Claire Islington, blessed with a perfect life, is torn between her fiancé and a phantom lover from nineteenth-century England who awakens a passion in her like she has never known. Her soul echoes the refrain, “Love is enough,” and yearns for a long-denied fulfillment. But to follow is to follow a ghost: across the sea, to another land, to another time and a point where lives collide.
“Follow Me is a passionate story of love that transcends time which is found, lost, and found again. A brilliant concept, the relationships in the past and the present occur simultaneously, giving us a glimpse into what can be if only we believe.”
— CK2S Kwips and Kritiques, Kelley A. Hartsell, April 2007
“The love scenes were very sensual and tender. Some of the best love scenes I’ve read this year.” — All About Romance, Ellen Micheletti, 2005
A steady rain fell outside the window of the alcove, which served as Harcourt Abernathy’s study. His wife Kate’s wedding ring lay on top of his desk. He turned the small silver band over in his broad palm then flipped it onto the tip of his index finger. It was an old fashioned poesy ring popular during the fifteenth century. He’d had it made by a silversmith in London. An orpine he’d sketched for Larkey’s British Botany had been expertly carved around the ring and the words, “Love is enough,” engraved inside.
Kate had adored it. The memory of her face when he proposed made it hard for him to breathe. How was it possible he should never see her face again? How was it possible Kate would never again whisper his name? Five months had passed since his wife’s death and Harcourt still could not believe it to be real. The moment of Kate’s death replayed itself endlessly in his mind, each repetition wet and fresh, as if her death was only just occurring. And he relived the horror as if it was newborn.
The light scent from the open inkwell reached his nostrils. He squeezed the ring then placed it back on the desk and began a letter to his sister Anna who lived with her husband and three children some fifty miles outside Ledwyche in Warwickshire.
Ledwyche, 14, April 1824
I hope this letter finds you and your family happy and in health. I miss your presence more than I can say. I do not think I shall ever regard landscapes, or English painters, quite the same way now that Julia has shown me the terrible errors of all painters before our age. I am sure Mr. Constable would be gratified to know he has so devoted an admirer.
Having you – and Elizabeth too – in Ledwyche last autumn helped to make a trying time pass more easily than it might have. A renewed awareness of how much our small family means to me makes what I have to ask all the more difficult.
I have received a third correspondence from Mr. Nathaniel Pickney. He has once again entreated me to journey to America and to join him in the planning of a public garden in the city of Boston. I have decided to accept if you will consider taking Celia for the duration of my stay. Mr. Pickney assures me I shall not need to remain in America past the summer’s end. He plans to continue his studies in Paris in September. I regret having to ask you or Lynmouth for any favor that may prove to be inconvenient even to the smallest degree.
Hopefully the weather shall be pleasanter in May than it has been this April. I cannot recall a season as hot and dry as this, save the strange summer of your fifteenth year when several trees in Nottingham Park lost all their leaves until the rains came. Do you remember? As for Ledwyche, we have rain today for the first time since the beginning of March.
I trust you and Lynmouth and the girls are well. How does Julia progress on the pianoforte? Has she mastered the Beethoven sonata? Is Rebecca still convinced a pirate’s treasure lies buried near the well? Kiss them both and baby Mary for me.
You will be happy to learn Celia is much improved. On Kate’s suggestion she’s begun drawing a book of alphabet letters for Mrs. Miller, who is teaching her son William to read.
Harcourt sucked repeatedly at insufficient air and clenched his jaw. The scream, which had reverberated in his head since the moment of Kate’s death, strained like a demon to escape his mouth. The effortless tone he had affected for Anna’s sake, clawed at his insides. An impulse to destroy something shot up inside him. He dug his fingers into the seat of his chair until it subsided and he could breathe again.
He felt himself at the mercy of a wild, possessive grief. Any thing, an innocent remark, the scent of wine, a thread of music, enraged him irrationally and instantaneously as if he’d been struck in the face by an invisible fist.
Nausea undulated in his throat. He pressed the heel of his hand to his brow, closed his eyes and forced himself to exorcise Kate from his memory. She would not leave him. He stood up and began searching the book shelf for the copy of John Lindley’s Rosarum Monographia she had given him before they were married.
“Do you like it?” Kate asked. “It is Mr. Lindley’s.”
Harcourt made no reply.
“He was employed by Sir Joseph Banks,” Kate said. “He worked in his library.”
Harcourt kept his fingers pressed lightly to the book’s marbled boards.
“Yes,” he said. “I know.”
“I’ve written a verse from Milton’s Arcades on the title page,” she said. “I hope you do not mind. My family has a habit of inscribing any book which is to be a gift.“
It seemed she was attempting to hide her fondness for him in an increasing rapidity of speech. Harcourt smiled to himself and kept his eyes on the inscription.
“The lines reminded me of the morning we spent together in the fritillary meadow,” she said.
She directed her attention to the pattern of dappled sunlight on Dr. Cowpe’s desk. “I hope I am not too bold to have given you a gift. You have been very kind to me.”
Harcourt read the verse.
“O’er the smooth enameled green,
Where no print of step hath been,
Follow me as I sing,
And touch the warbled string.
Under the shady roof
Of branching elm star proof,
The scene drifted from his memory.
Later, after they were wed, Kate had confided that his voice was poetry itself to her. Warm, low and endlessly varied as an unexpected brook in a dark forest,she’d murmured in his ear before kissing him and sliding under his body in their bed.
Follow me, the poem begged. Follow me.
Harcourt closed his eyes. The rain slowed, changing the tenor of the air. He went back to the letter.
Celia has grown considerably more thoughtful and modest. She shall give you no trouble, at least not the sort we might have expected in years past. She has been a greater comfort to me than I could have imagined, though she still lights up impossibly at the first measure of Sir Roger de Coverley.
Write me with your answer as soon as it is convenient. Remember me to Lynmouth and my darling nieces.
Harcourt picked up Kate’s silver ring once more. For a mad moment he thought of swallowing it like a mythic creature who swallows a loved one to protect himself from harm.
The wind rattled the casement. He shut it tight.
It wasn’t a matter of moving forward. It was a matter of not standing still, not rotting in place like a Narcissus transfixed by memory. Harcourt had entered a new world unwillingly five months ago but there was no turning back. He had to learn how to walk and think and breathe again. He tucked the memory of Kate into himself like a promise or a secret, and if she breathed somewhere, somehow again, he’d breathe forever inside her. ____________________________________________________________
The Follow Me cover image above is my fantasy redesign. See the original/current cover below.