"To tell you the truth," said the Countess of Grantham to the Dowager Countess, "I'm surprised that Downton never had a ghost before."
"It is a trifle strange," returned Violet. "There was never any hint of one in my day, though the Marchioness of Normanby had two at Warter Priory, and her father was only a baronet. Very distinguished ghosts they were, too--I understand that one of them lost his head in the Battle of Marston Moor."
"Oh," said Cora, "I hope ours is just as distinguished."
Mary shook her head to clear it. The exchange was an unlikely one to overhear as she came down to breakfast.
"Granny, what's all this about ghosts? Have you been reading novels?"
"Heavens, no," said Violet with a look of alarm. "Perish the thought."
"Then what can you mean by it?"
"This is what happens when you come downstairs so late in the day: you miss all the most interesting news."
"Oh, Mary," said Cora, "just imagine! Downton Abbey has acquired its very own ghost!"
Mary stopped to examine the faces of her mother and grandmother, who appeared to be in earnest. "This is impossible," she muttered to herself. "I must be dreaming still."
"Don't look so distressed," said Violet. "It's only a ghost. These things do happen."
"Not at Downton, they don't! Around here, things always make sense!"
Violet raised an eyebrow in response. "If it pleases you to think so, dear. In any case, I understand this kind of thing occurs naturally around Christmastime." She leaned closer. "I hear they often come in threes."
"Granny, I think you must have been reading Dickens. There's no shame in it--I don't see why you shouldn't admit it."
"The only thing I will admit to," said Violet, drawing herself up to her full seated height, "is the opinion that ghosts are entirely seasonal."
Within days, the topic had become impossible to avoid.
"They say that if you stay very still and peer out the window after dark, off in the distance you can see a lonely figure robed in white."
"They say that at night, strange rattling noises issue from the corridors. Only when you unbolt your door and look into the hall, no one is there."
"And I say it's an old house," said Mary. "Of course there are noises on windy nights, and always have been."
"Yes," said Edith, "but never before has there been mournful sobbing whilst a restless specter treads the battlements."
Mary frowned. "I haven't noticed anything amiss on the battlements."
Edith sniffed. "I'm sure it's because you haven't looked properly."
"Don't quarrel, girls," said Cora.
"I have no wish to," said Mary, "but can't we converse on another topic? For instance: you look very well in that dress, Mama. It is an unusual color for you."
"Why, thank you, dear. The ghost suggested that I wear more pastels."
"The ghost suggested it?" asked Mary darkly.
"Yes, of course--or haven't you heard about O'Brien's discovery? It seems that if you visit the old schoolroom, you can carry on a conversation of sorts with the ghost, for apparently that's where it hides away when it isn't wandering the grounds. Unfortunately the ghost won't reveal itself or speak to anyone directly, but if you ask a question aloud and return an hour later, it will have written a reply for you on the blackboard in chalk."
"Oh, Mama," said Mary, "I am sure it is only a servant having fun at your expense."
"No," insisted Cora, "the room is always empty when the message appears--I'm certain of it. I've had Carson and Mrs. Hughes guarding the door in shifts, all day and all night."
"Carson and Mrs. Hughes, standing guard all day and all night? Is there not some better way for them to occupy their time?"
"I couldn't very well entrust such a sensitive task to Molesley, could I? After all, I can't think of anything more important than this ghost."
Mary groaned. "I can see that my sanity, at least, does not rank highly in relation to it."
"Quite right," added Violet. "Just think of the distinction the family might gain, if the ghost is well connected. The very reputation of Downton Abbey hangs in the balance! The sooner we learn everything there is to know about this ghost, the sooner we may use the information to Downton's best advantage. Any little household duties are trivial in comparison."
"That may explain why I found so many feathers in last night's Chicken Lyonnaise," said Edith. "I suppose it will be worth the sacrifice in the end."
Mary groaned again.
"My advice to you, Mary, is not to leap hastily to judgment," said Violet. "For the ghost may do us all a good turn in the end, just like in that story--you know, the one with that king and his wife, where they had both done some things that were not quite respectable, had some little lapses in judgment, but then the ghost comes to dine at the castle one evening and points out the error of their ways, so that they may be reconciled to one another and live happily ever after. Now there was an exemplary ghost. What was his name again? Ah, yes. Banquo."
"Banquo? Oh, Granny, I don't think that's at all how Macbeth ended."
"It's fiction, Mary, dear. One may take a bit of creative license."
