A Haunting Love by Emilee Harris
To her great surprise, the purchase of Coral Cottage transpired without issue. The house’s owner proved all too willing to divest himself of the property for a paltry sum and none of Adele’s family questioned her procurement of the funds to do so. That in itself appeared suspicious to her mind, but she could think of no explanation and honestly didn’t care to. The house was hers and she looked forward to settling into her new life of independence.
Or so she thought. Within a few days of the move, she came to realize cohabitation with a ghost might test her patience almost as sorely as staying with her in-laws had.
“I tell you,I’ll be hanged if you move even one item from its place!” The captain bellowed through her thoughts as she navigated the parlor. She set down a vase on a side table, cocked her head to examine the configuration then, giving her head a small shake, removed the vase and returned it to the sideboard from whence she procured it.
The children were away at school and Bessie had gone into town to buy groceries, so the captain apparently felt no constraint to honor his promise to remain upstairs. The result proved both irritating and problematic for Adele.
“That’s an empty threat and you know it,” she grumbled, applying her dust rag to the windowsill. “You can’t possibly be hanged. And I tell you again, you must be reasonable. This is my home now too, and I’ll have it suit me. Haven’t I already consented not to make changes to the bedroom? You might allow me some freedom of expression in the rest of the house, which I remind you, you promised not to disturb with your chain rattling and moaning.”
“I do not moan.”
“I’ve done my best to remove all that I can to the attic. If we put anything else up there the ceiling is liable to cave in.”
“Which is why you should have left things as they were,” he growled. “I collected those pieces of furniture and decor from the far corners of the world, they are all of highest quality and perfectly serviceable.”
She nodded, taking up a small portrait and holding it up to the wall, attempting to discern the most beneficial placement. “And the place looked exactly as though a bachelor had cobbled the decor together.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” she shook her head and set down the portrait, wandering across the room to remove the dust sheet from a side chair, “not one piece matched with any of the others. Some of them are truly lovely, but others…”
“Name one item which was not suitable for refined taste.”
“That hideous tribal mask with the red eyes and fangs that looked prepared to pounce on anyone who came too close.”
“That mask was a gift of honor given to me by the Chieftain himself for rescuing his daughter from the devious intent of a neighboring tribesman.”
“Never count on a woman in matters of significance.”
“It gave my poor little Henry nightmares his first night here.”
“All they care for is that the drapes match the coloring of the carpet.”
“Exactly, which is why that gaudy carpet had to go.”
“The finest weaving from Persia!”
“The finest weaving by a blind craftsman, and moth-eaten to boot!”
The wind outside rattled the shutters. Not for the first time, Adele wished she had possession of the barometer from Mr. Alderman’s office. The erratic weather in her new hometown seemed distinctly unnatural at times and she felt sure such an instrument might provide insight into the captain’s moods. Not that they varied much. Grumpy, irritated, cantankerous, commanding, and petty were the most common. She doubted jovial ever made an appearance.
“If you made free to move practically all of my furniture into the attic,” Captain Daniels argued, “which by the way, Madam, defeated the purpose of moving into a furnished house, why are you so intent now on discarding this hutch?”
She’d returned to the furniture item in question, the one which had started their argument. Earlier in the day, the owner of the local shop for second-hand and antique items arrived at her request. He’d inspected the piece, offered a price for it and, because she’d requested a day to think over the amount, promised to pick up the piece at her convenience. Knowing the captain’s temperament, she’d actually requested the day in preparation of arguing her point, not to consider price.
“Because I have found no reasonable way to move it into the attic and have no reason to keep it.” She stated.
“It will fit in the attic.”
“It may fit, but there is no way to move it there. The stairs are too narrow and there is no good route to create a pulley system outside to lift it up to the only window that might admit it. That grotesque monkey-puzzle tree of yours bars the way.” That tree was bound to be another argument, as she was keen on removing it, but it could wait for another day. “I’m sorry, Captain, but it must go. I’ve exhausted all other options.”
“You have not.”
“And which, pray tell, have I missed? Is there a hidden dumbwaiter to the attic large enough to house a massive and impossibly heavy hutch that I am unaware of?”
