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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8381 Posts

Posted - 10/19/2014 :  08:40:54  Show Profile
The Night of the Old Grey Theater

Avaunt! and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!
Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood, is cold;
Thou hast no speculation in those eyes,
Which thou dost glare with!
Macbeth (Act 3, scene 4), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English poet and dramatist


Lily Fortune paused in her pacing of the small railroad platform—pausing for the thousandth time, she felt—and peered along the tracks, looking for a glint of metal, a puff of black smoke. Nothing. Oh, Artemus, what is taking you so long? She knew she was being unreasonable. Artemus and Jim had promised to make the best speed they could from Chicago, plus she was aware of the logistics of train travel, of their need to find clear tracks, to wait for other trains to move by. Nevertheless, time was definitely of the essence!

She started to turn to resume her walking back and forth along the wooden area, when she took one more glance back—and saw the sun clashing off something shiny. At that same moment, in the distance she heard the wail of a whistle. Her heart leapt. She knew that whistle. She was truly unsure whether the sound emitted by the Wanderer’s engine was any different from other engines, but somehow she always was able to discern it from others.

“Better step back, ma’am,” the stationmaster spoke, coming out of the small building that formed this railroad station. “These engines can throw off a lot of steam and sparks.”

“Yes, yes. I know.” Lily reluctantly moved toward the wall, and was fleetingly surprised by the coolness the shade provided. She had not really been aware of the warmth of the October sun. Her concentration had been on watching for the Wanderer and the two men it would bring to Loudonville.

I don't know what you two can do, she mused as she watched the Wanderer slow in its approach to the depot. Cobb would stop it perfectly, with the parlor car alongside the platform, she knew. I do know you’ve encountered similar situations, and you won’t laugh at what I tell you …what I ask you to do.

Remaining back by the wall was difficult, but she did it, cognizant that the stationmaster’s advice was wise. She had had gowns ruined by sparks when she got too close to engines before, not merely that of the Wanderer. However, her resolve melted when she saw Artemus emerge onto the rear platform of the train to leap to the station platform before it came to a complete halt.

She ran to him, and into his arms. He held her tight, then loosened his embrace slightly to tip her head up with his finger so he could plant a kiss on her lips. “Hello, my love. We made it.”

“Oh, Artemus, Artemus! I have been going out of my mind. I don't know what to do!”

“We are here now, dearest. Come aboard, have some wine to settle your nerves and tell us just what is going on. I have to say that both Jim and I are going a little crazy ourselves after your cryptic telegram.”

She smiled wanly, accepting the arm he offered. “I did not feel that I could state in plainly over the telegraph wires. The operators would have thought I was mad indeed!”

Artemus assisted her up onto the train’s porch, where the door was standing open. Jim was inside and Lily went to him for a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “What’s this about, Lily?” Jim asked as Artemus closed the door.

Lily started to respond, but halted her words as the train suddenly shuddered under her feet. “We’re moving!” she exclaimed.

Artie laughed. “We have to move the train to a siding just the other side of the depot. We don’t want to be sitting here when the next express comes through! Sit down, dear. I’ll get the wine.”

Lily moved to the sofa. Artie exchanged a glance with his partner as he moved to the sideboard at the far end of the car. They could both see the agitation and fatigue in the actress’s face. Her telegram had merely said, “Please come. I need you here badly. We require your help.”

Fortunately, the two agents were between assignments, and Colonel Richmond readily gave them permission. They had been in Chicago, so that trip to central Wyoming consumed nearly two days. Further exchanges of telegrams with the actress had not revealed much of anything, other than their presence was imperative. “You are the only ones I can ask,” she wrote back.

They both decided it had something to do with the acting troupe to which Lily belonged. Earlier, she had written a letter to Artemus telling him they were going to Loudonville, Wyoming, the hometown of a young actor who had joined the cast within the last year, William Buxton. Lily had spoken highly of Buxton in her letters, as an actor and as a man.

Buxton had told the others about how the schoolhouse in Loudonville had been struck by lightning two years ago and burned to the ground. Rebuilding the school had not been a problem. Stocking it with desks and supplies had been. Everything had been lost in the fire. The town was small, populated primarily by the storekeepers and their families. The nearby ranches and farms were also small. The bottom line was, no one was rich enough to contribute much toward the supplies.

Francis Ogilvy, the manager of the troupe, had been the one to come up with the idea. William had told them all how he had attended shows in the town’s pride, the Grey Theater, built by an early settler. Sometimes they were able to draw in touring groups—none as large and fine as this group but entertaining. That was where he had first caught the bug to be an actor.

The theater was seldom used for its original purpose now, but from what he understood in letters from his family, the building was in good shape and the stage of course was available. Francis suggested they stop in Wyoming on their next tour west and put on a couple of shows. If it were advertised extensively, perhaps it would draw in patrons from a wider area than just the residents in and near Loudonville.

That appeared to be the case. Posters had been prepared and put up within a hundred-mile radius. Response had been strong, so that the troupe had increased its original plan for one performance to two—with three still a possibility. The show date was this coming Friday, just four days away.

“Lil, tell us about the problem,” Artemus urged as he sat on the sofa alongside her. Jim was leaning against the desk, ankles crossed as he sipped his wine. “Has the troupe been threatened?”

“In a sense,” she replied, lowering her glass to hold it with both hands. “I’d better do some explanation first. I told you William Buxton grew up in this town. He attended performances in the theater as a boy. It closed when he was about twelve, and was primarily used for local functions, such as meetings and occasional parties.

“The reason for the closing seems to have been two-fold. For one, it was increasingly difficult to find performers willing to travel to this part of Wyoming. However, more so it was due to the tragedy that occurred in the theater a dozen or so years ago. A troupe from Saint Louis had arrived and staged performances. In the troupe was an actress named Stella Chaney. She was in love with the troupe manager and part-time actor, one Henry Faubert, and apparently, he reciprocated.

“Here in Loudonville, however, Henry suddenly told her he was leaving the troupe to marry a woman he met here—who happened to be the daughter of the then wealthiest man in town. Stella was devastated—and hanged herself in the theater. Since then, her spirit has haunted the building. She seems to appear only when an acting troupe comes to perform in the theater.”

