The storm unleashed its fury as the guests gathered for story time. As Millie predicted, the electricity failed. She and Agnes scrambled to light candles and oil lamps.
The youngest of the Smith children whimpered and crawled up in his mother’s arms. The oldest child was ecstatic. “This is epic,” he said. “Are we going to hear any ghost stories?”
“Is it true the inn is haunted?” Hannah asked.
Millie smiled. “Some have said that, but in the nine years Agnes and I have owned this place, we’ve never seen a ghost.”
“Oh,” said Hannah. “I thought perhaps…”
“Many business owners would try to capitalize on the possibility of ghosts—especially with the popularity of some of the TV shows about haunted places.” Agnes said. “However, Millie and I would rather visitors come for the warmth and hospitality.”
“And you’ve certainly been hospitable.” Lauren sent a warning look in Hannah’s direction. “Why would anyone want to encounter a ghost? Even if they do exist.”
A clap of thunder sounded and reverberated across the open field behind the house.
“Well,” said John Gregory, “I’m not going to tell any ghost stories, but the place does have an interesting history…”
John Gregory was a master storyteller. His knowledge of the area’s history made it come alive in his stories—something Lauren admired. Even the young children paid attention. However, by nine o’clock the youngest had fallen asleep and his older sister also showed signs of drowsiness.
“I guess I should take them upstairs,” Diane Smith said.
“I’ll go with you,” Agnes said. “I don’t want you stumbling over something on the way up.” She turned to all the guests, “I do apologize about the electricity, but the storm seems to have subsided. The power company is usually quick to repair the lines.”
After Agnes and Diane left the room, Millie turned to John. “My offer still stands. We have an extra room if you’d like to stay.”
Before he could answer, they heard the sound of an automobile. Lauren turned to look toward the hallway and gasped at the sight of Ivan standing at the door to the parlor. Hannah is right. He is a little creepy. I never heard his footsteps.
He didn’t speak, but nodded at Millie. A car door slammed and she rose from her chair. “It must be our overdue guest, Mr. Snider.” She left the room with Ivan to attend to the new visitor.
Alex Snider was a tall man of about sixty with graying hair. Millie introduced him to the other guests. “Mr. Snider had quite an ordeal getting here,” she said.
“How is the road into Collinsville?” John asked.
Alex replied. “It’s okay, but not so good in town and to the south. Flash floods and some downed trees near Evanston.”
“Maybe I will take you upon the offer of the room, Millie.”
“You’re always welcome here,” she said.
John turned to the others. “As long as I’m staying for the night, I can tell a few more stories if anyone is interested.”
“I’m game,” Lauren said. The other guests nodded in agreement.
“How about you, Mr. Snider? If you’d prefer to rest, I can have Ivan show you to your room.”
“I’m fine. I’d very much like to hear more about this history of this place.”
Millie looked at Ivan. “Take Mr. Snider’s bags to room 202.”
He nodded, then turned and left the room without making a sound.
Hannah would have preferred to spend the evening reading, but had to admit she enjoyed listening to John Gregory’s stories. Yet she was curious as to why he didn’t mention the original owner of Sleepy Hollow.
“What can you tell us about Hans Schneider?
She wasn’t sure who was the most surprised—John Gregory or Alex Snider. They looked at her as if she had uttered some deep dark secret. Even Millie and Agnes seemed taken aback at her question.
“I assumed since you told the history of this place, you’d at least mention that he disappeared without a trace.”
John cleared his throat. “Well…uh…no one seems to know, but most believe he left town because he owed a great deal of money. There were a couple of eyewitness accounts that he boarded a train that day.”
Janis Armstrong, who had been quiet all evening, said, “Weren’t there other theories?”
“Yes other folks thought he met with foul play. He wasn’t known to have any enemies, but his wife was adamant that he wouldn’t have disappeared on his own.”
“What happened to her?” Lauren asked.
“She stayed around here a few years after that, but it was hard in those days for a single woman with children. She sold the property and moved back east.”
“If her husband did intend to begin a new life out west, he must not have told her,” Hannah said.
“It would seem that way,” John said.
“And if he did owe someone money, did they try to collect from the wife?”
“Not that I’m aware.”
“Then it doesn’t seem likely he was in debt. There has to be another reason. Certainly opens up some interesting possibilities. A man disappears and there’s no sign of foul play. Some say he boarded a train, yet there isn’t a record of him purchasing a ticket. He supposedly owes someone money, but they didn’t try to collect from his wife. Then she leaves a few years later. Maybe it was all planned.”
“Hannah, your imagination is running wild,” Lauren said.
“She may not be far off,” said John Gregory. “At least one person thought Hans Schneider was hiding an ill-gotten fortune and he left town because it was about to be discovered.”
“Was it true? Was he a criminal? I’d really like…” Alex Snider said. “I uh…what makes you think that?”
“I don’t, necessarily. Just passing along a different perspective.”
When the guests made their way upstairs, Janis Armstrong stopped Hannah. “I love your quest for knowledge. I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery and have often wondered what really happened to Mr. Schneider.”
“If I know Hannah, she’ll keep searching,” said Lauren. “She’ll investigate every possibility until she uncovers the truth.”
“Maybe you should let it rest,” Alex Snider said. “Some things are best left in the past.” He turned and entered his room.
Hannah awoke around 2:00 in the morning—unable to sleep. She got out of bed and looked out the window.. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw the tall figure of a man. She looked closer. She couldn’t see his face, but was certain it was Alex Snider.
She ran to Lauren’s bed and shook her. “Wake up! There’s a man in the backyard.”
“There really is a man walking in the back yard. At this time night. Doesn’t that seem strange?”
“Is he headless?”
“Headless horseman. Sleepy Hollow.”
“No of course not.”
“Then go back to sleep.” Lauren turned over and pulled a pillow over her head.
Hannah walked back to the window. Another movement caught her eye. Ivan stood on the porch of one of the houses and watched as the man disappeared into the woods.
I hope you’re enjoying the adventures at the Sleepy Hollow Inn. This is the third installment of the Summer Adventure series. To read more about Lauren, Hannah, and their Summer Adventure, visit the Friday Fiction section.