A Haunting Love by Emilee Harris

Chapter 4

Sleep must have come swiftly, for Adele hardly noted closing her eyes before that weightless sensation known only in those moments when one is no longer tied to conscious thought settled around her. She dreamed as though she were awake, still in bed and observing the room about her. In her dream she thought she ought to worry over what was to become of her and her children. This fine home had been so close to theirs. But try as she might, no sense of worry overtook her. Instead, a deep warmth surrounded her, providing an unfelt embrace and all the calmness of deep security.

A movement on the far side of the room diverted her attention, a blur of color like a smudge of paint across canvas. A wisp of smoke, dark blue fading to white, slowly the form of another occupant in the room took shape. Even without seeing it fully, she knew it was Captain Daniels. He paced near the telescope, first lumbering in one direction then the next in that rolling fashion taken on by men accustomed to adjusting balance on a rocking ship.

He wore his dark navy pea coat turned up at the collar, one hand tucked into a pocket, the other holding a pipe on which he gnawed absently. That hand looked nothing like the lifeless, wooden rendering of his portrait. That tanned hand was broad and firm, capable of holding a wheel against angry currents or commanding the securing ropes of rigging unwilling to be lashed down in a storm.

Turning his back on the darkness outside, he marched toward the fireplace, leaning in to inspect the bricks and gas valve with a deep frown. It struck Adele, as she watched him fold himself forward to his task, then straighten again, he was a much taller man than his portrait suggested. Tall and trim, broad shouldered and sturdy, he exuded the aura of a man who would have dared the elements to knock him down aboard his ship. Not at all the figure of a man who would have taken his own life. Had Adele harbored any doubts about his earlier explanation, they all vanished now.

Apparently satisfied in his inspection of the fireplace, he angled in her direction. Adele’s heart thrilled, though the feeling proved difficult to place in the moment. She could have recognized it in an instant if she’d had any concept of her corporeal form, but at the moment she existed as a dimensionless sense of self within hazy surroundings. Therefore, she felt something akin to a shiver, if that feeling could be omnipresent in a space. His features, as they solidified before her, also bore little resemblance to their pale counterparts in the painting from the sitting room.

He came very near, pausing beside the bed and again leaning down to peer at her. Wavy hair and a neatly trimmed beard shone not quite golden but not dark either, more of a deep amber that one expected to adjust in depth according to the mood of his surroundings, glinting like a lion’s mane in the sun or deepening to warm honey when moonlight reflected off the night sea. The angles of his jaw and nose cut sharp and precise away from his face, reminding Adele of sketches of old Nordic conquerors. And yet, something soft and languid lingered in his eyes of bright blue, an unexpected depth of kindness. He remained standing there only a brief while, but during those seconds Adele experienced an unerring sense of safety, a protective shield about her.

But then he retreated, moving back to the window and opening it before again taking up his pacing. He wore a concerned expression and fretted in his movements. To Adele it looked as though he were trying to sort through some distressing dilemma. So real did her dream feel to her that she didn’t notice her transition from sleep to wakefulness until she shivered and noted the distinct sensation of muscles clenching and releasing in the process. The weightlessness vanished and she sank into the mattress of the bed. In the first moments of cognizance, her mind failed to make the connection with her body and her eyes instinctively looked toward the window in search of Captain Daniels, who must surely still be there.

Only darkness met her gaze, punctuated by a lone wash of silver moonlight painted across the floor. A flutter of white brought her attention back to the windows, one of which stood open, its light linen curtain fluttering against the cold breeze which had woken her. Mustering up control of her limbs, she sat up with a barely restrained groan and padded over to shut the window. Closing the latch sparked something in her memory.

“I closed you,” she mumbled, staring at the latch. Too groggy to attempt making any further connection, she stepped to the side to take in the view from the French doors. A vast expanse of blue-black water glistened under the glow of a bright white moon, the sky a matte reflection extending the vision out into eternity. Suddenly aware of her small stature and limited life experience, she found herself wondering what lay beyond the horizon.

“A treasure trove of adventure and beauty,” The captain’s voice drifted into her thoughts as gently as fog settling upon the harbor. “You ought to explore it, you know.”

“I have two children. My place is on land. It would have been nice to dream though, with such a fine view to inspire me.”

“Stay. I can provide the details to your imagination.”

“How can I share a home with a ghost?”

“In the same manner you shared a home with a husband, I imagine.”

“Impertinent.”

