The District of Maine, map of pre-1820 Maine (when it was still a part of Massachusetts) by Philadelphia engraver John G. Warnicke, c. 1812. Hand-colored lines marking county boundaries of that time. Horizontal fold mark. 11 x 15.25 inches. Price: $260.
"Please, Maggie, you have to come to Maine a day early. I need you. Drew has to fly back to New York overnight and I don't want to be alone. Not in this house."
Maggie Summer kept hearing Amy's words as she gave her excuses to Gussie White. She'd been staying on Cape Cod with her friend Gussie while she displayed her nineteenth-century prints at an antiques show. She'd been looking forward to an extra day of relaxing on the beach, but Amy's call was too strange to ignore.
"Amy is the most realistic, straightforward, organized person I have ever known," she explained to Gussie as she tightened the tops on her shampoo and conditioner bottles before packing them. "In high school, before she got her driver's license she took an auto mechanics course. In college her term papers were always done early, her dorm bed was made, and when she said she wanted to go to homecoming with Joe Smith, that's what happened. She's the last person in the world to be nervous about staying alone. That's why I have to go."
Gussie had given her a hug and nodded. "If you're worried, then I am too, Maggie. You go. Let me know how everything is once you're settled in."
That had been five hours ago. Maggie took another swig of diet cola. She'd forgotten just how far midcoast Maine was from the Cape. Thank goodness she was finally off the Maine Turnpike and heading up Route 1. She glanced at the directions she'd taped on the van dashboard. Madoc shouldn't be far now.
She hadn't seen Amy in a couple of years, not since Amy's wedding to Drew Douglas. It had been an elegant affair at the Short Hills Country Club in New Jersey, with Amy's mother and stepfather looking stylish and proud. And rich, Maggie thought to herself. Maggie had gotten by with scholarships and loans at the state college, but Amy had never explained why, with her family's money and her top grades, she hadn't gone to a private college or university. Maybe even Ivy League. "Montclair State is close to home" was all she'd say, as she crossed off the next item on her day's "to do" list. Amy's daily list started with "healthy breakfast" and went on from there.
Rooming together had sometimes been frustrating for both of them, Maggie remembered. But she had always known whom she could borrow deodorant from, and who would have an extra box of typing paper the night before a report was due. Amy was reliable. And she put up with Maggie's bed not always being made, and Maggie's casual social life. Amy would never go out for pizza without scheduling it ahead of time. Never.
When Amy had called in May, Maggie had been glad to chat, as always. She had sat down in amazement when she learned Amy was not calling from her condo in New York City near the ad agency where she worked and uptown from Drew's office on Wall Street, but from a small town in Maine.
"You have to come and visit. It's a wonderful house, Maggie. Built in 1774, on a hill with a great view of the river. You'll love it. And you can give me advice on historic preservation. You know about these things. And, of course, I'll be needing a lot of antique prints for these old walls, so be sure to bring some from your inventory."
Maggie's time was her own. She wasn't teaching summer courses at the college this year; all she had planned was doing several antiques shows. Since her husband Michael's death last winter, she had been restless. Besides, Maine was a great place to find new inventory to add to her business, Shadows. Shadows of past worlds; shadows to share with the present. Maggie loved her print business's name. She loved her life, even if it was a lonely one just now.
Amy was right; she couldn't say no to a trip to Maine to see an old friend.
So here she was, driving her faded blue van up the coast through postcard-pretty towns full of two-story, white houses, art galleries, gift shops, and best lobster rolls here signs. Many of the antiques shops looked inviting. But not today. She would stay a week or two; there would be time later.
Amy's house stood on a hill, rising above the road and a line of pines close to the Madoc River. Maggie drove around the curve in the road that made up two borders to the property, then made a sharp left turn into the driveway. She parked near the ell that joined the barn and the house in true New England fashion. She didn't need to see the pickup truck already parked next to Amy's Volvo wagon or the ladders leading up to the roof to know that the old house needed work. A lot of work. The roof was probably only the beginning.
