Heart of Stone Ch. 11bypsyche_b_mused©
Mary wasn't going to leave until after Aiden woke and could leave as well. She came downstairs a little after eleven in the morning, expecting that the rest of the gathered company would be gone, except for Caroline. She was a bit surprised to hear voices coming from the drawing room.
"Honestly, I think I'm hopeless." Mary recognized Veronica as the speaker, even through the partially closed door. Mary entered, hoping she wasn't interrupting a private conversation. She found Veronica and Caroline sitting together on the sofa, and she was glad to see that last night's formal dress had been completely abandoned for comfortable slacks and casual cotton blouses. Veronica added a light sweater as well, but at least Mary didn't feel out of place in her jeans. "Good morning, Mary."
"Good morning, I hope I'm not interrupting." She walked a little further into the room. The furniture had been put back in place and Mary sat in one of the wing chairs. Someone had closed the sheer curtains to filter most of the noontime sun, but it left the room was bright and inviting.
"Of course not." Caroline assured her.
"You don't knit, do you?" Veronica asked, holding up the rough beginning of a scarf.
"No, I don't." Mary answered.
"Neither do I." She set it aside. "At least not with any skill."
"Well if you just started-" Mary said.
"I started fifteen years ago." Veronica said with a derisive snort. "Caroline's the one with the real talent, she just tolerates me." Caroline's wooden needles had been making soft rapid clicking sounds since Mary entered the room. She seemed to be paying little attention to what her hands were doing, and yet whatever she was making was rapidly growing row by perfect row.
"That must be your embroidery in the bag." Caroline stopped for a moment and handed it to her.
"Yes, I wondered why I couldn't find it upstairs." Mary accepted it and took out the piece she was working on.
"That's lovely!" Veronica moved closer to look at the large flower arrangement in a white basket.
"Thank you. I redecorated the breakfast room in that shade of yellow," Mary pointed out one of the sunny tones. "But I couldn't find any artwork I liked, so I thought I would make some."
"And here I sit, skill-less." Veronica sighed and picked up her knitting again and for a short time the room was silent.
"Veronica," Mary started. "Did you ever meet the twins?" Both sets of needles stopped clicking.
"You mean the Barnaby twins?" Veronica looked completely taken by surprise.
"I think their name was Barnaby. Matthew and Mark?"
"Yes, they were Barnabys, but how did you find out about them?" She stuck the needles into the ball of green yarn and dropped the lot into her bag.
"Aiden and I are staying in their suite-"
"Have you seen them?" Caroline asked, her eyes wide.
"It's only Matthew that still wanders around." Veronica corrected. "And he sticks to his room and the sitting room. I'm not sure why."
"I knew there was something strange about those rooms." Mary said. She set her stitching aside. "He had the room on the left?"
"You HAVE seen him!" Caroline moved forward in her seat.
"No, but I definitely heard something when I was looking more closely at the painting." Mary had moved to the edge of her chair. "And Aiden told me that that I was imagining things."
"Typical male, of any kind. If it doesn't fit into their narrow world it doesn't exist." Veronica said dismissively. "That painting has always given me chills though. You know where it was painted don't you?"
"No. I assume it was somewhere in this house though." Mary answered. "From what Robbie said this was the only place they lived."
"True enough, but they posed in Ambrose's library." The older woman said.
"I've seen pictures of Beeson Hall," Caroline said. "I don't remember the library looking like that."
"Not the one upstairs." Veronica explained. "The magic library at the Hall has been kept separately for, well, I assume since the difficulty. It was painted in the second library."
"Why there?" Mary was surprised, but now she recognized the painting in the background.
"I've no idea." Veronica said. "What I heard from Ambrose was that they insisted on it and even though they were never great friends of his he agreed for some reason. Knowing Ambrose as I did, it probably had something to do with what was written on the page in front of them."
"What was it?" Mary asked quickly.
"I don't know. I don't know if anyone knows how to read it anymore, except Aiden. You should ask him to translate it." Veronica sipped her tea and found it had gone cold.
"May I?" Mary held out her hands.
"I can just call for Rose." Veronica handed her the cup with a curious expression.
"This is quicker." Mary held the cup and after a very short time steam was rising from it again. She handed it back to Veronica. She and Caroline were both trying not to look too impressed.
