The Tea Cup Affair is a time travel Victorian mystery that is really interesting to write. Oh, and it isn't really edited yet. See what you think, I would like some input.
THE TEA CUP AFFAIR
“Oueee Jeff, you sure don’t waste anytime.”
Jeff looked up just as Dan ducked under the header board being lifted by two workers. “Best put on one of those hard hats by the door.”
His friend nodded and went back to get one. Jeff took a steadying breath, he didn’t need any diversion right now and Dan always wanted his undivided attention.
“Good idea, these hard hats.”
Jeff returned Dan’s grin. “What do you need, Dan?”
“Oh yeah, guess we should get right into it.” The man started pulling papers out of his briefcase. “That historical group still wants to be sure you aren’t changing anything.”
“Did you give them the plans?”
The man’s silence finally earned Jeff’s attention. “Why don’t they have the plans, Dan?”
“Well, I wasn’t sure if that was such a good idea. I mean look at this place.”
“The house needs a lot of work, everyone knew that when I offered to buy it from them.”
“I know, but the plans.” Dan followed the man that moved past him in a rush. “They won’t understand all this work unless you can be there for the questions.”
Jeff caught the falling boards someone left propped up against the wall. He wanted to just stand there and yell at them all, instead he bit his inner cheek in frustration. Every minute wasted cost him another hundred dollars and his bank account wasn’t a bottomless pit.
“Set up an evening meeting and I’ll be there.” The last thing he needed were those uppity historians banging on the front door, no, make that the hole where the door should be. “Is that all, Dan?”
“Meeting, got it.”
Again, the man’s hesitation made Jeff’s jaw tighten. “What else?”
He pushed his way back to the table once he found a laborer to take the wood to the proper place.
“The City Clerk wants to know if you are going to have a business here, like a B&B?”
Jeff looked up to the ceiling for divine guidance. “Nope, just me. This is now my home. Make it clear to them.”
“I will, today, I promise.” Dan turned to go, ducking once again before scooting out the door.
Watching how quickly he vanished told Jeff he didn’t hide his temper very good. “Why can’t they all understand that I bought this for my home?”
He heard someone call out his name and he moved in the general direction. “Who needs me?”
“Up here, boss, in the attic.”
“I’ll be right up.” Jeff gave out some last minute changes to the foremen and took off up the stairs, turning at the landing he called down, “Someone needs to get that front door put in before anyone goes home!”
Three voices called out that they would see to it and all he could do was laugh and head back up the stairs.
When he reached the dim attic it took his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dusty light. “Where are you, Elliot?”
“Over here, boss. Come see what I found.”
The obstacles took a bit of maneuvering, but he eventually made his way over to the far corner of the attic. Elliot was on his hands and knees, with his head stuck into the wall. Jeff got down to see what caused the man’s excitement.
“Can you believe it, I think it is a real secret room.”
The revelation spiked Jeff’s own adventurous spirit. “Are you sure?”
“Oh yes, though I haven’t actually found the door to it.”
He tried to see past Elliot’s body, but quickly gave up and started searching for the latch that might open a secret door. Jeff ran his hands over the wall, but nothing felt different. He began tapping across, then up and down the wall until he heard what he was looking for. “I think I found the door.”
“Wonderful.” Elliot pulled himself out of the hole and sat back on his heals, watching.
“The door is here, I can feel the frame, but the latch is still…wait a minute.” They both held their breath as he reached up and took hold of the gaslight fixture. Ever so slowly he turned it to the right, the door seemed to hesitate than finally slide open. “A pocket door, not bad for a secret door.”
Jeff held up his hand and stopped Elliot from entering the room. “Let’s make sure we can close and open this from both sides.” He reached in and found an identical light fixture on the other side. He stepped in and turned the old light fixture to his right and the door slid shut, to the left it opened. “Remind me to bring up some oil for this.”
Both men stood in the middle of the dark room. Jeff lit a match and found a candle. Once lit he found a couple more spaced around the room. With the room glowing in candlelight it appeared very welcoming, almost like a parlor of a past era. The brocade couch and matching chair were so well preserved they look almost new. The rug under his steps felt thick and lush, very Victorian in design.
Jeff stood in the middle of the room and turned very slowly, taking in every angle and object. “This was a woman’s secret room.”
“How can you tell?”
“Look at the doilies, the volumes of poetry, the display cupboard filled with tea cups and saucers. The desk is smaller than a normal roll top.” Jeff’s fingers reached out and caressed the feather pen in the ink holder. “The plume is too feminine for a man’s use.”