"Maggie!" Amy came running from what must be the kitchen door. "I'm so glad you're here!"
"What's happening? Why the emergency?" Amy looked as always -- short blonde hair in place, fitted designer jeans, and a NEW YORK CITY navy T-shirt. The only unusual part of her attire was a wide, white bandage circling her left arm. "Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine, now that you're here. I'll tell you all the gory details and you can tell me I am absolutely crazy after you get settled in and I open a bottle of wine."
"Speaking of wine..." Maggie reached behind the faded red Metropolitan Museum canvas bag that served as her travel pocketbook and pulled out two bottles of a good Australian chardonnay. "I can never resist those New Hampshire wine prices." Despite her bandaged arm Amy managed to balance the bottles while Maggie picked up her duffel bag. "It's a beautiful site, Amy. No wonder you love it. I can hardly wait to see the house."
"Tour coming right up." Amy seemed more relaxed than she had sounded on the phone that morning. But Maggie noticed that Amy didn't look directly at her and was chattering more than normal. As they started toward the house, several old wooden shingles tumbled from the roof and fell directly in front of them. "Giles! There are people down here!"
Maggie could now see a big man and a teenaged boy balancing on the roof of the ell, holding hammers. "Sorry, Mrs. Douglas. They slipped again."
Amy shuddered. "Well, be more careful." She turned to Maggie as they entered the house. "Giles and his son Brian are doing the roof, and I hope they'll have time to help with some other work. Depends on how many calls Johnny Brent's construction company gets this summer."
Maggie looked around in delight. The kitchen was large, full of light, and lined with high cabinets. Storage space! The appliances were 1930s vintage, and the walls could use paint, but the possibilities were limitless.
"Crystal, this is my college roommate, Maggie." The attractive blonde teenager who was washing dishes smiled at them. "I'm hoping she will be staying with us a couple of weeks."
"Nice to meet you." The girl wore tight jeans and a short, bright pink tank top.
"And since I'll have company, you can go for the day after you finish the dishes. I'll be fine."
Crystal nodded. "If it's okay, I'll stay till Brian is finished. He said he'd give me a ride home."
"No problem." Amy turned back to Maggie. "Just wait until you see the rest of the house! After apartment living for fifteen years, I'm loving the space. There's a small room just off the kitchen; I'm turning it into my study. I'm not sure yet what I'll do there -- maybe take up oil painting -- or learn to quilt -- but it will be all mine!" The small room was indeed cozy. It was almost filled by an executive-office-sized wooden desk covered with piles of papers and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase half-filled with books.
"Looks as though you've already got at least one project going."
"I've been checking the town archives for information on this house. I'm curious about who lived here before us."
"This must have been the birth and death room," said Maggie. "They were usually small rooms, easily heated, and close to the kitchen for warmth and accessibility."
"I knew you'd be able to figure this place out. Just wait until you see the view from the living room!"
The house was just as Maggie had imagined it: a classic New England home with a central hall, fireplaces in most of the rooms, and four bedrooms on the second floor. A space that might have been for storage at some time had been made into a bathroom, and there was electricity, but otherwise the house looked as it must have a hundred or more years ago. The faded wallpaper still hanging on the cracked clamshell-plaster walls was definitely late nineteenth century. Possibly earlier.
"Drew is using one of the bedrooms as his study," Amy explained as Maggie touched the crumbling black-and-white-speckled plaster and wondered how complicated it would be to repair. "And this is our guest room, all yours for as long as you can stay." Maggie hoped the cracks in the buckling ceiling didn't indicate problems of immediate concern. Amy had found a bright modern brass bed and covered it with a quilt. The quilt was no doubt made in China, but it was patchwork. The room was bright and cheerful despite the crumbling plaster.
Amy and Drew's bedroom was the most finished of the rooms Maggie had seen, with new yellow paint and small-sprigged floral wallpaper that made it cozy and welcoming. And the four twelve-paneled windows had the same wonderful view of the Madoc River as the living room below.
