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        เครื่องสล็อตที่ดีที่สุด

        Glen Pearson

        “The Forest Secret” – Chapter 18

        Posted on June 3, 2019

        With good fortune, the female security officer who had shown Stephanie and Charley the Forest on their earlier tour greeted the Paris team as it approached the security tent.

        “Bonjour,” she said in a pleasant enough greeting.  Charley introduced Bernard, Denis and Mary to the officer – Elaine had a deadline and was needed back at the office, somewhat chagrined that she wouldn’t be on the rather exceptional visit to the upper extremities of the cathedral.

        Bernard took immediate charge of the situation, saying that he had been in touch with both Ministry and security departments to ensure that the visit to where Aramis had perished was permissible.

        “Yes, I have received my instructions and I’m happy to assist.”  She led them to a vertical crane lift that had been assembled on the sanctuary floor for help in disassembling some of the ruined timbers in the Forest.

        “The elevating platform can take only four people at a time,” the officer noted, “so it will take a few minutes to get everyone up there.”

        “I don’t wish to start until a representative of the Ministry of Culture joins us,” Bernard cautioned.  “I had put in a personal request to Minister Moreau that someone be present should we find the artifact we are looking for.”

        “Ah, he is here already Monsieurand is already up in the breams,” the officer said.  They craned their necks and in the partially secluded timbers above saw a man in a yellow hard hat looking at them and waving.

        Bernard, Charley, the security officer and Denis went up first, wearing helmets and fastened by a security line to the platform.  They greeted the ministry official as the crane journeyed back down to collect the others.  Taking advantage of the pause in the events, Bernard briefed the official on the specially placed container that was once in the Forest and hopefully would be located today.  The man appeared dubious, but understood that he had to afford all assistance he could, since the minister had spoken to him directly.

        They watched as Mary, accompanied by Stephanie, stepped off the platform a little unsurely but then finding her balance.

        “I had some extra handrails temporarily placed along the path, Madam.  You can hold on to them as we move towards the far end of the building,” the security officer said kindly.

        Stephanie preceded them all, capturing both video and still shots and endeavouring not to get in the way amidst all the cramped spaces.

        There was something of pageantry and pathos in how the older woman sought to make her way not only through a charred and ancient forest, but through her own history. What thoughts must she be entertaining – a kiss, many kisses, lengthy talks, risks, God, love, intrigue? Surely all of them.  Yet she held her bearing, revealing little in her countenance but an enlightened dignity that came from years of refining the spirit.

        When they came to the first transverse, where the crossbeams intersected the planked pathway, Mary’s safety line was unfastened and then rejoined on the hand railing on the other side.  She chanced to look down in that moment of stillness, but rather than sensing dizziness or vertigo,  her spirit felt elevated, lofty, inspired.  All with her spotted it in an instant, lending a certain sacredness to the moment.

        At last they came within 10 feet of the smaller rose paneled window, scarred from the flames and heat but nevertheless intact.  Charley was about to show Mary where the body of Aramis was discovered but she surprised everyone by moving directly to the spot.  Instinct had taken over and she moved as if reliving the past.  

        The tears that came to Mary in that moment went unheralded but not unseen.  It was like standing at an altar where the spirit rises to something beyond life, past the knowable.  They all remained absolutely still as the woman’s eyes ran over the contours of the beam running upwards at it steep angle, the heavy bolts affixing the beam to the thick rafter, and then on the place on the oak where her old love had breathed his last.

        Surprisingly, she reached to Bernard’s hand for support and gently sunk to her knees, hands running across the grain.

        “He was here, correct?” she asked, looking up at the security officer.

        “Yes … exactly,” the woman replied.

        Through a catch in her throat, Mary revealed, “He laid on this spot to protect this.”

        Her hand had folded over the side of the beam closest to the window and away from prying eyes. They all shuffled to see what she was doing until at last they spotted it.

        The narrow wooden box was affixed to the beam by two screws at either end.  Unless one looked carefully, it hugged the profile of the beam and would never have been discerned.  Mary ran her hand along its length, her eyes closed but her memory fully open to its past.

        Eventually she looked up at those around her and smiled.  “I knew it, but had to see it.  I think when Aramis realized he could not remove the box in time, he chose to cover it with his body, his final breath of life.”

        She grabbed Bernard’s hand once more and awkwardly raised herself to a standing position.

        “No one ever saw it during the discovery of the body or the clean-up from the fire,” the security officer said.