Artemus met Jim’s gaze for a moment, then turned to his fiancée. “A ghost?”

“Yes.” Lily’s word was as firm as the line her lips formed after speaking it.

“Is it… appearing currently?” Jim asked quietly.

“Yes,” she said again, and rushed on. “I’ve seen it! I’ve heard it! We all have. Worse, we’ve…we’ve felt it. Carlyle Crowe was injured by a falling set that Stella pushed over on him. Jennifer Legion—you haven’t met her, she’s new—was very nearly seriously hurt when a mirror in her dressing room shattered, sending shards flying. I think only because she was in the midst of donning a gown was she saved from terrible injuries. The material covered her face. She did receive cuts on her arms.”

Both men were silent for a moment, their eyes again meeting fleetingly. Finally, Artie spoke. “Lily, we are government agents, not…”

She broke in, reaching a hand to put on his arm, her grip tense. “Artemus, you’ve told me about the encounter you had with the child ghost in the desert.” [See The Night of the Little Girl Lost.] “You have spoken with a spirit and helped her on her way.’

Artemus cringed a little inside. He had debated with himself whether to relate that incident to Lily, but finally did. She had been fascinated as well as believing. Right now, he was very glad he had not told her about the ghoul who had attempted to kill Jim last Halloween [see The Night of the Demon Horseman] or the spirit of the monk encountered in a temple ruins [see The Night of the Voice of Doom].

“How can we help?” Jim asked.

She looked at him gratefully. “Just come to the theater and see… see if you experience anything as we believe we are. We were also told about Stella’s spirit before we arrived, by William. I know it’s entirely possible that we are imagining things, and attributing natural events to the supernatural.”

Jim grinned. “Now you’ve told us.”

Her expression became rueful. “That’s true, isn’t it? Still, I know that you two have endured many unexplainable events during your careers. I think you can be more objective that we might be.”

“You said you saw… Stella,” Artie put in. “What did you see?”

Lily took a swallow of her wine, lowered the glass again. “The proverbial ‘white lady,’” she responded. “Although I am certain she was wearing blue. Perhaps I should not tell you this, but we heard that Stella’s favorite color was blue, and she nearly always wore blue. I did not know that before I saw her. I was in my dressing room and I thought someone knocked on my door. I called out to enter, and when no one did, I got up and opened the door.

“She was… there. For one instant, I thought she was a fully formed flesh and blood woman. I remember I noticed that her gown was somewhat out of fashion, as was her hair. Almost instantly, she started fading, evanescing. Then she was gone. I was in shock. I think I was the first to really see her, or at least no one else had mentioned it. When I did tell the others later, Jonathan Earle and Jennifer both said they had seen something, apparently not as clearly as I did. The incidents began soon after that.”

Jim straightened, put his wine glass on the desk behind him. “It sounds to me as though we should visit the theater.”

Artemus rose. “I agree. Ready, Lily?”

She put her wine glass in his extended hand and got to her feet while he took the glasses to the sideboard. “Something else I should mention. Henry Faubert, the man who jilted Stella, still lives in Loudonville. He married the wealthy man’s daughter, but according to William, the joke was on Henry. Emma Faubert’s father was deeply in debt and despite his extensive holdings, when he died, most of it had to be sold to pay those debts. All that was left was the general mercantile, which Henry now runs. So instead of being a rich landowner, he is a struggling storekeeper.”

“Serves him right!” Artemus nodded. “Have you met him?”

“Yes, in a sense. I’ve shopped in the store. He might have once been quite dashing but the years have not been kind. I have also encountered Emma. Henry got all he deserved.”

They saddled their horses and then walked them, alongside Lily, to where she had left her rented buggy on the other side of the depot. The three of them then headed toward the Grey Theater, on the western outskirts of town. Loudonville was like many another small cow town they had visited or passed through. All the requisite stores with a couple of saloons were on two streets that crossed diagonally, forming an X. Around the outskirts were the residents of the storekeepers and their families, those that did not live behind or above their establishments.

Just before reaching the theater, Lily pointed out a large house whose deterioration indicated it had not been lived in for quite some time. This was the Flaubert house, lost along with the old man’s other property. It belonged to a bank in another town, which had been unable to sell it. “The story goes that when Henry saw this large, grand house, he became intensely interested, and even more so once he learned the family had an unwed daughter.”

“He must have moved fast,” Jim commented.

“That’s what I understand. Emma, you see, was not, and is not the most attractive of women. She was already in her thirties, with no other suitors willing to accept her despite her family’s wealth.”

The Grey Theater lay a few hundred yards beyond the Faubert house, in an open field with a short driveway leading from the main road. Lily explained that she understood the property had belonged to an Englishman who made a tidy fortune in gold and cattle. He decided that Loudonville was going to be a large and prosperous site here in the middle of Wyoming, and thus erected the theater so that the coming population would have culture. He died soon after its completion, but willed it to the town on the condition it never be torn down.

The structure was impressive. It would have been, Artie decided, impressive if sitting in the middle of Saint Louis or San Francisco. Two stories, with a beautiful façade of carved lace-like designs, even a marquee that now bore the announcement of the performance by the Ogilvy Troupe this week. Perhaps due to the need for paint, which actually caused it to fit its name of “Grey,” the building also bore an ominous visage. Nonetheless, it looked sturdy.

Lily led the two men in through the front door, into a carpeted lobby, and then into the theater itself. Heavy sheets covered the seats, but Artie peeked under to see fine theater seating. At the front, the curtains were drawn back from the extensive stage, where three men were busy setting up screens and furnishings for the coming play.

“Everyone will be in the back or upstairs,” Lily said, heading for a side door. “Rehearsal doesn’t start for another hour.”

They traversed a narrow passageway that opened into the area behind the stage. Francis Ogilvy was standing near the stage entrance and he smiled broadly when he saw the men with Lily. “Jim! Artemus! How good to see you again!” He extended his hand. Francis was in his late forties, his handsome beard and dark hair graying.

