|Publisher:||Alan Rodgers Books LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.35(d)|
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THE RALESTONES COME HOME
"Once upon a time two brave princes and a beautiful princess set out to make their fortunes —" began the dark-haired, dark-eyed boy by the roadster.
"Royalty is out of fashion," corrected Ricky Ralestone somewhat indifferently. "Can't you do better than that?" She gave her small, pert hat an exasperated tweak which brought the unoffending bowl-shaped bit of white felt into its proper position over her right eyebrow. "How long does it take Rupert to ask a single simple question?"
Her brother Val watched the gas gage on the instrument board of the roadster fluctuate wildly as the attendant of the station shook the hose to speed the flow of the last few drops. Five gallons — a dollar ten. Did he have that much? He began to assemble various small hoards of change from different pockets.
"Do you think we're going to like this?" Ricky waved her hand vaguely in a gesture which included a dilapidated hot-dog stand and a stretch of road white-hot under the steady baking of the sun.
"Well, I think that Pirate's Haven is slightly different from our present surroundings. Where's your proper pride? Not everyone can be classed among the New Poor," Val observed judiciously.
"Nobility in the bread line." His sister sniffed with what she fondly believed was the air of a Van Astor dowager.
"We never relinquished the title, did we? Rupert's still the Marquess of Lorne."
"After some two hundred years in America I am afraid that we would find ourselves strangers in England. And Lorne crumbled to dust long ago."
"But he's still Marquess of Lorne," she persisted.
"All right. And what does that make you?"
"Lady Richanda, of course, silly. Can't you remember the wording of the old charter? And you're Viscount —"
"Wrong there," Val corrected her. "I'm only a lord, by courtesy, unless we can bash Rupert on the head some dark night and chuck him into the bayou."
"Lord Valerius." She rolled it upon her tongue. "Marquess, Lady, and Lord Val, out to seek their fortunes. Pity we can't do it in the traditional family way."
"But we can't, you know," he protested laughingly. "I believe that piracy is no longer looked upon with favor by the more solid members of any community. Though plank-walking is an idea to keep in mind when the bill collectors start to draw in upon us."
"Here comes Rupert at last. Rupert," she raised her voice as their elder brother opened the door by the driver's seat, "shall we all go and be pirates? Val has some lovely gory ideas."
"Not just yet anyway — we still have a roof over our heads," he answered as he slid in behind the wheel. "We should have taken the right turn a mile back."
"Bother!" Ricky surveyed as much of her face as she could see in the postage-stamp mirror of her compact. "I don't think I'm going to like Louisiana."
"Maybe Louisiana won't care for you either," Val offered slyly. "After all, we dyed-in-the-wool Yanks coming to live in the deep South —"
"Speak for yourself, Val Ralestone." She applied a puff carefully to the tip of her upturned nose. "Since we've got this barn of a place on our hands, we might as well live in it. Too bad you couldn't have persuaded our artist tenant to sign another lease, Rupert."
"He's gone to spend a year in Italy. The place is in fairly good condition though. LeFleur said that as long as we don't use the left wing and close off the state bedrooms, we can manage nicely."
"State bedrooms —" Val drew a deep breath which was meant to be one of reverence but which turned into a sneeze as the roadster's wheels raised the dust. "How does it feel to own such magnificence, Rupert?"
"Not so good," he replied honestly. "A house as big as Pirate's Haven is a burden if you don't have the cash to keep it up properly. Though this artist chap did make a lot of improvements on his own."
"But think of the Long Hall —" began Ricky, rolling her eyes heavenward.
"And just what do you know about the Long Hall?" demanded Rupert.
"Why, that's where dear Great-great-uncle Rick's ghost is supposed to walk, isn't it?" she asked innocently. "I hope that our late tenant didn't scare him away. It gives one such a blue-blooded feeling to think of having an active ghost on the premises. A member of one's own family, too!"
"Sure. Teach him — or it — some parlor tricks and we'll show it — or him — off every afternoon between three and four. We might even be able to charge admission and recoup the family fortune," Val suggested brightly.
"Have you no reverence?" demanded his sister. "And besides, ghosts only walk at night."
"Now that's something we'll have to investigate," Val interrupted her. "Do ghosts have union rules? I mean, I wouldn't want Great-great-uncle Rick to march up and down the carriage drive with a sign reading, 'The Ralestones are unfair to ghosts,' or anything like that."
"We'll have to use the Long Hall, of course," cut in Rupert, as usual ignoring their nonsense. "And the old summer drawing-room. But we can shut up the dining-room and the ball-room. We'll eat in the kitchen, and that and a bedroom apiece —"
"I suppose there are bathrooms, or at least a bathroom," his brother interrupted. "Because I don't care to rush down to the bayou for a good brisk plunge every time I get my face dirty."
"Harrison put in a bathroom at his own expense last fall."
"For which blessed be the name of Harrison. If he hadn't gone to Italy, he would have rebuilt the house. How soon do we get there? This touring is not what I thought it might be —"
The crease which had appeared so recently between Rupert's eyes deepened.
