Word Count: 1390
“You can’t believe she speaks to the dead.”
She chewed the corner of her lip prettily. “Well, no, not really. Most people who go don’t. It’s an amusement, Adam, something different to pass the evening. Agatha asked to go. She’s my sister. It’s not proper for us to go without an escort. You’ll take us, won’t you?” She gazed up at him through her lashes. “I’ll be very grateful.”
Adam Cartwright leaned down and whispered, “Very, very grateful?”
She gazed up into his eyes. “Yes.”
Adam looked around and counted those present. He studied and categorized. The large woman in the chartreuse dress and feathers was a true believer. The young man in the scarlet vest wanted to be convinced. The older gentleman with the gray hair, well, he was grieving and hoped it might be true. Thirty-one guests turned as Mademoiselle Celeste entered the salon in her flowing silver robes. Adam took his seat and crossed his arms over his chest. The older gentleman received his message from his departed daughter. That was not too surprising as he looked quite wealthy. Then the young woman who stood before them closed her eyes and spoke more softly.
“Is there an Adam here? I have a message for Adam.”
He heard Agatha’s gasp and felt Charlotte stir beside him. He took a long breath before he answered. “My name is Adam.”
The medium’s gaze turned toward him; their eyes locked. “Your brother sends you a message.”
“My brother…” He felt Charlotte’s finger tighten around his wrist, cut his eyes sideways to see the slight shake of her head, and then cleared his throat. “My brother sends me a message. What message?”
“He says not to. You should not.”
Adam’s eyebrow rose. “I should not what?”
“What you are considering. Your brother advises you that you should not.”
“I see.” Adam’s tone was dry and brittle. He settled back and crossed his arms. Then suddenly he spoke again. “Which brother tells me I should not?” Adam saw a movement from the man who had escorted the medium into the room and fastened his gaze on the man’s face. A look of consternation had settled there.
Celeste’s head tilted as if she listened to someone whisper into her ear. “It is Hh…” Her nose wrinkled. “It is Eric. Eric says you should not, elder brother.”
Adam stiffened. Mademoiselle Celeste turned toward the woman in the chartreuse dress who burst into tears when a message came through from her father.
“Well, Agatha, we tried to tell you it’s but an amusement.” A frown wrinkled Charlotte’s brow. “Neither of Adam’s brothers is named Eric; you know they are Hoss and Joe. More importantly, both are alive and well on that ranch of his. He had letter from his father last week. Isn’t that so?”
“Yes. He said they were all well.”
Agatha flounced on the carriage seat. “Perhaps things were unclear; perhaps it was a cousin or friend who is as close as a brother. Did you have a cousin named Eric?”
“Well, I suppose you’re right; she’s a fraud, but those others who received messages.”
“She had better research on them evidently, and most of those messages… well, look at what she told me. I shouldn’t do whatever it is I’m considering. That could apply to anything. Later, if there is a problem with anything I do or might have done — the train I would have used on a trip it barely crossed my mind to take has an accident, for example — well, then I think the warning was true and from the other side. If I were looking for confirmation, sooner or later I would find it.”
“That’s true too, I suppose. It was an interesting evening though.”
“Yes, interesting.” His tone caused Charlotte to study Adam’s face, but her sister turned her attention with a question. It was much later when Adam and she were alone that Charlotte asked if there were anything special that Adam had been considering.
“Nothing, nothing that either of my brothers would be against.” He had been dismissive and then reached out to take her in his arms. His kiss had driven all thoughts of messages, mediums, and decisions from her head.
Adam heard the church bell ring three times, rose from the bed on which he had been reclining but not sleeping, and went to the window. He stared out at the London street below. Walking back to the dresser, he lifted a small velvet covered box and opened it. The diamonds surrounding the sapphire solitaire caught the faint moonlight.
Would you tell me not to marry Charlotte, Hoss? Adam closed the box with a click. Hoss didn’t even know that Charlotte existed; he most certainly didn’t know that Adam was considering a marriage proposal. If he did, he would slap him on the back and wish him happiness. He had done that enough times when Little Joe announced his intention to marry. Of course, he would take a declaration from Adam far more seriously than one of Joe’s, but his reaction would be the same. Adam set the box back on the dresser and returned to his bed. He heard the church bells chime both four and five. The knock on the door came while he was dressing.
“A telegram for you, sir.” The young man extended an envelope. Adam took it and reached into his pocket for a coin.
“Thank you.” Adam closed the door, and for the first time he could recall, his hand trembled enough to set the paper in it shaking. He walked over to his side table and poured a measure of brandy before he sat down and broke the seal. The paper dropped from his hand as a moan rose that seemed to come from his soul.
“I wish to speak with Mademoiselle Celeste.”
“And you are?”
“Adam Cartwright. I’ll pay her for her time.”
Her voice came from behind the man at the door. “Let him in, Robert.”
The door opened wider as Robert stepped back. Adam walked through. Mademoiselle Celeste motioned toward a settee with her hand, and Adam took a seat.
“You wished to speak with me, Mr. Cartwright?”
Adam studied her face. She was not as young as he had first thought, but he was sure she had yet to reach her thirtieth birthday. “How did you know?”
“How did I know what?”
“That my brother had died.”
Rose Canterbury’s fingers twisted the bangle on her wrist. “He spoke to me.”
Adam rose and stared down at her. “I want the truth.” He took a step toward her; Robert took two toward him. “I’ll have the truth.”
Rose motioned with her hand. “You can leave us, Robert.”
“Mr. Cartwright and I shall be fine. Please.” Rose motioned again, and Robert departed. Rose turned toward the man glaring at her. “I’ll admit that most of it, well, a girl has to support herself, but, rather you can believe it or not, there are times. That night was one of them. Your brother Eric…there was another name first, a family name perhaps, so odd it was. H…oss — that was it. He wanted you to know that you shouldn’t do it. He did not say what that was.”
“He called me elder brother?”
“Yes.” She studied his face. “You did not know that he had passed over.”
“I received the telegram the next morning.”
She fingered the bangle at her wrist again. “My condolences on your loss, Mr. Cartwright. There is really no more I can tell you.” She bit her lipped and turned her back to him. “Was there something important you were trying to decide?”
“I had decided.”
“He gave no reason?”
“We did not chat. As I told you, he simply said you should not.”
“And the dead know all?”
“No, no, but I think your brother knew you.” She turned toward him once more. “Do as you will; I learned long ago I can but pass on the message. You may let yourself out.” She moved swiftly; Adam rose slowly.
He left for Paris three days later. The only time he saw Charlotte again was to say goodbye.