What Happened To Samuel Watts? Part 5
The smell of freshly brewed coffee greeted Bethany as she bounded down the stairs and headed toward the kitchen. Mrs. Jacobs stood at the counter, stacking cinnamon rolls onto a platter. Bethany poured coffee into a mug and sat at the table.
“Good morning, Bethany,” the innkeeper said, smiling. “I hope you slept well. The outside air is a bit brisk, around 50 degrees. But the sun is shining. It’s looking to be a beautiful day.” She set the plate of rolls on the table, helped herself to some coffee, and joined her guest.
Bethany sipped the brew and selected a cinnamon roll. “Mrs. Jacobs,” she started as she picked at the pastry, “can you tell me more about the ghosts here at Horatio House?”
“Certainly, dear. What would you like to know?”
“Well, according to the local legends, it’s the ghost of Samuel Watts who haunts this house. How did you determine it’s Samuel?”
“Oh.” She studied the young woman sitting across the table. “Well, I suppose we can’t be certain. Over the years, we’ve had psychics, mediums, and ghost hunters stay here. They call themselves paranormal investigators.” She laughed. “They’ve held séances, taken measurements, made recordings… you name it, someone has probably done it. Anyway, those who have seen apparitions say the figure in their visions resemble Samuel Watts. So everything is attributed to him. The odd noises, voices, cold spots, the sense of being touched.”
Bethany froze, her mug midway to her lips. “You have a photo of Samuel Watts?”
“We have a portrait. It’s in the Watts Room. Want to see it? That room’s vacant at the moment.”
“That would be great,” Bethany replied. She needed confirmation that the man in her dreams was Samuel Watts. She followed as Mrs. Jacobs climbed the stairs, turned left at the landing, and proceeded to the door at the end of the hallway. As they entered, the older woman pointed to the painting over the fireplace. Bethany stopped.
“That’s… that’s him?” She stuttered.
“Yes,” the innkeeper confirmed.
Although the man in the portrait wore a white powdered wig, pale blue coat over a gold waistcoat, and beige cravat at his throat, he was the same man Bethany encountered in the library and her room. Her chest tightened, and she struggled to breathe. Numbness overtook her right arm, and the fingers on her right hand felt icy. Lightheaded and unable to speak, Bethany backed away from the fireplace until she reached the room’s threshold, and gripped the doorjamb for support.
Mrs. Jacobs frowned. “You’re very pale, dear. Are you all right?”
“I’ve seen him,” Bethany said, gasping. “I fell asleep, and he appeared in a dream. His clothes were different, and he wasn’t wearing a wig, but he is the same man.” She inhaled. “He said he was my husband, Samuel. He thought I was Ariella.”
The older woman put her arm around Bethany, guided her back downstairs to the kitchen, and helped her to a chair at the table. She refilled Bethany’s coffee mug and settled into a seat next to her. “From what I’ve heard, ghosts communicate to us through our dreams,” she commented. “Did he say anything else?”
“He said he was sorry. For everything.” Bethany gulped the warm beverage. “Didn’t you tell me Samuel Watts died when sailing to Annapolis? That his body was lost at sea and never found? Do you know when that happened?”
“We can find out. That information should be in the historical journals.” As she spoke, Mrs. Jacobs rose and walked out of the kitchen. “I have just the book. History of Horatio House. It should be in the library.”
Bethany hurried to follow the spry innkeeper. When she caught up, Mrs. Jacobs had removed a hard-bound volume from one of the shelves and set it on the desk. As the older woman flipped through the pages, her eyes flicked back and forth as she scanned the text.
“Here,” she announced triumphantly. “A photo of a letter to Mrs. Watts from Captain Beauregard Perry of The Lady Eleanor. It’s dated October 19, 1774. Apparently, Samuel Watts went overboard in the Chesapeake Bay on October 18, 1774.”
Mrs. Jacobs passed the book over to Bethany. As she pointed to the page with the letter, the older woman lowered her head to scrutinize the document. She twisted toward Bethany. “Oh, my!” She sputtered, her voice filled with excitement. “Today is October 18. He died… let’s see… 245 years ago on this very day!”
“In my dream, he mentioned that he didn’t travel to Annapolis,” Bethany said. “Something happened to him before he could leave.”
“That’s odd.” Mrs. Jacobs examined the image. “I’m sure this letter refers to Samuel Watts. It wasn’t long after Samuel’s death that Ariella and Nathaniel Howard were married.” She shuffled through the pages and paused. “There. The wedding announcement. They wed on June 15, 1775. That was eight months later.”
“Nathaniel Howard? The man in my dream mentioned him,” Bethany continued. “He found Nathaniel and Ariella together. Nathaniel made advances to Ariella, and she pushed him away.”
Mrs. Jacobs looked up from the text. “Samuel told you this?”
Bethany responded with a nod. Her eyes filled with tears as she described her dream and recounted Samuel’s story. “He believes they buried him alive. That they murdered him.”
Mrs. Jacobs grew pale, and her hand flew to her mouth. “Murdered?” She collapsed into the chair at the desk. “How awful!” she murmured. “I hope the story isn’t true.”
“Do you believe in ghosts?” Bethany asked. “Do you think I encountered Samuel’s ghost? Or did my imagination fabricate a wild tale?”
