I heard, also, the fir bough repeat its teasing sound . . . “I must stop it, nevertheless!” I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me . . . a most melancholy voice sobbed, “Let me in—let me in!”
Emily awoke disoriented in the moonlit room. The shadows, all in the wrong places, seemed plucked from her unquiet dream. And that sound—that high, keening, human wail rising above the shriek of the storm—did it come from the dream world or the waking one?
She reached to her right to turn on the lamp, but her hand met empty space. Groping to the left she found a switch, and the room came into focus along with her mind. Aunt Beatrice’s room. Of course. She had moved down here yesterday in preparation for the remodeling on the third floor.
But the wail that had awakened her still sounded in her ears. Lizzie? Her infant lungs were powerful, but Emily had never heard her make a sound like that. Her young life could not have seen the depth of anguish contained in that wail.
Emily slid her feet into her slippers, wincing at the chill, and wrapped her ancient fraying bathrobe around her. Following the sound, she groped her way down the back stairs and into the kitchen. The wail did seem to be issuing from Katie and Lizzie’s room next door.
Emily tiptoed to the bedroom door and eased it open a crack. She could see Lizzie in the cradle, sprawled on her back with all her limbs flung out, her breath soughing softly through her open mouth. Emily inched the door farther till she could see the bed. Katie lay tangled in a shroud of sheets, eyes closed but head tossing on the pillow. And that heartrending keening was issuing from her throat.
Oh, Katie. Emily had guessed there must have been difficult times in Katie’s past—it wasn’t likely her parents would have been perfectly loving and supportive for nineteen years before suddenly throwing her out with her newborn child—but this sound spoke of an even deeper pain, one mixed with terror and hopelessness. Emily tiptoed up to the bed, touched Katie’s hand, and softly called her name.
The tossing stopped, and the wail subsided to a whimper. Emily smoothed the sweat-soaked bangs from Katie’s forehead and kissed it. “Katie. Wake up. It’s only a dream.”
This time Katie’s eyes fluttered, then opened. She blinked several times before focusing on Emily’s face. Then she sat bolt upright. “Mrs. C! What’s wrong? Is it Lizzie? Is the house on fire?”
“No, no, nothing like that. I heard you—I think you were having a nightmare.”
Katie passed a hand across her face and shivered. Emily grabbed Katie’s robe from the bedside chair and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Yes . . . a nightmare . . .” She pulled the robe around herself and shrank into it.
“You need some cocoa. I’ll be right back.”
Emily ducked into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Had Katie had such nightmares before? Emily doubted she would have heard her from her third-floor tower bedroom. The girl seemed content and carefree during the day, often singing as she went about her household chores—which made this descent into terror even more troubling. Emily had never yet had cause to regret her impulsive decision to hire Katie as housekeeper when she’d turned up, friendless and homeless with a seven-week-old baby, on the doorstep of Windy Corner last summer. Since then she’d come to see Katie almost as a daughter and Lizzie as a beloved grandchild. But was it possible Katie had buried issues that Emily, for all her love for both mother and baby, would not be able to help her with?
The kettle’s whistle made Emily jump as it echoed Katie’s nightmare wail. She mixed up two mugs of cocoa, took them both back to the bedroom, and handed one to Katie, who still sat upright, clutching her robe about her and shivering. She wrapped her hands around the mug and sipped gratefully.
“That nightmare must have been a doozy,” Emily said. “You seemed really upset.”
“Yeah. A doozy.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
Katie looked up at her, her eyes full of the same keening her waking had silenced. Her lips parted, as if the words were hovering there, waiting for a chance to escape. But the lip-gates shut firmly down, and she shook her head. “Thanks, but it’s already fading. I don’t want to call it back.”
Emily swallowed her own hurt, wishing she were Katie’s real mother rather than her pretend-adoptive one so she would have the right to coax her into confidence. She would have to give the girl time and hope eventually she would trust Emily enough to share whatever was eating her up from the inside.