"Thank you. You're going to have to teach me to do that." The older woman sipped the hot liquid.
"Anytime you like." Mary smiled. "Back to the painting though, someone painted over the symbol. Aiden could make out very little of it, and apparently what he was able to see might not be accurate because so much of it is gone."
"Who would have done a thing like that?" Caroline asked.
"My uncle." Everyone turned to look at Robbie. No one had heard him enter and Mary wondered how long he had been standing there. Mrs. Bennett stood in the open door. "Forgive me ladies, I was coming in to see if you were staying to lunch as usual, Veronica. I couldn't help but overhear your conversation." Robbie sat down with them.
"Of course I'm staying, things are just getting interesting." She sipped the hot tea. "Are you trying to tell us that Crawford altered the painting?"
"No, it was my mother's brother, Steven." Robbie nodded to the housekeeper and she disappeared.
"Oh, he was a strange sort." Veronica said. "Always kept to himself like it was a crime to be social. Everyone who knew him, even casually, was surprised when he married." She explained to the others.
"The last time they stayed here, he and his family stayed in the twin's rooms. When they left, we found the painting that way. My mother thought their son had done it, but he was only five at the time and it was very carefully done. Between my father and I we had the painting cleaned, restored, just about everything we could think of to get the image back to the way it was, but the way it is now is the sum total of our efforts." Robbie explained. "Since then no one's wanted to stay in there, they claim it's haunted."
"Lunch is served." Bennett said from the doorway.
"I thought we would be most comfortable in the conservatory." Robbie offered Veronica his arm and Caroline and Mary followed them. The sunlight from the large, uncovered windows sparkled off the simple white china and plain glassware, adding a magical glitter to the ordinary objects. Mary waited until everyone was seated, and the meal had been served before she asked the question that had been on tip of her tongue.
"So what did the page say?" She asked.
"The page?" Robbie looked at her blankly for a moment. "OH! The page in the painting. No one knows. I don't think the twins knew either."
"How could they not know? They were so insistent on the place and all the rest of it." Mary asked.
"From what I was told it was a dream they kept having. I'm not sure if Matthew or Mark started to draw the symbols first, but eventually they each added to it and when it was finished they started making arrangements with Ambrose and then commissioned the artist." He took a bite of the salad and was silent for a few minutes. "My father used to speculate that it was about your family, since they wanted it painted at the Hall."
"It is." Mary said. "That was the only part that Aiden could clearly make out." Mary knew that it didn't make a whole lot of sense to hold back the rest of Aiden's translation, but in that moment she felt she had to figure out what it meant before she told anyone else. For a few minutes only the sound of cutlery on china could be heard and Mary used that time to turn over all that had just come to light. In a way, she was glad that she would likely be occupied for the rest of the afternoon. It gave her more time to process everything before she had to explain it to Aiden.
"So will you be hosting the next meeting, Mary?" Veronica asked, derailing Mary's train of thought and sending her off into another direction.
"To be honest, I hadn't thought about it. The Hall isn't really as put together as I would like it to be for so many guests." Mary couldn't look her in they eye as she said it. The thought of hosting so many people terrified her.
"Nonsense. No one's house is as put together as they would like it to be." Veronica laughed softly.
"You could make it an informal gathering." Robbie suggested. "I love having you here, but I know arranging for Aiden to travel isn't easy, or safe at this point."
"I can't deny that." Mary said.
"I could help, if you wanted." Caroline offered.
"I guess I am hosting the next one then." Mary smiled and tried to sound confident.
The drive home was more pleasant than the drive to Robbie's had been. She still worried about Aiden, but at least now she had someone to talk to. Caroline proved to be pleasant company, and even though the women were different in many ways they were similar enough to enjoy each other. The several hours it took to get back to Beeson Hall passed quickly, and by the time they arrived the two were comfortable with each other.
"Welcome back." Maureen said as soon as Mary got out of the car. She and Colin were outside and Mary was reminded of the first day she arrived at Beeson Hall.
"It's good to be home. Maureen and Colin March, this is Caroline Finch." Mary opened the trunk and Colin reached for the bags.
"Good to meet you Miss." Colin said with a welcoming smile.