Within a week, hardly anyone remained who could not claim some sort of sighting. Speculation reached such a pitch that a family meeting became necessary. Violet settled decisively onto the large armchair in the drawing room, relegating Matthew and Isobel to the bergères against the opposite wall. Cora, Edith, and Mary occupied the sofa. Sir Richard Carlisle posted himself at Mary's elbow. The Earl of Grantham stood by the fireplace and surveyed his family with an air of importance. He cleared his throat.
"Many of you have heard rumors about a supernatural phenomenon at Downton Abbey. I stand before you this afternoon to confirm that they are true."
The other Crawleys broke into eager whispers at the news--except Mary, who cast her eyes about the room in disbelief and impatience.
"As you may also know," continued the Earl, "the identity of the ghost has not yet been established. I therefore ask that any future encounters be reported to me immediately for further evaluation. My assumption, of course, is that it is some Crawley from the past who has unaccountably and unexpectedly returned from the dead."
Edith brightened. "Perhaps it is a wealthy ancestor who has come back to replenish the family fortune! That would solve all our troubles."
"I don't know, dear," said Cora. "That seems awfully tidy and coincidental."
"I don't see why!" said Edith petulantly.
"You must trust your elders, dear," said Violet. "Such a denouement would traverse the boundaries of taste and believability."
"Fair enough," said Edith, though she looked sulky.
"If you are to happen upon the ghost, I must ask you to treat it with the utmost respect," said the Earl, eyeing Mary. "The spirit is a guest in our home, and its residence brings Downton Abbey the chance of greater consequence than it even now enjoys, which I'm sure none of us would mind."
"To say nothing of increased property values!" Cora's eyes lit up. "If everything goes really well, perhaps we can even charge admission to see it!"
Violet looked troubled for the first time since the whole unfortunate episode began. "Oh, dear. Americans."
"You may imagine that I am joking," continued the Earl, eyeing Mary again, "but allow me be completely transparent: I am deadly serious. Transparent," he repeated, looking expectantly at his family. "Dead-ly."
Edith looked pained. "Papa, I wish you would leave the funny bits to Granny. You really aren't very good at them."
He frowned. "Edith, I find your accusations to be wholly insubstantial and lacking in body."
"Oh, very well," he grumbled. "Though you do me a grave injustice."
"It's come to this," said Mary sadly to herself. "I am the only sane person in this room."
"Don't forget me," said Sir Richard, turning toward her with an unsettling gleam in his eye. "I don't believe in ghosts, either. It's the two of us against the world, Mary."
"Thank you, Sir Richard, but somehow I don't find that thought completely comforting."
"Mary, dear," said Cora, "I know you aren't thrilled about our ghost, but in fact the spirit seems quite benign in its intentions so far. It could be ever so much worse."
"Agreed," said Violet. "We have had quite the lucky escape: we must be grateful that it isn't a zombie."
Isobel fixed her with a sharp look. "And what's wrong with zombies, I should like to know?"
Violet sighed. "Oh, here we go."
"Well, for one thing," began Cora, "zombies are very overused."
Violet nodded. "My thoughts precisely. Zombies are frightfully common. A stately home with a ghost, though, anyone may respect."
"I am sorry to be disagreeable," said Isobel, "but I don't see why we should look down upon zombies, simply because they are not the Right Sort."
"Yes, I am sure that would be your opinion."
"Cousin Isobel," said Edith, "you must remember that zombies eat brains."
"Don't be vulgar, dear."
"But Granny," Edith insisted, "they do eat brains!"
"Perhaps that is only because they have not grown up enjoying the same advantages as the rest of us," Isobel pointed out.
"Are we quite done here?" asked Mary with a scowl, standing up from the sofa before anyone could answer in the negative.
As Christmas approached, the situation only grew more dire. Little else was discussed at meals, and--though the culprit would not confess--someone had worked a stocking for the ghost and hung it alongside the rest of the family's.
"I'm surprised the ghost hasn't revealed its identity yet," said Cora at tea. "I'd love to have Carson and Mrs. Hughes back downstairs before Christmas. I hate to say it, but it's starting to seem a little rude."
Edith buttered a scone and held her knife aloft. "It may be possible to work it out ourselves. Let us think who has died in the house and who may have left unfinished business here on earth."
"Perhaps we should. At this point, I don't see what other choice we have." Cora paused for a moment. "Let's work backwards: of course, there's Lavinia, but she was such a dear, sweet girl. I doubt she'd want to cause any fuss from the beyond."
