Tracy Thinks
You Don't Know Jack


Chapter Two - The Golden Telescope


Mac Paidin Manor sat at the end of a long, winding driveway on the top of a rocky hill overlooking the Irish Sea.

It was more than a house. Much more. Built of dark gray bumpy stone, there were 15 bedrooms and almost as many bathrooms in the place. It was large and imposing but to those that resided in it, it possessed a rustic warmth uncommon for mansions of its size. Having lived there more than half his fifty-four years, Arthur, the butler, certainly thought so.

Entering the library, he found his dear old friend and master, Sir Edward, seated in a large, brocade wingback chair facing the roaring fire, his slippered feet stretched out in front of him to absorb the warmth.

“Sir Edward,” Arthur said, “I thought you might like a brandy to chase away the chill before you retire for the evening.” He carried a decanter of honey-colored liquid with him on a silver platter. A single snifter sat next to it, at the ready. He sat the tray down on the round walnut table next to the chair. Gazing up at him over wire-rimmed reading glasses, Sir Edward glanced over to the tray, the flickering light of the fire glowing across his penetrating hazel eyes.

“Why, yes, Arty, that would be lovely,” he responded in a weary old voice.

That Master Mac Paidin was in his golden years was self-evident. His full head of hair, which was once raven black, was now heavily streaked with gray, and there was a deep sense of sadness in his overall demeanor, indication of a past filled with immense pain and loss. And yet, his chiseled jaw, prominent nose, and the way he squared his shoulders still offered a glimpse of the powerful man he had once been.

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The deep, resonant tone of the doorbell announced an unexpected evening visitor. The two gentlemen shared a curious glance before the butler, carrying out his duty, made his way from the library to the imposing mahogany and iron front entrance. Two silhouettes stood beyond the dappled glass, and as Arthur pulled the door open, his surprise was obvious, not only in his expression but the constricted “Oh!” that erupted from his tight-lipped smile.

Inez and Clara Mac Paidin had aged considerably in the sixteen years since he last saw their faces, but there was no mistaking the stark, if intimidating, beauty of the pair.

“Arthur…” The sisters chimed in a sing-song sort of way that said they were less than genuinely happy to see him.

“It’s been too long,” Inez said, shifting uncomfortably under the butler’s scrutinizing gaze.

Arthur did not move, nor invite them inside, so the two sisters pushed past him into the main foyer, barely glancing in his direction.

“Where is he?” Clara asked, glancing to the left, toward the library.

“Is he in there?” Inez headed in that direction.

Arthur followed, keeping up a brisk yet silent step to fall ahead of them. “Sir Edward is not expecting you,” he said. “I will announce you,” And he attempted to sidestep them, blocking their path.

“Nonsense.” Inez proclaimed. “He will be thrilled to see us.”

The two sisters strode confidently past him and on into the room.

“Daddy!” They shrieked in discordant, high-pitched voices. Sir Edward looked up, and his eyebrows raised, though he did not move further.

“Girls…” He said, slowly putting his brandy down. He studied them closely and allowed a moment for their presence to register before cautiously standing to greet them. “This is a…surprise.” His words were measured with skepticism.

Edward took a few steps in their direction, then stopped in front of his daughters, expectant.

Inez had been twenty-four and Clara only nineteen years of age when they stormed out in an angry rage sixteen long years ago, vowing never to return. The two women standing before Sir Edward now were once the same little girls he had raised and loved. But much older, to be sure. And time hadn’t been particularly kind to them, either. There was a hardness in their faces that one from their past wouldn’t recognize and an energy about them that bred unease. Their presence at the manor was unexpected and suspicious to Sir Edward, and yet the possibility of making amends with his remaining children outshone those thoughts, as it would any grieving father.

He opened his arms wide in a gesture of embrace.

“Welcome home.” He said, and they eagerly lunged forward, wrapping their arms around him, patting him gingerly on the back, and giggling a bit too much before stepping away. Arthur remained by the door, observing the encounter, when Edward caught his eye.

“I tried to announce them, Sir.” He flatly stated, clearly unimpressed with the saccharine-sweet display of affection. “But they insisted.”

“It’s fine, Arthur. Please bring us some refreshments.” Edward said, and relaxing a bit; he motioned for the women to join him before the fireplace.