        “He designed it that way,” Mary said, smiling at her.  “It was attached below the edge of the beam and could only be spotted by standing in front of the rose window there, on the other side.”

        The official from the ministry moved to the window and looked back, but even then he barely could distinguish the shape of the oak container from the side of the beam.  He smiled at the sheer genius of it, then looked up to the officer, requesting that she use her radio  to call up someone with a toolbox.

        Mary then talked of the night they had installed it and how Aramis had predrilled with a hand drill some holes to make it easier for the screws to enter the oak when the box was finally affixed.  “I helped to hold it while he, with some effort, affixed the screws to the beam and the box with them.  It must have taken us half an hour.”

        They were all drawn back into the moment, each imagining what it must have been like and how quiet they had to be.

        “Did you think you were maybe breaking the law, Madam,” the Ministry man inquired with a touch of authority in his tone.

        She shook her head before saying, “No, we thought we were saving history.  I left for England shortly after we placed it here and I had just assumed that he would have returned it to the family that it was stolen from by the Nazis.  I honestly thought it was gone from here until I heard from Charley and Stephanie here that he had climbed up here during the fire and died in this location of the Forest.  This was the only reason he would have come.”

        The government officer let it go, realizing the motive for protecting the painting was likely what mattered.

        The maintenance man had climbed the stairs and suddenly appeared behind them.  Instructed to remove the case from the beam, he brought out a cordless drill with the suitable attachment and asked for help as he pulled out the two screws.

        “Please, let me do it,” Mary suggested.  “I held it as Aramis put it in place and now I can help take it out.”  A smile crossed everyone’s lips at her wish.  It seemed entirely suitable.

        A minute later, Mary and the worker lifted it off the side of the beam and laid it in front of the others.

        “What now?” asked Bernard.

        The man from the ministry was firm in that he wanted to see if the painting was indeed inside. The worker discovered that the lid actually slid down the entire length of the box through a groove on either side. He pulled it and though the thin lid was stuck by friction in a couple of locations, it eventually gave way.  

        And there in front of them was a rolled-up piece of art canvas, about two feet long, and clearly aged. The official, now with a blue latex glove on each hand, lifted it out and unrolled the material.

        “Mon Dieu. Mon Dieu,” he gasped.  There before them was a remarkable portrait of an angel, looking to the ground.

        “What is it?” Bernard blurted.

        In response, the man sat down heavily on the beam and covered his eyes with his hand.

        “The Forest Secret” – Chapter 17

        Posted on June 2, 2019

        Stephanie and Charley sat in a special pew that had been reserved for the Weatherby family since the early 19th century.  Mary had met them at the entrance and walked with them down to the second row from the front.  Little did her visitors know that they would be captives in that pew for the next two hours.

        Not that they minded too much.  The structure was magnificent in almost every aspect – towers, windows, sanctuary, grounds, roof and music.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, whose home they were now in, was on a tour of African nations on this Sunday morning.  The sunshine had lingered for another day and rays filtered in through the numerous glass windows, giving Charley the sense she was in a kaleidoscope.  

        The ceiling was vaulted in grand, sweeping curves, with pillars and supports sweeping endlessly upward. Built in 1077, the structure had stood the test of time.  Thomas Becket had been martyred here 100 years later and shortly thereafter a significant fire tore through the structure.  Becket’s death and sympathy following the fire saw the popularity of the cathedral surge.

        Charley was impressed with the piety evident in Mary’s behaviour.  She knew the hymns by heart, knelt at all the appropriate times, and listened intently to the message delivered from the elevated pulpit only a few feet in front of them.

        Mary had them exit by a side door, in part to avoid the crowds gathered around the senior priest but also to show them something meaningful to her.  They wandered among tombstones and memorials until the elderly woman stopped in front of a number of stones sequestered within a low iron fence. The names on most of the stones were familiar: Millicent, William, Elizabeth, James.

        “Forgive me, I always come out this way to spend time with my family.  Just being here helps me to realize that I will be joining them soon.”

        Her visitors didn’t know what to say.  Mary’s candour had caught them off-guard and yet was delightfully fresh and sincere.

        “Come, let’s follow this path through the cemetery.  Thomas is at the end of it with the car.  I’m having a special lunch prepared for the two of you.”

        Fifteen minutes later they were sitting down to fish and chips and Shepherd’s Pie.  “I thought we should get you some classic British food before you return to France,” said Mary, delighted at having surprised them.