Jim shook the hand. “Hello, Francis. Lily tells us you’ve been having a little problem here.”

Ogilvy sighed. “I find myself in a quandary. I don’t believe in ghosts, yet I know I’ve seen and heard things here that cannot be explained. Thank you very much for coming, although I’m unsure what you can do about it.”

Artie laughed. “I’m afraid we are in the same situation, Francis. However, I cannot say no to my lady love.”

His words had barely exited his mouth when suddenly a loud crash and some yells emanated from the direction of the stage. Francis whirled, pulling open the door, and led the way past the curtains. The three men they had noticed earlier were all staring at a faux fireplace that was now pitched forward, the vase and framed picture that had been on its mantel smashed on the floor. One man was holding his bleeding hand.

“What happened?” Francis demanded. “Joel, are you all right?”

Joel was a husky black man with short-cropped hair. “I just scraped my hand. It’s all right.” He shook the affected limb briefly. “It was that spook, Mr. Ogilvy. She pushed the whole thing over.”

Francis looked at the other two men who nodded vigorously. “Tell me what happened.”

Another man, a redhead with a matching bushy beard, spoke up. “We was just puttin’ the sofa there in front of the fireplace, and there she was. She come up behind the fireplace, gives it a shove, and—bang!”

“That’s what happened, all right,” the third man affirmed, his narrow head bobbing up and down. “Sure gives me the willies to see her, ‘specially when she’s lookin’ to do hurt to someone.”

“What did she look like?” Artie asked.

The redhead looked at him with narrowed eye. “Who’re you?”

Ogilvy quickly made the introductions. “These men have had a little, er, experience with ghosts. They’re going to see if they can help us.”

“Well, good luck!” Joel proclaimed. “My grandma always said that once a spook got itself in, there weren’t no way to get it out!”

Artie smiled. “We’ll see about that. Now, what did the ghost look like?”

“Same as always. First she looks real,” Joel stated. “Then she starts fadin’ away, just when she does her damage.”

Lily spoke for the first time. “Jonathan speculated that she uses her energy in attempting to move something, and can’t continue to be visible.”

“Makes sense,” Artie nodded. He turned to Ogilvy. “Frances, can we get everyone together to tell their stories?”

“Certainly. Right away?”

“As soon as possible,” Jim told him. “We don’t have a lot of time left to deal with this with the performance scheduled just a few days from now.”

Ogilvy said he would convene all the troupe members in the audience seating area as soon as possible. In the meanwhile, Lily gave the two agents a tour of the building. She showed them her dressing room, but did not open any of the other doors in the hallway where these rooms were located.

As they headed up the narrow staircase, she glanced back with a smile. “I should explain that I did not want to knock on the doors of either Carylyle’s or Jennifer’s dressing rooms because I feared disturbing them. When you see Carlyle again, I’m sure you will notice he is a different man.”

“How so?” Jim inquired.

She laughed slightly. “No longer the rogue, the lady’s man. He is in love. It happened the first day Jennifer joined the troupe. I was there and I saw his face. He was hit with a bolt of lightning. I don't think it happened for Jennifer quite as quickly. She had heard of Carlyle Crowe and his reputation. However, he won her over. They often meet in each other’s dressing rooms for a, ah, tête-à-tête.”

On the second floor, most rooms were still in disuse. Lily explained she understood they had been used for storage of sets, props, and costumes. Irina, she told Artie, had taken over a corner room with the best light for her work. Irina Anisimova was a Russian immigrant who had done the troupe’s sewing for a number of years now. She adored Artemus because he spoke in her native tongue to her, something she dearly missed while the troupe was touring.

“Irina, moya dorogaya,” he greeted as he entered into the room filled with bolts and scraps of cloth, needles, pins, spools of thread, ribbons, and all sorts of paraphernalia need to create the wonderful costumes the seamstress managed.

Plump Irina cast aside her sewing to leap to her feet and give Artemus a big hug. “Ya slyshal, chto ty pridesh' . Ya tak rad tebya videt!

Lily and Jim stood by smiling as the pair chattered on in Russian, understanding nothing other than Irina’s joy and the warmth between the pair. Artie had once told them that the woman reminded him a great deal of his Russian grandmother, although younger than his babushka had been when he had known her. After a couple of minutes of lively conversation, Jim noticed that the tenor of the talk grew more sober, as Artie listened intently to what Irina related. Jim glanced at Lily with a raised brow. Lily smiled and mouthed the word “wait.” So he did.

Finally, Artie turned to them. “Irina tells me that Stella visits her here, but is always very pleasant, and even sings a little song to her.”

Lily nodded. “It seems as though Stella’s anger is directed toward the actors and actresses, I presume identifying us with her traitorous lover.”

“That doesn’t explain the business with the fireplace downstairs,” Jim put in.

“Well, in a sense it does, because the stage belongs to the actors,” Lily told him. “Of course, the costumes Irina is working on also belong to the actors, but for Stella, it seems different.”

Artie rubbed his chin. “I think I may see it. The costumes are not part of the actors until they don the clothes. When you do your rehearsals, everything on the stage is part of… you.”

“She may not have been trying to injure the workers,” Lily added. “Only to damage the set.”

Jim exhaled a breath, shaking his head. “A complicated ghost. Can’t wait to talk to her.”

Irina looked at Artie. “Stella ponravitsya etot krasavets, potomu chto on ne akter.

Artie laughed aloud. “You may be right, Irina.” He looked at Jim’s puzzled expression. “Irina just said that Stella would probably like you because you’re not an actor. Come to think of it, if she discerns that I once trod the boards, she may target me.”

Lily then told Irina about the meeting downstairs, and the seamstress accompanied them back to the first floor where they found most of the troupe waiting. The covering of the seats had been pushed back to allow access to the chairs on the first row. Jim got his first look at Jennifer Legion and quickly understood why the rakish Carlyle Crowe had been smitten. She was a brunette, her hair lustrous, her eyes big and brown. The face was classic oval, with a wide mouth, well formed chin and nose, and her figure was perfectly proportioned. Add into all that a wonderful smile and a warm personality, the actor had been lost.