"And this" -- Amy smiled, opening the door to the fourth bedroom -- "is for the future." The room was a perfect Saks Fifth Avenue display nursery. A white crib topped by a lace canopy stood in the center of the room. In one corner an upholstered, navy blue rocking chair waited, next to a bookcase filled with picture books. Floor-to-ceiling shelves held an assortment of stuffed animals and toys near a newly built closet. Of course. A house of this age would not have been built with closets.
"You didn't tell me! Congratulations!" Maggie grabbed Amy and gave her a hug. "Oh, how wonderful! I have to tell you, I'm a little envious!"
"Not yet," Amy said, as she closed the door and walked into the hall. "No congratulations yet. But we have plans. You unpack your clothes and then let's break out some of that wine."
Plans? Amy would not be drinking wine if there was a chance she was pregnant. Maybe they were adopting. But why hadn't she said so?
By the time Maggie had unpacked her clothes and hung them in a pine wardrobe, she found Amy sitting on the front porch overlooking the river. Amy poured the wine into red bohemian glasses and offered a plate of wheat crackers and Brie.
"Mmmm." Maggie settled into the green-and-white-striped cushions on the Adirondack chair and looked around. "I'm set. You may have to move me after a while, this is so comfortable." She sipped her wine and then turned toward Amy. "So what is happening? Why did you call this morning?"
Amy hesitated. "I don't know, Maggie. That's the problem. Or one of them. Nothing seems to be turning out quite the way I planned."
Maggie remembered Amy's lists and plans in their college days.
As Amy poured more wine, Maggie noticed Amy's fingernails were carefully polished in creamy pink, but badly chipped. The Amy she knew would have touched up those nails immediately. Although it would be crazy to try to keep nails polished neatly while working on an old house.
"This place has so much potential. We fell in love with it the first time we saw it, and the price was right. The owner was leaving the country and wanted to sell quickly. But -- I know this is all going to sound very strange, Maggie. And not like me at all. But right after we moved in, I felt something was wrong. And the woman next door, Shirley Steele, who is also the hairdresser in Waymouth, told us there have always been stories about this house."
"Stories?" Maggie's wine was slightly dry, just as she liked it, and she couldn't imagine any stories that would make this house less lovely. "You mean you have ghosts? What fun!"
"Sometimes at night I swear I can hear a baby crying. But it stops almost as soon as I notice it. And one night Drew and I both saw shadows that looked like a woman in a long dress, moving across the moonlight on our wall."
"A house that has been home to as many people as this one has, over so many years, must be filled with memories," Maggie answered. "And it's so different from your apartment in the city, or from Short Hills, that you're probably just very conscious of everything. Plus" -- she paused for a moment -- "it's so quiet here! You can hear the birds. Those are chickadees, aren't they?" She listened again. "And I think mourning doves."
"And we can hear every car that goes by, and every lobsterman who checks his traps on the river at five in the morning. Yes; you're right. At first we thought maybe our imaginations were just filling the silences. But that's not all."
"There are the accidents." Amy looked down at her arm. "This one happened yesterday. I opened one of the windows, to try to wash the outside. Most of the windows are the old blown-glass kind, with bubbles in it. We don't want to replace any that aren't broken. But suddenly the glass shattered, and I jumped a little, and the window came down on my arm. It took an hour in the emergency room to take out all the little pieces of glass and stop the bleeding. My arm is pretty badly bruised."
"A nasty accident," said Maggie. "But it's an old house. Things do happen. It looks as though no one has done anything to maintain it recently. The ceilings in a couple of rooms look pretty precarious. But that isn't ghosts. It's just part of fixing up an old house." Maggie tried to sound knowledgeable. Several friends had restored Victorian homes near hers in New Jersey, but she couldn't begin to imagine the time and money they'd spent. She usually got involved only when the owners had reached the point of decorating and wanted authentic Victorian prints to match their furnishings. One couple had hung Currier & Ives prints in every room of their house. Maggie was happy to have them as customers, but she preferred a more eclectic look for her own home.
