A Haunting Love by Emilee Harris

Chapter 3

Adele and Bessie arrived at Coral Cottage early on their appointed day, having received the approval from Mr. Alderman to stay at the house. Not for the first time she wondered at her mental state, given an utter lack of concern for the strange episode from the previous visit. She’d initially been startled and a bit frightened, despite her arguments to Mr. Alderman, but those feelings faded in the interim until she almost believed her arguments herself. A haunted house, what a preposterous idea. Even had any doubts lingered, Bessie was the best insurance to have against such ideas.

“This place is a right bit of work,” the housekeeper clucked upon entering the kitchen with a shake of her head. “Well, best get on with it.” Rolling up her sleeves and snatching an apron from the basket she carried, she made her way to the faucet with a bucket while Adele found a space to set out the foodstuffs they’d brought with for the stay.

“Well, now, that’s rotten luck,” the woman declared a few minutes later. Adele paused in the dusting she’d begun at the window of the breakfast nook to look over at her.

“What’s wrong?”

The bucket of water sat atop one of the burners on the range and Bessie stood doubled over with her nose all but touching the edge of the appliance. “There’s no gas. Did Mr. Alderman mention any troubles with the appliances?”

“No, none.”

“Well, that’s going to be a bother. We can’t clean the place properly without hot water.”

“I’ll call Mr. Alderman and see what he suggests.”

A short while later the women had moved on to some initial dusting, sweeping, and removing of dust sheets from furniture when a knock sounded at the back door. A young man, or rather a boy looking slightly older in experience than his years, stood outside with a small cast iron Golden Star stove in tow.

“Morning, ma’am,” he nodded. “I’m from the general store. Mr. Hartford said you ordered up a sad iron?”

“That’s right,” Bessie confirmed. “You can set it over there.” She waved at a general corner of the kitchen.

“All right,” she clapped and rubbed her hands together after the boy left again. “Now we can get to work.”

With marked efficiency, Bessie set her wash water to boiling and the true cleaning began. Adele could honestly say she’d never worked so hard in her life, but despite the draining exertion of it and the knowledge she might not be able to drag herself from her bed in the morning, an unfounded giddiness infused in her. With each window that winked out of its slumber, every new surface revealed like a jewel of hidden treasure, she felt an ever-deepening belonging and satisfaction. By the time she and Bessie paused in their work to eat lunch, she already felt as though this were her home.

“We’d best do up the beds next,” Bessie suggested around a bite of sandwich. “If we wait until the end of the day, we won’t want to anymore and will have to sleep on the dust.”

Adele smiled. “That would be a terrible waste of our efforts.” She sipped at the cup of coffee in her hands, holding the cup between both her hands as was her habit, though spending the majority of the day dipping those hands into hot water negated any need for additional warmth at present. She might have liked to give in to her fatigue and linger over lunch, but Bessie, stalwart housekeeper that she was, allowed for no entertaining of such thoughts.

“Come on, then, Miss,” she insisted as she cleared away the dishes. “This ship isn’t going to get itself seaworthy.”

“Why, Bessie, there’s some parlance I can’t say I’ve heard you use before.”

Bessie paused, thinking over her words. “You’re right. I suppose it’s the salty air addling my mind. Can’t say I’m used to air this fresh. Might not be good for the constitution.”

The women made their way upstairs, Adele happy to see she wasn’t the only one moving slowly, though the thought occurred to her Bessie might not want to let her feel weak and so feigned fatigue herself. For all her saltiness, the woman cared dearly for her mistress and Adele knew it.

“What an odd arrangement for a bedroom,” Bessie shook her head on entering the master bedroom and seeing the sparse and odd collection of furnishings. “You’d think the man would have taken more care to provide himself a bit of comfort after a life at sea. Especially with the time he took mapping out the rest of the place.”

“Perhaps he’d grown so far accustomed to things this way it didn’t occur to him,” Adele shrugged, stripping the dusty, half moth-eaten bedding from the bed. Bessie reached for the pillow, masterfully recovering it in the fine soft linen Adele had brought before beginning to unfold the larger bedsheets. “Or perhaps he never got around to it. I gather from Mr. Alderman the captain hadn’t been in residence long when he passed.”

“There’s a shame. He took ill?”

“Suicide.”

Bessie paused in her work, dragging one corner of the bed sheet up to her hip along with the fist she set there. “Well, if that isn’t a foolish way to go. I wouldn’t have taken a sea captain for such a coward.”