They knew everyone else in the troupe, and after some greetings and explanations, Artemus took charge of the meeting, asking each of them to describe their encounters with Stella. Both he and Jim were astonished as the actors and stage crew one by one narrated their experiences. Many had seen Stella very plainly. To some she had even spoken, usually in angry words, especially to the members of the cast. The usual warning was “Go away. You are not wanted here.”

Nonetheless, with the incidents that had occurred, some of the troupe members were very fearful, even though no one had heard Stella threaten death or even harm. Thus far, the troupe had not remained in the theater after dark; many were concerned about the evening performance that was scheduled.

“Suppose she does something to harm the audience?” Lulu Benton, the older actress who always played the mothers or grandmothers fretted.

“She really seems to have no interest in anyone but the cast,” Artie stated. “We have to learn more, but that does seem to be the case. What is needed is to contact Stella, if that’s possible, and make her understand she needs to move on… to the other side.”

“Perhaps we need a priest,” George Common spoke up.

“That may well be the case,” Artie nodded. “First we need that contact. Jim and I are here to attempt that. The fact that I’m a former actor may draw her to me.” He thought briefly of Irina’s comment. Living women were certainly attracted to Jim; would a ghost be?

The meeting continued for another twenty minutes, with questions and suggestions abounding. Artie and Jim really had no answers to the questions. Apparently, Lily had not told her fellow actors about her fiancé’s experience with ghosts and other unreal situations, so some were rightfully skeptical as to what these Secret Service agents could accomplish.

Jim shrugged when asked a question with regard to that. “We are outsiders so we may be able to see or do something you who are closer to the situation might be missing. We aren’t promising anything. If nothing else, we can keep a watch on things, perhaps prevent serious problems.”

W*W*W*W*W

Meminerunt omnia amantes
[Lovers remember everything.]
—Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso; 43 BC-c. 17 AD), Roman poet


Upon the completion of the meeting, Francis suggested the actors remain and begin the scheduled rehearsal. Irina returned to her sewing room upstairs, while the agents decided to just look around on their own. They checked every dressing room on the first floor, noticing no sign of Stella’s spirit before ascending the stairs to the second floor.

Again, they opened every door, spending a few minutes in each room, listening, calling Stella’s name. As before, no response. Artie shook his head after they checked the last room. “Maybe she doesn’t like us, James. I’ll go downstairs and make sure all is quiet on the stage.”

“Okay. I’ll wait here.”

Jim followed his partner down the hallway, but went on to the window at the end while Artie turned to go down the steps. The window looked out on fields and distant hills. He could see a couple of cowboys moving a small herd of cattle, and beyond them, the sparkle of a stream that cut through a meadow. Wyoming has beautiful scenery, he mused, something he had noticed on previous trips.

He heard it before he felt it. A whispery breath, cool on his right ear. Carefully, Jim turned around. He was still alone in the corridor. Down below Artie’s footsteps sounded, coming up the stairs. Jim stiffened.

“Artie! Watch it!” he yelled, and strode toward the stairway. Reaching the opening, Jim heard Artie’s loud exclamation. “Are you all right?” Jim called.

Artemus appeared in the dimness, shaking his head. “Thanks for the warning. I grabbed the banister. I needed it.”

Jim stepped back as his partner gained the top floor. “What happened?”

“I’m not really sure. It was… it was as though a strong, very strong, north wind hit me, and then went completely through my body. If I had not caught the railing, I probably would have fallen backwards. How did you…?”

Jim exhaled through his teeth. “I saw something. Like a thin mist, pale blue in color, heading for the stairway.”

Artie cocked his head. “Is that all?”

“No. She… spoke to me. I felt her breath on my ear, and then she whispered.”

“And what did she say?”

“It sounded like ‘he lied.’ I’m not positive those were the words. Very quick, and very faint.”

“’He lied.’ Who lied?”

Jim shook his head. “Faubert when he said he loved her?”

“Makes sense.” Artie looked toward the dark doorway that led to the stairs. “It was quiet downstairs, but now it seems Stella may have headed that way.”

“Yeah. Let’s go see.”

All was calm on the stage as far as haunting was concerned. No one had seen or heard any sign of Stella. The agents watched the rehearsal for a while, and then left the building, going to their horses. They had talked quietly during the rehearsal and decided that a visit with Henry Faubert might be a good thing. Stella’s former suitor might know something helpful.

Upon entering the general mercantile, they immediately realized what Lily had said was probably true. Henry Faubert may have been a suave and handsome man at one time, but the last dozen years or so had not been good to him. He had a big belly, sagging jowls that sideburns could not disguise, and was losing his hair. He also did not have a particularly friendly mien, glaring at the two strangers as they approached the counter where he had apparently been working on some kind of inventory list.

“Something you want?” he growled.

“Mr. Faubert?” Artie asked with a smile, although he knew the answer already.

“So?”

“We are here to help the acting troupe with their troubles at the Grey Theater.”

Faubert’s narrowed eyes flickered and he immediately dropped his gaze to the paper on the counter. “I don't know anything about that.”

“But you may,” Jim said cordially. “We’ve been told you were once betrothed to Stella Chaney.”

The head snapped up. “No! We were never engaged!”

“But you were… close,” Artie persisted.

Now Faubert shrugged. “We were friends. Had to be, working together like that.”

“I’m sure you were distressed when she killed herself.” Artie kept his gaze on Faubert’s countenance.

Once more, the storekeeper ducked his head. “I wasn’t happy.”

“Were you surprised?” Jim inquired.

“No. I mean…”

Whatever he was going to say was cut off as a door behind the counter opened and a heavyset woman emerged. She looked at Faubert, looked at the two strangers. “What’s going on, Henry? Who are these men?” Her voice was sharp, on the verge of shrill, matching her pointed chin and long nose. She was not an attractive woman, and probably never had been, as Lily had suggested.

“I don't know,” Faubert muttered.

