In the house she finds an unknown book called A Place in Time written in 1912 and dedicated to her greatly adding to the mystery since Jennifer wasn't born till 1915.
The book is about the future and is written with a suspicious degree of accuracy as if Mrs. White has actually been there.
The Question of Time tells the story of how a person's present circumstances can sometimes compel them to look to the past for answers.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.46(d)|
The Question of Time
By Samantha Wood Wright
Universe, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Samantha Wood Wright
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePretty Storms
* * *
I had stared at the clock on the bedside table for nearly two hours still unable to sleep. So much had happened since Mrs. White's lawyer had told me I had inherited her house and her fortune. And as strange as that was when the lawyer, with the most unpronounceable name I had ever heard, was in my living room telling me this Mrs. White was still alive and in good health, and the next day she was dead and I was living in her house.
I only knew her through her writing and when I asked the lawyer why, he had been no help; he just kept saying Mrs. White has arranged or Mrs. White has requested. And if the strange room and the strange circumstances weren't enough it had to start raining; and damn funerals are depressing enough without getting soaked too.
Tired of tossing and turning and feeling very much like a character from one of her books, I decided that if I was going to be awake I was really going to be awake and went downstairs to make coffee.
I walked to the door as lightening lit up the room, thunder roaring so close on its tail I felt a chill go through me. I closed the bedroom door behind me to the sound of pouring rain and my pounding heart. The door creaked and I shook all over, and as the door closed the lights in the hall came on. I felt calmer with the light and looking around the ghastly figures in the darkness of a moment ago gave way to furniture, statues, plants, and lamps.
At the foot of the stairs I heard a clock strike one. At about that same time lights came on as I walked through to the dining room. I stood on the threshold to the kitchen and the lights were now on in both rooms. As I walked further into the kitchen the dining room lights went out behind me. I stepped back into the dining room and the kitchen light went out. I thought this was weird, about as weird as things could get in 1951. I wasn't too sure about any of it but I decided I liked my entry into rooms being announced this way especially since I was much braver in the light.
I was beginning to see my benefactor Mrs. White as a woman with a sense of humor. On second thought, eccentric might be a better choice of words; I had only met her once. Then I find out she has left her house and money to me with the only conditions being that I read the eulogy at her services and sleep in her attic bedroom in this old house with a half dozen other bedrooms. I couldn't begin to know why but then I loved a good mystery and I had plenty of time on my hands. I would figure it out.
I went to the kitchen setting the light game in motion again. It was a big white room with more windows than a conservatory and everything in it was old though well cared for. The cabinets and the walls looked freshly painted. A big double bowl, double drain board sink was as shiny as if it had just been installed. The refrigerator was hidden behind a door with hinges on it, reminiscent of old iceboxes, and the stove was an old wood burning stove that had been converted to electric. Everything was either turn of the century or made to look so, lending a certain charm to the room.
I found the percolator on the counter behind a roll top cover, along with the toaster, and a waffle iron. I made coffee, thinking to myself that I was going to love this old house and that I liked the strange old lady who had lived and died here more and more. I wondered what she was like, I mean, what she was really like. I had read all of her books and I was awed, to say the least, by her imagination, but the mystery surrounding her had grown with each new book
She beat out H. G. Wells when it came to writing about things in the future that had come to pass. It was if she wrote her books and the world followed her outline exactly. She had a trick or two up her sleeve that was certain, and maybe just maybe, I was the person who would "bust the case" as they say in old dime detective novels. I hoped, even if I didn't discover her secrets, I would at least come to understand why she had chosen me to inherit the mystery.
I looked around the kitchen for a cup and didn't see one. There were, and I just noticed this about the kitchen, no overhead cabinets. She was five feet tall, I remembered, and probably couldn't reach them but then I realized there were so many windows there was no wall space for cabinets.
I looked for a pantry and found it beside the refrigerator with only a small peg hole, big enough for a couple of fingers, for a handle. Inside were the cups I was looking for and other dishes too. A couple of shelves above what I would have guessed to be the everyday dishes were beautiful deep red glass dishes. I picked up one of the cups, which was tall and slender and had a stem on it like the glasses. They were even more beautiful up close. I turned the cup upside down to see if there was a name on the bottom, and I saw AVON in raised letters and the numbers 1986. The only Avon I knew anything about was the Avon that made cosmetics, not dishes, and I tried to tell myself the number couldn't be a date no matter how much it looked like one; it had to be a lot number or something else.
When the coffee finished perking I poured myself a cup and opened the door to sit on the porch and watch the storm up close. I sat down in one of at least a dozen wicker chairs lined up against the house. Lightning blazed across the sky again and again as if it understood my reason for sitting here and planned to give me a real show.
