Arthur Rankin, his wife, Helena and their twin daughters, Ursula and Andrea, walked through the graveyard towards the huge old house at the end of the path. They chatted as they moved along, keeping their voices low, having the utmost respect for such a consecrated place, and certainly not wishing to disturb the dead that lay all about them.
They reached the porch of the house soon after and Arthur announced their arrival by hitting the door with the large brass knocker formed in the shape of an angel.
They waited patiently, hardly able to disguise their growing anxiety, hoping that the appointment they had arranged a week prior to their arrival, would proceed, as planned.
‘I can hear somebody coming,’ said Arthur who held his ear to the glass in the door.
‘Oh, good,’ said Helena with a smile, ‘I was becoming a little worried there for a moment or two.’
‘Yes, so was I,’ agreed Andrea. ‘I really want this to work out.’
‘Don’t worry, dear sister,’ said Ursula hugging her twin, ‘I have a feeling that it will.’
‘I hope so. It will be good to talk to Bartholomew, after so long.’
A short while later, the door opened, and an old man of indeterminate age and serious demeanour stared straight at them in complete silence and without blinking, long enough for each of them to become uneasy. He looked at them individually, inspecting them from top to bottom before he spoke. ‘I gather that you are the Rankin family.’
‘Yes,’ replied Arthur, ‘that’s us. We’ve come to see Madam Jolanda.’
‘Very well,’ replied the old fellow opening the door to admit them. ‘I am Charles, butler of Grande House. If you’ll all follow me, I will take you to the drawing room, where you may await the arrival of Madam Jolanda.’
‘Thank you, Charles,’ said Arthur. ‘Is Madam Jolanda not presently at home?’
‘Yes, she is within the house, but is preparing for your appointment.’
‘I see,’ replied Arthur with a pleasant smile. ‘Very well, good sir, please do lead on.’
Charles waited until all four of them had entered the foyer and then gently closed the door behind them. ‘This way, if you please,’ he said walking towards the main body of the house.
Grande House was indeed, aptly named. It was an extravagant residence, furnished luxuriously with baroque and Louis X1V furniture and decorated with rare items of treasure, which boggled the mind and defied the imagination.
‘Madam Jolanda has an exquisite house,’ said Helena, who followed the butler dutifully, but wished she could have stopped to examine some of the pieces that she passed.
‘Indeed,’ replied Charles.
The butler led the four of them to a large drawing room, which had a warm open fire and many shelves lined with books that seemed to be of infinite variety. The girls busied themselves by inspecting the shelves, while their parents warmed themselves at the hearth. Charles returned a few minutes later carrying a tray laden with a carafe of sweet expensive sherry for Arthur and Helena, lemonade for the girls and finger-foods to consume while they waited. He placed the tray onto a small, oak coffee table in the middle of the room and told the guests that Madam Jolanda had been somewhat delayed, and that she hoped the tray of refreshments would compensate them for their small inconvenience.
‘Please thank Madam Jolanda for her consideration,’ said Arthur.
‘Very well,’ replied Charles who exited the room closing the thick French-doors after him.
The family happily wiled away the hour and a half eating, drinking, talking, looking through the library, and reading to each other from some of the multitude of volumes temporarily available to them. Arthur estimated that it would have taken many years to procure such an extensive collection of literature. He, more than anyone, was aware of the strenuous effort required to acquire some of the rare volumes exhibited on the shelves, having owned an antique store for the majority of his life, passed down to him from his father and his grandfather before him.
Just as Arthur finished the last drop of sherry and returned his glass to the tray, the doors opened up again and a woman stepped into the room, who could have been none other than Madam Jolanda. She was a small woman with dark hair, tied back with a colourful scarf and even darker, penetrating eyes, which darted around the room without missing a detail. She was clothed in a vintage Japanese kimono, of the finest silk, decorated with such complex embroidery that it astounded Helena and left her speechless.
‘Welcome,’ said the woman as she swept gracefully into the room, ‘I am, as you have probably guessed, Madam Jolanda.’
‘It is nice to finally meet you,’ said Arthur. ‘I am Arthur and this, is my wife, Helena. These two young ladies are our daughters, Andrea and Ursula.’
‘Ah, twins,’ said Jolanda as if pleasantly surprised. ‘Having twins present is always helpful in a situation such as this.’
‘Why is that? Andrea asked.
‘All will be explained, in good time,’ replied Jolanda with a smile. ‘If you’ll please follow me, we’ll get started as soon as possible.’
She led them through the enormous house, down several dark corridors, illuminated only by candlelight and opened the doors of another room, directing the family to enter and to remain near the door while she prepared the room.
Jolanda struck a match and walked to the centre of the room, where she lit two candles, which sat in the centre of a small table. ‘Please, come, sit down.’