Artie smiled his most charming smile. “Mrs. Faubert? I’m Artemus Gordon, and this is my partner James West. We are Secret Service agents, and friends with Miss Lily Fortune, actress with the troupe that is going to put on the charity performances at the Grey Theater.”

“Oh. Oh, yeah. I heard they’ve been having some troubles there. A ghost? I don’t believe in ghosts.” She looked at her downtrodden husband, back to the agents. “Why have you come to talk to Henry about such a thing?”

Artemus continued to force the smile. “Because Mr. Faubert was once in the same acting troupe as the woman whose ghost supposedly is appearing. We’re trying to help Miss Fortune and the others to understand what’s going on.”

“Well, Henry certainly hasn’t anything to do with it. He hasn’t been part of that godless profession in a dozen years. Why don’t you tell them so, Henry?”

Faubert sighed. “I haven’t been in that theater since I left the troupe to wed… my wife.”

“Did you attend Miss Chaney’s funeral?” Jim asked casually.

That brought the sharp gazes of both Mr. and Mrs. Faubert to him. Not unexpectedly, Emma Faubert made the response. “Of course not. Why should he? She meant nothing to him. Besides which, she was buried back in Kentucky. I’m surprised her family took her back, considering.”

“Considering what?” Artie asked, all innocence.

“Why, she was an actress! An actress! Not to mention she took her own life.”

“I see,” Artie replied, forbearing to inform the good lady he was also of the godforsaken profession. “When was the last time you spoke to Miss Chaney before her… death, Mr. Faubert?”

“Huh? I don't know. When I resigned the position, I suppose. I don't know. It’s been so long ago.”

That’s not quite the truth, Jim mused. His experience in this business had taught him now to read liars, and Henry Faubert was lying just now. Very likely, he told Stella he was leaving the troupe to marry Emma before he made his announcement to the entire group. Did he then have another encounter with Stella? One that caused her to take her own life?

After a few more words, the agents left the store. Pausing on the steps, Jim looked down the street. “Artie, I think we should find out more about Stella Chaney’s death.”

Following Jim’s gaze, Artie saw the sign designating the office of the town marshal. “Good idea, James. Let’s go talk to the law.”

W*W*W*W*W


City Marshal Herman Biggs was a robust man, although probably nearly sixty, with a mane of snow white hair and a matching brushy mustache, his suspenders curving over a well-fed belly. He was coatless when the agents entered his office, but his suit coat hung on a nearby wall hook. He did not, Artie surmised, have much call to mount up and ride out into the range. Very likely, a county sheriff took that part of the business.

When Jim introduced themselves, Biggs shook their hands heartily. He had, he said, heard of these two agents and was very proud to meet them. “How can I help you boys?”

“We were looking for more information about the death of Stella Chaney in the old theater a dozen or so years ago,” Jim explained. “What can you tell us about it?”

“As much as anyone,” Biggs replied. “I’ve been marshal in Loudonville for over twenty years, the only city marshal the town has had. They called me when her body was found.”

Artie leaned forward from the chair he had taken, his arms on his knees. “Was she still… hanging when you arrived at the theater?”

“No. The folks had taken her down. In fact, the doctor was called before I was. I guess they hoped she was still alive.”

“Who was the doctor? Is he around?” Jim inquired.

“That was old Doc Martin. He passed on a few years back. Doc Culver took over his practice. You’ll find him on the south edge of town, in the same house Martin had. He might still have the records… if Doc Martin kept any.”

“From your point of view, was it suicide, clear cut?” Jim asked then.

Biggs shrugged. “I guess so. I saw the rope mark on her neck.”

“Where was she found? I mean what room?”

The marshal looked at Artie. “Well, in one of the rooms on the second floor where they stored stuff. I mean, they had brought her out into the hall by the time I got there, but that’s what I was told.”

“What did she stand on?” Artie gazed at the lawman.

“What?”

“To complete the hanging of herself. Did she stand on a chair? A box?”

Now Biggs shook his head. “I don't know. I guess I didn’t even think of that. It was just what it was. Suicide. On account of Henry Faubert threw her over. Huh!” The marshal shook his head. “I gotta think ol’ Henry has had a lot of second thoughts about that!”

“We met Mr. and Mrs. Faubert,” Jim remarked drily.

“Then you know just what I mean. Ain’t no doubt that Henry thought he was getting’ into something good, what with old man Detloff’s money. That was a shock to everybody, but mostly to Henry.”

“We heard about that as well,” Artie nodded. “So you didn’t look into the room where Stella hanged herself?”

“Nope. Like I said, it was cut and dried. Didn’t see any use.”

A call to Dr. Culver was fruitless. The forty-something man with thinning hair and a gentle manner informed them that his predecessor had left few records of his patients and activities. “Kept it all in his head, I guess.” So if Dr. Martin had noticed anything amiss in the death of Stella Chaney, it went to the grave with him.

W*W*W*W*W


Returning to the theater, they found that the rehearsal had been completed. Lily was in her dressing room and they joined her there, told her what they had learned.

“What are you thinking?” she asked, looking from one to the other.

Jim shook his head. “I keep remembering Stella’s words to me. ‘He lied.’ What did that mean?”

“Well… that Henry was not honest when he said he loved her?”

“Maybe,” Artie concurred.

“What else could it be?”

Jim sighed. “It’s just a feeling, Lily. A sense that… that Stella would not have remained here if that was the situation.”

All three were silent for a long moment before Lily spoke again. “You are going to need to try to talk to Stella.”

“That’s what we’re thinking,” Artie agreed. “We had some success with little Mary Lee. This is not entirely the same situation, other than a wandering spirit who seems lost.”

“She comes and goes so quickly,” Lily pointed out.

“We’re going to stay overnight here,” Jim stated. “Perhaps with fewer people around, she’ll remain longer.”

“I’ll stay with you,” the actress said quickly.

Artemus was surprised. “Lil…”

She rose from the chair before the mirror. “I’m going to do it, Artemus. Don’t argue.”

“Lily,” Jim said worriedly, “Stella seems to target theater people. Artemus can take care of himself…”

“And so can I! Don’t argue with me. I’m staying!”