"I can do that Colin." Mary said.
"Nonsense, Miss. I haven't been able to do for you all weekend and I have to say that I missed it." Colin answered.
"Your things arrived earlier today, Miss Caroline." Maureen said. "I started unpacking your clothes, but I thought you might like to arrange your books yourself." The housekeeper led the two women into the dimly lit foyer and Colin followed with the bags, he left again to get Aiden's chair.
"Is Aiden here yet?" Mary asked, noticing the fresh scent of wood polish.
"Not yet, Miss." Maureen left the door ajar for Colin. "I wouldn't worry though, you said you were leaving as soon as Mr. Aiden woke up, he was probably hungry."
"I'm sure your right, I just don't like to think of him out there in hostile territory." Mary said. Colin came in again and left the chair in the hall and went to put the car in the garage.
"If anyone can handle a little hostility it's Mr. Aiden." Maureen laughed confidently and Mary told herself that the housekeeper was right. "There are some cookies and fruit in the kitchen if either of you are hungry."
"You're homemade oatmeal raisin cookies?" Mary asked, a little smile teasing at the corners of her mouth.
"And what else would I welcome you home with?" Maureen asked, trying to sound serious.
"Come on, I'll give you the short tour tonight and you can wander around more tomorrow." Mary led Caroline toward the kitchen. "Oh, what room is Caroline staying in?"
"The one at the other end of the hall from yours with the double doors." Maureen picked up the bags and started upstairs.
"The one that used to be a schoolroom?" Mary asked.
"That's the one." Maureen nodded. Caroline looked a little surprised.
"Don't worry, Ambrose or someone converted it into a guest room. You'll get the light in the afternoon and there is plenty of storage for books." She led Caroline into the kitchen.
In the next two weeks, every inch of Beeson Hall was well on the way to being either scrubbed, polished, rearranged, repainted, aired out or otherwise brightened up for company, and some places were on the list for multiple assaults. In the beginning, Mary was worried that Caroline would be more accustomed to others catering to her needs, but if that was the case it didn't show. She worked alongside Mary, Maureen and the new maid, Joanna. Surprisingly enough, she always seemed upbeat about the whole thing. Even Aiden was involved, though in a more limited way. He and Colin did most of the furniture moving when it was needed. Mostly though, he thought that Mary was working too hard and worrying too much about what these others thought. He often told her so, while his large knuckles worked the knots out of her sore muscles just before she fell asleep.
Joanna turned out to be a breath of fresh air. She was a heavily built young woman and while her hips were too broad to fit the nearly-emaciated modern standard of beauty she had a ready smile, and a sparkling laugh that could brighten a room or lighten a burden. It was Maureen that first suggested bringing her into their confidence about Aiden. Mary already knew that Aiden was willing to meet anyone she trusted, she just had to decide if she trusted Joanna.
She also found that she enjoyed Caroline's company in a way she hadn't thought she would. Maureen had been a motherly presence, and Mary was grateful for that. Her other friends in the village were closer to her own age, but didn't know about Aiden, and she found that she censored herself heavily when she talked to them. She also found herself lying at times when they suggested young men for her to date. All in all, those things made for weak, superficial friendships in which few real thoughts or feelings were exchanged.
"You should tell her you know." Caroline and Mary were sitting in the newly-polished library, enjoying an afternoon without work.
"Tell who?" Mary was fairly certain that she knew, but she had learned recently that assumptions frequently caused trouble.
"Joanna." Caroline was knitting another soft gray wool panel for a sweater she was making. "You know as well as I do that she won't tell anyone until the time is right."
"I know she won't tell anyone intentionally or maliciously." Mary sighed. "I just worry that the more people who know the more likely it is that someone will slip up."
"The world is going to have to know sometime." Caroline said. Mary knew her friend was right, but that didn't mean she liked the idea of everyone knowing about Aiden and the others.
"I know that, but I guess I want to control how they find out. And, I don't want Aiden to still be the only one when the news breaks. I don't think it would be fair to him." She turned over her embroidery, ended one thread, and started another.
"I can't argue with that logic." Caroline said. The women fell silent when they heard the front door open.
"Hope you don't mind me coming in the front way Miss Mary." Joanna said.