        The women ate heartily, happy to be together.  For Mary especially, the company was a welcome change after so much isolation.

        “Mary,” Charley said at last.  “Do you know why Aramis went up into the Forest?  I mean, it makes no sense.  Did something special happen up there between you two?  Did you carve your initials in one of the beams for posterity’s sake?” she inquired with a smile, which her host returned.

        “We kissed there many times,” Mary said shyly.  “His parents were still alive then and mine were … well, you know.  We had no place that was private.  It became a secret place we called our own – close to God and close to one another.”

        Both Stephanie and Charley thought of how awkward it must have been up so high.  But then again it was a intimate and risky – the kind of things young lovers thrive on.

        “Was he a guide then?” Stephanie asked.

        “No, he became one shortly after though.  His uncle was a senior guide and … well , he was a wonderful man and understood our need to be alone.  There wasn’t much security back in the 1960s.  Sometimes the door was even left open because nothing ever happened there except tourists and religious services.  We would climb up the stairs by St. Anne’s door and make our way to the top in the dark. O, it was so exciting and exotic.”

        “We took those stairs a few days ago and it was neither of those things,” Charley noted sadly.

        “Is the cathedral ruined – fully damaged, I mean?  It would be tragic if it were.”

        Charley looked at her and smiled.  “No, much of it can be rescued and entire sections of the building were unharmed except for smoke and water damage.  But the Forest – well, it is mostly gone, except for the portion where Aramis was found. Those beams didn’t burn through or collapse even after being exposed to the flames.”

        “But dear Aramis was,” Mary said, a catch in her throat.

        “Not really, Mary. He was burned, yes, but firefighters had already arrived during that time and put the flames out before his body was fully consumed.”

        The older woman sat quietly, her face a map of grief and memory.

        “Can I ask you again? Why do you think he went up there? To be with the memory of you, of your secret place?”

        “O no, he was a romantic but always sensible.  He went to save the painting, I suspect?”

        The silence was so intense that her visitors didn’t know what to think.  They waited for her to continue, but when she didn’t, Charley pressed.

        “The painting?”

        Mary sighed, as if she knew this moment had to come.  “My father dealt in art and Paris was a wonderful place to discover paintings of all kinds in the 60s.  My mother used to say he spent more time looking at the women in his paintings than he did at her.  It wasn’t true of course, but he did purchase expensive works of art and sometimes would take Millicent and me along with him as he bargained for prices.”

        She paused for a time to take a drink of her coffee, reminiscing and attempting to recall all the details.

        “One day, father’s driver drove us to an old warehouse in a run-down part of the city that hadn’t really recovered from the war.  It was almost in a state of limbo – not destroyed but not rebuilt.  While father and his agent negotiated with some German art supplier for a painting he wanted, the two of us went exploring.  It was a dirty old place, full of plaster dust and rain on the cement from holes in the roof.  But we came upon some men looking over what look like an old painting of a young man in a funny hat.  We knew French well and caught them saying that the canvas had been stolen by the Nazis in 1943 from a wealthy person’s chateau somewhere outside the city.  It had been stashed in the warehouse originally, being saved for when the Nazi’s built the Führermuseumin honour of Hitler. Of course, things took a different turn and after the war it had remained in the warehouse and was only discovered by these men a few days before.  Apparently, it was worth a fortune and rather than returning it to its owner, they were going to sell it to a German buyer the next week.”

        “And they didn’t know you were there, listening?” Stephanie asked.

        “O no, but we were terrified.  We watched as they rolled up the canvas and placed it is a long tube and stored it in a secret place near the top of a warehouse shelf.  Then they left and so did we.  Father had been looking furiously for us and scolded us before we headed back to the car.”

        “Are you saying that’s the painting Aramis was looking for?” Charley asked.

        “The exact one.”

        “But you said it was in a warehouse?”

        “Not after we stole it,” Mary said, her cheeks flushing red and a gleam in her eye.

        “What?” blurted Stephanie

        “I told Aramis of what we had heard and he thought it was a crime what the men were doing.  He suggested we break into the building and just take it.  That night we dressed in dark clothing and entered through a broken window.  With the help of moonlight coming in through the holes in the roof, I led him to the shelf, where he grabbed the tube and we secretly came out the way we went in.”

        “This is incredible,” said Charlie.  “And how did it end up at the cathedral?”

