Dressed all in white and shimmering with a faint fluorescent glow, she stood motionless beside the casement window farthest from my bed. Her back was turned to me and she was holding aside one of the sheer lace curtains, gazing intently through the rain-streaked glass into the black and forbidding night beyond.
At first I thought I was imagining her, the way children sometimes imagine they can see the figures of animals in the puffy white clouds of a summer’s day.
Limned by the faint blue light of the fairy lamp and half-hidden by the shadow of Damon’s wardrobe, she looked like a creature of pure imagination. The simple, flowing lines of her diaphanous gown merged seamlessly into the folds of the sheer floor-length curtain in her hand. And she stood as still and as silent as a sculpture of palest Carrera marble.
Stunned by the eerie sight before me, I felt my mouth go dry. The blood was pounding in my temples as I slowly sat up and stared, half-expecting her slender form to vanish among the deep, lurking shadows beside the wardrobe. But she remained standing precisely where she was, one bare white arm raised nearly to her cheek, slender fingers clutching the transparent fabric of the intricately patterned lace curtain.
Despite the dim lighting, I seemed to see her with exceptional clarity. A luxuriant cascade of raven hair interwoven with narrow strands of pink satin ribbon fell down her back to below the waist. A chain of cunningly hand-sewn rosebuds decorating the bodice of her dress precisely matched the shade of the ribbon in her hair.
As I continued to stare at the apparition before me I realized that the garment she wore was not a dress at all but an elaborate nightgown, such as a new bride might wear to her wedding bed. And though her face was completely hidden from my view, I somehow knew that she was beautiful, and too young to have died.
Several more seconds passed and still she had not moved. I hardly dared to breathe as a frantic argument raged within my head. The logical part of my brain was insisting that there must be some perfectly rational explanation for what I was seeing. But my foolish emotional side—the part of me that regularly conjured up all of those impossible daydream fantasies of Bobby’s miraculous return—said I was looking at a spirit.
I didn’t know then whether I even believed in such things. But one can scarcely dabble in the antiques business for very long without being regaled with ghost stories. I recalled having heard somewhere that the dead most often return to places where in life they underwent some profound emotional trauma. So it crossed my mind that the spectre at the window might possibly be my aunt Ellen.
Though she had lived her life as a spinster, I knew she had once been engaged to marry. But her fiancé, a handsome local yachtsman, had died in a tragic sailing accident before they could be wed.
Had poor Aunt Ellen secretly watched and waited for her lost lover from this very room? In her grief and distraction over her loss had she donned her lovely bridal nightgown and crept up to this lonely turret room night after night? Stood by that very window, peering out into the darkness and longing to see his boat slipping safely into the harbor below? And now that she was free at last from the prison of her time-ravaged earthly flesh, had Aunt Ellen returned to resume
her lonely nighttime vigil? Was she somehow trapped on this earthly plane, unable to cross over to the other side until her long-lost lover sailed home to Freedman’s Cove to claim her for his bride?
Even as those wildly romantic thoughts were racing through my mind, there was a soft swirl of motion at the window. And I found myself looking into the sad, luminous eyes of the lovely young woman in the long white gown. But it was not Aunt Ellen.
I gasped and clapped a hand to my mouth at the sudden realization that I had seen her face before, the unforgettable face of the girl in the old photo album, my disgraced female ancestor whose name Aunt Ellen had refused to reveal to me three years before.
“Who . . . Who are you?” My voice was high and tremulous and I felt as if I might faint at any second.
The apparition at the window wavered like smoke and then she very slowly dissolved before my eyes. The soft oval of her face lingered before the window for just a moment longer than her body.
Then it too was gone.