Edith nodded. "Then there's poor William. He was taken from us so young--and his parents' only child, too."
"Very sad," said Cora. "But he died saving Matthew's life. Could anything be more rewarding for a servant? I fail to see how William could be dissatisfied with his fate."
"And don't forget Lieutenant Courtenay."
"Oh, yes, how ghastly that was." Cora shook her head sadly. "My, it has been a bloody season."
Edith cleared her throat and angled her chin toward Mary. "I think we are still forgetting someone, Mama."
"Oh, Edith," said Mary sharply, "you've the subtlety of a sledgehammer. And if the name must be mentioned, I am certain Mr. Pamuk can have no object in remaining at Downton."
"No good, no good," said Violet. "None of them will do. If we are to have a ghost at Downton, it must be someone a bit, well, higher-born."
"I don't think you can select your own ghost, Granny," said Edith. "Particularly after it's already arrived."
Violet sighed. "I simply don't know what has happened to the aristocracy. In my day, no one would dream of countenancing an ill-bred ghost."
On Christmas Eve, Matthew found Mary in the library, where she had fled to escape the usual topic of conversation.
"I'd like a word," he said, seating himself beside her. "It's about my mother. This business with the ghost has really affected her."
"I wouldn't worry--she doesn't seem to take it so seriously as some of the others. Most likely she and Granny are only delighted to have found something new to squabble over."
"I don't think you quite understand, Mary. My mother has begun preparations to form a Zombie Aid League to--and I quote--'better the social condition of the Living Dead.'"
"Indeed. Which is why I must beg you to cease to exploit your family's propensity for nonsense."
"Feign innocence all you like. All I know is there's a highly implausible situation at Downton Abbey that threatens to spiral into a crisis. Who else could possibly be behind it?"
"For once you have nothing to accuse me of. I can't fathom why the lot of them are acting so credulous: this so-called ghost can be nothing more than a trick of the light."
"It's good to hear you say so." His expression began to lose some of its bitterness. "It is rather odd that this foolishness seems to have united them all. For God's sake, it's the twentieth century."
"Nominally, yes, Matthew, but time passes rather slowly at Downton."
"Is no one else a skeptic? Surely we can't be the only two who remain unaffected."
"Well, there's Sir Richard."
"I hope you'll pardon me, but the thought of being aligned with Sir Richard makes me a bit uneasy. Like my moral center has gone dangerously askew."
"I know," said Mary. "You're not the only one."
"What could have happened to your parents? They always seemed so practical."
"I think they imagine that the presence of a ghost burnishes Downton's legacy as a great house. Either that, or they've gone utterly mad."
"I suppose we can't rule out either possibility. What about your sisters?"
"Edith claims to have seen the ghost herself, though that may well be just to spite me. And since no one has thought to wire Ireland yet, I can only imagine Sybil's response: WORLD IS CHANGING STOP GHOSTS MUST CHANGE WITH IT STOP HOPE GHOST IS NOT OVERLY ATTACHED TO OUTDATED RIGID CLASS SYSTEM STOP"
"That would make for a very expensive telegram."
"Oh, let her pay extra for her ideals!" cried Mary, throwing up her hands. "So there you have it: it's hopeless. We are entirely outnumbered."
Matthew met her weary gaze with something like affection. "You know, I've missed our little chats."
"I suppose I have, too."
"I know I've been cold to you these past weeks. It's not fair of me. But when I look into your eyes, I can't help but be reminded of Lavinia. How I broke her trust, and her heart. How I killed her, just as surely as if I had bludgeoned her with my bare hands."
"That's...very graphic," said Mary. "But it's all right. I understand how you feel." She sighed. "I too am haunted by the memory of how we treated her."
Matthew's eyes suddenly grew wide. "What did you say?" he whispered.
"Just that I would always be haunted by--"
"Haunted?" he gasped, growing paler. "Haunted? Oh, Mary, don't you see?"
"Not quite yet," said Mary, "but I don't think I like where this is headed."
"I can't believe I didn't realize it at once, faithless cretin that I am. But of course there is a ghost, and of course it is Lavinia. It's patently obvious! Her poor departed spirit can find no peace, cruelly betrayed as she was in her last days on earth."
"No, Matthew," said Mary in despair, "not you, too. What happened to your belief in skepticism and progress? What happened to embracing the twentieth century?"
"Time moves slowly at Downton," he said, scrambling to his feet. "It goes in fits and starts. You'll not keep me from her, Mary. There is so much to atone for--I must see Lavinia at once!"
