And now the VOA Learning English program, Words and Their Stories.
This week we finish the three-part story “Mystery at The Ice Castle Inn.” You will learn not only the ending of the mystery but also more English expressions that deal with cold.
At the end of part two, our four travelers had gone on a treasure hunt. They followed clues and searched the castle. But as they gather by the fire to tell what they found, no one is happy. What they found are not treasures at all.
The actress, Sylvia, is deeply disturbed by a pink baby’s rattle. A framed termination letter unnerves teacher Madeline. A white wedding veil angers Vincent, the handsome athlete. Major Jack is saddened by a military medal.
As each person looks at their so-called treasure, they hear a terrifying sound from the room above.
They all break out in a cold sweat. They are so scared they cannot speak -- well, all but one. The housekeeper remains as cool as a cucumber. They wonder why she is able to stay so calm while they are scared to death.
The housekeeper tells them to not move. She will investigate.
As they listen to her footsteps traveling up the massive staircase, Sylvia asks, “Shouldn’t one of us go with her? What if it is a wild animal?”
Vincent says, “I am staying right here by the fire and drink my wine. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night.”
The teacher suggests they use furniture to block the door in case the creature, whatever it is, is dangerous. Major Jack suggests they each find something to use as a weapon.
Time passes. Finally, Sylvia speaks. “Someone needs to check on the housekeeper,” she says. The actress goes the door. But when she tries the knob, it will not turn! She runs to a window and pulls up. But it does not move.
She cries out. “We are not only snowed in --- we are locked in!”
Everyone stops cold. They stop immediately.
“You can’t snow us, Sylvia,” yells Vincent. “And why would you try to fool us, anyway?”
He hurries to the door but finds it is, indeed, locked. The others run to the windows but none will open.
Major Jack finally loses his cool and yells at the group. “Why are we here?! What is going on?”
“Look, everyone just chill out,” Madeline says, using her poor classroom discipline skills to try to calm the group. Then, she explains why she is at The Ice Castle Inn.
“I was invited,” she says. “That’s why I'm here. The plane ticket, room, food -- everything was free!”
The others look at each other in shock. They all received identical invitations. Each guest comes to the same realization at once: they are victims of a trick.
“Getting us all together here in this castle – it is one big snow job,” says Major Jack.
Sylvia agrees, “Yes, but who is trying to snow us? Who invited us?”
Just then, the door to the room creaks open. The four guests stare as the housekeeper walks into the room. She has returned from investigating the upstairs.
“I invited you,” she says.
“You? You?! You’re just a housekeeper,” says Madeline.
She eyes them each, coldly.
“No, I’m not just the housekeeper. My name is Crystal Castle. The Ice Castle Inn is mine. And now, I’d like you to meet my daughter, my adopted daughter, Hope.”
A young woman enters. She is very thin and her straight, blond hair is messy. But her face – it’s like an angel’s. She wears a silky white nightgown and robe. They look costly. But her feet are bare. Her body twitches and her eyes move nervously around the room. She doesn’t speak.
Vincent drops his wine glass. He is suddenly stone cold sober, as he says, “Hope? Is that you?”
Madeline, is now standing next to Vincent.
“It can’t be. Hope? I haven’t seen you in years.”
“You haven’t seen her in exactly 5 years.” says Crystal.
Sylvia and Major Jack do not recognize Hope. They are only more confused.
“Was she the one who made that terrible noise? Is she … mad? I mean, is she crazy?” asks the major.
Crystal, no longer the housekeeper, yells at them, “Hope is as pure as the driven snow! She is good and kind. But yes, she is mad. And you four people in this room drove her to madness! That is why you are here!”
It is now the middle of the night. Crystal let’s everything out in the open. She explains how each person in that room contributed to her beloved girl’s insanity.
“I’ll start with you, Vincent. You and Hope were engaged. But on the wedding day, you broke your promise to marry her, leaving her stranded at the church!”