“Truthful. It’s not as though you loved the man.”

That snapped Adele fully awake with an angry gasp.

“You needn’t become defensive at the observation. You may have cared for the man, but you most certainly did not love him.”

“And how would you know that?”

“Death has a way of providing clarity in all things. One soul bleeds into the next, human beings share memory and emotion far more than they are ever aware of. That’s the root of empathy and feelings of having experienced something once already. Without the encumbrance of a mortal shell, one is free to drift through these memories and sensations.”

“That seems very intrusive.”

“I suppose it is to the limited thought of the earth-bound.”

“Why did you open the window, you nearly froze me to death.”

“Dramatics. You were in no threat of death. I opened the window because I didn’t want yet another claim of suicide in my home.”

“I assure you I mean to survive the night. Please keep the window closed for the duration of it.”

Weariness and aching muscles again settling down on her, Adele turned back to the bed, crawling into its lingering warmth and curling up on her side. She knew her mind was only half aware, but she nursed an uncanny desire to return to that dream state. To the warmth and security of it. Within moments she felt herself drifting into the abyss again, cocooned in a sense of calm, breathing in the light fragrance of clean damp wool, sea salt, and sweet tobacco.

* * *

Morning shone brightthrough the window as Adele stretched in place under the covers. The stark contrast of light and silent emptiness against her swiftly fading memories of the night before almost served to convince Adele her interaction with the captain had all been a dream. Almost. Some invisible headiness lingered in the air like the pipe smoke she’d dreamed of. A vibrancy occupied this home in a way she’d never experienced in another. The house felt somehow more… alive than the materials of its construction warranted.

She wandered back through the haze of her dreams, recalling to mind the features of the man she’d envisioned pacing the room. Her cheeks burned. How could her imagination have concocted such an impossibly handsome man? Even if some stroke of subconscious brilliance mustered it, no explanation existed for their conversation. She never used foul language, even to herself. She couldn’t have created such an experience from the desert of her imagination.

The scent of fresh coffee drifted upstairs to shake her from her pondering and entice her down for breakfast. Dressing as swiftly as her aching muscles would allow, she hurried downstairs. Bessie awaited her with a simple yet hearty meal which served well to put Adele at ease.

“Will you look at that, Miss,” Bessie nodded toward the stove. “That range wouldn’t light for nothing all day yesterday, and this morning it came right to life, easy as you please.”

Adele gulped her coffee, flinching and staving off a bout of coughing when the still hot liquid scalded her throat. “How peculiar,” she croaked, losing her appetite for the remainder of her breakfast.

She helped Bessie with the dishes and dove straight into reversing some of their work from the day before. The women stripped the bedding and refolded it, gathered up what cleaning supplies and remaining foodstuffs they’d brought with them, and generally made ready for the arrival of the car that would take them back to town.

“I think that’s everything, Miss,” Bessie announced as they set their belongings beside the door. “It’s a fine day out, unseasonable warm. Would you like to sit out on the porch to wait?”

“I don’t think so, Bessie, but you’re welcome to if you like. I’d like to take a look at the harbor from the balcony upstairs. You know I think that’s my favorite view from this house.”

“Have you decided if you want to stay?”

She opened her mouth to let Bessie know she’d decided in the negative, but something caught the words in her throat so that all she could do was shake her head. “It’s certainly a lovely space, isn’t it? Or at least it will be with a bit more cleaning.”

“I can’t say it’s unpleasant, no, and at least it doesn’t need extensive work.”

The prickling at the back of her neck started up again. Adele had completely forgotten the sensation. It drew her attention to the stairs. “Will you let me know when the car gets here, Bessie?”

“Yes, Miss.”

Upstairs, the master bedroom welcomed her with the bright, childlike glee of late morning. The sun no longer shone directly through the windows but remained near enough to brighten both the room and her spirits. She stepped around the telescope to open the French doors, smiling the instant a cool breeze caressed her, the soft balancing touch to the sun’s warm kiss. Breathing in deeply, she stood a moment with eyes closed and head tilted up to the sky.

Letting out a sigh, she brought her attention to the small harbor, stepping up to the railing and gazing out over the sparkling sea. A few specks in the distance made their way in one direction or another. She knew them to be fishing trawlers, but had to squint to make out their shapes, so near to the horizon. A memory flashed and she smiled with delight before rounding again toward the interior of the bedroom.