        “The men who had sold my father the painting he wanted visited our home the next week, subtly attempting to figure out if we had the painting somehow.  They knew we were there the day it went missing and were sure we had something to do with it.  Poor father.  He was clueless and we stayed out of their line of sight as much as possible.”

        “And so you placed it in Notre Dame Cathedral to protect it?” Stephanie reasoned.

        “Yes.  Aramis constructed a wooden box of oak, narrow and just wide enough to enclose the tube.  We then went up to the Forest together and worked to screw the box on the side of one of the great beams where people wouldn’t see it.  It was secured on the third timber from the end, just in front of the smaller rose window.”

        Charley listened in wonder.  “That’s where they found his body – the exact place,” she said.

        Stephanie thumbed through the drive in her Leica and located one of the digital photos of the area. “Here,” she said.  “This is where he was.”

        Mary put on her glasses and looked momentarily before her eyes could no longer focus through the tears. “That’s it,” she murmured.  “It’s the exact spot.  Dear Aramis.  I wonder if it’s still there?”

        They fell into silence, each lost in thoughts of mystery and excitement.  Finally, Charley grabbed both of Mary’s hands.

        “I think it’s time that the three of us took a trip, Mary.  It just wouldn’t be proper to go without you.  Are you able?”

        Wiping the tears from her cheeks, she squeezed the reporter’s hands and nodded.  “Yes, tomorrow.  It will be my final gift to Aramis.  We go tomorrow.” 

        “The Forest Secret” – Chapter 16

        Posted on May 31, 2019

        The effect on their emotions from the revelation that Mary Weatherby was not only alive but seated before them was mercurial.  Charley and Stephanie had come from Paris in the hopes of finding the elder British lady only to hear from Denis that she had died.  To suddenly have the story burst alive again with Mary’s revelation filled the two women with a sense of fascination, gratitude and hope.

        While a lunch of cold meats, salads and coffee was being prepared in the kitchen, Mary took them for a tour of the old manor, along with the grounds and pond at the rear of the building, surrounded by grass, trees and a seeming endless supply of birds welcoming the arrival of spring.  For a brief time, they sat in some chairs overlooking the water while they waited for lunch.

        “What happened after you left Paris?  Did you marry?  Children? Were you ever in touch with Aramis again?”

        All of these questions coming from Charley like machine gun bursts caused Mary  to wave a weathered hand in front of her face in supplication to go slower.

        “O Mary, I’m sorry,” Charley replied, embarrassed.  “There was nothing professional about my conduct just now.  It’s just that we had spent our evening yesterday drinking down our sorrows at the thought that you were gone.  We just weren’t prepared for today and finding you.”

        The older woman reached out and grabbed her visitor’s hand momentarily.  “Please, no apologies necessary.  I’m afraid part of the fault is mine for remaining so reclusive in recent years.” 

        Mary rubbed her hands over her dress, smoothing out the wrinkles.  “Now, let me attempt to answer your questions.  Yes, I did marry – to James, a thoughtful and kind diplomat, who had been posted to Hong Kong and then India.  But while in Asia, he suffered a serious bout of malaria and never fully recovered.  We had a good life but it was brief.  He died in 1985.  We had no children and I never remarried.  My sister Millicent married young but then divorced.  Her Alzheimer’s set in early and I promised to take care of her here at Weatherby Manor.  She had no children either, so it now seems that this estate will pass on to the university once I am gone.  They have their own designs for it which will require a major overhaul to the building and the property, so I’ve been inclined to just do the  basics in maintenance until that point.”

        Stephanie had been moving around the grounds taking photos and returned in time to hear Mary’s story.

        “Seems like life might have been a bit lonely for you, Mary.  I’m sorry.”

        Their host looked at the photographer, touched by her sympathy.  “In truth, it has been rather isolating.  But I have my books and dabble in painting, so it keeps me occupied. They have me on the trustee board for the university, but that is only because I own the grounds they wish to possess. I enjoy being on the Auxiliary at the cathedral, and it occasionally makes me think of Notre Dame … and Aramis.”

        Just then a small bell rang inside the house, alerting everyone that lunch was served.  They gathered around an old plank table and took their seats.  Charley was surprised to watch Mary as she bowed her head, offering a silent prayer. Each took their lunch, while Mary poured lemonade in tall glasses with a lime wedge.

        “Now, I didn’t answer the one question you asked of me,” Mary noted.

        “About if you ever saw Aramis again,” Charley noted.