“Your sarcasm, Madam, does not aid your cause. You might simply ask my assistance.”
Adele massaged her temples and turned her back on the hutch, perhaps seeking an escape through the doorway directly across from her. “As of my last contemplation of your form, I was quite sure you were without physical presence, in which case I fail to see how you might be of assistance.”
“You’ve been contemplating my form, have you? I’m flattered. However, it seems you understand nothing of the unearthly realms. I would assist as I just did.”
“What do you mean as you just— Where’s the hutch?” She’d spun around, momentarily forgetting the fact the captain wouldn’t be visible in the room. The hutch, commanding a substantial swathe of the room only moments before had vanished.
“In the attic.” The captain’s voice tickled her thoughts, distinctly chipper and boyish now that he’d got his way.
“How did you do that?” She breathed, stunned curiosity outweighing the irritation at his having fun at her expense.
“The nature of the universe is far more fluid and malleable than mankind comprehends. The shift, in actuality, occurs in a similar fashion to how you moved the vase from one end of the room to the other a few moments ago. “
“But that’s impossible!” she still gaped at the open space in front of her in disbelief. “It goes against the laws of nature.”
“It goes against the laws of nature as mortal man understands them, which I daresay is a poor and disjointed understanding at best.”
A sound akin to a sigh rustled through Adele’s mind a moment before the captain’s response issued, his words taking on the rare gentle tone she often craved in their moments of angry discussion. “Suffice it to say, my dear, that could nature, in her sublime and enlightened beauty, speak directly to man, she would attest to daily wonders the likes of which man has not actively witnessed since biblical times.”
“I’ve often wished to see such things,” she mused. “To believe in a world much more magical than the one we drift through so dully.” Her cheeks heated. What had brought those thoughts into being? True, in her childhood and early youth she fantasized often of mythical creatures and fairy tale magic, but such fancies were foolish and outside the realm of adult responsibility.
“You can, my dear,” the captain’s rich, velvety baritone caressed her heart, sending it into flutters, “And it is…” his voice trailed away like a lazy summer breeze, dousing her in warmth serene enough to make her sigh.
The front door creaked, signaling Bessie’s return.
“Wouldn’t you know, I found more than I was looking for, but the boy from the grocers was able to cart me back up here.” The housekeeper reported. “He’ll help bring the bags in, can I bother you to start the cook pot boiling, Miss?”
Adele snapped out of her reverie and all but ran for the kitchen. “Yes, of course.”
* * *
A low fireglowed and crackled in the hearth. Not quite spring yet, but the days shone consistently warmer with intermittent showers. Along the roadway edges and in the gardens, crocuses, daffodils, tulips and snowdrops denied any late-season snowfall. Adele leaned her head against the wing of her armchair and stretched her toes a hint closer to the fire.
In her hand rested the latest news from her mother-in-law. The woman’s letters resembled poorly disguised novels in which she felt compelled to report in fine detail all news and gossip pertaining to anyone in her immediate sphere of influence. Thus, Adele often put off reading the happily infrequent missives until evening after the children had gone to bed. Even then the process often required multiple sittings.
“You’re prowling, I can tell by the uneasy waves in my fire flames,” she noted, eyes still steadied on her letter, though she hardly took note of the words. It wasn’t really the fire that alerted her to the captain’s presence, but a headiness in the room, a warm weight to the very air which signaled companionship. She’d become so perceptive of it, and developed a distinct preference for it, that she no longer fussed if the captain chatted with her if she were alone somewhere downstairs.
“Is that blasted fire really all that necessary?” He grumbled, forcing Adele to smother a smile. Their initial arguments over particulars of the house having eased as they each became accustomed to the new arrangement, his sourness now produced more amusement than annoyance.
“The depth of winter may be behind us, but the night temperatures are still freezing.” She asserted. “And don’t you dare open the window while I’m sleeping again, that’s a terrible habit of yours. My lips were blue when I got up the other day. I know little inconveniences like temperature don’t affect you anymore, but you should at least remember that we mortals require a certain amount of warmth to survive.”