W*W*W*W*W

The ghostly consciousness of wrong.
—Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish philosopher and essayist


Although mostly empty and in need of some refurbishing, the old Grey Theater had not seemed at all menacing during the day, despite their brief encounter with Stella and the stories they had heard. Artemus noticed the difference in the atmosphere as the sun lowered and the interior of the building darkened. Stella may not be the only spirit here, he mused to himself, only half jokingly.

They brought lanterns, along with some food and blankets, but planned to not light the lanterns unless necessary. The moon was full, spreading silvery light in through the dusty windows. Lily voiced aloud that she half wished no moon were available, or that the sky were cloudy.

“Somehow the moonlight makes it eerier.”

“My dear!” Artie cried, “you always told me you loved strolling in the moonlight!”

Lily made a face at her fiancé. “That is outside along a river bank or in the park! Not in a haunted building.”

“Where shall we go first?” Jim wanted to know as they stood on the stage.

“Why not right here?” Artie replied, motioning at the furnishings set up on the stage for the play. “We have sofas and chairs. Nice and comfortable.”

For nearly an hour, all was quiet. Twice Lily called out, inviting Stella to join them, but got no response at all. Then they heard a sound up on the second floor, as though something had been knocked over. Quickly all three hurried up the stairs, each carrying a lantern. Every room was checked, but no sign appeared of anything that had fallen, or of the ghost herself.

“What do you suppose that was?” Lily asked as they stood in the hallway again.

“No idea,” Artemus murmured. The crash had been loud. Something fell, definitely upstairs.

“I have a thought,” Jim said then. “Why don’t we split up? You two go downstairs, I’ll stay up here.”

Artie was doubtful. “I don't know, Jim. Remember how you warned me…”

“She was targeting you, Artie. With you and Lily together, you can watch each other’s backs. I don't think she’ll harm me.”

Lily was nodding. “She may even talk to you. She apparently tried to before. I wonder if she would have said more if she had not heard Artemus—an actor—coming up the stairs.”

Artie was reluctantly persuaded and he and Lily went back down to sit on the stage. Jim retrieved a chair from Irina’s sewing room and put it by the window where he had encountered Stella previously. Again, all was silent for a long while. Once he heard the whistle of a train passing by Loudonville, and the faint echo of a coyote’s howl; nothing else beyond his own breathing. Even Lily and Artie were very quiet downstairs.

Then, as before, he experienced that cool air, like a soft breath, first on the back of his neck, then his ear. As previously, he heard a sibilant voice. He realized he was not exactly hearing the voice as much as he was sensing it. The words were the same: “He lied.”

“How did he lie, Stella? What did he lie about? Do you mean Henry?” Jim spoke softly in turn. He did not want to have his voice carry downstairs. Artie might misinterpret and come rushing up.

“Henry… Henry the liar…”

Something blue and soft, mist-like, began to form in the hallway in front of him. Jim caught his breath. He had encountered many strange situations in his career, but that did not make them any easier to accept.

“Tell me how he lied.”

The blue mist was taking a shape now. No one had had a picture of Stella Chaney, but legend said she was beautiful. He could now see dark hair flowing over vaporous shoulders, a blue gown that silkily draped her woman’s curves. He sat very still, watching and waiting. Artie had said once that he understood a great deal of energy was required for ghosts to form; or at least that was the theory. Jim silently willed the phantom to take some of his own energy.

The face was the last to appear, although Jim realized no feet were appearing at the hem of the gown. She was floating several inches off the floor. Nevertheless, the face was indeed lovely, slightly longer than oval, with dark eyes and a lush mouth.

“Tell me what Henry lied about, Stella,” he urged again.

The voice was barely above a whisper, but Jim caught the husky, sensuous tone of it. She had been an actress, and knew how to project her voice. “He said… he loved… me… would marry me… I believed him… I loved him…”

How could you have loved such a man? Jim bit back the question. Perhaps Henry had been a different man before greed caused him to throw over a lovely woman who cared for him in order to gain wealth. “He broke your heart.”

“Yes… I wept… I begged… him. I… I told him he could… not. I would not… allow…” The sadness on her expression, in her voice, was apparent, despite that the face was pale and tended to fade away slightly along with the rest of her form, and the voice was still little more than a whisper.

Jim spoke carefully. “Did you meet Emma?”

“No… I said I… would… to… stop him. He… Henry grew angry. Enraged.”

“Was this at night when you were alone here?”

“Yes… you understand… you are not like Henry. You know…”

“I think I do, Stella. In his rage, he choked you. Then made it appear as though you hanged yourself.”

“I would… never do… that. Not even… for love.”

He could not see tears on the pale, lovely face, but he sensed they were there. I knew. Somehow, I knew all along. From the moment she said, “He lied,” I knew what she meant. He was unsure why he had not voiced those thoughts to Artie or anyone else. Somewhere inside, he had known the truth, as though she had told him all of this before.

“Stella, you do understand that you are dead. I do not mean to be cruel, but I want to know you realize this.”

“Yes… I know. I didn’t… want to die… But I can’t…”

“You cannot leave knowing Henry has gone unpunished.”

“Yes…. You will help me. I know you… will help. I must go… weary…”

She faded away. Jim had not been completely aware of the coolness of the air around him until the figure completely dissipated. At that point, he realized how cold his hands were as they gripped the arms of the chair. In fact, he had not notice the tension in his body. Now he let it go with a long sigh, and sat still for a long while.

W*W*W*W*W


“No judge and jury are going to convict a man on the testimony of a ghost.”

Both Jim and Artemus had been very surprised to see how easily Marshal Herman Biggs accepted Jim’s tale. They had expected some derision. However, he had listened soberly, before finally nodding and speaking.

“We realize that,” Jim said. “In a sense, Henry Faubert has already received a great deal of punishment.”

“You can say that again!” Biggs concurred. “I don’t think he has smiled since the day the lawyer told him that instead of inheriting a fortune, all he had left was the store—and Emma.”