        “Yes.  Well the truth about that is rather complicated you see. We were deeply in love before my parent’s demanded my return here to Canterbury.  They thought I could do better for a husband.  I loved them and didn’t wish to stain my father’s career in the diplomatic service and so complied.  But I’m afraid my heart didn’t.  We continued to correspond, even though I was for years in Asia with James.”

        “Did your husband know?” Stephanie asked.  

        “I thought it best to tell him.  He had been a young associate of my father’s in the service and I believed I should tell him myself just in case my father said something to him about it.  James took it in stride – as he was trained, I’m sure – and we never really discussed it again.  Plus, when correspondence arrived from Aramis, I didn’t want to always fret about it being discovered.”

        “So, you never saw Aramis Caron again?” Charley inquired.

        “I didn’t say that,” their host said with her head tilted slightly and the beginning of a grin on her face.  They waited for her to continue, intrigued.

        “When my husband finally passed away, Aramis was beside himself with worry for me.  We agreed to meet in Normandy, at a small hotel on the beach there, the du Pasino, for the weekend.  I suppose I needed him, but as soon as I embraced him, I knew I had never stopped wanting him.  James was prim and proper, while Aramis was passionate and soulish.  I was a mixture of both, but life with James was a steady thing, while I was still harbouring the fire of my youth.  It was a meeting of the souls between Aramis and me.  We had both changed in subtle ways, me more than him, but we enjoyed our long walks, wonderful talks, and delightful dinners. When he took me to the ferry to come back here, I just couldn’t hold the tears back.  Neither could he.”

        “Did you see him following Normandy?” asked Charley.

        “No.  Being with him burst my youthful passions into a bonfire and I so wanted to be with him.  But my husband’s estate had to be settled and was in the beginning stages of losing my sister to disease.  There are duties in things like that.  When Aramis asked me to join him in Paris, I declined.  He asked once more a few weeks later and I responded in the same fashion, only more forceful I think.  I never heard from him after that.  I suspect I broke his heart for a second time.”

        “So, all these years, you two were never in touch again?”

        “No, it was over. But a love like that is never over, is it?  I still yearn for him today, as I sometimes do for the companionship of James.  We women are complex creatures, aren’t we?”

        Again, she produced a tissue from her sleeve and grew lost in her thoughts.

        “I have so much more I wish to ask you, Mary,” Charley said.

        “I’m sure you do, but I think I’ve had too much emotion for one day.  This is Saturday.  Why don’t you both come with me to the Cathedral tomorrow morning and we can come back here for lunch to continue our conversation?”

        Both Charley and Stephanie realized they had put Mary through more than they had planned.  She was clearly hurting.

        “I’m sorry Mary,” Charley said while touching her arm.  “We will see you tomorrow.”

        “I will wait for you outside the big door,” was all Mary said before she went through a door, down a hallway, and into her room.

        “O dear.  I think we overwhelmed her,” Charley observed.

        “What about us?” her friend replied.  “I think she reciprocated and overwhelmed us.”

        They cleared the dishes from the table and took them to the kitchen, then proceeded out the kitchen door to walk back to the gate.  There was no Thomas or cook, just the two of them lost in thought over the remarkable story they had just heard.

        What Wealth Once Meant

        Posted on May 30, 2019

        He was what every rugged capitalist dreamed of being near the end of the 19th century. Bold, with a great capacity for investing money, Andrew Carnegie had built a fortune in steel, railroads and bridges.  With some other key industrialists, like J. P. Morgan, he helped build the city of Pittsburgh into a powerhouse.  Everyone with money wanted to be like him and those without dreamed of living like him.

        And then Carnegie wrote an article titled The Gospel of Wealth in 1889 and immediately put everyone with money on notice that they had a special duty.  Just as the religious gospel required believers to adhere to its tenets and share the news, Carnegie reminded his peers that along with their great wealth came a responsibility to use it for the sake of others.

        Andrew Carnegie wasn’t just spouting theory but based it on a life of sacrifice and example.??One of the richest men in American history, he regarded all surplus wealth in his possession to be trust funds for the greater public good.??He sincerely believed that the business mind was best suited to managing those funds, not for the wealthy but for the rest.??Here’s how he put it in his article:?

        This,?then, is held to be the?duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner in which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community.??The man of wealth becomes merely the trustee and agent for his poorer brethren.

