I’ve decided that every Friday, I’m going to write part of the Shadowlands serial. If you want to read parts that I’ve already written, go to Serial. There, you can read all about Thea Graves, Matilda Tillinghast, Emma Gaunt, and Mouse, from the beginning.
Tillinghast House was one of those brownstones near Newbury Street that look so expensive – and are. You could just tell that it had been standing a hundred years ago, when there had been carriages rolling up and down the Boston streets, and that it would have taken a whole team of servants to keep it up.
We were dressed warmly, because although it was September, there was already a chill in the air. But not in our school uniforms, of course. We had put on the darkest pants and shirts and jackets we could find. We stood across the street from Tillinghast House, trying to look inconspicuous under the street lamp.
“The kitchen door is around back,” said Matilda. “We have to get over the wall into the garden, and then it will be easy.”
“Oh, after we get over the wall!” said Emma. “You didn’t say anything about getting over a wall. What if it’s covered with glass?”
“What if it’s not? Anyway, I don’t have another plan. Do you?”
Emma did not look happy. She’s not the sort of girl that goes over walls, generally. I mean, she’s a Gaunt.
“Come on,” I said. “You can climb on my back. And there won’t be any glass.” At least, I hoped there wouldn’t be.
We were lucky. No glass, although Emma did scrape her knee going over, and Mouse almost fell into a rose bush that still had some roses on it.
“Here it is,” said Matilda when we had reached the kitchen door. She took out the key.
“Do we really want to do this?” asked Emma. “I mean, we are breaking and entering. What if we get caught?”
“Just entering,” said Matilda. “We can’t be breaking if we have a key. Anyway, Aunt Matilda said I could come visit her anytime. So maybe I want to visit on a Friday night.”
“Wait,” said Mouse. “I brought something.” We turned to look at her. She was wearing a black cap over her head. White hair shines pretty brightly, even in lamplight. “I took an invisibility potion from Miss Gray’s classroom before we left. They were making it in Magical Chemistry. I thought it might come in handy.”
The invisibility potion was in a plastic juice bottle, and it tasted a little like orange mango. We all drank some.
“I can still see you,” said Emma.
“We can all see each other because we’re all invisible,” said Mouse. “Can we just get inside already? I forgot to bring gloves, and I’m getting cold.”
“You should always bring gloves,” I said. “Because of fingerprints.”
“We’re not thieves,” said Matilda. “Invited to visit, remember? I think the stairs are over here somewhere.”
The kitchen was just under street level, and there were stairs leading up to the first floor. We went up them, as quietly as we could. Old stairs are creaky! Matilda, who was in front, opened the door at the top, and then almost shut it again.
“Someone’s up there!” she said. She opened it again, just a crack. We could see light coming from a room down the hall.
“Go on!” I said. “It’s all the way down there. We can sneak down the hall and listen. We’ll hear if anyone’s in the room. Anyway, we’re invisible, remember?”
Following Matilda, we all sneaked down the hall, staying as close to the wall as possible. The floor creaked too! As we got closer, we could hear voices.
“How’s the old lady doing?” asked a man’s voice.
“She’s well enough,” a woman’s voice replied. “Has all she needs, although not all she wants. She still won’t tell us where she’s hidden the key.”
“Well, keep her in the portrait until she tells. She can die in there for all I care!” We heard the clink of class, and then a gurgling sound, as though something were being poured.
“You wouldn’t actually kill her, Samuel!” The woman’s voice sounded shocked, alarmed.
“What do you care? After what she and her friends did to you.”
Suddenly, I felt Mouse move past me. She was sneaking closer to the door, past Matilda, who tried to hold her back. The door was partly open, and light came through the crack. She stood right next to it, so she could see into the room as much as possible. Matilda tried to reach for her again, but Mouse brushed her hand away.
“Well, we did go to school together. That counts for something, you know. When you get older, you remember things like that. School days.”
“You’re getting sentimental in your old age. Stuff it, girl. I’m not going to let my chance at that key get away. Ever since you told me about it, I’ve been thinking about how to get it for myself, and Matilda Tillinghast is going to tell me or I’ll wring her neck as though she were a chicken.”
“Samuel, how horrible! I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”
Mouse stepped back. She motioned to Matilda, waving at her to come forward, to look at – what? I moved forward too and caught a glimpse of it. At the far end of the room was a mirror, and reflected in it were two people – a woman in a gray dress and a man in a butler’s uniform. She was sitting in one of the armchairs, he was pacing around the room with a glass in one hand and a decanter in the other. He stopped and drank from the glass, pouring whatever it was down his throat with a quick gesture. Suddenly, he stood still and said, “Did you hear something?”
“Not a thing, and you really should stop drinking, Samuel. You’ve had quite enough.”
“I’ll drink until I’ve drunk all the whiskey in her cellar!” he said. “But I’m sure I heard something.”
“It must be mice,” she said. “They kept me awake half the night, last night.”
Matilda put her hand on Mouse’s arm to pull her back and gestured for all of us to move back as well. We sneaked back down the hall, toward the kitchen. We did not stop until we had gone down the stairs, through the door, and over the wall.
When we were standing in the street again, Matilda said, “Well, I was right. That wasn’t Aunt Matilda.”
“Who was it, then?” asked Emma. “And was that really her butler? It didn’t sound like any butler I’ve ever known.”
“No, it wasn’t her butler,” said Mouse. “I don’t think Matilda’s aunt would hire him!” We all looked at her in surprise. Mouse never sounded angry. But she sounded angry now.
“Who is he?” I asked.
For a moment, she did not answer. Then she said, “He’s my Dad.”
“Your Dad?” said Matilda. It was the last thing any of us had expected to hear.
“Yes,” said Mouse. “Everyone calls me Mouse, but name is Sophia Sitgreaves.”
Matilda gave her a blank stare. But Emma gasped and I stepped back without thinking.
“What?” said Matilda. “What am I missing?”
“The Sitgreaves Murders,” said Emma.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s get back to the school. We can talk about it there.”
We walked back through the dark streets, Matilda and I walking together, Emma walking with Mouse. You can’t say the Gaunts don’t have good manners. She wanted Mouse to know that we didn’t think of her any differently, despite what her father had done.