"Leg hurt, Val?" he asked quietly, glancing at the slim figure sharing his seat.
"No. I'm expressing curiosity this time, old man, not just a whine. But if we're going to be this far off the main highway —"
"Oh, it's not far from the city road. We ought to be seeing the gate-posts any moment now."
"Prophet!" Ricky leaned forward between them. "See there!"
Two gray stone posts, as firmly planted by time as the avenue of live-oaks they headed, showed clearly in the afternoon light. And from the nearest, deep carven in the stone, a jagged-toothed skull, crowned and grinning, stared blankly at the three in the shabby car. Beneath it ran the insolent motto of an ancient and disreputable clan, "What I want — I take!"
"This is the place all right — I recognize Joe there." Val pointed to the crest. "Good old Joe, always laughing."
Ricky made a face. "Horrid old thing. I don't see why we couldn't have had a swan or something nice to swank about."
"But then the Lords of Lorne were hardly a nice lot in their prime," Val reminded her. "Well, Rupert, let's see the rest."
The car followed a graveled drive between tall bushes which would have been the better for a pruning. Then the road made a sudden curve and they came out upon a crescent of lawn bordering upon a stone-paved terrace three steps above. And on the terrace stood the home a Ralestone had not set foot in for over fifty years — Pirate's Haven.
"It looks —" Ricky stared up, "why, it looks just like the picture Mr. Harrison painted!"
"Which proves why he is now in Italy," Val returned. "But he did capture it on canvas."
"Gray stone — and those diamond-paned windows — and that squatty tower. But it isn't like a Southern home at all! It's some old, old place out of England."
"Because it was built by an exile," said Rupert softly. "An exile who loved his home so well that he labored five years in the wilderness to build its duplicate. Those little diamond-paned windows were once protected with shutters an inch thick, and the place was a fort in Indian times. But it is strange to this country. That's why it's one of the show places. LeFleur asked me if we would be willing to keep up the custom of throwing the state rooms open to the public one day a month."
"And shall we?" asked Ricky.
"We'll see. Well, don't you want to see the inside as well as the out?"
"Of course! Val, you lazy thing, get out!"
"Certainly, m'lady." He swung open the door and climbed out stiffly. Although he wouldn't have confessed it for any reason, his leg had been aching dully for hours.
"Do you know," Ricky hesitated on the first terrace step, bending down to put aside a trail of morning-glory vine which clutched at her ankle, "I've just remembered!"
"What?" Rupert looked up from the grid where he was unstrapping their luggage.
"That we are the very first Ralestones to — to come home since Grandfather Miles rode away in 1867."
"And why the sudden dip into ancient history?" Val inquired as he limped around to help Rupert.
"I don't know," her eyes were fast upon moss-greened wall and ponderous door hewn of a single slab of oak, "except — well, we are coming home at last. I wonder if — if they know. All those others. Rick and Miles, the first Rupert and Richard and —"
"That spitfire, the Lady Richanda?" Rupert smiled. "Perhaps they do. No, leave the bags here, Val. Let's see the house first."
Together the Ralestones crossed the terrace and came to stand by the front door which still bore faint scars left by Indian hatchets. But Rupert stooped to insert a very modern key into a very modern lock. There was a click and the door swung inward before his push.
"The Long Hall!" They stood in something of a hesitant huddle at the end of a long stone-floored room. Half-way down its length a wooden staircase led up to the second floor, and directly opposite that a great fireplace yawned mightily, black and bare.
A leather-covered lounge was directly before this, flanked by two square chairs. And by the stairs was an oaken marriage chest. Save for two skin rugs, these were all the furnishings.
But Ricky had crossed hesitatingly to that cavernous fireplace and was standing there looking up as her brothers joined her.
"There's where it was," she said softly and pointed to a deep niche cut into the surface of the stone overmantel. That niche was empty and had been so for more than a hundred years — to their hurt. "That was where the Luck —"
"How hold ye Lorne?" Rupert's softly spoken question brought the well-remembered answer to Val's lips:
"By the oak leaf, by the sea wave, by the broadsword blade, thus hold we Lorne!"
"The oak leaf is dust," murmured Ricky, "the sea wave is gone, the broadsword is rust, how now hold ye Lorne?"
Her brothers answered her together:
"By our Luck, thus hold we Lorne!"
"And we've got to get it back," she said. "We've just got to! When the Luck hangs there again, we —"
"Won't have anything left to worry about," Val finished for her. "But that's a very big order, m'lady. Short of catching Rick's ghost and forcing him to disclose the place where he hid it, I don't see how we're going to do it."
"But we are going to," she answered confidently. "I know we are!"
"A good thing," Rupert broke in, a hint of soberness beneath the lightness of his tone as he looked about the almost bare room and then at the strained pallor of Val's thin face. "The Ralestones have been luckless too long. And now suppose we take possession of this commodious mansion. I suggest that we get settled as soon as possible. I don't like the looks of the western sky. We're probably going to have a storm."
"What about the car?" Val asked as his brother turned to go.
