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Authors: Robert Barclay

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BOOK: The Widow's Walk
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Perhaps tonight I will find out why,
he thought as he began walking toward the house.

On entering Seaside he quietly went from room to room, turning on all of Jay's electric lanterns. Although they lit the house well, each lent an unnatural hue that he found jarring. As best he could tell, “she” was not here.

Eager to see the progress that Jay's men had made, Garrett walked back down the front porch steps and around one front corner of the house. He held a lamp high and did his best to examine the work. Much of one side of the house had already been stripped clean of the boards, and he could see where some of the wood underneath had become moldy and rotten. These areas would be replaced with fresh lumber before the new clapboards were installed.

He then walked around the rest of the house, looking for other signs of work. All in all he was satisfied, and he could now understand Jay's optimistic reappraisal of the timetable. Given that the project was under way, and that he had also accepted an offer on his condo, this had been a very good day.

He walked back down to his Jeep, where he removed a few items before returning to the porch. After setting the electric lantern atop the porch railing, he settled into one of the folding chairs, lit a fresh cigar, and poured three fingers of Jack Daniel's into a highball glass. He would sit here for a time, he decided, before going home.

Sometime later—perhaps after half a cigar and three sips of Jack Daniel's—his thoughts returned to the beautiful woman he had seen here three nights ago. He still couldn't get her out of his mind, given his total shock at seeing her brazenly sitting in his kitchen and crying her eyes out, not to mention her amazing beauty. Despite her distressed state, there had been an allure associated with her the likes of which he had never experienced.
Will she ever return?
he wondered. And if she did, might the two of them—

“Excuse me, Mr. Richmond?” a woman's voice suddenly asked from the darkness.

Garrett was so startled that he flinched sharply. He immediately stood up and peered into the gloom.

“Who's there!” he shouted.

As Constance slowly came into view, the cigar fell from Garrett's lips and the cocktail tumbler slipped from his hand. Her appearance was so identical to that of the woman in his dream that he literally could not speak. Sensing his overwhelming surprise, Constance gently took two steps nearer to stand fully in the light granted by the lantern. In some ways she was as frightened as he.

“So you are able to see me, after all,” she whispered, her voice a sudden prisoner to her emotions. “For the last three days I have been wondering if it was really true, or but a dream.”

For several moments Garrett's mouth worked up and down, but no words came. At last he found his voice.

“Yes . . . yes, of course I can see you,” he answered. “Why wouldn't I?”

For the first time in a long while, Constance allowed herself just the hint of a smile.

“Well, Mr. Richmond,” she said, “that is a rather long story, and if you will permit me, I would like to tell it to you. May I come up on the porch?”

“Uh . . . err . . . yes. Yes, of course, Miss, uh . . .”

Her legs trembling, Constance walked up the steps then came to stand before him at last.

“My name is Constance Elizabeth Canfield,” she answered. “And there is much to which you need to be made privy.”

Chapter 7

Garrett couldn't believe his ears. Constance Canfield and her husband, Adam, had given this home its lovely name.
So who could this woman be?
he wondered.
Some long-lost descendant perhaps, or maybe some squatter, looking for a handout?
Before he could answer, Constance produced another short smile.

“But before we converse,” she said, “perhaps you should extinguish that cigar. It would be a shame to watch Seaside burn to the ground this night, would it not?”

“Uh . . . yes, of course,” he answered. After a couple moments of searching he picked up the cocktail glass and then crushed the still-glowing cigar beneath one shoe.

“May I take a chair?” Constance asked politely.

“Yes,” Garrett answered. “Please do.”

As Constance took the chair alongside him, Garrett grasped the opportunity to look her over. Yet again, her beauty amazed him. This time her long blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She had large blue eyes, a rather short and straight nose, and full lips. She was a tall woman with a lovely figure. Her battered clothes, however, seemed to belie her beauty. She wore a simple red-and-white plaid shirt underneath a shopworn leather jacket, a pair of very old-looking jeans, and some blue and white Keds that had clearly seen better days.

Her clothes were not that unusual. It was their condition that was awful. They were rumpled and looked as if they hadn't been cleaned in a long time, adding further evidence to the chance that she might be a homeless person. Plus she carried no purse, which was odd for a woman of her age. Still unsure about how to begin a conversation, Garrett took a few moments to pour some more Jack Daniel's.

“Would you like some?” he asked.

Constance shook her head. “No thank you, sir,” she answered.

After taking a generous swig, Garrett said, “So who are you, and why are you here at my home? This is the second night that I've seen you, and I don't understand. You seemed to be in a terrible way the first time. Do you need help of some kind?”

Constance closed her eyes for a few moments.
And just how do I answer such questions?
she wondered.
How on earth do I begin explaining myself to this man?

After a while she nodded. “Yes,” she answered. “That night I was in terrible straits. But I am in better form now, and there is much that you need to learn.”

By now Garrett had calmed down, and he began regarding her with more skepticism than surprise. He could also see that her eyes were becoming shiny with the advent of tears.

“I'm listening,” he answered politely.

“I know of no other way to say this,” Constance answered, “so I'll just speak plainly.”

While again trying to summon up her courage, she turned and looked out over the ocean.

“My name is Constance Elizabeth Canfield,” she began. “I was born here in New Bedford, in the year of our Lord 1808. My husband was Adam Canfield, a whaler captain who died in a terrible storm while trying to round Cape Horn. On the same day that my beloved Adam died, I accidentally fell from the widow's walk atop this house and crashed onto the shoreline only feet from where we now sit. Adam perished, but for some unknown reason I did not, and was instead caught between the worlds of the living and the dead. I have existed here in this house since then, invisible to all the others who have come and gone, while also watching the history of the world unfold before me. In all that time, no one besides you has ever been able to see me or to hear me speak. Moreover, for some inexplicable reason only you can see the clothing I wear. That is why I have come to you this night, and why I have told you my story. Something about my existence has changed, and I need to know why you are so different from all the rest.”