Vincent says nervously, “I got cold feet! I was nervous and changed my mind at the last minute.”
He picks up the white wedding veil from the floor and holds it tightly.
“If you must know, it was the worst mistake of my life. I’ve never been the same. I’ve never been happy. I was happy with Hope. But I was too young to marry.”
He sinks into the chair. He looks deep into the fire, his mind trapped in the mistake of years past.
“You may think you know me but you don’t know anything about me,” he says, his voice filled with regret.
“I know a lot about you, Vincent,” Crystal says.
She knows, for example, that Vincent’s wealth and status come entirely from his wife’s family. She also knows that he was married before and never got divorced.
“Which means,” she continues, “that you are not legally married to your rich wife. What will happen if I tell her and her family?”
“I would lose it all,” he says, “my wealth, home, social position. But, I don’t care. Tell them. I don’t care about anything. Life without Hope has been a cold and lonely place. I bet you didn’t know that.”
Outside the storm is easing. The wind blows lighter and the snow has stopped. And, Hope has changed ever so slightly. She puts on a pair of slippers and moves toward the fireplace. Standing over Vincent, she lays a hand on his head.
And then she speaks. “It is okay, Vincent. We were very young.”
They are Hope’s first words in many months.
The young man can’t bring himself to look at Hope. He simply holds tighter to her wedding veil.
Crystal moves to her daughter, hugs her tightly and puts a coat over her shoulders. Then, she redirects her frigid stare to Madeline. The teacher looks down at the framed letter in her hands.
“You don’t need to speak, Crystal. I can explain this myself,” Madeline says.
She says she and Hope worked at the same school. At first, they were best friends. Hope was very talented, beautiful and kind. Everyone liked her very much. Over time, Madeline became very jealous.
“I tried to freeze her out as much as possible. I gave Hope the cold shoulder. I tried my best to leave her out of things. But that didn’t work. So, I stole money from the school and made it look like Hope did it. She was fired immediately.”
Crystal answers with anger. “You destroyed her career and her reputation!”
“Crystal, you should check again,” Madeline says. “Several teachers investigated the theft knowing their beloved Hope would not steal. They suspected I was to blame for the situation. But, they couldn’t find any evidence against me so they couldn’t fire me.”
“But, my career has been in a deep freeze ever since,” Madeline continues. "My students hate me, the other teachers hate me and I hate my job. And I’ve never had another friend like Hope.” As she says this she throws the framed termination letter across the room.
Hope says in a calm, clear voice, “It will all be okay. Listen … outside … the storm has stopped.”
The actress, Sylvia, suddenly feels an unexpected and strong feeling for this strange, quiet young woman. Then she asks Crystal how she is connected to Hope.
Crystal says with an icy tone in her voice, “Why, Sylvia, Hope is your daughter.”
With that news, Sylvia passes out cold.
When she wakes up, the others learn why the actress so often holds her gold locket close to her heart. In the locket are pictures of a baby girl and a baby boy – babies she gave up for adoption.
“I was young and alone,” Sylvia explains. “I was poor and snowed under so many unpaid bills that I could barely breathe. I didn’t know what to do with two babies. But I have thought of them every day since. But how did you come to adopt them?”
Crystal says she was a young doctoral student assigned to the orphanage. She took care of the brother and sister. When a rich relative died, she inherited a fortune and The Ice Castle Inn. So, she adopted the two babies and raised them as her own.
As Crystal talks of raising two wonderful children, the actress holds the locket to her chest.
It was Crystal’s plan all along to expose Sylvia’s history. She thought that people would stop seeing her films if they knew she had given up her own children to further her career. But she now realizes that that is not true.
Crystal also realizes she was wrong and feels, quite unexpectedly, ashamed. She doesn’t feel any better when Sylvia looks down at her locket and asks, “Where is my son?”
“This is where the major comes into the story,” Crystal says hesitantly.