A faint rumbling emitted from somewhere far out to sea. Another squall approaching? Or just the captain grumbling? These things were still so difficult to differentiate. She set down her letter, admitting defeat and rubbing at her eyes.
“More banalities from your mother-in-law I take it?” Captain Daniels asked, the rumbling over the ocean fading into night. “You never look so weary as after reading one of her letters. Why do you bother?”
“She often makes commentary regarding the children and on occasion there might be information she expects them to know. If they fail to recite properly to her questions when they visit, I’ll have weeks’ worth of complaints to deal with. I view these letters as the lesser evil.”
“So, what is she harping about now?”
“More of the same, she’s concerned about the children and I living in isolation.” Hefting herself up from the chair, Adele made her way to the French doors to pull the curtains shut. A brief glimmer of light on the horizon indicated a storm somewhere just out of sight.
“You’re not on the damned Arctic tundra! This is a perfectly acceptable town. Large enough to provide the basic amenities, small enough to avoid mingling with the masses if you so choose, that’s why I chose the place for my final port.”
“I agree with you, but I’m afraid my in-laws are incapable of seeing it that way.”
“Well then your in-laws can take a long walk off a short—”
“Please be civil, Captain! After all, they are my family. I think she’d be more amiable if I remarried, though that goes against her ideas of my proper behavior as a widow, so she only skirts around the topic.”
Stillness settled in the air, a quiet of that ominous sort which could herald either the onset of a cyclone or its end with equal conviction.
“You’re not going to argue that point?” She hazarded, wondering at the captain’s sudden dearth of commentary.
“No, I think she’s quite right. A woman ought to have a man about the place.” He made the statement with certainty, though his tone smacked of vexation.
“Now you’re showing your age, Captain. It’s the twentieth century, you know. Women are perfectly capable of living independent lives and making informed decisions. I hear we’re getting close to winning the vote.”
“Bah! Women have been arguing for the vote for decades, if not centuries!”
“Yes, and our perseverance may finally see success soon.”
“Now that you’ve sufficiently worn down the collective will of generations of men?”
This particular theme held too much potential for argument for Adele to enjoy at the moment. She much preferred pleasant haunting. “Whatever your opinions on the necessity of a woman aligning herself with a man, I didn’t note any particular advantage in my situation while married.”
“Because you married the wrong man.”
She paused in removing her robe to drape across the foot of the bed. When had she lost her concern about impropriety? “Don’t start that again. Are you going to argue I ought to remarry? I can’t imagine that going well for our particular living arrangement.”
“You’re right, it wouldn’t. And no, I will not encourage you to remarry. There is already a man about the place, you simply have the unfortunate circumstance of being unable to mention it.”
She slipped under the covers, propping herself up against the pillows.
“What’s got you restless, my dear? You appear far more awake now than you were in the chair. Have I disturbed you with my opinions?”
“No, I was just thinking of the early days of my marriage. It was a grand time of lofty dreams.”
“What did he promise you, dear?” the captain’s voice soothed, encouraging her eyelids to droop once more.
“Before we married, my husband often spoke about taking me to Europe or out west. I liked the idea of seeing the world. It was always what we would do once his firm became more established. But it was never quite established enough. Then the children came, and he promised when they were a bit older…”
“Europe wouldn’t have been grand enough for you, my dear. You are better suited to the more exotic.”
She scooted further beneath the covers and snuggled her cheek into her pillow like a child. “I doubt that, but thank you. Tell me about the places you’ve been. What were they like?”
The captain made no objection, regaling her with tales of beauty and excitement recited in tones so soft she didn’t notice the transition from waking into sleep. In her dreams she sailed alongside him into far-reaching ports as he smiled handsomely and pointed out the best each had to offer.
An Asian city glowed with the soft light of countless paper lanterns. Somewhere near the silk road between India and Persia the ship became a floating perfumery, laden with sumptuous spices and fragrant oils. The sky came alive with color amid the icy norther fjords. Had any wandering angels paused to observe her that night, they could not have missed the serene smile adorning her features.