The lantern light cast odd shadows over the hallway outside the study, but there was nothing - no one, no rabbit - just an empty hallway.
And then Reginald felt a gentle tug on his pant-leg, accompanied by a soft, tiny voice. "You're going mad mister."
He jerked around like something had bit him and found himself staring down at a little girl in a white rabbit suit.
Only it wasn't quite a white rabbit suit. It was a little girl who was part rabbit... with floppy ears and disconcerting red eyes that now stared up at him. "Mister?"
Reginald continued to stare. The little girl's(if indeed that was what she was) nose and whiskers twitched inquisitively; as though she were scenting him.
He was halfway through asking who she was when he decided instead to settle with. "Who are you? How did you get in my house?"
"That's not a very polite." She replied, her ears flattening and eyes narrowing.
"I...well... listen here, this is my house!" He realized he was shouting which might awake the servants. Understandable perhaps with strangers sneaking in but there existed in the back of his mind some doubt as to how much of this conversation was real.
"Its kind of dark..." The girl replied, looking around. "...and dingy I think."
"That's hardly the way to speak about someone else's house but besides that, what's your name and who are your parents?" Reginald demanded. Half-rabbit or not she was still a little girl - maybe eight years old at best.
She seemed to deliberate on this question longer than necessary. "I don't know. I'm not sure that rabbit-girls have parents or names."
Reginald stood, again lost for words - at least momentarily. "Nonsense! You must have a name - and parents."
"Have you ever met a rabbit-girl before? I haven't." She asked. He couldn't say that he had. "So how can you really say? Anyways I think I was just a girl once... but I can't really say for certain. Its so hard to remember these things now."
"So you remember remebering things better before?"
"I think...maybe..." She paused and finally settled on: "I don't know."
"Listen, you can't be out this late..." He paused. "Rabbit or no - and you certainly can't be in my house."
"Then where will I go?" She asked, looking to him with imploring eyes.
It was one thing to say shoo out a rabbit, but quite another thing to say no to kick an eight year old girl out onto the street at 3 in the morning. "Wait here."
Ringing the bell for Ezra, their household servant, Reginald realized this could turn dreadfully awkward if the rabbit girl was indeed a figment of his imagination. However Ezra appeared faithfully, still tying a robe around her nightdress as she hurried towards him.
"Wha 'tis it Mista Hargreaves?" She sounded more irritated than usual about being woken out of a sound sleep.
"A what...?" She looked at him as though he'd sprouted horns.
"A girl - in the house. I don't know..." Even as he continued he could see Ezra's face blanching somewhat. He trailed off staring at her, no doubt dumbly. "...what is it?"
"A little girl sir? You've seen her."
Sweet meriful God, what was going on here now, Reginald could not help but wonder. "... yes."
"With um... the ears sir?"
Reginald took a few moments to go stare at a wall. Ezra continued talking, though he was paying attention in only the vaguest sense of the word. "She's downstairs, outside the study."
Of course, when they went down the girl was gone and there was no trace she'd ever been there.
"Its them papers that done it sir - I got concerned for Mrs Hargreaves ya know... always in her room always reading and writin' that rubbish. So I decided I ought to make sure it wasn't anything might be harmin' 'er 'ealth - and why shouldn't I? That's when I first sawr 'er you know - but I couldn't say nuthin' to nobody; ye'd 'ave thought I was a right loon, and no country manor for me, oh no, I'd be right off to the asylum."
Reginald wasn't paying attention to her again. He wasn't sure what was happening now or why. One way or another though he needed to speak with Alice as soon as possible. He burned her papers before sunset, and through what sleep he got that night he had the vaguest sense that he was being watched by... something.