“Sit with me. We have so much catching up to do.” He said, settling back into his chair. “I want to hear all about what you’ve been up to.”

“Well, speaking of that, Daddy dear,” Inez took the lead. “Clara and I have been talking about how unreasonable we’ve been all these years, refusing to talk to you. And we just feel so bad about blaming you and abandoning you the way we did.”

Clara nodded her head enthusiastically. “That’s right, Daddy. We feel just awful!” She said, sticking out her bottom lip.

“And we have come here today to ask your forgiveness and to beg you to take us back into the family again.” Inez appeared repentant, her eyes tearing up just a little. “We really should have come last year after hearing about what happened to Ross. We know you must have been devastated.” Inez looked at her sister. “We certainly were.” Clara finished, and they both bowed their heads.

“After what happened to Ross?” Edward asked, leaning forward now, curious. “How do you know about that? Ross had been out of the country and out of touch for years…”

“Oh, Daddy. He was our little brother.” Inez said. “Long ago, we hired a private investigator because we wanted to reconnect with him, try to rebuild our relationship. Just because we were mad at you wasn’t any reason for us to lose touch with our baby brother.”

“But he was a smart kid and did a really good job of covering his tracks, as I’m sure you know,” Clara interjected. “So, it took a very long time before we were able to find him.”

“Years, in fact.” Inez made it clear that she concurred. “And it’s so tragic that we were finally able to locate him just weeks before the accident.”

The old man remained silent for a moment, his gaze slipping toward the mantel over the fireplace where a photograph stood in a golden frame that glinted in the firelight; a young boy, his son—his only son. Sir Edward pulled a white cotton kerchief from his left breast pocket and blotted the corners of both eyes before returning his gaze to his daughters.

“Our family has suffered far too much tragedy over the years, girls.” He started. “First the loss of your sweet mother, which caused so much pain and division between us, and then Ross’s death.” Edward removed his glasses to wipe away the tears that gathered beneath them.

“I’m grateful, though…” he continued, “that at least his death has finally prompted you to come here today so that we are able to make amends and move forward together.”

He finished as Arthur re-entered the room carrying a pitcher of iced tea and a silver tray filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, and crackers.

Setting it down on the coffee table before them, he looked inquisitively at Edward, then to the two women, and back again.

“Sir, will you be needing anything else?” He asked. “Thank you, no, Arty. We are doing fine. More than fine, actually,” Edward said, adding, “The girls and I have so much to talk about. You may leave us for the evening.”

Inez jumped in, smiling brightly.

“Oh, yes, we can see ourselves out when we are ready to go, Arthur. No need to worry about us.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Inez,” Edward interjected. “The two of you will spend the night here. It’s already so late in the day, and I won’t hear of you staying elsewhere.” Then, turning again to Arthur, he added: “Please see to it that rooms are prepared for my daughters before you retire.”

“Certainly, Sir,” Arthur replied, though his apprehensiveness did not go unnoticed by the two sisters, who challenged him with their returning stares. “If you’ll be needing nothing else…”

Once more, Arthur’s eyes flicked over the two women before he turned to leave the library.

Looking back at his daughters, Edward continued: “Now, where were we?” He asked, a small smile crossing his lips.

“Oh, Daddy…” Clara began, “We were just getting ready to say, well, Inez and I have been thinking that with Ross gone and all, maybe you’d like to involve us in the family business, if you get my meaning.” She was shifting nervously in her seat, looking back and forth from her father to Inez and back again.

“Yes, Daddy. Clara and I have gotten over our feelings of anger and resentment where your abilities are concerned and would like nothing more than to have you teach us—help us develop our powers—so that we can assist you. Maybe together we have a better chance of finding mama.” She concluded, anxiously anticipating her father’s response.

“Well, now, girls. It means so much to me that you have had a change of heart. It really does.” He looked at each of them with sincerity as he spoke, wanting to make sure he didn’t offend or injure their fragile, new relationship in any way. “But you know that my particular gift is handed down to one recipient in the bloodline, and in this case, that person was Ross. So, it would be impossible for either of you to continue my work.”

Observing the clear disappointment on their faces, he quickly added: “But I can assist you in other ways…to develop your own gifts. I’d be very pleased to do that.” And he watched uneasily to see how they would respond.