"It's not the only accident," Amy continued. "There are the shingles that keep falling off the roof. You saw some today."
"But the roofer, Giles? He said he was sorry. He must have dropped them."
"He always apologizes. But they fall even when he's not here. Even when we know he has checked and assured us they're not loose. And the lights flicker at strange moments. And there are noises in the pipes."
All just part of owning an old home, Maggie thought.
"And then there was the fire."
"Fire?" Maggie sat up straighter.
"Thank goodness we had installed smoke detectors as soon as we moved in, so we knew, even though it started in the middle of the night. It was in one of the empty rooms in the ell. I called the local volunteer fire department, but luckily we had two fire extinguishers in the kitchen. Drew was able to put out most of the fire before anyone got here. A fireman told me we were lucky; a house this age can go up quickly."
"What started the fire?"
Amy shook her head. "That's one of the scary parts. There was no wiring involved, and no one had even been in that room recently. We had cleaned it out and left it empty. We thought we'd eventually use it for storage. We're working on the main house before we get to the ell. There's no heat there, no gas lines, no materials to catch fire. In fact, one of the walls in that room is brick."
"The firemen thought so too. One of them asked Drew if we knew anyone in the area who would want to make trouble. Of course, we just got here. We haven't been here long enough to make many friends, and certainly not long enough to make any enemies." Amy smiled weakly at Maggie. "After that we started getting weird hang-up calls. The phone would ring, we'd answer, and whoever was on the other end would hang up immediately."
"Nothing. No background noise; no voices. Some days we'd get a dozen calls. The ones in the middle of the night really freaked me out. Last night I was having trouble sleeping; my arm was throbbing, and it was hard to get comfortable. I had finally gotten to sleep at two-thirty when one of those calls woke us. And then after the call we both heard the baby crying. Drew hadn't heard it before; he thought I'd been dreaming. We looked everywhere; we don't know where the sound comes from. It lasts about thirty seconds. One night I timed it by the minute hand on our clock. It's a horrible sound. Almost an echo. As though the baby was crying a long time ago, and we're just hearing it now." Amy took more than a sip of her wine. "I'm sure you think I'm crazy. But I couldn't sleep after that, and I couldn't face being in the house alone tonight. Drew had to fly to the city to talk to one of his old clients. The guy wanted his old financial adviser, and Drew's company was glad to pay to keep the man happy. Drew will be back tomorrow. That's why I called you."
"It does sound awful," Maggie said. "But I assumed you were just here for the summer. Has Drew left the brokerage house?"
"Didn't I tell you? We both left our jobs. We decided a less stressful lifestyle would be best for us, and for our children. Someday," Amy added quickly. "Drew is thinking about teaching, and maybe I'll write the great American novel."
"Whew. You've taken on some major lifestyle changes." Amy had always loved the city; the pace, the excitement, the theaters, the clubs.
"And the changes will work. I'm sure they will. I've planned it all out. But something, or someone, is making the transition harder than we imagined." Amy took another gulp of wine. "I was the one who suggested this move; Drew was always reluctant. Expenses are higher than we thought they'd be, and with the strange noises, and the fire, and the telephone calls...Drew's been drinking a bit more than he should and is beginning to talk about going back. That's one reason he stayed over in New York tonight. I'm sure he could have flown down, had his meeting, and come back today. But he's meeting some friends for dinner."
"He'll probably have a wonderful time, miss you terribly, and be home tomorrow. And tonight I'll be here to help cope with telephone calls and crying in the night. Have you called the telephone company about the mysterious calls?"
"The lines out here are old; we can't get caller ID. And the caller never hangs on long enough for them to trace anything."
Maggie poured herself another glass of wine. She was glad Drew would return tomorrow. There must be more to this story than Amy was sharing. Maybe Drew would have more answers.
The phone rang.
Maggie and Amy looked at each other. One of them would have to answer it.
Copyright © 2003 by Eleanor S. Wait