Not caring to disturb the comfort of the animals, I sat for an hour and smoked a pipe, listening to the creaks and groans of the house, devising explanations for their presence, admiring the artful curves of the lilies in the molding, and feeling at once soothed and unnerved.
Then I rose, removed my clammy boots, warmed my feet by the waning flames, and coaxed the shy and wayward spaniel into feasting on the remains of my supper.
As I kneeled before the hearth, tapping the ashes from my pipe onto the embers of the fire, the spry old tom reclined in my chair, his green eyes illuminated by the candelabra, regarding the ravenous pup with an expression of fond disdain.
Once Emma lapped the last morsel from the plate, I patted her head, and the furred pair and I retired to the bedchamber, where I locked the door and prepared for sleep.
When at last I pulled open the curtains of the canopy bed, Emma leapt onto the platform and all but crushed the Admiral, who, simultaneously jumping abed, hissed indignantly, but would not be thwarted in his own pursuit of comfort and rest.
The long day’s events had exhausted me, and I fell asleep before closing the curtains or snuffing the candle. I woke some time later—the candle had burned down perhaps an inch—aware of the need to blow out the light, and faintly put off by a vague sense of something awry.
It was the precognitive sensation that made the mysterious sight such a shock. That the presence I felt before I opened my eyes was actually there, that it was real, that it was visible, was what made me drop the candle to the floor.
In the moment before that act of stunned clumsiness, I saw a strange woman at my bedside, who, when I briefly held the flame in her direction, passed toward the window. She was dressed head to heel in white, with a large sunhat and a wide-skirted dress, as if for a summer excursion out of doors. Her attire, like that of Mrs. Jameson, was from a time long past. She glided toward the window in the instant before the candle fell, and, when my frozen and shocked hands succeeded at last in relighting the flame, she was gone.