Elliot was talking, but Jeff failed to hear anything he said, he seemed captured by the room and the mystery woman that would have spent time, alone, in the room.
“I don’t want anything touched in this room, Elliot.”
“But Jeff, the furniture would bring in a hefty price…”
“Nothing Elliot and tell no one about the room, I want it to stay just as it is.”
“It is your call.”
He could hear the man’s disappointment as he left the room. After all, he hired him to collect all the valuable antiques, categorize them and price them for auction if they weren’t to be kept for the house. The thought made Jeff wonder what came over him once he entered the room.
Another call for him came from downstairs. With regret he left the room, closing the hidden door and covering up the hole in the wall. “I’ll fix that tonight.”
* * * *
The house felt oddly silent as he put the finishing touches on the wall repair. Sitting back on his heels he felt the hole would not be seen once the glue on the wallpaper dried. He looked over at the other side of the attic and the missing strip of paper he confiscated from the other wall.
Pleased with his job, Jeff picked up his coffee and headed into the room. He actually felt his hesitation on entering the room, wondering if he should ask permission to enter. “Don’t be foolish, old man. She is long gone.”
Jeff pushed away his thoughts of the nightly events since he moved in two weeks ago. At first he pushed off the noises as those of a creaky old house. The wondrous scent of lilacs was another matter and one not as easily dismissed.
As he leaned against the door frame and viewed the room, he wondered why a lady would need such a room. In his next breath the aroma of lilacs seemed to flow through the room, filling it with her scent.
Jeff pushed off the door and stepped into the room. “I hope I am not intruding, madam. But your room has raised my curiosity.” As he moved about her room, he swore he could feel her watching him. But when he turned no one was there. “I promise not to change anything in the room.”
He smiled over his own silliness of talking to the room. As if in defiance, he slid into the chair at the desk. He placed his coffee on the desk top then opened the roll top. Curiosity made him open each tiny cubby drawer and examine the contents. One drawer held a large skeleton key on a laced button holder that he suspected would fit on a woman’s belt.
Holding the key up he studied it and the room, wondering what it might open. The books of poetry on the small built in bookcase caught his attention. As he examined the books, he removed one at a time until he exposed the bare shelf. There behind the wood frame was a safe of some sort.
For a split second he wondered if he should leave well enough alone, but his curiosity ruled as he slipped the key into the hole and turned it. The metal door opened without a squeak.
Jeff brought one of the candles closer so he could see what lay inside the safe. Two large stacks of what looked like journals were the only items in the safe. With great caution he started to remove the journals, counting ten of them. The leather binding glowed with the gold filigree designs in the initials S. G.
Once he took them over to the desk, Jeff found they were numbered and he began to examine number one as he reached for his coffee. When his hand failed to touch the cup he knew he left there, he slowly looked about the desk…there on the top, with a doily under it, the cup sat. “No way!”
But denial didn’t change the fact that the cup moved and he certainly didn’t put a doily under it.
A quick look about the room didn’t reveal anyone’s presence.
Jeff shook off the chill and took a deep drink from the warm cup, remembering to place the doily under it before setting it down. He didn’t expect any thank you to come, he just smiled over the entire episode.
The journal soon captured his attention as his eyes raced over the elegant handwriting. “Our first year together.”
He wasn’t sure what he expected to find in the journals, but they didn’t disappoint him. It seems the journals were written by a Sophie Gardner, the wife of Buford Gardner a whaling ship captain. Jeff’s fingers move over the carved whale bone desk set as if confirming the man’s existence.
“And Sophie…this is your room.” He looked about it, noting the fine detail that she put into the room to make it her own. As in her journals the woman had a mind towards details. Her writings were those of a newlywed, very much in love with her seafaring captain. There were pages filled with longing when he was at sea and then their times when he returned. But Sophie also put in everyday occurrences as well as news events, even those that didn’t make the papers. Sometimes, Jeff could feel her fright over a murder or beating of a servant. She wrote very freely about her feelings on the constraints put on women by men in power. And that the reason for it was their fear of what women might accomplish.
Jeff laughed at the young girl’s enthusiasm, “You are a rebel, madam.”
Laughter, even as soft and light as it sounded filled the room, sending Jeff spinning about to see who might be there. No one, not even a shadow appeared out of place. He tried to dismiss what he heard, deciding one journal was enough for the night.
