A Haunting Love by Emilee Harris
Spring faded almost as swiftly as it arrived, giving way to warm days, busy docks, and Adele’s children clamoring for both the end of school and days spent wandering the shore in search of pirate treasure. Yet Adele took little note of the season awaited by so many. Indeed, as the temperature rose, so did her nervousness. She hid the fact well enough from her children, and Bessie may suspect but knew better than to ask, but one resident of Coral Cottage would not be put off.
“You’ve been unduly preoccupied by the newspaper of late. What has you so enthralled?” The captain stole into her thoughts the instant Bessie marched upstairs to begin her cleaning tasks.
Adele allowed her hands to fall onto the dining table in front of her, crumpling the Cove Gazette she held in the process. “Must you interrupt my breakfast?”
“Your breakfast has been cold for the better part of the last hour and there’s more chance of the mouse in the wall stealing it from under your nose than of you eating it.”
“There are no mice in this house, if there were I’d get a cat!”
“Forget the damned mouse, you’re avoiding the question! What are you up to?”
She inhaled deeply.
“Don’t bother attempting a lie, Madam, I can peer into your thoughts should I choose to.”
She hesitated. Could he really?
“Of course I can. Luckily for you, I comport myself as a gentleman and refrain from that intrusion. And besides, I don’t have to. You’re a terrible liar.”
She let out her breath with an angry growl and slumped her shoulders. Eyes narrowed and diverted to the side, she crossed her arms in front of her and relented. “I’ve been looking for work.”
“Why the devil would you do that?”
The room dimmed as a cloud formed in the otherwise clear sky and wandered in front of the sun. She glanced at the window. “For heaven’s sake. You’re very excitable for a ghost, do you know that?”
“I know no such thing and fail to see how that statement is relevant.”
“Never mind. Isn’t it obvious why I’m seeking employment? I promised to maintain this house, and that is no small task. Add to that two continually growing children who seem to require more food, clothing, and school supplies each year, and the small annuity my husband left me is quickly eaten away.”
The cloud cleared and the room brightened. The added sense of warmth soothed over a portion of Adele’s frayed nerves.
“Why didn’t you ask for some assistance? I’m sure we can contrive a means for you to earn additional income without casting you out of the house to do it.”
She hadn’t asked because she didn’t want to hear the myriad of reasons why she’d been foolish in agreeing to buy the house. This home was larger and much older than the one she’d lived in with her husband and came with a good deal of upkeep she hadn’t experienced in her previous home. Her initial calculations of domestic expenses were sound, but she’d never thought to consider the structural or external maintenance of the home. Those items resided solely in the husband’s domain; her monthly allotment was meant for the inside of the home. The lack of a husband, and the consequences thereof, only settled down upon her after the purchase of the house and she no longer had a landlord to appeal to. Ignoring these thoughts which had plagued her for several months already, she focused on the latter portion of the captain’s question.
“I’ve already considered tasks which might keep me home. I have no space for a boarder—”
“I wouldn’t allow one in any case.”
“I have no skill for sewing or cooking, which is why I haven’t the heart to let Bessie go…”
“It would be a folly if you do. She’s far better suited to those tasks. She’s a hearty woman, bred to the hearth and home. A refined lady ought not to sully her hands with common daily tasks.”
She couldn’t refrain from rolling her eyes. “Unfortunately, whatever skills a refined woman ought to have are not in high demand, which has led me to the newspaper.” Accentuating her point, she took up the paper again and snapped it smartly before shielding herself with it.
“Why don’t you take up the pen?”
Shields apparently hold no power against immaterial beings.
“Writing can be done from home,” The Captain persisted.
“I haven’t the imagination for it.”
“You don’t need imagination, I have a lifetime’s worth of tales I can dictate to you, all guaranteed to keep an audience riveted.”
“Yes, and I shudder to think what sort of tales those might be.”
“There’s no shame in having lived a man’s life, and what does the content matter so long as you secure a writing position with a publication? Or better yet, we can put together a book, an instant best seller.”