The porch was enclosed with glass panels that were hung from hooks near the ceiling and secured in place at the bottom with fasteners. Their shades were pulled all the way up to allow all the view possible. And one thing this house had plenty of was view, with its vast yard full of beautiful old trees, stone benches, statues, birdbaths and fountains. I had walked the grounds earlier and remembered that across the whole back of the property there was a flower garden and beyond it an orchard whose tall branches seemed to give the place an enclosed feel, even to the sky. She must have had some great need for privacy, but why, I wondered?
Beside me was a table, with a stack of National Geographic magazines and a single copy of a magazine called Victoria. It was too dark to read here, but the magazine looked interesting and I promised myself I would read it someday. For now I sat with my coffee and watched the storm. The thunder roared and rolled on and on shaking the ground and the house, even the sky it seemed, but out here in the half lit night (the kitchen light had gone off on its own when I stepped outside) I felt that I was at least eye to eye with the storm and in no danger.
I remembered a late afternoon at Lake Hopatcong when I had been caught in a sudden summer storm. I had sought shelter from the rain on a nearby porch. The owners of the house were not home and their cat, who was just as wet as I was, walked around and around me rubbing against my legs. A burst of thunder scared me and the cat half to death, and I picked the poor thing up, and stood on the porch holding the cat until the storm let up, which wasn't more than a few minutes, then ran home.
I remember seeing the tiny little white house with its pink trim and feeling so good. I went in by the side screened in porch where Mrs. Polidori, her mother, her father, and a neighbor lady were passing the afternoon in their favorite way over a game of canasta. The whole place was full of the wonderful smell of Mrs. Polidori's lasagna.
The summer here at the lake with my friend Marilyn and her family was a welcome respite from the heat of the city. We often spent days here at the lake in separate pursuits; and Marilyn had left early for the beach while I finished a book I was reading. When I started to the beach, Mrs. Polidori's mother had asked me if I were going to be a nun after I had announced that I was never going to get married. I remembered blushing with embarrassment when I told her I wasn't Catholic. She spoke only broken English, and always spoke Italian when she was excited, which she was now. Words were flying, and her old husband was laughing, and winking at me. "Now, now, Mama." he was saying to her; what she was saying, I never knew.
When I came back I was soaked through. She forgave me for being Protestant long enough to tell me to get into dry clothes before I caught a cold. I grabbed a towel and hurried to the room I shared with her granddaughter Marilyn. Sitting on the bed, I laid back and fell asleep, and dreamed of a Sunday when the smell of lasagna filled my parent's home, and I sat at the table barely able to swallow, fighting back tears of rage and humiliation.
I wrote about the storm for a freshman English project later, using a lot of imagination since I had never seen the lake out of season. I had snow blowing and the cat and me freezing and the Polidori house wrapped in snow, with icicles hanging from the trees and the roof's edge, and the windows frosted over. I remember the whole piece being so beautiful and expecting an A or an A, but the teacher broke my heart by giving me a C and writing a note across the top saying my sentences were too long. I had argued with her about my sentences saying, "Elizabeth Windom White's sentences are long". Her rebuttal had been, "But you're not Elizabeth Windom White."
Now here I am sitting on the late Mrs. White's porch in the middle of another rainstorm. I remember thinking, except there is no cat, when I heard a soft meow and looked down to see the biggest, fattest longhaired cat I had ever seen. It was like a giant fur ball, so round and fleeting, that I wasn't sure which end was which, or that it was a cat, except I knew I had heard a meow. I didn't see where the cat ran off to and after calling it for several minutes with no luck, I gave up and sat back in my chair to watch the storm, trying to remember the words to Mrs. White's poem, 'Pretty Storms'.
The sky is aflame with many hues of gray
the kitten draws nearer afraid of the thunder's roar
and blazing sky, like Chinese New Year
or our fourth only more beautiful and magnificent.
the kitten draws still closer with the flashing and the roaring
it's hard to believe creation is a strictly scientific thing
amid such a spectacular display of temperament
and the war is not that far away nor the hungry children
frightened too perhaps by pretty storms
About three-thirty the worst of the storm was over and I was pretty sleepy so I gave up my chair on the porch and went upstairs to bed, propping the attic door open, and crawled into the massive bed, the biggest bed I had ever seen (it was more like two beds really) wondering if it had been made for Jack's giant and his bride.
I lay awake for all of five minutes lulled to sleep by the gentle patter of rain on the ceiling windows above the bed and dreamed the whole house was made of glass, not surprising since I had never slept in a room with glass ceilings before.
When I awoke the next morning it was to the smell of coffee and I immediately panicked, thinking I must have left the coffee pot plugged in last night. I grabbed a robe and flew down the stairs putting it on as I ran.
The house was damp and chilly and the lights didn't turn off and on with my steps as they had last night. I know that was a dumb thing to be thinking of as I hurried to the kitchen but I couldn't help it. Everything was new and strange and I had half expected to wake up and find myself back in my drab little apartment in Jersey City.