Before leaving he locked the journals back in the safe, wondering why they needed to be locked away. He only read one, making him wonder what might be in the next one. “Secrets I’m sure. They must be dangerous to be kept under lock and key.”
* * * *
The worker arrived at , Jeff already worked a couple of hours. Sleep seemed to be an impossible feat for him last night. After leaving the room and her journals, she seemed to become the main focus of his thoughts. Even now, he couldn’t wait until they all went home and he could go up to the room and read the next journal. “Which won’t happen if I don’t get some sleep.”
“Rough night, boss?”
“Yeah, guess I’m not used to the old house yet.”
The worker’s brow rose,
, yes that was the man’s name. Jeff watched him work before and knew he is a good carpenter. Gary
“They say, boss, that houses have a soul just like we do.”
Jeff smiled and shook head. “I don’t know about souls,
“Oh, don’t mock the house spirit, boss. They can be real touchy.”
“Good advice.” Jeff meant what he said. “What about this house? Do you feel a spirit?”
The man seemed to study him before answering. “Sure do, a lady. I bet she was kind and pretty in her time.”
Jeff’s mouth opened to ask the man if smelled the lilacs, but someone needed him,
shrugged and moved off. Gary
The rest of the day Jeff thought of very little, wishing he were alone. By the time the crews left he felt exhausted and actually stopped on the stairs, contemplating which room he should go to. “A hot shower and hit the sheets or a hot cup of coffee and Sophie’s journals?”
The grip on the coffee gave him his answer and he headed up the stairs to the attic. He wasn’t surprised to find two groups of furniture forming in the attic. Both look great and filled with antiques, he regretted that any of the pieces would go to auction, but he needed the funds for the house repairs.
As he entered the room, he tried not to acknowledge the sudden essence of lilacs. The doily was waiting for his coffee, even though he deliberately placed it in the drawer last night. Jeff never really thought much about ghosts until this house. Why this one? He renovated houses for a living and nothing like this ever happened. The only difference with this house is that it would be his home, he wasn’t renovating it for resale.
Once he stacked the journals on the desk, he opened number two. The ink appeared nearly faded from the first couple of pages, but he could make out most of the writing. It seemed that the good captain once again set sail. He could feel her sadness in the words and it became a weight about his heart. If he expected her mood to lighten it took a nose dive for the worse. It seemed that the lady was pregnant and miscarried a month after he set sail.
The heartbreaking event nearly destroyed Sophie. If Jeff didn’t feel it in her writings, her script told how weak she became after the miscarriage. There were days, even a week between entries and they were short and lacked the life he found in the other journal.
Spring came and still no sign of Buford’s return. She wrote about going up to the widow’s walk with the scope, searching for his vessel, but never finding it. By the time summer passed to fall, Sophie’s worry over her husband’s return mounted with each day.
“No!” The blank pages stared back at him as he thumbed through the journal. He nearly gave up hope until a page of writing appeared near the back of the journal.
August 21, 1880
The magistrate came by this morning. We all knew what prompted his visit; the funds were so low I was forced to let three more servants leave. Even though they wanted to stay without pay, I can’t afford to feed them. Now this, the taxes on the house. However will I pay them?
A couple more blank pages and she finally wrote again.
August 30th 1880
A great storm tore up the coast last night. Many vessels were lost, but none was B.G’s
Jeff noticed how she stopped using his full name, almost as if it were her way of dealing with the loss.
There was one turn of events that came out of the storm. A shortage of rooms at the inns forced people to offer rooms to boarders. I have five such rooms and currently have them filled with married couples. I swallowed my pride and asked for the rent money up front, thankfully they all paid and I used the funds to feed them and house them properly.
Enough funds were left to catch up on the taxes.
house has now become the Gardner ’s Bed and Breakfast Gardner Inn. B. G would be furious over this turn of events, yet, I would suffer his anger for his life.
“So she found a way to survive.” Looking about the room, he thought he also found the answer for her secret room. “You are a smart lady, Sophie.”
The air breezed past his ear as he heard a woman’s voice say thank you.
Chapter Two – Troubling News
The next weeks were a flurry of activity. The major repairs on the house were completed in record time. Jeff could work on the inside details without anyone’s help. Only two of the plumbers were left out of the work crew and once they finished re-piping the kitchen and outside faucets he would finally have the place to himself.
Jeff’s gaze rose to the ceiling, Sophie and her journals were rarely far from his thoughts. He couldn’t find any time to visit her private room this last week and he actually felt as if he missed her. It took some effort to pull his thoughts back to the checks that needed to be written. He shook his head, but it failed to get rid of his mental picture of the illusive lady of the house.