“Positions within a press are all but non-existent for women, especially writing positions. A book would take far too long to put together.”
“Use a male pseudonym. And what does it matter the time so long as it brings back a respectable income?”
“The time matters very much if it stretches beyond my ability to buy food for my children.”
“The idea is still preferable to you seeking employment outside the home. That’s no occupation for a lady.”
“Your thought process is archaic, Captain. Women from all walks of life can be found in outside careers these days.”
“I fail to see how that makes it any more agreeable.”
She buried her nose in the paper, patience at an end. “You’re interrupting my search, Captain.”
This time she set the paper down with enough force to rattle the china and cutlery. “If I agree to take down your stories in the evenings, will you refrain from continuing this commentary? If your idea is successful, the added work will only prove temporary. It may in any case as I couldn’t ask Bessie to take on monitoring the children in addition to the housework. But the children will be spending most of the summer with their grandmother, which makes now the best time for me to attempt working.”
The air crackled with silence, and she held her breath.
“I suppose that might be agreeable.”
“But mind I will hold you to your agreement to take down my tales in the evenings. I shall show no mercy and offer no quarter should you find yourself weary at the end of the day.”
“Yes, yes, fine. Now, will you please leave me in peace?”
“And here begins the downfall of mankind. When once a woman contemplates leaving her natural place as ruler and keeper of the hearth, she becomes intolerable! Very well, Madam, you may have your so-called peace and suffer all the more for it!”
A strong wind rushed along the outside of the house, rattling the leaves in the tree beside the dining room, but a moment later it calmed. Adele peered about the room, but the peculiar essence the space took on in the captain’s presence had lifted. The room shone light and bright and a hint too quiet. Rolling back her shoulders, she lifted her paper, assuring herself she had the right to exult in her triumph. Oddly, the remaining adverts failed to encourage her interest and she soon folded the paper and set it aside. Removing her uneaten breakfast and dishes to the kitchen, she resolved to find Bessie and see if there might be a task or two she could help with.
* * *
“Honestly,Adele, I wish you would swallow your pride and come back to us.”
Adele straightened in her seat at a cafe overlooking the harbor. Her mother-in-law sat across from her, sipping at her coffee and poking a fork at the remnants of her slice of cake with pursed lips.
Out on the water, small fishing boats dotted the waves closer inland as they made their way toward the horizon while larger ships, both steam and sail, crisscrossed the scene with the straight-forward bearing of vessels with definite destinations and timetables. She idly thought how much more she would enjoy being on one of those ships at that moment than sitting across from her mother-in-law.
“I worried from the start when you insisted upon leaving, and I still don’t quite understand how or why you managed to acquire that odd house, but you see now it wasn’t a good decision. It’s stretched your funds too thin. You really should have taken that into consideration.”
Adele ground her teeth. Her mother-in-law had never managed a household’s finances a day in her life. That task fell first to her husband, then her son, and finally to her daughter. “I assure you, mother, I took as many factors to heart as possible, but one can never predict all eventualities of a new venture. You’ll recall, also, my stipend from Henry is quite small.
“I’m sure my dear boy provided quite decently for you and the children dear, you needn’t wax defensive. I certainly don’t hold it against you, running a household is a sizable chore for the best of us, but you’ve had your experimentation now and it’s really time to come back to your senses.”
“What an insufferable barnacle!” The captain’s voice barged into her thoughts, causing her to jump.
“Good heavens, child,” Mrs. Monroe’s eyes widened. “Are you well? I worry the stress of this isolation you’ve put yourself into is too much for you.”
“I’m perfectly fine, mother,” she insisted through clenched teeth. “A draft at my neck is all, it’s better now.”
Stay out of this!She thought viciously as her husband’s mother looked at her askance.
“Your mother-in-law can neither see nor hear me, there’s no danger in voicing my commentary.”
Adele rubbed at her eyes with one hand.
