Chapter Ten – The Stars.

“We need to talk about Gabriel,” Jacob sat down in an armchair and rubbed his fingers down the bridge of his nose.

Ilse and Pilgrim watched him sceptically. They had seated themselves already, cocktail glasses placed in front of them on a small table. They’d been served earlier by one of Gabriel’s household staff, who seemed to have the ability to disappear and reappear so seamlessly that Jacob hadn’t really noticed them at all before.

“We were speaking together earlier,” Jacob lifted his own glass to his lips and took a sip, “about last night. The incident in the ballroom. Gabriel claims that he saw the ghost of his father in there.”

There was a heavy silence. Pilgrim was idly stirring his cocktail and gazing intently into its depths. Ilse had fixed Jacob with an icy stare.

“I wonder why that was?” She murmured eventually, “Perhaps something happened that made him remember his father, hmm? Something that unsettled him a little.”

“Will you shut up about that?” Jacob scowled and took a deeper swig of his drink, blinking rapidly. He hated it when Ilse confronted him like this. She would never let anything go.

“It just seems a little strange to me,” Ilse raised her glass, keeping her eyes on Jacob over its rim, “that one moment you’re happy to torment poor Gabriel, the next you’re suddenly concerned for him.”

Jacob ran his tongue across his lips quickly and shut his eyes. For a moment he simply sat there, in darkness. Then he inhaled deeply, downed his drink and opened his eyes, returning Ilse’s stare.

“Before now I didn’t know that he had serious mental health issues,” he said, “following our conversation I think that he just might. Look, I’m sorry for messing around with him, I’ve said it before. If I’d known he’d crack under such little pressure I wouldn’t have done anything. I was just interested in his father and, I’ll be honest, I didn’t like him all that much. I wanted to get under his skin.”

A movement from the corner of his eye made Jacob turn. Pilgrim had looked up at him with his big, grey cat’s eyes. He put his glass back down on the table. He hadn’t touched a drop. He was not smiling.

“Gabriel is very dear to me,” he said quietly, “after our meeting in America he and I have become very close. If he’s suffering in any way then I will do anything possible to try and help him.”

“Now it’s this America trip that I’m interested in,” Jacob pointed at Pilgrim, “what happened? Gabriel told me he saw things there that… made him believe in ghosts. Perhaps something that happened to him in America could be the cause of his current mental state.”

“I’m sorry,” Pilgrim shook his head, “I don’t know much and what I can tell you won’t be useful without the full story. You’ll need to ask Gabriel. Don’t expect him to tell you though. Even I don’t know everything that happened to him.”

Jacob resettled himself in his chair. He couldn’t help but allow a grin to spread across his face.

“Don’t worry,” he said, scratching his knuckle,  “I’m sure I’ll be able to prize the truth from him.”

Ilse looked at him with brows furrowed. Shaking her head she placed her glass down on the table decisively.

“Jacob,” she said, “you are not to try any more silly games with our host. Whatever the state of his mind I’m sure Jacob doesn’t appreciate your constant pestering and prying. You have to leave him alone, understand?”

Turning to Pilgrim, Ilse narrowed her eyes, searching for signs of agreement implicit in his expression. Evidently she found him as unreadable as Jacob, because she was about to turn back to him when Pilgrim suddenly spoke.

“On the contrary,” he said, “I think the best idea would be for Jacob to work on Gabriel. Whatever it is in Gabriel’s past that is affecting him must be uncovered. Jacob seems to have a keen understanding of how to pull Gabriel’s strings. If there is anyone who can drag that story from him, I believe it might be you. See what you can do.”

He stood up decisively, making Jacob flinch, and turned to go. Almost as an afterthought he turned back and fixed Jacob with a piercing gaze.

“Be sure to be more gentle this time, though,” he said, “your earlier antics did more harm than good. See to it that this doesn’t happen again.”

Without another word, Pilgrim strode from the room. Jacob watched his back, eyes narrowed. Then he looked back at his cocktail glass, suddenly wishing he hadn’t finished his drink so quickly.

He felt a hand on his arm. Ilse frowned at him and shook her head.

“Oh come on,” Jacob smirked, “you’re not still angry? I’m trying to undo the damage that I dealt, aren’t I?”

“It’s not that,” Ilse sighed and released his arm, “I’m worried that you’re straying back into your old ways, Jacob.”

“My old ways,” Jacob put his head to one side, “what do you mean? I want to help Gabriel for God’s sake. That’s not so bad, is it? You think a little bit of harmless meddling will push me over the edge, hmm?”

“Your meddling is never harmless,” Ilse said sharply, “Jacob, you can’t just treat people like toys that you can break apart and put together as you please. I thought you’d left that life behind.”

Jacob didn’t say anything. Ilse stood up slowly and moved away from him towards the door carrying her glass in one hand.

“Please,” she said over her shoulder, “be careful. Believe it or not, Jacob, I care about you just as much as I care about Gabriel. I don’t want to watch you destroy all the progress that you’ve made. I don’t want to see you become that man again.”

Not looking at her, Jacob leaned forward and clasped his hands together, twiddling his thumbs.

“Right,” he murmured to himself.

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