He grinned over the thought, knowing he no longer doubted the existence of her presence in the house. Her room is where her essence was the strongest, but she’d been felt in more than one room in the house. Many of her sudden appearances didn’t happen to just him. More than one worker spoke of the ghost or spirit in the house and what exactly it wanted or didn’t like that they were doing.
“Paint color, the changes cost me dearly, Mistress Sophie.” Jeff finished signing his name to the check for the additional paint. He took a moment to look about him. The pastel colors seemed to flow on their own throughout the rooms. Only the den and library held his choice of colors on the wall. The deep burgundy and forest green, felt warm and overly masculine in light of the creamy colors she insisted on. “And you were adamant.”
He’d been in the attic going over the last of the antiques to be sold. It seemed the sold pile shrunk a bit, but before he could ask Elliot about it the commotion from downstairs sent him racing from the attic. He nearly collided with the crowd of workers as he turned the corner into the kitchen and sunroom. Jeff push his way through the men to get to the front in order to see what was wrong.
“What the hell?”
“I swear boss, I didn’t do this.”
Jeff gripped the man’s shoulder, “It is alright, Ben.” But his breath rushed out over the full extent of what occurred. It seemed that someone wanted to make a statement and they sure made it plain enough. The walls that Ben and his crew painted the day before were filled with graffiti, but not just any scribbles. No, each wall now carried huge Xs over the fresh paint and under the center X were neatly painted squares of a different color along with the name of the paint color printed out across the walls.
He walked and inspected each wall, along with the color choices left in the wake of someone’s anger. Jeff could only shake his head and force himself not to look towards the attic and who exactly he felt made her point. “Ben, I think you better get these colors and redo the rooms.”
“But boss, that means labor and paint for nearly every room.”
“Yes, I know.” He turned from the wall to face the crowd watching him. “I rather like the choices better than mine, let’s do it.”
The men didn’t move or say anything until after he left them. But he couldn’t have missed the stunned questions they ask each other, the most prevalent being, is he crazy?
He started to wonder if he were crazy as he tore the check from the book. Jeff never thought he would be bowing to a ghost’s choice of paint colors, let alone looking forward to his time near her. His fingers raked through his hair before he pushed himself out of the chair to pace before the window. “Who were you, Sophie, to have such a hold on me?”
As he stood at the window the smell of lilacs penetrated every pore of his being, but he refused to move or acknowledge her presence. “The den is my room, Sophie.”
For a second he felt as if he could feel the rush of anger coming from her. The scent of lilacs faded in an instant and he knew she left the room. His smile wasn’t one of victory, more like one of defeat. “She is as real as I am.”
Without another moment of hesitation Jeff grabbed his car keys and jacket. “
, please lock up when you two are finished.” Roy
“No problem, Mr. Kingman.”
* * * *
Jeff let the air rush over him as he drove. It felt good to be outside for a change. He whipped the car into a parking space before the library.
He always liked the feel of libraries, especially the old ones. The lady at the front desk never even questioned his reason for wanting to look at old newspapers. Thankfully, they were all on microfiche. She brought out five huge trays of film, all in date order.
Jeff waited for the lady to leave and shut the door before turning to the trays. “Let’s see what we have…guess I might as well start with their wedding date,
August 2nd, 1878.”
It didn’t take him long to find their wedding announcement. What he never expected to find was a picture of Sophie and Buford. “She is beautiful.” He couldn’t stop starring at faded picture. She wore a lace blouse with a high collar. At the base of her throat rested a cameo pin. Her hair flowed around her head in soft waves pulled back in a bun. The sienna tint didn’t give her true coloring, but Jeff felt her hair to be a delicate blonde.
Much time passed before he finally tore his concentration away from her and looked at the man standing behind her. Buford look to be all Jeff could expect in a sea captain. A large stature of a man, Buford held an intelligent look about him. He didn’t miss the man’s possessive hold about Sophie’s waist. “Wouldn’t expect otherwise.”
The captain was not a man to be ignored. It felt as if Jeff knew the man, he could sense the power inside him and it wasn’t just from captaining a ship. “Such a loss, she needed you, Buford.”
Jeff probably wouldn’t have left it weren’t for the librarian flipping the lights on and off. He copied a ton of information and stories about the
, to take home and read through, including Buford’s funeral. Gardners
By the time he drove home the house was dark except for the porch light. He pulled a note from the plumbers off the door stating that they were finished. Jeff leaned back against the closed door, “Finally, I have a home.”