“But, Daddy,” Inez began. “We want to learn how to make the hats…”

Inez’s change in tone didn’t go unnoticed by Edward. Her insistence and desperation leaked into her words. Looking at Clara with a different, more focused expression on her face, she urged her sister to persuade him further.

“Daddy, is there no way to get around that little rule?” Clara pleaded, taking a gentler approach than her sister. “It would mean so much to us if you could figure out a way…” She stood and began pacing next to her chair.

Inez started tapping her fingernails on the glass she held in her hands, the tink, tink, tink filling the awkward silence as Sir Edward watched each of his daughters in turn. These changes in behavior did not escape his observation, and he adjusted his position in his seat, sitting up a little taller.

“No, ladies, I cannot get around that ‘little rule’, as you say. I have no control over the forces that dictate what powers and abilities are bestowed upon which individuals.”

The tapping stopped as Inez clasped her glass tightly in her hand, threatening to crush the fragile crystal.

“You didn’t come here to make amends today, did you, girls?” Edward asked. “What is it you truly want from me?”

“Fine then, Father. If you insist on being difficult, have it your way.” Inez spoke quietly, each word dripping like battery acid from her carnelian-colored lips. “I knew you would refuse us access, anyhow. You have always made it abundantly clear who your favorite child was.”

She looked to her sister, then motioned toward the foyer.

Clara walked to the large double doors at the entrance of the library and, after closing them, twisted the lock.

“You might as well know the truth of the matter…” Inez paused, and her eyes searched the walls of books as if drawing her words from them.

“It was no accident that killed your son and his wife.” She said, and a cold, calculated expression spread across her ashen face, blue-green veins now visible through the crepe-thin skin at her temples. “We arranged the whole thing!”

A silence quieter than death filled the room. Even the fireplace seemed void of warmth as Inez’s icy, aqua-blue eyes met those of her father.

“You…?” Sir Edward spoke slowly as if struggling to wrap his mind around the wicked words of his daughter. But soon, as his eyes held her unflinching gaze, his mouth dropped open, and his gentle face paled.

Lifting his head and turning his attention to Clara, he searched her face for some indication that her sister was only attempting to manipulate him further. But rather than relief, he found only a hint of malicious glee in her expression.

“And we have the children.” Inez continued.

It was barely audible, but the impact of her words was visible in the older man’s countenance, and she beamed, knowing she had struck a near-lethal blow.

Seizing upon this moment of weakness, she thrust her long, thin fingers into the jet-black hair on top of her head and withdrew a small dagger. She crossed the dimly lit room in three quick strides and placed the sharp, steel tip of it just beneath his chin.

Sir Edward remained immovable as though he had become numb to her actions, paralyzed by her words. A single tear escaping from the inner corner of his right eye traced a path down his wrinkled cheek.

“This is your fault!” She hissed. “If you hadn’t been so self-absorbed and consumed with saving the world,” She pushed the knife slightly into his fragile skin until one fat drop of dark red blood oozed out and dripped down the blade, “we would still have our mother!”

Clara shrieked. “No, Inez! Stop! You go too far. We never agreed to kill him!”

She dashed to where Inez stood and grabbed her sister by the shoulders. Then, taking a deep breath, she continued in a more measured and controlled voice.

“Calm yourself, sister. We need him if we have any chance of getting her back. He is the only one with the knowledge.”

Reluctantly, Inez withdrew the dagger from her father’s chin. She stared at it for a long moment, then wiped the blood away with her left index finger, inserted it into her mouth, and sucked the drop away.

“Your blood runs through our veins, too, old man. You would do well to remember that.” She said.

Then lifting both arms to her hair, she deftly twisted it into a knot and returned the dagger to its hiding place.

Turning her back on her father, she moved to join her sister. “Your days are numbered, Sir Edward. It’s only a matter of time before you are gone and no longer have any power over us.”

The quiet whisper of Sir Edward’s voice was barely audible as they reached the library doors.

“What of the children?”

“Oh, we have plans for them,” Clara stated matter-of-factly.

The sisters looked at one another and disappeared around the corner.

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Tracy Thinks
You Don't Know Jack
Magical fiction author Tracy Partridge-Johnson reads chapters from her nine-book Middle-Grade fantasy series Jack and the Magic Hat Maker.
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