As Matthew dashed from the room, Mary buried her head in her hands. "This could certainly be going heaps better."
"What could be going heaps better?"
At the sound of Sir Richard's voice, Mary sank her head deeper. "I hope you will excuse me, Sir Richard. I'm not altogether well."
"Not well? I hope it isn't some hereditary illness. I must confess, I find myself disturbed that your entire family seems to think they're cohabitating with a ghost. Was there, perhaps, some inbreeding within the Crawley line that I wasn't made aware of?"
"Sir Richard," said Mary, drawing on every remaining reserve of patience, "I am very sorry to be impolite, but I can't speak with you right now. I must take my leave and go upstairs."
"Do you know," he said coolly, "who else probably wishes he could go upstairs whenever he pleased? I'll tell you: Mr. Kemal Pamuk. But he can't. Because he's dead. And he died in the most--"
"All right, all right--you win. What can I do for you?"
"That's much better," he said, and flashed a sly smile. "Now, you are displeased by your family's sudden interest in the supernatural, are you not?"
"That is an understatement."
"Well, it just so happens that I've come up with a failsafe plot to rid Downton Abbey of this ghost once and for all. Do you trust me?"
"I'll ignore that. Anyhow, I thought the two of us could go hunting."
"Hunting, Sir Richard?"
"It's a perfectly respectable upper-class pastime. Don't try to tell me otherwise."
"You can't hunt ghosts! They aren't like pheasant. Not least because they don't exist."
"Someone needs to get to the bottom of this," he said, "and it will be Sir Richard Carlisle if it is anyone. Listen to me, Mary: I have a plan, but I need your help if it is to work."
"I won't make myself ridiculous for you. You'll have to pursue your impossible strategy alone."
"Alone," he said casually. "Ah. Do you know who else is alone, and will be forevermore? That poor Kemal Pamuk, who died so trag--"
"Okay, okay, I'll come with you," she said crossly. "Though you do play that card rather too often."
"Marvelous. I will meet you in front of your old schoolroom after supper, then. Don't be late."
Mary's supper sat uneasily that evening. She set off glumly to meet Sir Richard, only to be accosted on the staircase by Matthew in high dudgeon.
"The ghost refused to see me," he said, "and though I say only 'ghost,' I know it is Lavinia! She denied my most desperate pleas for a personal interview, though I waited for her in that wretched schoolroom for hours. Hours! For pity's sake, I memorized the first three parts of 'The Lady of Shalott!'"
"'The Lady of Shalott'? Oh, Matthew, I am sorry."
"As well you should be. That room is lousy with Tennyson: I am now entirely sick of shadows. And for all my pains, the only response I received on the blackboard was that I had better not return! That the only living person she would deign to meet was you!" he said, glowering. "Why, Mary? Why does the ghost want to see you instead of me? What have you done? You must tell me at once. Don't try to deny that it is your doing--your fingerprints are all over this."
"What? Come, Matthew, be reasonable. I know you hate me now, but--"
"I don't hate you, Mary. I just never want to see you or speak to you again."
"Oh, thank goodness. Well, then, I know you...seem very much to hate me, but be sensible about this: how can I have influence over a ghost I don't even believe in?"
"I can't say precisely what it is you've done," he said over his shoulder as he stormed away. "But you must admit that you have a very destructive personality."
Mary reached the schoolroom just as the clock was striking nine.
"Carson!" she said, and they embraced like long-lost friends. "I was wondering if we would ever encounter any servants in this story."
"I am here, Lady Mary," said Carson, "but I'm afraid this is the extent of it."
"Why, good evening, Lady Mary," said Richard, beaming malevolently as he approached. "I'm so pleased that you've joined me here."
"You left me little choice."
"Well, yes," he said, "that was rather the point." He looked shrewd for a moment. "Do you know, there is an itchy spot just on the very top of my head."
"You have got to be joking."
He sighed. "It brings to mind an awfully sad thought: do you know whose head will never itch again...because he's dead? The poor gentleman, Mr. Ke--"
"I am warning you, Sir Richard, you are really pushing it," seethed Mary, raking her fingernails rather hard over his scalp as they entered the schoolroom and shut the door.
"Leave all the talking to me," he whispered to Mary. "You're just here to look respectable." He cleared his throat. "My best Yuletide greetings to you, ghost of Downton, whoever you may be. I've come to you tonight with a proposition. I don't know how much you earn here at Downton, but I'm prepared to offer you twice that amount to come and permanently haunt us at Haxby Park after I marry Lady Mary."