        This last sentence is stunning and came from an influential person who practiced the personal gospel he preached.??During the last 18 years of his life, Carnegie gave away $350 million to charities, foundations and universities.??That was a full 90% of his fortune.??He challenged other millionaires to do the same.??He helped construct 3000 public libraries, invested heavily in world peace initiatives, education and scientific research.??He assisted in building several universities and that great music venue named after him: Carnegie Hall.

        Wealth to Carnegie was ultimately about influence and if it wasn’t used for the public good, then its purpose was wasted.??He bemoaned the capitalist giants who complained about taxes yet left governments with little choice when it came to assisting the less-fortunate.??And to some degree, the great industrialists followed a portion of his example.??It was the age of burgeoning capitalism and there was an inherent burden placed upon those benefitting from it to take care of the societies they oversaw and from which they personally benefitted.

        That’s not the capitalism of today, nor is it the corporate leader of the modern era.??Over the course of the transformative years between 1965 and 1985, Western civilization moved from a more traditionally balanced outlook towards wealth, debt and accountability and to an all-out manic form of consumerism and wealth acquisition.??This is significant, since an entire culture that had existed in a more or less stable economic pattern changed into something else entirely in only two decades

        The entire globe was challenged by economic turbulence in the 1970s – oil embargoes, inflation, severe debt loads, corporate takeovers followed by bankruptcies, lending scandals.  To rein all of that in, it was decided that the United States and Britain, Canada, too, to a lesser degree, had become too collective.  The post-war era had been characterized by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the mighty Labour movement in Britain.  These developments had created strict regulations on banking and business and saw to the rising power of workers and unions.  Social programs were enhanced and an age of social experimentation was underway on both sides of the Atlantic.  

        Then he decision was made to begin the process of separating wealth from accountability to broader society in general. Soon enough they were pursuing a kind of global economic order that relished one free market around the world.  It was to finally free the capitalist elite from the constraints of government regulations and it flourished so quickly that no one was able to bring it back under control once the excesses of the model began to emerge.

        And then, in 1981, Margaret Thatcher said an amazing thing: “Economics are the method: The object is to change the soul.”  And that is what happened, with hordes of money greasing the wheels.  The leaders of the movement, including the political kind, facilitated this separation of wealth from people – a development that eventually paved the way for riches to be accumulated without labour, citizens or even local communities.

        The great guru of capitalism, Adam Smith, warned about this very threat, as Carnegie himself did two centuries later.??Now wealth is an increasingly isolated commodity, just like those who possess it.???More troubling, unaccountable wealth is now permitted to influence governments to remarkable degrees, along with their trade policies, economic practice and social programs.

        Robert Kennedy, too, warned about this.  In his view, and the view of most leaders prior to the explosion of modern capitalism, government and the people were to serve as counterbalances to any age of over-the-top greed.  In his words:  “I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil. Government belongs wherever evil needs an adversary and there are people in distress.”   Those days are now gone and will only come back when we call and vote for them and responsible business leaders help to lead the movement.

        “The Forest Secret” – Chapter 15

        Posted on May 29, 2019

        The road rounded a grouping of trees and turned towards a stately old manner that had clearly seen better days.  It possessed a lower profile than many others from over 200 years earlier but carried an intimacy that Charley regarded as quite beautiful.  It looked like four buildings of differing heights joined together to form one large manor.  Chimneys rustically rose above the peaks of all four roofs, with smoke coming out of the largest structure.  The slate roofs were stained from years of weathering and the windows and doors appeared badly in need of repair and paint.

        Their guide led them across the great grassy lawn that spanned the entirety of the building’s width and was brilliantly green from the rains of spring.

        “My name is Thomas, by the way – Thomas Culper.  I’m the groundskeeper you were referring to earlier,  although the lady of the manner has little interest in outer appearances anymore.  She just wishes me to do basic maintenance.”

        Before they could ask any questions, the three of them approached the front door, which was at ground level, without any stairs or elevation – unusual for the time in which is was constructed.

        Thomas opened the door and had the two women follow him inside, proceeding through an entrance way, an old-fashioned kitchen and into a sitting room.  Before them in an upholstered chair sat an elderly woman whose eyes were keenly on them.

        “Please, sit in these chairs,” she said,  pointing directly in front of her.  “I have asked Maisie to prepare us some tea – or would you prefer coffee?”

        “Tea is fine,”Charley responded as she and Stephanie took their seats.

        “You are American,” the woman noted.  “I can tell by your accent.