She’d never looked through a telescope, the childlike desire assaulted her on first seeing the item, but she hadn’t the chance. Now she could. Grinning, she hurried behind the piece and tossed her veil behind her, taking hold of the instrument with gloved hands and peering through the eyepiece. All at once, those vague dots on the horizon took shape, boats of various colors and sizes, all wandering the waves on their particular mission.

“A transfixing sight, isn’t it? The motions of man, made so small and insignificant against the backdrop of an endless sea.” This time when the captain’s voice rang through her thoughts, she accepted it as real without question. How quickly she seemed to flip between belief and disbelief. That knowledge somehow bothered her more than the idea of conversing with a ghost.

“It is, and I’m surprised at the viewing distance of this telescope. It’s quite powerful.”

“Of course it is, I spared no expense. A man of the sea does not easily resign himself to land, I wanted something that would take me as far out to sea as possible whenever I pleased.”

“It’s beautiful. But you know the components look a great deal like those of a barometer in Mr. Alderman’s office.”

“They ought to,” The Captain’s voice turned steely. “I had both pieces commissioned together. That damned kinsman of mine gave Alderman the barometer to prevent him from quitting his contract after I ran off the third prospective renter.”

“I’m sorry,” Adele searched for a change of subject. “You know, for all my time living so near Boston, I’ve never been aboard a ship.”

“You would have enjoyed it, I’m sure.”

“What makes you so sure? I might be plagued with seasickness the moment I step foot on a ship.”

“No, you’ve got a stronger constitution than that. You’re stronger in general than the world takes you for, aren’t you?”

She hesitated, uneasy at the depth of the captain’s intrusion into her feelings. She’d long resented people’s insistence that her small stature indicated fragility.

From her vantage point, she could see a fair distance down the road and noted a land-bound speck approaching. “Thank you for the vote of confidence, Captain. I wish you and the house well.”

“You say that in a tone of parting.”

“Yes, I told you I can’t stay here.”

“And I told you, you can. In fact, you will.”

“Captain—”

“I’ve come up with the perfect solution, and mind this is my final offer.”

“I didn’t ask for an offer.”

“Only because you haven’t had the sense to. I’ve hit upon a solution which would at once fulfill both of our needs.”

“Both of our needs?”

“Yes. You wish to stay here, and I have no wish to deal with renters. Therefore, you shall buy the house on the condition that you do as I originally intended and leave instruction in your will to convert the place to a retired seaman’s home upon your death.”

Adele nearly spun around, remembering in the final instant it would be fruitless to do so. “How in the world do you expect me to buy this house? Has it occurred to you that a woman willing to negotiate living in a haunted house might be doing so because it comes at a bargain price?”

“You will buy the house with my money. I had some hidden about the property and those vultures who laid claim to the place never knew of it.”

“I can’t do that, it’s stealing.”

“Good heaven’s woman, do you not know the definition of that word? It’s not stealing if I give it to you, now is it?”

“You’re dead, by rights that money belongs to your kinsman.”

“My kinsman be damned! Do you want to stay here or don’t you?” The captain roared.

Adele bit her lip.

“That’s better.” His voice calmed. “Now listen to me, you will go into town today and advise Mr. Alderman that one night in this home has so thoroughly enchanted you that you wish to make an offer for the place.”

“You call that a night of enchantment?” She lifted a brow.

“My apologies for lack of practice in recent years. Are you listening to what I’m telling you?”

“Yes, yes, I heard you. But what if that relative of yours doesn’t accept the offer?”

“If he has any sense at all he’ll accept.”

“But what if he doesn’t?”

A rumbling akin to faint thunder drifted through Adele’s thoughts and if she had to hazard a guess, she assumed that was the ghostly equivalent to an angry sigh.

“I’m beginning to remember why I never allowed a woman aboard my ship. I may have wasted my effort in concocting this scheme. Perhaps I ought to reconsider.”

“I’ll make the offer,” she rushed to confirm. “I just don’t understand how you can be so sure it will work.”

“I am sure because it is what I want and therefore it will come to pass. This is a basic law of existence. Luckily, I knew it already in life.”

“I’m not surprised.” Adele muttered.

“Miss?”

This time Adele did spin around to find Bessie standing in the doorway. “Yes?”

“The car is here, Miss.”

Adele started. For a moment she’d completely forgotten the house didn’t yet belong to her. “Oh, yes, of course.” She moved to secure the French doors and followed Bessie out of the house, wondering if this scheme of the captain’s truly would work.