As the family made their way towards the table, they gained a sense of movement occurring in the room all about them.
‘Are there other people in the room, aside from us?’ Arthur asked.
‘No,’ replied Jolanda. ‘Just wait until the candles begin to burn and then you will get a clearer picture.’
As the flame on the candles lengthened, it became apparent to the family that they were looking into thousands of tiny mirrors, which covered the walls and the roof above them giving the impression of a living mosaic.
‘Why, the mirrors, Madam Jolanda? Ursula asked with piqued curiosity.
‘Mirrors are a way of seeing into another place, another universe that exists in tandem with our own. It is a little like the existence of twins, such as you and your sister.’
‘That’s very interesting,’ observed Helena, ‘and it certainly gives plenty of food for thought.’
‘Yes,’ agreed Jolanda, ‘it certainly does. Very well, now down to business, who is it that you wish to contact?’
‘Our son,’ replied Arthur, ‘Bartholomew.’
‘I see,’ said Jolanda. ‘How did you come to be separated from your son?’
‘There was a terrible car accident,’ replied Helena as a tear streaked down her cheek, ‘and now we are without him.’
‘We didn’t get to say goodbye to him,’ added Andrea.
‘He was a good brother,’ said Ursula, ‘the best. We just want him to know that we love him dearly and to know he’s all right, wherever he is.’
‘That is a good reason for being here,’ said Jolanda, ‘probably the best I can think of and certainly better than others I have heard.’
‘So, you will try to help us contact him, Madam Jolanda?’ Arthur asked.
‘Of course I will and I suspect that sooner or later, we will succeed, for there is no power in the universe stronger than love.’
‘Yes, well, we certainly do love him,’ said Arthur wiping a tear from his eye.
‘Let’s get started,’ said Madam Jolanda. ‘I need for all of us to join hands, so that we form a circle.’
When the family and she had clasped each other’s palms, Jolanda asked that each of them in turn call out to Bartholomew.
‘Bart,’ said Arthur, ‘can you hear me?’
‘Bartholomew,’ added Helena, ‘we want you to know that we love you.’
‘Please, dear brother, Bart, if you can hear us, please answer,’ said Ursula who could hardly control her tears.
‘Bart, we just want to say goodbye to you,’ said Andrea who clasped the hands around with greater grip to cope with her grief.
‘Now, watch,’ said Jolanda, ‘look into the space between the candles.’
As the family looked on intently, a figure began to appear between the flames. It was vague at first, but grew in clarity until it clearly resembled the features of a young man’s face.
‘It’s him,’ said Andrea laughing, ‘it’s really him.’
Before any of them had a chance to converse with their loved one, the figure faded and disappeared into the air. They tried to summon it again, but their efforts proved fruitless.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Jolanda, ‘I know how much you all wanted to talk to him, but I’m afraid that’s all we’re going to see tonight.’
‘That’s all right,’ said Arthur, ‘You tried your best and we did at least see his face. Do you think we could come back and try again?’
‘Of course,’ replied Jolanda. ‘If you return here in a week, we’ll make another attempt to contact your Bartholomew.’
‘Thank you,’ said Helena dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. ‘I do miss him so.’
‘There, there,’ said Arthur placing a consoling hand around his wife’s shoulders.
The group turned when Charles’ voice whispered from the now slightly open door. ‘Madam Jolanda, your next appointment has arrived. They are awaiting your presence in the drawing room.’
‘Thank you, Charles. Please take them some refreshments and inform them I will be with them, presently. Could you please return after that and escort the Rankin family back through the house?’
‘Very good, Madam,’ said the butler who turned on his heel and disappeared.
The group chatted for a few more moments until Charles returned and dutifully escorted the family back through the cavernous residence, letting them out through the door in which they had made their initial entrance.
Arthur and his family made their way back down the pathway that led them through the graveyard, chatting excitedly about what their next visit would hold.
‘When I first saw the place,’ said Ursula turning around to look back at the mansion, ‘it struck me as being more than a little creepy, but now it seems to hold so much hope. I can’t wait to go back again.’
‘Yes, me too,’ agreed her sister placing an affectionate hand around her sibling’s waist.
The family decided to take a shortcut through the gravestones, hoping to arrive sooner at their destination.
Arthur stopped and looked back at Grande house. It really was a place of great hope for both him and his loved ones. He sat on a grave and looked on, as the first rays of daybreak opened up the once dark sky. He said a small prayer for Bart and smiled as the house disappeared from view, like a dim memory from a long forgotten past. He looked around and noticed that the others had gone on, leaving him alone.
He stood and turned to the gravestone in front of him, with his name carved elegantly into the centre of the marble tablet. Arthur yawned and stretched his limbs, surprised by how draining the experience at the house had been. ‘Séances to contact the living are a tiring business,’ he said to himself. ‘I really need to sleep.’