"Harrison used the old carriage house as a garage. I'll run it in there. You and Ricky better do a spot of exploring and see about beds and food. I don't know how you feel," he went on grimly, "but after last night I want something softer than a dozen rocks to sleep on."
"I told you not to stop at that tourist place," began Ricky smugly. "I said —"
"You said that a house painted that shade of green made you slightly ill. But you didn't say anything about beds," Val reminded her as he shed his coat and hung it on the newel-post. "And since the Ralestone family have definitely gone off the gold or any other monetary standard, it's tourist rests or the poorhouse for us."
"Probably the poorhouse." Rupert sounded resigned. "Now upstairs with you and get out some bedding. LeFleur said in his letter that the place was all ready for occupancy. And he stocked up with canned stuff."
"I know — beans! Just too, too divine. Well, let's know the worst." Ricky started up the stairs. "I suppose there are electric lights?"
"Got to throw the main switch first, and I haven't time to do that now. Here, Val." Rupert tossed him his tiny pocket torch as he turned to go. The door closed behind him and Ricky looked over her shoulder.
"This — this is rather a darkish place, isn't it?"
"Not so bad." Val considered the hall below, which seemed suddenly peopled by an overabundance of oddly shaped shadows.
"No," her voice grew stronger, "not so bad. We're together anyway, Val. Last year I thought I'd die, shut up in that awful school, and then coming home to hear —"
"About me making my first and last flight. Yes, not exactly a rest cure for any of us, was it? But it's all over now. The Ralestones may be down but they're not out, yet, in spite of Mosile Oil and those coal-mines. D'you know, we might use some of that nice gilt-edged stock for wall-paper. There's enough to cover a closet at least. Here we are, Rupert from beating about the globe trying to be a newspaper man, you straight from N'York's finest finishing-school, and me — well, out of the plainest hospital bed I ever saw. We've got this house and what Rupert managed to clear from the wreck. Something will turn up. In the meantime —"
"Yes?" she prompted.
"In the meantime," he went on, leaning against the banister for a moment's rest, "we can be looking for the Luck. As Rupert says, we need it badly enough. Here's the upper hall. Which way now?"
"Over to the left wing. These in front are what Rupert refers to as 'state bedrooms.'"
"Yes?" He opened the nearest door and whistled softly. "Not so bad. About the size of a small union station and provided with all the comforts of a tomb. Decidedly not what we want."
"Wait, here's a plaque set in the wall. Look!" She ran her finger over a glass-covered square.
"Regulations for guests, or a floor plan to show how to reach the dining-room in the quickest way," her brother suggested.
"No." She read aloud slowly:
"'THIS ROOM WAS OCCUPIED BY GENERAL ANDREW JACKSON, THE VICTOR OF THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS, UPON THE TENTH DAY AFTER THE BATTLE.'"
"Whew! 'Old Hickory' here! But I thought that the Ralestones were more or less under a cloud at that time," commented Val.
"In the making. Quite so. Now may I suggest that we find some slumber rooms slightly more modern? Rupert is apt to become annoyed at undue delay in such matters."
They went down the hall and turned into a short cross corridor. From a round window at the far end a ray of sun still swept in, but it was a sickly, faded ray. The storm Rupert had spoken of could not be far off.
"This is the right way. Mr. Harrison had these little numbers put on the doors for his guests," Ricky pointed out. "I'll take 'three'; that was marked on the plan he sent us as a lady's room. You take that one across the hall and let Rupert have the one next to you."
The rooms they explored were not as imposing as the one which had sheltered Andrew Jackson for a night. Furnished with chintz-covered chairs, solid mahogany bedsteads and highboys, they were pleasant enough even if they weren't chambers to make an antique dealer "Oh!" and "Ah!" Val discovered with approval some stiff prints of mathematically correct clippers hung in exact patterns on his walls, while Ricky's room held one treasure, a dainty dressing-table.
A small door near the end of the hall gave upon a linen closet. And Ricky, throwing her short white jacket and hat upon the chair in her room, set about making beds, having given Val strict orders to return to the lower hall and sort out the luggage before bringing it up.
As he reached the wide landing he stopped a moment. Since that winter night, almost a year in the past, when a passenger plane had decided — in spite of its pilot — to make a landing on a mountainside, he had learned to hobble where he had once run. The accident having made his right leg a rather accurate barometer, that crooked bone was announcing the arrival of the coming storm with a sharp pain or two which shot unexpectedly from knee to ankle. One such caught him as he was about to take a step and threw him suddenly off balance.
Excerpted from "Ralestone Luck"
Copyright © 2017 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It could almost be Gothic, if it weren't as light hearted as the Boxcar Children. The last scions of the Ralestone family, penniless and uprooted, return to their old family home in the States. There's all sorts of intrigue and mystery and sass.
In a rare departure from her usual scifi-fantasy genre this is a delightful mystery. The Ralestone family is down on their luck, in fact, it's been missing since the Civil War. Join the Ralestone's s they seek to restore the family fortunes and find their Luck once more.