I bought the Baxter place on my doctor’s orders. Oh, he didn’t say “John, you’ve got to buy the Baxter place.” I don’t imagine he ever heard of it. What he said was that if I went back to the office I wouldn’t last six months.
I understood him well enough. I had purchased my fortune with my health. I have money, more than enough to buy the best medical care that money can buy. But no amount of money can buy back the damage that I had done to myself.
Six months at most if I went back to the office, back to the stress. That’s what he said. A few years if I got away from it all and took it easy. I almost went back. It’s all I knew. I would have and he knew it.
He told me, “John, I know what you’re thinking – better to die in harness than fade away in retirement. But John, if you go back, it’s not just going to be six months. It’s going to be six bad months. Six very bad months.”
I believed him. I didn’t go back. It was hard. Most men work for their wives and family; it’s a means to an end. I didn’t. I have no wife, no family. Never did. I worked for the work; it was my life. What do you do when your life ends and you have to go on?
I bought the Baxter place.
Brookfield is one of those quaint little New England towns that are too far away from any major city to be a bedroom community. It’s old. It’s ingrown. The people are nice. They live off of the occasional tourist, local business, and hard scrabble farming. Eloise grew up there.
I had to do something. I had to get away from the life I’d always lived. I could have travelled. I could have moved to some island in the Caribbean. I could have done any of the things that people do when they retire. But the people in those places are people like me. It would have been more of the same. I would have been working at being retired. “Six months,” my doctor had said, “six months if I didn’t get away from it all.”
The Baxter place was one of the new houses. In Brookfield a new house is one that was built after 1800. It was a big house – they could afford to build big in those days – but the rooms were small and awkward. The plumbing was circa 1900, the wiring circa 1930. It had been empty for ten years; it hadn’t been redecorated for thirty. I made it my project to get it repaired and redecorated. My project was a regular little boom for the local construction business.
It wasn’t a historic house. Oh, it was old, but most of the houses in Brookfield are old. There weren’t any legal restrictions on remodeling but it was generally understood that people didn’t change the character of a house. So I didn’t. They painted. They put a new roof on. The plumbing and wiring were discretely brought up to date. I had a lot of work done. But it was still a Brookfield house; it was still the Baxter place.
Why Brookfield? As I said, Eloise grew up there. Eloise, I guess, was the one true love of my life. I met her in college. We never dated but we were fast friends. We studied together, we went to parties together, we gave each other a shoulder to cry on when our latest romance went sour. I suppose I was in love with her but I never knew it. I thought of her as my friend.
After college we went our separate ways. She got married and raised a family; I threw myself into work. We kept in touch. I stood godfather to her children. I was always a welcome guest in their home. I give Robert great credit. Some men aren’t comfortable with the idea of their wives having male friends; Robert was. When he died he made me executor of his will and he charged me to “Take care of Eloise.” I did. She was proud; she wouldn’t have accepted any money from me but I found little ways to make life easier for her.
I never married. Maybe it was because my work was more important to me than any woman could be. And maybe Eloise was a shadow that came between me and other women. I almost married once. Janice, her name was. She was jealous. I didn’t see it at the time but I realized it later. Women have a way of hiding their jealousy, of putting a mask on it. She hid her her jealousy but she had little ways of cutting Eloise down and trying to keep us apart. I was uncomfortable about it and didn’t know why until later. We split up; never again did I come close to getting married.
Eloise passed away three years ago. I was with her the day before she died. She was very frail, very tired, and very pale. Talking was an effort for her. I sat beside her bed and held her hand. She looked at me and said – and said, “Faithful, faithful John. I would have married you, many times, if you had only asked.” Those were her last words to me, her last words to anybody. She shut her eyes and rested and never woke again.
That’s why I came to Brookfield. In a way, Eloise was my only real family. My parents are long gone. My brother died years ago. I never cared for his wife. My niece and nephew don’t interest me; I see them once a year and wish it were less. They are my heirs – a man has to do something with his money – and I’ve set up a trust for them. Someday they’ll be wealthy when an old man they don’t really know dies. It must be hard for them to wait. I don’t much care though. Let them wait.
Brookfield was the only place I had to go home to. My apartment wasn’t a home; it was the place where I dwelt when I wasn’t at work. I would have bought the house she grew up in if I could have but it had burned down many years ago. Instead I bought the Baxter place. It gives me peace to walk the streets of Brookfield and know that she once walked where I now walk. I didn’t have my work anymore; Eloise was all I had left.