"Oh, Richard!" cried Mary, turning her head away in distress.
"I should like you to keep in mind that Haxby has wonderfully high ceilings, ideal for amplifying any spectral wailing or moaning. If you desire any little architectural tweaks to further improve the acoustics, it would be within my power to provide them. All I ask in return is a biannual appearance at our grandest balls, and that you furnish me with an appropriately tragic legend about your origin, with which I may regale impressionable visitors to the house. I don't require an immediate answer--I'll just wait outside until you've come to a decision."
A message appeared on the chalkboard within the hour. "Meet me up on the battlements at midnight to negotiate," it read, in surprisingly good penmanship. "Come alone. Bring cash."
In the morning, the servants found Sir Richard Carlisle, or what was left of him, splayed out on the front lawn near the walkway. No one could say for certain whether he had fallen or been pushed, or even whether he had jumped. Some attempted halfheartedly to pin the death on an ill-fated rooftop altercation with Father Christmas, but even the ghost's most fervent partisans were forced to admit privately that their unearthly visitor did not seem entirely blameless.
While Robert dealt with the constable and Cora dealt with the servants, Matthew found Mary alone in a corner of the great hall.
"I apologize for my conduct toward you last night," he told her. "I let my temper get away with me. I hope we are still friends."
"Of course we are still friends. It's quite all right--that much Tennyson would have an effect on anyone."
"You are very gracious," he said, and smiled.
"I am glad you came to me," said Mary, "for I have something to relate that I cannot tell anyone else. Sir Richard intended to meet the alleged ghost on the roof last night. You see what has come of it. I wish now that I had prevented him, but at the time I was disgusted by his foolishness."
Matthew absorbed the news soberly. After a long moment he spoke. "I don't wish to reopen an argument, Mary, but after this revelation, can you still doubt that the ghost is Lavinia? Only consider: Sir Richard, a man Lavinia always hated so, is dead under such suspicious circumstances. What other evidence can be necessary?"
"There is mischief afoot, to be sure, but it does not follow that it was perpetrated by a ghost! Don't you see that by clinging to a supernatural explanation for the incident, we may allow a murderer to go free?"
"I see your point," he said. "You always did have sense." He paused, considering. "Why not pay a visit to the schoolroom and attempt to speak to the ghost directly? She did ask for you before, you know. If afterwards you are not fully convinced of the ghost's existence and culpability, then I promise to do everything in my power to help you discover the living person behind the fraud."
"Very well," she said with a sigh. "I will visit the schoolroom at once, though I know it will do little good."
"I knew you would not let me down," said Matthew, seeming instantly more cheerful. "Mary, I beg of you: you must tell me how she is, and everything she says, and beseech her to see me."
"If against all odds I meet a ghost, and if that ghost is Lavinia, I do promise to tell her you wish to speak with her. But I pray that you will not get your hopes up, Matthew. I think you have been under a great deal of strain."
"You're a perfect angel," he said. "Tell Lavinia the wedding is not off, by any means! Ghost or not, she must marry me--or I cannot live with myself!"
"I shall do what I can," Mary said, heading for the stairs. "I fear, though, that quite aside from Lavinia's preferences, you will have difficulty persuading the Church of England to sanction it."
Mary stepped past Carson into the empty schoolroom. "Hello," she said softly, feeling mildly apprehensive and severely foolish.
Of course there was no answer. She glanced about at her abandoned school things, spun the globe, kicked the hated volume of Tennyson out of habit. She was rubbing at the remnant of an old message written on the blackboard when something gauzy drifted into her line of vision.
"Lavinia," breathed Mary, feeling faint. "It really is you." The former Miss Swire hovered a few inches off the ground, looking essentially the same as she had before her death--thinner, maybe, and paler, definitely, with what appeared to be a bedsheet wrapped around her narrow frame.
"Mary! I'm so glad you've come. Won't you sit?" she asked, gesturing toward a small wooden chair in the center of the room.
Mary perched awkwardly on the edge of the seat. "Lavinia, I am so sorry, on so many levels, that I can barely--"
"No, don't be. I mean, you did kiss my fiancé--with tongue, I hasten to point out--but that sort of thing matters very little on the astral plane."
"I suppose that is good news for me."
"Well, I think so." Lavinia smiled. "I knew it would be possible to have a logical conversation with you. Matthew was being quite unreasonable earlier. I had to send him away."
