A little later that afternoon I decided to take a break from work and walk down to the post office to get my mail. I wasn’t expecting much, since very little comes snail-mail these days, but I do try to get down there at least three times a week.
A few people were milling about in front of the boxes, as usual, but there was someone blocking the way to my box, which was unusual. After a minute, the lady closed her box and turned. It was the lady in the blue business dress that I’d seen in the restaurant when I was down there with Galvin. Up closer, with a better look, I placed her at about 60, give or take. Older than me, but in very good shape and quite attractive.
“Oh, am I in your way?” she said, noting me standing behind her. “Here, I’ll push over.” She moved a little and continued to go through her stack of mail.
“Not a problem,” I said. I reached in behind her and opened my box. There were a few catalogs and some junk mail. I locked up the box and threw away most of the contents. The lady was waiting for me just outside the door.
“Hi, I’m Barb Adams,” she said, holding out her hand. She had a very strong grip, but her hands were frigid. “I think we got off to a bad start. I moved into town late last summer, but have been busy so have just started to get out and about.”
“Hi Barb, nice to meet you,” I said. “I’m Gill Baxter. You live here, in the village then?”
She nodded. “Yes, on School Street. You know, the big brick house.”
I nodded. It was the old Goode place. Burt Carter stayed there for a few weeks after his grandmother died, but it’s been sitting empty ever since. Sure, the house had been rented a handful of times in the past, but nobody had stayed there for more than a few months before leaving.
“Oh, so you’re renting from Burt?” I asked.
“No, no, I bought it along with his old mill building,” she said. “Isn’t the mill just magnificent? It must be 212 years old, maybe older. One of the first mills in New Hampshire, I hear. I wanted to buy the old Goode mansion that went along with it, you know, fix it up, restore it to its Federalist glory, but it isn’t for sale at any price. Too bad.”
“Old Goode mansion?”
“Yes, you know, just outside of Amesbury Center, up on the hill.”
Amesbury Center was the oldest part of town. There were some large, rambling colonials up there and a couple of old meeting houses. The main town moved into the river valley when the mills came in. I recalled seeing a huge Federalist mansion up on the hill, down a side road about a half a mile from Amesbury Center itself.
“Yeah, I know what you’re talking about,” I said. “It’s huge, but a little run down.”
“That’s the one,” she said. “There’s a lot of history in it. My husband was related to the Goode family, you know.”
“Was that your husband who I saw you eating with today?”
She looked at me funny. “I dined alone,” she said.
“OK, I must have confused you with someone else. Down town, at Maude’s Place, at noon, I thought I saw you with a gentleman in a white shirt wearing a red and blue tie.”
“I was there then,” she said, “but alone. My husband passed away last year. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so sequestered lately.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it, you didn’t know,” she said. “So, I think you said you live on Maple?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Actually, I need to turn here. It was nice meeting you, Barb.”
“And you, Gill,” she said. “I’ve only met a couple of my neighbors. It’s always nice to meet more. See you soon.”
I went a few paces towards home, leafing through the one catalog that I kept, when her words sank in. She was the mysterious owner of the Old Mill. I shivered. Looking back over my shoulder I thought for sure I saw her talking to someone. For a second I saw the man in the red and blue tie, and then he was gone.
Shaking my head I went into my house. The day had taken a turn towards being chilly.