Even excluding the household staff, I am never alone.
Look around the room. We're alone to your eyes, aren't we? I keep the fire well lit; you can see into every corner. Even the rain driving against the windows isn't enough to mask the snap of falling logs in the hearth. Certainly not loud enough to disguise any other sound.
But we're not alone. Even if you don't feel this place breathing around you, breathing in your scent, you must feel them watching you. The prickle on the back of your neck, the itch between your shoulderblades from unseen eyes. I can tell you feel it, but you've been trying to convince yourself it's just your imagination, haven't you? Nerves, maybe?
. . . ah. Pardon my manners. I didn't mean to alarm you, old friend.
It's just that, I want you to understand. I want you to understand that chalking things up to imagination or "just the wind" around here can be the death of you.
Some of them like to play games with that.
You've never met any of them, but I've shown you pictures. Do you recall? Lisbeth, especially, was fond of her pranks . . . well, what young woman isn't given to merriment from time-to-time? But Lisbeth . . . well, she was never kind in her jokes.
She had a friend, once, years ago. A young woman named Dorcas, whose mother was a friend of our own. I doubt that Lisbeth had any real feelings of affection for the girl, really . . . Dorcas was a bit of a silly thing, lacked any real sense at all. But they were expected to get along, and Lisbeth played the part well.
In any case, one night Lisbeth requested that Dorcas be allowed to spend the night. Mother was extremely happy, and only too eager to agree to anything that might help Lisbeth . . . "come out of her shell", so to speak, with other children. And Lisbeth was always good at getting what she wanted when she set her mind to it . . .
. . . are you quite comfortable? Would you like anything? A bit of a nightcap, perhaps? It's no trouble at all . . . no? . . . ah well, I suppose you're right . . . we shouldn't be drinking, should we? Hrmm . . .
. . . where was I?
Ah yes. Thank you.
It must have been just past ten o'clock when Dorcas started to scream.
She was loud enough that she roused the entire house. Even Bethany was roused out of her study, and we all ran towards Lisbeth's room with a clutch of murmuring staff and my near-frantic mother. I swear, I half expected the door to be locked when we reached it, but it swung open easily enough.
And there was Lisbeth, in her nightshift, smiling prettily up at us and looking quite politely confused at all the people in her room . . . and, I thought, somehow sly even for a young girl.
The screams were coming from the closet, of course. There was a chair wedged under the handle, and we were all relieved, of course; it looked as though Lisbeth had decided to simply lock the girl in the closet to frighten her. You know how children are.
And then my mother opened the door and the rat leapt out.
I don't know how long Lisbeth kept that vile creature. Later, one of the maids found a hatbox full of droppings under her bed; it looked as though she'd been starving it for a week or more at least. Dorcas later told her mother, after the doctor had patched up the worst of it, that Lisbeth had suggested they pull the rope to summon the maid, and then jump inside the closet to give her a scare.
Well. You know how children can be. I expect things just . . . got out of hand. I'm not denying my family might have it's eccentricities, but I don't like to think even Lisbeth would have deliberately . . .
Oh. The girl. Yes.
She's lucky the vermin wasn't diseased. The maid pinned it against the wall with a broom, crushing it, and it's body was sent off with Dorcas to the doctor for examination. I can remember her face as she was carried past me, white and gaunt, eyes round as twin blots of ink, and the gouges on her fair skin. She was more or less alright after the event . . . physically, in any case, as I understand it. And my father did a fair job of quieting it all down . . . not that people didn't talk. I expect our family was always cause for speculation, even then.
My point, my friend, is that . . . well, I don't think there are any rats in your future. As a matter of fact, I know there aren't. Recently, we've seen nary a hair of a living one . . . although each morning for a week some time ago the cook found countless savaged rat corpses lying in the pantry or elsewhere about the grounds.
I don't think Lisbeth has continued to play with rats, you see. She always was an ambitious girl.
. . . well.
You must think me the fair old fool, my friend. Jumping at the creaks of settling foundations and the snaps of logs in the fireplace. But, my friend, if you're wise . . . you'll learn to jump at shadows as well as long as you dwell beneath this roof.
I can see that you're tired. No, it's quite alright, really, I completely understand. After all, we can talk more about . . . things . . . tomorrow, can't we? I'll have one of the maids show you to your room. I think you'll enjoy it. And it has some nice, heavy chairs to put in front of the doors. Should you feel so inclined, of course.
Oh, and, my friend, one more thing . . .
Before you leave, could you throw another log on the fire?
. . . ah. Thank you. This house is quite drafty at night, you see.
I fear it may be the death of me.