At last she took her gaze from the waves and looked at Garrett's face. By now her tears had come in earnest and were tracing their way down her cheeks.

Please, God,
she thought.
Please make this man believe me . . .

But to her deep disappointment, Garrett only shook his head.

“I don't know what you're after,” he said, “but it must be something big for you to have made up a story like this! Did you honestly think I would swallow that? I know full well who Constance Canfield really was. All it took was a couple hours of research, something that you could have also done easily. So you tell me right now—who are you really, and what are you after? If I don't get an answer from you that makes sense, I'm going to call the police.”

The sudden change in Garrett's tone stabbed at Constance's heart. But who could blame him? Her story was totally absurd, at best. As tears streamed down her face, she began trembling. She was unsure of how to continue, but continue she must, for she sensed that her very existence depended upon it.

“I beseech you, Mr. Richmond,” she said pleadingly. “Every word I've just told you is the God's honest truth. I really am the same Constance Elizabeth Canfield who supposedly disappeared in 1840 and never returned.”

Trying her best to compose herself, she wiped the tears from her cheeks and again cast her gaze out over the Atlantic.

“God's truth is,” she added softly, “I never really left.”

Her pleading tone softened Garrett's heart a bit, but her story remained completely unbelievable. Then he suddenly remembered his dream about her. He also abruptly realized that the longing he felt for this woman was increasing in intensity, and becoming nearly impossible to resist. It was as if his psyche was being ripped apart by two totally overpowering forces. One part of him wanted to dismiss this madwoman completely, but the other part suddenly wanted to believe her. No, he realized. It was far more than a case of simply needing to believe her. He wanted to pick her up off her feet, bend her body beneath his, and—

“Mr. Richmond?” Constance asked, interrupting his thoughts. “Are you quite all right?”

In an attempt to clear his mind, Garrett took a deep breath then scrubbed his face with his hands, a habit since his teen years.

“Yes, yes I am,” he finally answered. Then to his own surprise, he added, “And although I don't believe you, I'd like to hear more.”

To Constance's own surprise, she now hesitated. This was the first glimmering of any attempt on Garrett's part to believe her, and she didn't want to stifle that sentiment. But at the same time she now realized that if she told him everything at once, her tale would seem so unbelievable that he would dismiss her out of hand, and she couldn't risk that.

Then she considered playing the trump card that she had imagined, while sitting on the porch and awaiting his arrival. If he agreed, then later tomorrow she could tell him the rest of her tale and perhaps—just perhaps—he might start believing her. After taking a deep breath, she decided to forge ahead.

“I would be much pleased to tell you more,” she answered. “But I also fathom why you're so hesitant to believe a story like mine. So if you will permit me, first I have an idea that might serve to put your misgivings to rest.”

Garrett had to admit that he was intrigued. “And what would that be?” he asked.

When Constance explained, for the first time since seeing her, Garrett let go a short smile. What she had offered was ingenious, to say the least. He also knew that her idea was quite impossible.

“All right then,” he said. “I'll come back tomorrow morning about the same time that I did today. You do what you offered, and then we'll see.”

Although Constance was overjoyed, she did her best not to show it.

“Thank you, Mr. Richmond,” she said. “I promise that I won't fail you.”

“Call me Garrett,” he told her.

“And you may call me Constance, should it please you to do so,” she replied.

With their strange pact sealed, a quiet sort of peace reigned for a time. After a few more moments had passed, Constance decided to ask Garrett something else.

“There is one more thing I would request,” she said. “And I will understand completely if you decline. But it would mean a great deal to me, because I have needed it for so very long.”

“What is it?” Garrett asked.

Constance closed her eyes for a few moments before answering.

“Would you please take my hands into yours?” she asked.

Garrett's eyebrows rose questioningly.

“That's all,” he asked, “to simply hold your hands?”

“Yes,” Constance answered. “I have not felt the touch of another for so long. If you would but do this one thing for me I would be forever in your debt, no matter what happens on the morrow.”

When Garrett stretched forth his hands, Constance replied in kind. And much to Garrett's surprise, from that point on, his life would never be the same.

Almost at once a wonderful sense of warmth and desire began to emanate outward from their joined hands. It was an indescribable feeling that they each sensed and soon permeated their entire beings. It was a blissful, joyful sensation that lifted the spirit and lightened the heart. At the same time, Garrett's unexplained longing for this woman suddenly became even more uncontrollable, and it took every last bit of willpower to finally release her. Stunned, he looked Constance in the eyes to find she had been as overcome as he.

Exhausted, Garrett fell back against his chair, trying to catch his breath. The same was true for Constance, as she too sought to regain her composure. After another few moments of silence, Garrett looked into her face.

“You felt it too?” he asked tentatively.

Still overcome, Constance only nodded.

“Did you know that would happen?” he asked.

Constance began to tremble again.

“No,” she answered quietly. “I merely wanted to feel the touch of another human being after so long. What just transpired between us was entirely unexpected.”

Garrett had to admit that he had never experienced anything remotely resembling what had just transpired between him and Constance. There had also been an undeniable sexual quality about it that, although fleeting, had been quite palpable. Despite all of his misgivings about this woman and her bizarre story, Garrett felt his defenses beginning to crumble.

“Can you explain it?” he asked.

Constance shook her head. “I cannot. I was as surprised as you. But after having lived this way for so long, I can tell you with certainty that there are forces operating in this world that mankind has yet to understand. I am the product of but one of them.”

BOOK: The Widow's Walk
13.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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