“There, you see?” Mrs. Monroe tsked. “Obviously unwell, you can’t hide it from me. That’s what comes of working outside the home. I insist you put in your regrets immediately and come back home.”
“Finally, the wind-bag blows some sense.”
“I am perfectly hale, mother, and have barely even begun my work.” That was true. She’d managed to acquire a position as secretary to a local religious society but had barely been introduced to her work as of yet. Her first true shift was slated for later in the week.
“It’s not becoming of a lady to work outside the home,” her mother-in-law whined, resorting to a small pout and childlike expression of discontent when she found her overbearing insistence ineffectual. “If you will not think of your own reputation and that of your family name, at least consider the children!”
“There is no negative impact to the children, mother, I assure you they are perfectly content and entrenched in their studies.”
“Which is another concern. They cannot possibly be getting an adequate education in this backwater!”
“What a presumptuous old barge!”
“She can’t hear me.”
But I can and would rather not!
“Let me conjure up a gale. I’ll see it blows her right back to the train station.”
Don’t you dare!
“Are you listening to me, Adele?”
Adele blinked across to the expectant wide eyes of the elder woman. Hang it. She’d been asked a question. This three-way conversation was proving too complicated for her already frayed nerves. She refused to admit her uncertainty about taking work after so adamantly arguing for the right to. “I appreciate your concerns, mother, but again, I assure you we are all quite well.”
“Why don’t you reconsider and come out with the children at the summer holidays? Do you remember Dr. Walton? I heard from Hattie the other day he’s also recently widowed. I’m sure the two of you—”
“Dr. Walton is a drunk and a morphine addict, I have no desire to associate with him.”
“You do the man a disservice and show poor breeding to voice such gossip, Adele, I’m surprised at you! And this in thanks for my trying to help—”
“I have not asked for your help, I do not need your help, and I do not wish for your help.” Adele snapped in an entirely uncharacteristic fashion. At her wits’ end, she could stomach no further interference from either her mother-in-law or Captain Daniels. Why should it be so incomprehensible that she should be capable of supporting herself and her children? She would prove it to the both of them if it killed her!
“Well! Of all the ungrateful—” Mrs. Monroe stood to leave, her features splotched with anger. On any other day Adele would have felt instant remorse for her words, but she was far beyond caring about the woman’s preferences today and all but stared her down as she continued. “Very well, if that’s how you feel. I warn you, though, don’t try to come begging my forgiveness. You’ve made your bed now, understand? Don’t try it.”
Her mother-in-law’s eyes all but bulged from their sockets and her jaw dropped in disbelief. Flustered, she gathered her belongings and rustled away toward the train station in a cloud of black tulle. A devoted mother, in her own mind at least, she still wore full mourning for her only son.
“That’s my girl!” Captain Daniels shouted with glee. “Were I human again I would kiss you. That was brilliant! I’m quite proud of you.”
She stumbled over her thoughts, unexpectedly disconcerted by the suggestion of a kiss from the captain. Blinking, she forgot she’d been just as outraged at him for his outdated patriarchal views. “Well, that makes one of us. How terrible of me, I don’t know what came over me.”
“Good sense came over you, that’s what. You’re quite right to set a course on your own. You’re far better off and perfectly capable of it.”
That took her aback. “If you think so, why have you been making the same argument all this time?”
“I haven’t made the same argument.”
“Yes, you have. You don’t want me to work either.”
“Not wanting you to work is different from believing you incompetent. I hold no such belief.”
She considered his words long enough to develop a fear of not living up to them. “What if she’s right?” She whispered. “What if I’m just steering myself and my children into a storm?”
“Here, now, belay that kind of thinking, Adira.”
“My name is Adele.”
“And mine is Gregory, yet you refuse to use it. No, after that display your name is no longer Adele. You’ve shown nothing but resilience from the moment you arrived here, and asserting yourself just now proved your crowning glory. Your name ought to befit a warrioress, and that is how I shall envision you from now on. Never doubt your strength, my dear.”