Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tempest's Course by Lynette Sowell

Tempest's Course
Abingdon Press (December 17, 2013)
Lynette Sowell

Chapter 1


April 1853
New Bedford, Massachusetts

They say a madwoman cannot make sense of the world around her, let alone write about it, but I can. My empty arms are full, but my heart tells me that it will never be full again. The one light of my life is gone from me, and I have no embers from which to coax a new spark.

My atonement is futile. I have no other choice other than the one before me. If Almighty God is listening from Heaven, surely He will accept this sacrifice. Perhaps the generations to follow will as well.

Chapter 1

Present Day

Kelly Frost tried not to shiver as she stood on the sidewalk in front of Gray House, but she did anyway. The breeze driftingfrom New Bedfords waterfront had some bite in it, even for May. Kelly squinted against the suns glare reflecting off a car door, now slammed shut.

An efficient-looking woman made her way with precise steps to the gate that protected the front lawn of Gray House from nosy passersby and visitors. “Sorry Im late. I would have told you to meet me at the real estate office, but the house is closer. She unlocked the gate and swung it open. The iron- work complained at the disturbance.

Not a problem, Kelly said as she followed the womanMrs. Acres, was it?up the cobbled sidewalk, then the wooden steps.

Ive been instructed to open the house for you while you complete your assessment of the piece, then lock up when youre ready to go. Mrs. Acres now worked the front door lock with an ancient key. How long do you think youll need?

An hour, most likely. Shed made assessments of antique and ancient textiles before, and this current request should be little different than other times in the past.

Ill be back in two. Mincies at the groomers, and shell be done before you will be. Mrs. Acres leaned on the front door, then bumped it with her shoulder. Stubborn door. I cant tell you the last time we opened the place up.
The heavy wooden door swung inward and the scent of closed-up housestale air and duststruck them. Something tickled the inside of Kellys nose, but it was Mrs. Acres who sneezed.

Oh,  my, the dust.  Mrs. Acres shook her head. “Do you know where the quilt is?

Kelly nodded. I was told the quilt should be in the master bedroom on the second floor. The one with the Italian marble fireplace. She hoped the lady wouldnt start a long conversation. Small talk made her itch, like freshly mown grass. She shifted her tote bag on her shoulder.

Two hours, and Ill  be back.  Mrs. Acres turned  on her heel, then paused before she exited the house. Dont steal the silver. We count it. With that, she gave a little giggle and shut the front door behind her.

The entryway alone made Kelly stare. What woodwork. The curved banister of the great main staircase snaked upward to the second floor. As she stood in the entryway, she could see down a long hallway with rooms off each side. Immediately to her right stood a set of wooden pocket doors. Her curious bent made her want to start walking, room by room, to see what treasures lay inside. Or dust magnets, rather. Now it was her turn to sneeze.

Instead, thoughts of her skinny bank account spurred her to take the creaking stairs to the second floor and find the master bedroom. Depending on the work required to restore the quilt, she hoped to at least pay the bills for the rest of the year. Beyond that, well, shed figure something out. She always did, because shed always had to.

The wood of the banister was cool and smooth under her fingertips. Again, the history hanging in the air made her pause at the top of the steps. The house supposedly hadnt had a resi- dent in at least fifty years, perhaps longer. Or so Mrs. Acres had guessed. Kelly stepped from room to room, to see which one had the marble fireplace. Furniture draped in heavy cloth would probably resemble ghosts at night, with moonbeams streaming through  the window glass. Even in the daytime, her overactive imagination caused another shiver, this one not from a cool breeze. Which room? Shed counted no less than four chimneys sprouting from the rooftop when she stood out- side. That meant at least eight fireplaces, possibly more.

Master bedroom. There were two bedrooms that could have qualified. She found the right room, with its dark mahogany furniture uncovered, a folded-up piece of cream-colored cloth on the bed. The quilt.

Kelly set her tote bag on the bed and took out some gloves. As if the oil from her fingertips would cause any more damage to this poor, tattered, sewn mass of patches. Dirt, the age of years, and what looked to be singes from a fireall qualified this work for the rag bag. Yet someone, namely the head of Firstborn Holdings, LLC, had sent her a request for a bid to restore the neglected and abused fabric.

All you need is a little love and careful handling, she said aloud, her voice echoing in the room. The folded-up  layers of fabric needed to be inspected, inch by inch, which meant Kelly needed to find a place to spread out the quilt. Somewhere with better lighting than the bedroom. One of the inner shutters that covered the windowpanes effectively blocked out the sunlight, but even with both shutters open, the light wouldnt nearly be enough.

She should have ventured enough small talk to ask Mrs. Acres if the electricity was connected in the vacant whaling captains mansion. She tried a light switch. Nothing. Downstairs there was likely a dining room and a table, with better natural light. Kelly refolded  the quilt, then grabbed her tote bag and headed downstairs.

Time to see what was behind those double pocket doors. Holding the quilt tucked under one elbow, Kelly tugged on the right door. It groaned and complained as it slid on its track, but disappeared as it entered the pocket in the wall. A living room, with more furniture draped with sheets, covering a room-size wool carpet, Persian if she was correct on the pat- tern. Now that was something worth restoring. But then shed need a studio to do that, and staff willing to help her. The woven pattern was the height of interior decoration at its time, its oriental influences apparent. Had the owner of the house purchased it on one of his expeditions, or traded for it in some exotic port of call?

Diagonally across the room lay another set of pocket doors, so Kelly headed for those, and slide one of them open. Pay dirt.

A mahogany dining room table ran the length of the space and could comfortably sit sixteen diners. Its flat surface would be ideal to inspect the quilt, and a quartet of windows would give plenty of light. Kelly arranged the quilt on the table before she opened the shutters to let some sunlight into the room, taking care not to let the light fall directly onto the old fabric waiting for her on the table.

She removed her notebook and pen from her tote bag, along with a measuring tape. Yes, this was the first real nibble of work shed had since the disaster with the Boston Fine Arts Museum. Maybe if she got this bid, the owner might want the other textiles in the home seen to as well. Maybe she could scrounge up a few interns to help her for free, if theyd be brave enough to put her name on their résumé.

The frayed binding told her that the quilt was mere stitches away from disintegrating. When she stepped back and looked at the whole design, she saw the classic mariners  compass pattern. The design made her smile. How appropriate for New Bedford. Gray House was situated on County Street, close to the historic district of the former whaling capital of the world. The rays of five compasses spread out from five points on the quilts  field. The muted hues of the diamond-shaped  blocks that made the compass patterns told her that someone had used this quilt quite a lot in its day.

She took out her telephone and dialed the phone number for the contact she had at Firstborn Holdings, a Mr. William Chandler. A voice mail message answered.

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