Major Jack says that he does not know this young woman.
Crystals agrees with him. “That’s right. You don’t,” she says. “But you did know her brother – her only brother. They were so close growing up. They were more like best friends than brother and sister. His name was Lieutenant Justice Castle.”
Major Jack’s blood turns to ice. Yes, he knows the name Justice Castle very well.
“Justice was a soldier under my command – one of the finest soldiers I have ever met. We were on a peace keeping mission and weren’t supposed to see any fighting. But I got my information wrong. I sent his squad into a dangerous area.”
The major has a difficult time continuing. His voice breaks as he speaks and his eyes fill with tears.
“Justice was killed in action because of my mistake. But I lied on official reports. I blamed him for misreading a map. This has haunted me ever since. Before coming on this trip, I told my superiors the truth about what happened that day. When I return, I will probably be court-martialed. And I deserve it.”
Crystal turns off a recording device. She had planned to say, “And now I have recorded your statement, Major.” She had planned to say, “Now, I have the proof I need to ruin you too.”
But her plans are not necessary now. He is already a ruined man.
Vincent is the next to speak. “Do you mean to tell us, that for the past several years you have been collecting information on us, planning this whole trip just to get even with us?”
Crystal stares at the empty faces of the group and says, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
“What does that mean, mother?” asks Hope as she moves to Crystal’s side.
“It means,” she explains, “that I have waited a long time to get my revenge. And that just makes my revenge feel even better.”
“But revenge won’t bring back Justice, will it.”
“No, it won’t, my dear.”
Crystal collapses into a chair, tired from the years of planning and hating. She has waited so long to get her revenge for her daughter but now it is cold comfort. The revenge has offered her none of the reward she thought it would.
“Oh, look! The sun is coming up!” Hope says happily. “And what’s that on the horizon?”
The group are shocked to hear the sounds of a helicopter approaching.
“Look mother!” says Hope. “A helicopter is landing on the big lawn! How beautiful the day is going to be.” She looks reborn, renewed.
“Yes, I think it will be,” says Crystal Castle. “Let’s get our bags and leave this cold place. How would you like to spend the rest of the winter on a tropical island?”
“That sounds lovely,” Hope says as the color returns to her cheeks. “But what about the others? I hope they will be alright. I hope.”
A helicopter is not the only sound they hear. A snow plow is slowly working its way up the long drive to The Ice Castle Inn. It won’t be long before Vincent, Madeline, Sylvia and Major Jack will be able to leave the inn and return to their normal lives.
Or will they? Will their lives ever be normal again? Will any of them ever be the same ever again?
And so ends “Mystery at The Ice Castle Inn.”
I’m Anna Matteo.
Anna Matteo wrote “Mystery at The Ice Castle Inn.” Kelly Jean Kelly, Ashley Thompson and Caty Weaver edited the three parts.
Words in This Story
disturb – v. to worry or upset (someone)
obvious – adj. easy for the mind to understand or recognize
stranded – v. to leave (a person or animal) in a place without a way of leaving it
identical – adj. being the same
twitch – v. to make a slight, sudden movement that is not controlled or deliberate
insanity – n. severe mental illness : the condition of being insane
regret – n. to feel sad or sorry about (something that you did or did not do)
frigid – adj. very cold : not friendly or loving : lacking emotional warmth
inherited – v. to receive (money, property, etc.) from someone when that person dies
fortune – n. a very large amount of money — usually singular
lullaby – n. a song used to help a child fall asleep
revenge – n. he act of doing something to hurt someone because that person did something that hurt you
ashamed – adj. feeling shame, guilt, or disgrace
hesitantly – adv. slow to act or proceed
haunt – v. to keep coming back to the mind of (someone) especially in a way that makes the person sad or upset : haunted – adj.
court-martial – v. to present evidence against (someone) in a military court : to put (someone) on trial in a military court
tropical – adj. of, relating to, occurring in, or used in the tropics