The innkeeper didn’t answer immediately. She focused her gaze on the wall in front of her, and Bethany knew she was searching within herself for a suitable response.
“I’ve always thought there was a presence here,” she acknowledged. “The idea of a ghost entertains our guests and keeps our rooms booked. But your story is different. It’s… it’s…” Mrs. Jacobs hesitated, as though she was struggling to identify her words. “In all the years I’ve been here, no one has actually conversed with Samuel’s ghost. Now, for the first time, I am convinced that the spirit of Samuel Watts is truly here. I suspect your familial connection to Ariella and this house is the catalyst that enabled such a powerful sighting.” She was quiet for a moment, then she turned to face Bethany. “Samuel Watts reached out to you because he thought you were Ariella.”
A shudder coursed through Bethany’s body. “I wasn’t a believer when I arrived, but I’m changing my mind,” Bethany admitted. “Samuel’s body was never recovered. Is it possible he was murdered in this house? He mentioned a root cellar. Is there one here?”
Mrs. Jacobs’ face brightened. She stood up and selected another volume from the shelf. “I’m not sure, but this should tell us more about the residence and its surrounding structures.” She spun, gripping the book, and strode out of the library. “Let’s take this back to the kitchen. I need more coffee… or something stronger… to wrap my mind around this new development.”
At the kitchen table, Bethany studied the hand-drawn maps of the Worthington Cove tobacco plantation, which were dated 1769. “This drawing shows the structures near the main house,” Bethany said to Mrs. Jacobs as she rested her index finger on one of the maps. “There’s a smokehouse, washhouse, stables, and a privy.” She paused. “There’s a root cellar, too. It’s farther away than the other outbuildings. It’s near a creek.”
Mrs. Jacobs finished brewing a fresh pot of coffee and replenished their mugs. “Ah, yes. Prices Creek. It runs approximately 400 yards north of the house.”
“I wonder if the root cellar is still there,” Bethany said to her host.
“I haven’t surveyed that part of the property, but I bet Nick has. He grew up near here. He’s a descendant of Nathaniel Howard, you know. The Howard family owns this house and the acreage that surrounds it.” Mrs. Jacobs smiled. “Why don’t you ask him to take you exploring?”
~ ~ ~
Nick led Bethany to the edge of a small thicket behind Horatio House. The sun was high in the sky and warmed the air. The trees were bare, with only a few orange and red leaves clinging to their branches. The bed and breakfast was visible from here. They paused next to a tree that grew on the perimeter of the wooded area, and he turned toward her.
“So, we’re searching for the root cellar, huh?” Nick eyed Bethany with a knowing grin. “Mrs. Jacobs filled me in. I told you Samuel Watts’s ghost was real.”
“We won’t know for sure that his spirit spoke to me unless we find that cellar, will we?” she countered. “Do you recall ever seeing it?”
“I believe so. When I was a kid, we played in an underground room by the stream. Its location matches the spot where the root cellar is drawn on the map you showed me. We didn’t know what it was. There wasn’t anything in there. Some old wooden shelves on stone walls. We converted it into our secret fort. Furnished it with odds and ends that we collected. Tried to camouflage the opening.” He chuckled at the memory. “It was a great summer hangout. Nice and cool. I haven’t been there in years.”
“Think you’ll be able to locate it?”
“We had our landmarks. There was a boulder with an ’X’ chiseled in it. We laid it in line with the left corner of the house as you face the trees. That rock was five steps due west from the entrance, which we covered with underbrush. If we find that boulder, turn right, and take five steps, then we should come across it.”
Bethany accompanied Nick as he tramped further into the thicket. The sound of rushing water indicated the stream must be close. When a few minutes had passed, he halted. “There,” he said, pointing. They proceeded to a large rock. She could make out the crudely engraved “X” on the marker. Nick made a ninety-degree turn to the right and carefully ambled forward. Bethany followed. When they had moved about five feet ahead, Bethany noticed several stones covered with vegetation. Nick reached them first and pulled at the vines and brush with his hands.
“Found it,” he exclaimed. “Ready to go down?”
Underneath the Virginia creeper, witch hazel, and wild strawberry plants lay a gaping, black hole. Decaying stone steps disappeared into the abyss. “It’s so dark,” she commented as she stared into the opaque void.
“Good thing I brought some light.” Nick unstrapped his backpack and pulled out two large flashlights. He handed one to Bethany, then switched his on. He scooped up his pack and ventured down. “Be careful,” he called as he descended. “The stones have deteriorated.”
With a deep breath, Bethany trailed Nick into the stairwell. As soon as her foot touched the second step, a surge of frigid air swept past her face. She shivered and exhaled, creating a cloud of fog that floated near her nose and cheeks. Willing herself to continue, Bethany slowly advanced down the narrow stairway, lighting her path with the flashlight until she stepped on the floor. She saw Nick’s light ahead as he directed his bright beam along the walls and ceiling of the small space. He swung his flashlight toward Bethany and set it down in the dirt, its beam illuminating the space between them. Then he dropped his backpack and picked out a garden trowel and hand rake. He spoke with a grin, and Bethany trembled at his words, which sent her pulse rate soaring.
“Let’s find Samuel Watts.”
To be continued