        Charley nodded.  

        “A pleasure to meet you,” the woman said graciously.  “I am Mrs. Sandhurst and I’m the proprietor of these grounds, at least for a little while longer.”

        Something in her accent and intensity of her gaze was alluring and unusual for someone her age. She appeared sharp and intuitive. She remained in her seat with a throw covering her legs, likely because of the cold.  She had kept herself well – her hair well coiffed and her face alive and still radiant.

        “So, you have a come on a mission?” she asked.

        “You might call it that,” Charley said through a smile.  “Actually, I’m from the New York Times and was sent on assignment to cover the terrible fire at Notre Dame Cathedral a few days ago.”

        “I wept for hours,” he woman responded.  “We English put a lot of stock in our cathedrals, as you surely know, but for the Europeans, Notre Dame was the epicentre of Christendom.  It was so tragic.”

        There was something deeply moving in how she said her words – a sincerity that was obvious.  

        “So, you are on assignment with this lovely creature,” she said, pointing to Stephanie.  Charley did the introduction, including that she was Canadian.  “Ah, one of Commonwealth sisters,” she said with a natural affection.

        “But you were kind of correct when you said we were on a mission.  It didn’t start that way, but it turned out that an elderly French gentleman perished in the cathedral fire and we …”

        She stopped the moment as she saw the colour drain from the woman’s face.  She appeared to be in some kind of shock.

        “Aramis died in the fire,” she gasped, pulling a tissue from her sleeve.  “And you wish to talk about Aramis Caron because he was the man in the fire?  I … I didn’t know.  The news programs I watched said no one had perished in the fire.”

        “His body was discovered the next day as they were cleaning up the debris.  You … you knew him – Aramis, I mean?”

        “Why would you say that?”

        “In our research, we discovered that the Weatherby family had a link to Mr. Caron.  And the look on your face just now seemed to imply that you might know him, Mrs. Sandhurst.”

        “Why do you say that the Weatherbys would know him?”

        Both Stephanie and Charley filled her in on what had been discovered in the time since the fire and of the painting hanging on the wall in Caron’s majestic study.

        “Do you know who the woman in the painting was?” the host inquired.

        “Yes, her name was Mary Weatherby and for a brief time she was in love with Caron while her family was stationed in Paris in the 1960s.  For some reason, her father and mother looked down on their relationship and sent Mary back here, to Canterbury.  But she didn’t come back alone.  Apparently the mother Elizabeth and a sister named Millicent returned with her. After that, the trail runs cold and we know nothing else.”

        “And what of this Mary person?”

        “That’s just it, we found out yesterday that she died a few years ago.”

        This time that woman revealed a mixture of surprise and humour on her face.

        Charley decided to take a leap.  “Was it your sister that died?”

        The woman merely nodded. “She died of Alzheimer’s five years ago. It as a sad end, but gentle in its own way.”

        A moment’s silence followed, partly out of sadness and also out of respect.

        “Our researchers in Paris discovered that the painting was composed by Claude Baudin, who apparently was a friend of Aramis.  Had you heard of him?”

        “O yes; I even met him on a number of occasions.  Quite charming, though somewhat moody,” Sandhurst answered through a quaint smile, then continued.  “Can I ask what is the purpose of this story of yours and why is Mary so vital to it?”

        “Few know that Aramis died in the fire, though it was in a couple of media stories.  But no one knows why he went into the building, knowing what was waiting for him.  However, he left behind over 80 journals in which he kept meticulous notes.  Some of the pages have spoken of his love for your sister.  In fact, he seemed besotted.  And then when it was over with Mary, it appears as a tragedy to him.  He seems to have never fully recovered.  We had just hoped that Mary could fill in some of the blanks, but that’s not to be.”

        “Did he suffer – in the fire, I mean?  He must have.”  

        To their surprise there were tears in the older woman’s eyes as she asked the question.  Charley wanted to reach out to her, but she was too far away.

        “The coroner doesn’t think so.  Seems he believes that Aramis Caron died of smoke inhalation before the flames reached him up there.”

        “Up there?”

        “Yes,” Charley replied. “High up in roof.”

        “The Forest, you mean?”

        “How … how do you know that name?”

        She was fully sobbing now.  “We spent many a time up there, Aramis and me.  You see, it was my sister Millicent that died of Alzheimer’s.  I am Mary – Mary Weatherby, and I think you should probably stay for lunch.”