A gust of wind caught the window left open earlier in the day to help air the house and sent it slamming against the wall. Adele rushed over to close it, yelping when she caught her finger in the latch. “Oh, bother!” Shaking her hand and head, she returned to Bessie. Between the two of them, they made quick work dusting and sweeping, then moved on to one of the smaller rooms, which would house Bessie for the night.

By the time they finished their evening repast, though barely nine o’clock, both of them could hardly keep from yawning their exhaustion.

“You’d best take yourself to bed, Bessie. I’ll put up the dishes and do the same in a moment.”

“I’ll get the dishes, Miss, you needn’t bother with it.”

“It won’t take but a moment, I insist.” She all but shoved Bessie toward the doorway, not that the woman would have moved if she’d truly been unwilling to give over the task. She had the permanence of a brick wall when she so desired. With a nod and a half-swallowed thank you as another yawn beset her, she wandered upstairs.

Adele filled the wash bucket part way with water and set it atop the sad iron they’d been using, only to find to her chagrin as she attempted to light it, they’d depleted the oil.

“Oh, bother,” she grumbled, staring daggers at the bucket with hands on hips before narrowing her eyes at the gas range. “Mr. Alderman said there was no reason you shouldn’t work,” she accused. They’d ordered the tank based on the fact they would only be a day, which wasn’t likely enough time for Mr. Alderman to have the problem looked at and repaired.

Crossing her arms under her chest, she tilted her head toward the appliance and pursed her lips. With a determined huff, she hauled the bucket from its place and set it atop the stove. Turning the knob for the burner, she listened. Nothing. She flicked it off and turned again. Nothing.

“For heaven’s sake,” she slapped her palms against her thighs. “Why won’t you work?”

“Because I don’t wish it to work.”

Adele spun around, eyes wide, only to gaze into an empty room. Heart racing, she swallowed. Had she truly heard something? Of course she had. And to her chagrin it sounded a great deal like the tones of that rumbling laughter she so recently convinced herself she hadn’t heard. But how? There was obviously no one in the room.

“I don’t care for gas,” the voice returned, and she realized it had the same uncanny quality to it she’d noted previously, as though it emitted directly from her thoughts rather than go through the interpretation of her ears.

“Didn’t want the damned stuff in the first place, but the confounded workman convinced me it was best. Modernization. Bah!”

“Captain Daniels?” Adele blinked, eyes still wandering from floor to ceiling in their attempt to attach something tangible to the voice in her head.

“None other. I can’t say it’s a pleasure, Madam. Why are you in my home?”

“I mean to live here.”

“Do you? Don’t know where you got the notion I’d allow it. You may stay the night, as I never was the sort to cast a woman out from shelter into the night, even a trespassing vagrant, but I expect you and your accomplice to shove off in the morning.”

Adele stiffened her spine, anger dimming her good sense and muting the oddity of the situation. “How dare you. I am a prospective tenant to this home, here with the permission of the owner.”

“That blasted wharf-rat in South America is not the owner of this house!” The captain roared through her mind. “Bad enough some scoundrel lawyer had the audacity to name him my next of kin! I won’t have renters in my home. Especially not a woman. I meant this home to act as a retirement home for seamen.”

“Then why didn’t you arrange it that way before you killed yourself?”

“Because I did not kill myself! I fell asleep in front of the damned gas fireplace in my room. Must have kicked the damned valve with my foot in my sleep.”

“Must you use such language?”

“There’s nothing wrong with my damned language!”

Rolling her eyes, Adele continued. “Mr. Alderman said your cleaning woman attested that your windows were closed, but she’d never known you to close them, day or night.”

“And no one questioned how she knew that! I never invited her to sleep with me! There was a storm blowing the rain in through the window and ruining my floors and curtains. I shut the window. Do you mean to tell me you’d have done any differently?”

“No, I wouldn’t have.”

“There.”

“But the fact remains, you died without leaving provisions for the house, it is now owned by a relation of yours, and I mean to live here.” Forgetting the dishes and the water, she spun on her heel and made her way up to the bedroom.

* * *

“Absurd,”Adele muttered to herself as she turned down the freshly made bed. The realization she’d been standing in the kitchen arguing with a voice in her head had caused her abrupt departure from the kitchen. She must be extremely tired. Either that or she was going mad. Having rolled down her sleeves from her elbows, she reached for the buttons of her blouse at her neck.

“There is nothing absurd about my defense of my home.” Captain Daniels’ voice insisted, sending her heart shooting up into her throat. “Neither are you going mad. Now, why do you wish to live here?”