"Not at all." Mary said. "How's your mother doing?"
"Good as one can expect. She gave her ankle quite a turn the other day." Joanna stopped in the doorway to the library. "Callie Watts asked me the strangest question when I was in Mr. Leeson's shop though."
"What was that?" Caroline asked, her eyes sparkling with curiosity. Mary noticed her new companion always took a keen interest in village gossip.
"She asked if I had ever seen the monster that lived here. Could you imagine anything sillier?" Joanna laughed a little and took the scarf off of her hair.
"A monster? Where in the world did she come up with that?" Mary smiled and shook her head slightly.
"I don't know, Miss. But the story's been floating around as long as anyone can remember." Joanna laughed.
"What?" Mary looked up, stunned.
"Oh yes." Joanna sat down. "Anytime someone goes missing or loses a pet or some of their livestock everyone says it's the Monster of Beeson Hall. No one really believes it I don't think, but they all say it because they've always said it. It's become one of those stories they use to scare little children into being good, I suppose."
"What kind of monster is it?" Caroline asked. Mary was glad, she wouldn't have been able to muster such innocent curiosity.
"I don't know really." Joanna looked as if the thought had never occurred to her. "The kind with big teeth and long claws. How many kinds of monster are there?" The maid laughed and waved dismissively with her hand. "It's only silliness anyway, Miss. Can I bring either of you anything?"
"No, thank you Joanna." Mary said. Caroline shook her head as well.
"Dinner will be ready at the usual time then." She got up and left the two women alone. As soon as the maid was gone, Caroline turned and looked meaningfully at Mary.
"Alright, I agree that she should know." Mary said. "But that doesn't keep the whole village from blaming Aiden every time some old lady's cat runs off."
"No it doesn't, but it's a start anyway." Caroline said.
Telling Joanna was much like telling Colin and Maureen, except this time she had some support from others who knew Aiden. After the initial shock of meeting the 'monster of Beeson Hall' in the flesh, Joanna accepted him and Mary's terms of temporary silence and he accepted the maid into his extended family.
They never talked about it, but Mary knew that he missed having others to care for. Sometimes he would tell her about the role of a leader among his kind. Mary was surprised to learn that a gargoyle chieftain was more than a political figure, he was respected much like a father was, and he behaved accordingly toward others in his clan.
The way he looked at her when Joanna and the others left pushed any thoughts of traditions and cultural roles to the back of her mind.
"Wait-" She was laughing as he pulled her into his lap so that she was straddling him.
"Why? We are alone." He pulled her skirt out of the way. She could feel the intensity of his need as he pulled her forward, his lips possessing hers.
"They might-" His tongue invaded her mouth, one talon slid inside the front of her panties. Mary moaned as he tore through the cotton. "They might come back in." Her voice breathless.
"Why would they?" His tail pushed inside her from behind. Mary bit back a sharp cry and slid forward a little, his swift entry bordering on painful. He held still inside her until she relaxed against him, then his tail started to tease her.
"Because they might hear me, and wonder what's going on." Her mouth found his, logic quickly being overwhelmed by the pleasure of being in his arms. She felt him opening his belt and stopped his hands before she lost all reason.
"Colin, Maureen and Joanna have undoubtedly left already. Caroline was tired. Besides, I could demand that you comply." He smiled slightly.
"And I will." She kissed the side of his muscled neck softly. "Just not here." Her grin was mischievous.
"As you wish then." He smiled his toothy grin. Mary moved to get up, but his tail followed her, staying buried deep inside her. Mary moaned and tried another direction, only to find that he kept her achingly, deliciously, frustratingly full.
"Come on that isn't fair." Her laugh was mixed with a moan. Mary's hands reached between them, stroking his long, thick shaft through the simple garment. He held the back of her head and growled softly.
"That is not helping your case." His hips were moving under her. The tip of his teasing tail pressed forward, nearly bringing her over the edge. Mary buried her face against his shoulder to stifle the cry.
"Aiden, please." Mary's voice was plaintive, but she wasn't sure what she was pleading for anymore. Her hand was working it's way inside his loincloth, her body aching for more contact with his. Without warning his tail slid out of her slick opening. She looked into his eyes, feeling as though she would shatter from the force of the need he had created in such a short time.