I had been in the Baxter place about six months when I first heard the ghost. I suppose it had been too shy to come out when the renovation was being done. It was only after I had been well settled in that it appeared.
I didn’t realize it was a ghost at first. I heard odd noises at night. I caught glimpses of something out of the corner of my eye without knowing what it was. Then one evening I swore I saw a young man dressed in the style of the last century walking down a hall. He turned a corner and I followed but there was no one there.
All of these little old New England towns have a historical society which keeps musty records of things long gone by. The historical society always has a little old lady that knows everything that happened, all of the old stories. She told me about the ghost.
It was all very romantic and it all happened a long time ago. In 1830 it wasn’t the Baxter place; it was the Walker place. Colonel Walker was a proud man and a man of substance. He was an irascible man and if there was any man he hated it was Eli Simpson, a hatred that was returned in full. They had been fast friends at one time and had fallen out. No one quite knew why they fell out; their feud was of long standing and quite bitter.
Colonel Walker had a son, Gaylord Walker. Eli Simpson had a daughter, Abagail Simpson. You see how matters stood. It was Romeo and Juliet all over again. Gaylord and Abagail were in love. Their families forbade them to see each other. They decided to elope. They set a date. On thefatal day Gaylord set out in his carriage to pick her up. He had an accident and overturned his carriage. He was brought home and died two days later. In the meantime Abagail caught one of the infectious diseases that people were prone to catch in those days. She died of a high fever within hours of her beloved Gaylord. Their ghosts still walk or so the story goes. He haunts his ancestral home and she hers, each mourning for the other.
That was the story. Colonel Walker moved away after Gaylord died and sold the place to the Baxters. A century and half was long enough to establish it as the Baxter place; tradition bound old New England moves slowly but it does move. I inquired about the Simpson place. It still stood although it hadn’t been inhabited for years. I investigated; it, too, was haunted or so I thought.
The story of the two lovers touched me. I am a sentimental man. I decided to bring the two lovers together. Each, you see, was bound to their own home. They had been mourning each other for a century and a half and here they were, separated by a few miles. It was time, past time to reunite them.
How to do it? The answer was simple. I bought the Simpson house and had it moved to the Baxter place. There was quite an uproar as you might imagine. People talked a lot. When they learned what I was up to they tapped their heads but they got over being upset about “changing things”. I was old and I was rich. When you are old and poor you’re crazy. When you are old and rich you’re eccentric.
It took the better part of a year to join the two houses together as though they were one. I wanted it done well, just as though the two houses had always been one house. In all of the time that the work was being done the ghosts did not appear. Not once. I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t expect them to. At last the work was done. Things returned to their normal quiet. I waited.
It took a few months for Gaylord’s ghost to reappear, but reappear he did. I waited for Abagail. I was accustomed to having Gaylord around the place; he was a familiar presence. I didn’t know Abagail, though, and didn’t know what to expect of her. Eventually she also made her presence known in her half of the house.
I waited impatiently for the two lovers to discover each other and to be reunited. They were there. I knew that. I caught sight of each of them more than once. I heard them. I even heard them roaming about at the same time. But never did they come together. At last I thought I knew why. She was mourning a young man; he was mourning a young woman. Neither one knew or recognized the other as a ghost.
I did not let this defeat me. I called the workmen in again. I had them put in a central hall connecting the two halves, with the flooring coming half from one house and half from the other, so that the hall was truly of both houses. Again they disappeared. Again I waited. Again they reappeared. Again they ignored each other.
I waited until the anniversary of the day they were to have eloped. On that day I hung a wreath of moss roses over the middle of the hall. Mistletoe may do for kisses but moss roses are the true flower of love. On that day they both appeared. Both drifted into the hall, each from their own side, each unaware of the other. As they drifted they came to pass each other in the middle of the hall. And when they came under the moss roses, Abagail turned and she saw Gaylord for the first time and Gaylord turned and he saw Abagail for the first time. I cannot say exactly what I saw but it seemed as though they just merged together in a great light and disappeared.
In the summer evenings I sit on the back porch enjoying the view of the garden. It’s a quiet life I lead these days. I’ve never seen my reunited lovers in the house but sometimes, just as the sun is fully set, I think I see a ghostly couple strolling through the garden, hand in hand, rapt in each other. And once, just once, I thought I saw a young woman standing by the gazebo, looking towards the house.
I like to think that Eloise is waiting for me.
This page was last updated August 14, 1997.
Copyright © 1997 by Richard Harter