I opened the kitchen door thinking the coffee sure smelled great and not the way all night coffee would smell, and there in front of me stood a strange woman. I let out a scream and we stood glaring at each other not sure which of us was the intruder.
"Hi. I'm Jennifer Stone," I said. She stared harder at me and said nothing; it was as if she hadn't heard me. I told her my name again and she walked away still saying nothing. I watched her pick up a small tablet from the long table in the middle of the room. She wrote something on it and walked back to me and handed me the tablet, on it she had written her name Blanche Ballard. I wrote my name and handed the tablet back to her. After some minutes passing it back and forth between us I learned that she was the housekeeper and that she came three days a week and had been doing so for many years.
She was tall with short curly white hair, looked to be about sixty and was rather pretty. I could tell she took pride in her appearance; her dress was cream colored with tiny red rose buds all over it and there was something about the way she carried herself.
At first I thought she was a relative of Mrs. White's or a very close friend but then I realized if that were the case she would be the heiress, not me. I was back to that old question of why me, and wondering if I would ever know. I felt sorry for Mrs. White for having no family; I knew well enough how that felt. I was an only child, estranged from my parents, divorced and alone. I wished so often there had been children, some piece of the marriage to carry away with me, instead of this emptiness I felt.
As I poured myself coffee I could feel Blanche's eyes on me, and I didn't blame her; she probably had more questions than I did. I turned to sit down at the table with my coffee and I caught her eye, inviting her to get a cup and sit with me.
She smiled, got her cup and picked up a small white bag from the counter top. I hadn't seen the bag until now, probably because of its color; white seemed to run into white everywhere in this beautiful old room. The bag was full of chocolate donuts. This time I smiled and I made sure she was looking straight at me.
I got up from my chair once she was seated and walked across the room for the tablet we had used earlier to communicate. Writing as I walked back to her, I handed her the tablet. She read my note. Tell me about yourself, I had written. She ignored my request and wrote back, where is Mrs. White?
I nearly fainted when I read her question. How could she not know the old woman had died? But, I learned, it wasn't that she didn't know Mrs. White had died but that she thought the body would be on view in the house.
We sat for the longest time exchanging notes. I got up once to pour more coffee and Blanche got up once. The pot of coffee and the bag of donuts emptied at about the same time and still we sat passing the tablet back and forth. After a while it was time to get ready for the afternoon service. I asked Blanche to go with me and she cried while I stood there feeling dammed uncomfortable that I couldn't. Blanche obviously loved this woman I had barely known and again I was left wondering why I had inherited a stranger's fortune when this dear faithful woman here with me had not?
The clock struck ten and at almost that moment a strange chime went off. I was still trying to identify the sound when I heard a knock at the door. I hadn't seen Lawyer P come up.
"Did you sleep well?" He asked, but his tone told me he could care less how I had slept. He was only checking to see that I had fulfilled my part of the will's arrangement and he was disappointed to find I had. Then he asked a few of yesterday's questions over again, trying to give this visit the appearance of a professional call. And after a few minutes he left but lingered on the steps. When I went out to see if he wanted anything else, he shook his head no and hurried to his car.
He had as many questions as I did, the biggest one being why I was the new owner of the house he achingly wanted for himself. A lot of what I thought he was thinking might be conjecture, but I knew I was right about that one point. He couldn't hide his disappointment about the house. It was in his voice, in his eyes, and when he looked at the place he almost seemed to drool. I could see him swallowing hard and often as he told me about the house that first day in my apartment and today when he stood on the steps looking around the grounds, his pain seemed to fill the air
I stood on the steps where he had stood a moment ago and looked out across the huge yard surrounded by a tall metal fence. On the fourth side, which was south and straight ahead of me, there was a dark board fence and an old barn of some sort. The house itself stood back off the road. I looked up in time to see the wide gate across the driveway open automatically and Lawyer P drive away. I understood now that the chime was connected to the entrance to the property and with the incredible size of the house and Blanche's near deafness that it would have been needed to alert Mrs. White to the fact that she had company.
Excerpted from The Question of Time by Samantha Wood Wright Copyright © 2010 by Samantha Wood Wright. Excerpted by permission of Universe, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPretty Storms 1951....................1
Merlin in the Mist 1922....................9
Jennifer Stone 1951....................26
Boy in the Picture Girl up a Tree 1926....................38
Two Days in March 1951....................49
One Boy Alone 1932....................56
The Search 1951....................65
We Were Strangers 1939....................79
The Mirror 1951....................88
Dreams of Broken Promises 1947....................98
The Greenhouse 1951....................106
Pipes Books and Castles 1955....................115
Throw Away Age 1987....................122
An Appointment Kept 1951....................130
& Pull Weeds 1989....................147
Merlin Long Ago 1991....................157
The Year 1910....................185
The Library 1951/1910....................194