“Still,” Artie added, “if Faubert murdered Stella Chaney, he needs to pay.” Artemus had known the moment Jim reappeared on the stage that something had happened. He and Lily had listened, fascinated. Lily was furious to realize that Henry Faubert had gotten away with his crime for so long. She wanted to march to the general store to drag him from his bed right away. The two men had been able to talk her out of it, and she soon realized something more than an angry reaction was required. As had the marshal later, she knew a man could not be convicted on hearsay words from a spirit!

“What I’m thinking,” Jim said slowly, “is that we confront Faubert. Perhaps we could have a witness or two present. Someone reliable?” He looked at the marshal, who nodded.

“I can get Dr. Culver, for sure. And let’s see. How about the local undertaker? Waldo Schmidt is a well respected man in these parts.”

“It’s too bad we can’t get Stella here too,” Artie commented.

“I wonder,” Jim murmured then spoke louder. “Faubert said he had not returned to the theater since before Stella’s death. Can we think of an excuse to get him there now?”

“I think the only thing that would tempt Henry is money,” the marshal scoffed.

“Okay,” Artie said quickly. “How about this…?”

W*W*W*W*W

Guilt has very quick ears to an accusation.
—Henry Fielding (1707-1754), English novelist


“He’s coming,” Lily spoke from the partially-open front door of the theater. “Oh, Emma is with him. This could be interesting.” She stepped back and closed the door. “Where’s Jim?”

Artie motioned toward the ceiling. “He went upstairs to see if he could contact Stella. Dr. Culver, Mr. Schmidt, are you all right?”

Culver smiled wanly. “Well, when the marshal first asked me to come act as a witness, he didn’t mention a ghost! But I guess I’ll manage.”

Schmidt chuckled, a sound emanating deep from his broad chest. “Ja, I see ghosts before, back in Germany. Many ghosts on the battlefield near my home. They do not bother me if I do not bother them.” To Lily, Schmidt looked more like a lumberman than an undertaker. He was a big man.

“We don’t even know if Stella will make an appearance,” Lily pointed out, coming up the stairs at the corner of the stage.

“I think she will,” Artie said confidently, “if Jim can contact her and tell her why she should.”

“I’m a little surprised Faubert believed the story you concocted,” the doctor said then.

Artie laughed. “It was the best we could come up with. We had to rely on his greed. Shh! Here they are.”

Marshal Biggs held the front door open to allow Mr. and Mrs. Faubert to enter. Both paused, partially, no doubt, to allow their eyes to adjust to the dimmer light inside. Biggs did not wait, heading down the aisle toward the stage. After a moment, the other two followed.

“Why are they here?” Henry Faubert demanded as he neared the stage and spotted the four persons on it.

“Well, we haven’t got a lawyer in this town,” Biggs replied easily, “but it seemed to me we ought to have witnesses to the transaction.”

“Don’t fuss, Henry,” Emma snapped. “It’s your money.”

As he reached the top of the stairs to the stage level, Henry muttered something that Artie did not catch, but he thought he knew what the former troupe-manager-now-storekeeper said or was thinking. He did not want witnesses, even to accepting money willed to him by Stella Chaney. That was what they had come up with. A member of the current acting company had found a cache of money, with a note signed by Stella Chaney, stating that if she died, it belonged to her dearly beloved Henry Faubert. Over a thousand dollars. They had decided that it needed to be a substantial amount to convince Henry to come to the theater.

“What is she doing here?” Emma demanded, glaring at Lily in particular. One could almost hear her huff, “An actress!”

“Miss Fortune is the person who found the money. She could claim it as finders’ keepers if it’s decided it doesn’t belong to Henry,” the marshal explained reasonably.

“Well, if it has Henry’s name on it, it’s his!”

Seems as though greed runs in the family, Artie decided as he stood alongside Lily. The marshal invited the Faubert pair to sit on the stage sofa. Emma looked at it as if it might be contaminated, but sat down beside her husband.

“Where’s the money?” Faubert demanded.

“Mr. West has it. He’ll be here in a moment,” Artie smiled. “I guess this is your first visit in this theater in a long while, Mr. Faubert.”

The storekeeper grunted something. He was definitely uncomfortable, his eyes continually moving toward the ceiling. Toward the area where Stella died perhaps, Artie wondered.

“As I recall,” Biggs mused aloud, “you didn’t even come to the theater when Stella died, Henry. I always thought that was strange on account of the other folks in the company said you were… good friends.”

“Didn’t see a need,” Henry grouched. “That part of my life was over.”

“You don’t seem to have a problem accepting Miss Chaney’s legacy,” Artie offered.

Faubert did not reply, sinking down further on the sofa. Emma stared at Artemus as though wondering what his comment implied. A door opened behind the stage and a moment later, Jim West entered the stage itself. He nodded slightly to Artemus.

I presume that means he made contact with Stella. All right, here we go.

“Where’s the money?” Emma demanded.

Jim smiled at her. “We thought we might need further proof about that, Mrs. Faubert.”

“What do you mean?” Henry’s head shot up.

Artie took it up. “We decided we would call on the person who left the money to confirm that it still should go to you, Mr. Faubert.”

“Huh? That’s crazy! Stella’s dead!”

Lily spoke now. “Surely you’ve heard she still resides in this theater.”

“That’s nonsense.” Nonetheless, Faubert’s complexion became a few shades lighter.

“Stella,” Jim called softly. “Are you here?”

Alongside him, the crochet-trimmed shade of an oil lamp rattled slightly. Mrs. Faubert gasped aloud. Henry put his hands over his face. Dr. Culver and Mr. Schmidt just stared. The marshal was stoic.

Henry quickly lowered his hands. “That’s some kind of trick!”

“Henry….” The voice was whispery. “Henry, I’m here…”

Now Faubert jumped to his feet, his complexion completely ashen. “No! It’s a trick! It’s a trick!” He seemed to want to turn and run for the door, but was frozen in place, primarily due to the misty figure that was forming in the midst of them.

“Oh Lord!” Emma cried now. “Oh Lord!” To her credit, Lily decided, Emma didn’t faint. She gaped with open mouth and wide eyes as the apparition slowly formed.