Peering into the darkened corners of the room, Adele fought her frantic pulse. “I have no desire to argue with you, Captain, I wish to prepare for bed, now please leave.”

“Prepare all you like, but without confirmation you intend to leave this house in the morning and not return, make no mistake you will have an argument on your hands.”

“I can’t prepare for bed with you here, please leave.”

“Why the devil not? Confound it woman, I’ve been dead nearly two decades. My flesh and any earthly desires that went along with it are void. A better tactic, should you wish for me to leave, is to answer the question I’ve posed.”

“You wouldn’t understand my sentiment, you’ve obviously too hard a heart. I shall take up my inquiry with Mr. Alderman in the morning and there will be nothing you can do about it.”

“Oh no? Upon my word, though I pride myself no woman has ever been the worse for knowing me, on the matter of my property I am not above creating a living hell to dissuade you.”

Adele remembered why she requested this stay in the first place. She might be willing to suffer an irate ghost on the grounds of reasonable rent, but she couldn’t stand for anything to frighten her children. “The house needs me.”

“The house needs nothing of the sort.”

“It does. With no one here to care for it, it will fall into even greater disrepair. How is that a testament to what you’d planned for it?”

“I would rather it fall into disrepair than be rented out to blasted tenants who would actively tear it to bits.”

“I wouldn’t do that. I want a home, someplace warm and sturdy to raise my children. If you care so much for this house, you ought to consider what’s best for the house. Didn’t you mean for it to be warm and inviting if you envisioned a rest home?”

A long pause ensued.

“Couldn’t you allow me to stay here on trial? Six months? I could prove what good care I’d take of the place.”

“Give a man an inch, he’ll take a mile. Women are worse. Even so, there might be a measure of reason in your request. Very well, you may stay through the spring.”

“Oh, wonderful! And you’ll leave and not bother us that whole time?”

“Of course not, blast it! This is my home.”

Her shoulders sagged. She spent some time deep in thought trying to find a solution. In the end she shook her head. “Well, after all that you’ll have your way after all. I can’t bring my children here.”

“Why not?”

“How in the world would I explain you to them? And aside from that, you’d be a terrible influence with your language and questionable sailor’s morals.”

“Seaman, blast it! Sailor is a landlubber’s word. My language is damned impeccable, and so are my morals. Your brats will not be ill-influenced by me.”

“Even so, Children are wont to tell tales, it won’t do any of us any good to start telling tales of ghosts. No, it was kind of you to relent and allow us to stay, but I’ll have to abandon the idea. A shame, I do feel as though this house was practically calling to me to restore some life to it.”

Tears stung at Adele’s eyes, and she sniffed. Exhaustion no doubt amplified her disappointment, but the words rang true. In the span of only a few hours she’d come to consider the place her home. Her lip trembled.

“Here, now, belay that! I cannot abide a woman’s crying.”

“I’m sorry, Captain, but I can’t help it. The house seemed so appreciative of our efforts today, I was looking forward to making it shine.”

“What a lot of drivel.” The captain’s voice faded away and Adele held her breath. Weariness weighed down on her and her eyelids drooped. Remembering the bed and the hour, she dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and proceeded to get herself changed and tucked into bed.

“I have it!” The captain’s voice pounded through her thoughts just as she began to drift into sleep, sending her sitting up in a panic, clutching the blanket up to her chin. “What if I promise to restrict my wandering to my bedroom and the widow’s walk? Your children would have practically no chance of encountering me in that arrangement.”

“You haven’t been here the entire time, have you?”

“That’s neither here nor there. What do you say to my proposal?”

“It’s very much here and there. Did you not even give me a moment’s privacy?”

“Damn it, Madam, concentrate. Would the arrangement of my limited roaming be acceptable to you?”

“If you remain in this bedroom, where will I sleep?”

“In this bedroom.”

“That’s impossible!”

“Only to your feather-brained mind! I am quite losing patience with you.”

With a growl, Adele slumped back down to the mattress, rolling to face the wall and tugging the blanket up to her ears.

“Very well, then, I shall take up watch on the widow’s walk for tonight. You might thank me in the morning for my consideration of your unfounded concerns.”

Adele scrunched her eyes shut.

“By the way, you have a fine figure, you ought to be proud of it and not covering it up with all that black drab.”

She rolled back to face the room, out of instinct she supposed as she knew by now no figure would greet her. But Captain Daniels was truly gone this time, she knew it in the stillness and dull quality of the emptiness around her.