He flipped on the lights as he moved from room to room. The pride of accomplishment filled him as he inspected each room. His hands moved over the walls and molding, mentally noting things he would still need to fix. Tomorrow would be the last day for outsiders in the house, he needed a couple men to help him place all the furniture and carpets in the house. “Then the storage bin will be gone.”
The weekend sat ahead of Jeff and he looked forward to a couple days of rest. He already booked two houses for refurbishing. “They can wait a couple more days, I’m still on schedule.”
Jeff carried the copies he made into the den. For some reason he felt relieved to know she wouldn’t come into his room again. He didn’t want Sophie to know he investigated her. He set the books he took out at the library on ghosts and spirits, into the desk drawer. “Probably more than I’ll need.”
The copies of every story or mention he found on the Gardners, Jeff slid into the desk drawer. His hand stopped for second as he wondered over his own clandestine actions regarding Sophie. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something threatening revolved around Sophie Gardner.
The dark thoughts persisted as he made dinner. The secret room could be justified as nothing more than a woman wanting a place to escape from her boarders. The journals, Jeff wondered if he would find the answer of the mystery in their pages. They must contain something very important for her to have kept them under lock and key.
“The answers are as elusive as the lady.”
Jeff took his dinner into the den wanting to read through the copies as he ate. He rarely looked into the history of any house he worked on except for the design side of its existence. As he started reading he actually felt guilty over reading about the woman’s life. Jeff justified his act knowing any knowledge he gained would help him when he read the journals.
The glass in his hand slipped to the floor, crashing into a thousand shards. “No! It can’t be…”
Jeff ran his hands over his face, hoping he just read this last article wrong.
People say Mrs. Gardner took her life because she never got over the loss of her husband, Captain Buford Gardner. Though many of her friends and employees argue that she could not possibly have hung herself over the stair rail nor would she commit such an act, the magistrate has ruled her death a suicide.
“The date, where is the damn date!” Jeff shuffled through the papers, “
February 22, 1882…they married in 1878 and he didn’t return in 1880, why two years?” He pushed away from the desk unable to sit still over the anger whipping through him. “Suicide, she wouldn’t do that. Not after all she went through.”
His gaze rose to the ceiling above him, “the journals, something is in them, the answer must be there.” He started to leave the den then stopped, going back to the desk.
The frustration and anger made his search for the death notice take more time than he liked. When he finally found it he read it very carefully, but what captured his attention were the pictures of the rope. “The noose is a hangman’s there is no way she could have tied that or the knot that held the rope.” He kept looking at the knot around the banister knowing that he knew the knot, but couldn’t think of the name. He made a note to look it up. The rope looked like a ship’s mooring rope, thick and heavy, more than most men could handle let alone Sophie.
He took a deep breath to regain his control. Jeff couldn’t say how much Sophie is able to comprehend in his reality and he didn’t want to upset her. The question that kept repeating in his head is whether she became a ghost because she committed suicide—“or because they accused her of doing such a thing.”
The whole idea left a bitter taste in his mouth. He folded the papers and put them in his pocket as he headed for the stairs. The smell of lilacs met him half way up the stairs. He wondered if she were still angry with him for barring her from the den.
The door stood open to her room, he knew no one left it open. “An invite, Sophie?”
The air seemed to rush pass him, his head turned but saw nothing. He stepped into the room and the door slid shut. Jeff felt a chill grip him over the absence of her perfume. He didn’t move but scanned the room for any change. Nothing seemed out of place and yet it felt different, almost as if someone else stood in the room and it wasn’t Sophie.
For some reason Jeff didn’t move to the desk, instead he went to the far bookcase and pretended to look for a book. He watched the room from where he stood—there—something dark and large seemed to speed through the room.
He snapped the book shut when the door swished open. Jeff walked cautiously to the door, but failed to see any other movement or unexplainable shadow. “I’m letting this whole thing get to me.”
When he stepped through the door into the attic area the door didn’t shut. He reached over and shut it, deciding that it might be better to wait on the journals.
Jeff locked the attic door, “It won’t keep the ghosts out or in, but it will eliminate anyone else.”
Before he entered his room he caught Sophie’s scent. “Tomorrow Sophie, we will spend the day together.” His lips firmed over the craziness he felt talking to air. “I do wish you could appear and talk to me—goodnight Sophie.”