Lily herself swallowed hard. The ghost she had seen had been nowhere near as well formed as this one, and much more transparent. Except for the fact that this spirit hovered above the floor, she could be a mortal woman. She clutched at Artie’s hand, and the way he gripped hers back revealed his nerves were not overly steady either.

“Stella,” Jim said then. “Did you hang yourself?”

“No… no!” the ghostly voice seemed to fill the room. Her slender hand lifted and pointed directly at Henry. “Tell them!”

“I didn’t do anything!” Henry screeched. “She killed herself!”

“Tell them, Henry… tell them! You killed me!”

“No, no, no! I didn’t! You brought it on yourself, Stella! I told you to leave me be!”

“I loved you, Henry.”

Emma listened and seemed to be regaining some of her composure. “Henry? What does she mean?”

Henry Faubert was visibly trembling now. “I didn’t… I didn’t want to. Stella, you would have ruined everything if you told Emma about us.”

“I loved you, Henry. You promised… to marry me.”

Jim thought that Stella was growing weaker. “What did he do, Stella? Tell us.”

“He grabbed my… throat… choked me. Then… then hanged me.”

“I didn’t!” Henry looked as though he might consider grabbing her throat again, despite his terror. “She was going to tell Emma. Emma didn’t like show people. I had convinced her I took the job in desperation. Stella was going to tell Emma I was an actor too!”

“What?” Emma shrieked, coming to her feet. “You acted too? You lied to me?”

Now Henry looked at his wife. “I had to. You wouldn’t have married me.”

“You fool! I would have married anyone! Anyone who asked! I didn’t want to be an old maid any longer! You stupid fool! Did you kill her?”

“I had to! I had to!” Henry Faubert was sobbing now as he sank to his knees. “I had to…”

“Stella,” Jim spoke gently, “it’s all right now. You can go to your rest.”

Her form wavered in front of him, and the whisper was barely audible. “Thank you, James West. I wish I had known you…”

He felt the cool breath once more, this time on his cheek. Then she was gone.

Henry protested mightily as he was led away. Biggs ignored him, except to say that five witnesses had heard him confess to murder. Emma did not follow them immediately. She sat on the sofa, staring blankly for a long while, apparently unaware of the conversations going on around her.

Dr. Culver was the most shaken by the events. Lily brought a pitcher of water from somewhere, along with a couple of tumblers and served him and Schmidt. The undertaker appeared more excited and even pleased. When Artie asked him about his demeanor, Schmidt smiled broadly.

“You see, I have dead people all the time in my establishment. I prepare them for the resting place. I prepared Stella Chaney for her trip back to her home. I talk to these people. Sometimes I imagine they talk back to me. Perhaps I do not imagine. See? Perhaps they do talk! I will like to think that.”

The doctor shook his head. “I of course have been with the dying and the dead. I’m afraid I’m not as ebullient as Mr. Schmidt about the possibility of the dead rising.”

“Oh, not all, Doctor,” Schmidt proclaimed. “Many go immediately to their reward, above or below. Do you agree, Mr. Gordon?”

Artie could only smile. “I’m afraid I have not given it that much thought.” He decided he would not tell them about Mary Lee, whom they helped pass through a shining door. That might be a little too much for these men right now.

Jim had been standing quietly, and now he stepped over to Emma. “Mrs. Faubert, would you like us to escort you home?”

She looked up at him blankly for a moment before her gaze cleared. “Oh. Yes, that would be nice, Mr. West. Are you married?” She smiled.

W*W*W*W*W

I#817; theïkí#817; dýnami#817; kineítai me dyskolía , allá ti#817;n ídia stigmí#817; sígoura.
[The divine power moves with difficulty, but at the same time surely.]
Bacchoe (382), Euripedes (485-406 B.C.), Greek tragic poet


The performances went on as scheduled to full houses and great acclaim. Attendees arrived from great distances, which meant that the town’s usually mostly empty hotel was sold out; also some people were able to take in overnight boarders for a little extra income. William Buxton was ecstatic with the financial results. His father was on the school board so William happily handed over the funds that would get the school running up to par and keep it going for some time yet.

A circuit judge was among those who traveled to see the dramas, thus he was available to hear Henry Faubert’s guilty plea, as well as the testimony from those who had been present at his confession in the theater. They had decided to simply say that the theater company put on a little play that fooled Henry into thinking Stella had come back. Francis and the rest of the troupe had been briefed in case the judge wanted to talk to them, but the magistrate seemed to feel that the word of two government agents was enough. Henry was sentenced to hang and U.S. Marshals were summoned to take him to the state prison for that punishment.

They had asked Marshal Biggs why he had been so blasé about the appearance of the ghost in the theater, and actually unsurprised nor skeptical when they first suggested the gambit. Biggs had laughed ruefully. “Well, it’s something I never told anyone. Few years back my wife and I went out one evening to visit our daughter who lives some miles west of town. On our way home, in the dark, we passed by the theater. I saw a figure in the upstairs window. I called my wife’s attention to it but it was gone by then. But I know what I saw. Stella. So I’m not a skeptic.”

Lily passed along some gossip to her fiancé and his partner as they said their farewells in the varnish car. It seemed that Emma Faubert was already laying in a stock of widow’s weeds, and even seemed to be looking forward to her changed marital status.

“Jim, you will be delighted to know that when Irina went into the store to buy some thread, Emma asked about you.”

Artie chuckled as Jim rolled his eyes. “It also seems as though she has thoughts of robbing the cradle.”

“It’ll be a while before I come back to Loudonville,” Jim proclaimed. “With any luck, she’ll have roped in some other poor sap by then.”

Lily kissed her beau warmly, then hugged Jim. “Thank you both so much. The theater has been very quiet these last few days. I am sure that Stella has moved on. Poor woman. I saw a photograph of Henry in his younger days and he most certainly was a suave-appearing charmer. I think she did love him. Whether he ever loved her, I don't think we’ll ever know.”

***

Heaven never defaults. The wicked are sure of their wages, sooner or later.
—Edwin Hubbell Chapin (1814-1880), American clergyman and author


James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
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