Chapter XVI -- Widow Maker

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Poe stood upon the steps of the Charlemonte mansion where he gently tapped his pipe and patiently waited while the midday sun made its way across clear sky overhead.

The coach that they hired had been loaded and sent on its way with its lone passenger; one of her whores that Pandora had chosen for the journey who could no longer work having suffered from consumption and other ailments as she had.

With the trip itself as reward and an added allowance to be spent along the way, she'd been paid well to deliver their package.

Either way, from the amount of dark blood that she occasionally coughed up, it was unlikely that she'd live to see another year.

Smuggled diamonds that had been discovered were on their way to Fort Danna courtesy of Abby who would deliver them to Colonel Bonnet to dispose of properly, while a duplicate pencil case which contained ground glass was safely tucked away in a satchel that had been packed on the coach.

Poe held little or no interest in ever seeing those cursed diamonds again. It was because they even existed that Running-Deer was where she was now.

All that remained was for them to spring their trap.

And what a trap it was. The locals had taken great joy in telling him the stories, perhaps to see if their sheriff believed in ghosts or worse.

At the time, he'd taken them for what they were, just more tales of the Weird Wild West; while Clementine Blue had made him a firm believer in things that went bump in the night.

The Charlemonte mansion hadn't been haunted or cursed, but had proven from the very moment of conception to be a simple yet efficient predator for all who came near while intelligent enough to take great care when it chose to select it's next victim.

Demetrius Donnetelli, the crusty Italian immigrant who'd parlayed simple investments into expansive fortune had commissioned the great architect Rupert Van der Velde to build him a home reminiscent of the mansions that he'd seen in his wife's native New England; right down to the widows walk along the top which allowed a spectacular view of both the mine and the town below.

Van der Velde's design proposed a wide wrap around porch with narrow windows for the mansion itself, in an effort to keep the home warm even during their bitter winters while yet cool under the gentle caress of summer heat.

A circular drive along the front entrance would leave room for visitors invited to relax in the expansive confines of the elegant and spacious drawing room within the mansion - quite aware as he'd become that people of the frontier would have little use for a ballroom nor understand much of such intent.

The master bedroom and those for guests would inhabit the second floor, offering the best soft comforts that money could buy.

Oiled works of the masters were carefully selected to hang across the oaken panels of the walls to entertain and amaze those who'd visit, along with chandeliers and sconces of magnificent design, which provided soft flicker of candlelight or lit kerosene wicks that shown well into the night when called for.

A man of his work, Van der Velde pitched a large tent for his stay directly where the mansion would eventually stand; to allow him to get the feel of the property in more ways than he would ever have imagined.

His figure captured the attention of those in town as he was often seen as he paced and measured while he kept track of how the view from where he stood would appear from whatever room that he'd just been working on. Sleeves rolled past his elbows, the thin bespectacled architect rarely ventured down from his project.

Within days of his having completed the plans and delivering them to Donnetelli, Van der Velde began to suffer from unknown ailments that left him weak and full of high fever after weeks spent upon the property as he'd mapped out the mansion.

He would die before construction even began.

While they prepared the site, two workers would lose their lives when carts on which they rode were overturned by spooked horses; spilled beneath the contents of their wagons as they rolled down the hillside only to crash and splinter to pieces at the bottom.

The framing process itself would claim yet another who fell from the top of the widows walk only to impale himself upon debris left from an accident that had maimed its victims earlier in the day.

By the time furniture arrived, a half a dozen deaths had occurred within the building itself and the surrounding property.

Rumors quietly shared over whisky, gin and cards of the taverns or pillows of the brothels began to spread that death waited for anyone who might have been found trespassing by the mysterious evil upon the hill.

Much of the town began to refer to mansion as a widow maker after the women dressed in black mourning their dead husbands, brothers or sons that had worked and died there.

The long winding drive itself did little to quell the concerns of the locals any, as the most casual visitor often commented upon the mansion's haunted appearance as they'd approached.

Even the usually reserved and tightly-lipped undertakers appeared unsettled each time that they'd made their way up the tangled drive to collect their next customer; perhaps having spent as much time with the dead as they had giving them a certain sensitivity or insight into that which caused men to die unexpectedly and often without warning.

No one seemed to notice that even the undertakers had not stayed long upon the property once they'd collected their dead.

An iron fence topped with spikes ordered erected by Donnetelli himself soon encircled the property to keep the curious out and away from his mansion and family; while many also hoped that the fence would simply keep the evil jinx confined within its borders - laced with such strong iron as it was reputed to be.

On nights when strange flickering light flashed from the narrow windows, many commented upon the possible reflection of distant lightning that couldn't be seen from below - perhaps bringing notice of a pending storm that was passing through the mountains above the mine.

Like the common spider within an iron web, the completed mansion patiently waited for the next fly to entangle itself; and it wouldn't have long to wait.

Mere weeks to the day that he'd finally taken possession of the mansion; Demetrius Donnetelli was the next to fall dead with tons of rock that conveniently buried him within his own mine.

Of course such tragedy only served to spark rumor and speculation of his partner Luscious Scaggs's involvement; rumors quickly snuffed out by the roughnecks Scaggs hired to protect the security of the mine and its sole remaining owner.

Packed up and moved out by Scaggs's men not long after the dust settled from the rock that now covered her husband; the widow Donnetelli, still dressed in the black of mourning climbed into a stagecoach and returned east to her family without a single look back at the mansion upon the hill.

Such had been the predatory nature of the Charlemonte mansion.

Until Clementine Blue arrived to face the predator that had killed her sister.

Each visit to Daniela's tombstone brought back memories that they both would have rather forgotten, while at the same time having made them appreciate what had brought a young witch and new sheriff in desperate need of education together as it had.

He was sure that in the grand balance of things, some regrets would always weigh heavy for everyone involved.

While he enjoyed the tobacco of his pipe, he turned to face the doors of the mansion as he recalled what it was that he and Clementine had found waiting for them when she first arrived and visited the widow maker, only to discover what secrets that it held.

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