"Yes, I heard about the Tennyson."
"Oh, it was dreadful--but that wasn't the worst of it. Matthew still seems convinced that he can undo what happened between us, if only he tries hard enough. But it's not possible. We can only move forward."
"You are quite right," said Mary.
"Anyhow, there are a few points I'd like to clear up, before I move on myself. Chief among them: trust me when I say that it was the Spanish influenza that killed me. I should know, seeing as I'm the one who basically choked to death. So I don't want anyone to think I died of a broken heart."
"Of course not," said Mary. "The idea is rather pathetic."
"Isn't it just? After all, it is the twentieth century."
"True," said Mary, "for however much that is worth."
"Second: about Sir Richard. I hope you weren't too fond of him."
"No, not especially."
"Horrid man! I can't deny that his death gave me great pleasure. But I want you to know I did it as much for you as for myself."
"For me? I can't think what you mean."
"You needn't be coy with me, Mary--there are no secrets from the dead. The curious incident of the Turk in the night-time, the bargain with Sir Richard, the threat of exposure: I know it all. And I'm afraid that Matthew does, too."
"Well, he does now, anyway, for he's had his ear to the keyhole this whole time." Lavinia huffed and floated closer to the door. "You may as well come in, Matthew. I've something to say that concerns both of you."
"Err, very sorry," he said, entering red-faced.
"Now," continued Lavinia, "you two mustn't drag it out any longer: you simply must get married. And to each other."
"No," said Matthew stonily. "After what I've done, I can never marry anyone."
"Oh, please, Matthew," said Lavinia. "Given half the chance, I'd have kissed Mary, too."
"Really?" they replied in unison.
"You needn't sound so surprised," she said. "Beautiful creature. And Matthew, you must marry her. If not for yourselves, then for the good of every other marriageable young person in England. Or how many more fiancées must the pair of you dispense with before giving in to the inevitable?"
Matthew and Mary looked at one another for a long while. "It does seem churlish to disregard the final wishes of a ghost," he said at last.
Lavinia smiled. "That's more like it. I'm so glad we were able to sort this out. And now, I really must be leaving you."
"Leaving?" said Matthew. "But where will you go?"
"You haven't guessed? I'm young, I'm single, and in a few days it will be 1920. I'm bound for London, of course, for an afterlife packed with jazz and beaded dresses and gin."
"Gin? Can a ghost imbibe?"
"I'm not altogether certain yet, but I will surely try. Happy Christmas," she said, and kissed them both. "When you come to town, won't you look for me at the Savoy?"
With that Lavinia wafted off into the distance, drifting and gliding to a song inaudible to other ears.
"What exactly is she doing?"
Matthew squinted after her. "I think it is the foxtrot."
"I can't believe it," said Mary shakily, reaching for his hand. "It seemed so implausible. But in the end I am forced to admit that there truly was a ghost at Downton."
"There was," said Matthew, gathering her into his arms. "A real ghost. Oh, Mary, do you know what this means?"
"Yes, Matthew?" she said breathlessly, tipping her face up to his.
"That I had better run to check on my mother immediately."
"Oh God!" said Mary, bolting for the door. "Suppose that somehow she got her hands on a real zombie!"
That was the last anyone saw of the ghost at Downton Abbey.
"It is just as I originally suspected," declared Violet as she was taken down to supper. "Gone entirely by Boxing Day."
"Good riddance!" exclaimed Cora. "I don't think I realized how much bother a ghost would mean for Downton." She shuddered. "Imagine having two of them! I no longer envy the Marchioness one bit."
"No, indeed," said Violet. "And if you'd only met the late Marquess, I believe you'd positively pity her."
"I suppose it all worked out neatly for the ghost, just as it always does," said Isobel stiffly. "But no one ever spares a second thought for the plight of the zombies."
"A toast to Matthew and Mary, together at last," said the Earl. He raised his glass. "My dear boy, now that you are to be my son, I believe I am fonder of you than ever."
"To Matthew and Mary," repeated the group, crystal clinking all around.
They were quite a merry party that evening. The bride-to-be looked radiant, her intended less pallid than he had in ages.
"So, my darling," said Matthew into Mary's ear, "to your already long list of talents, I suppose we must now add communing with spirits from beyond the grave. Tell me that you shan't give up the hobby after we are married."
"I give you fair warning," she said with a smile. "If you make another such suggestion, I shall refuse to marry you after all."
"Then I swear to remain silent on that score," he replied, and sealed the vow with a kiss.