When he woke, Paul instantly alerted to the lurking shape in the corner. It hovered in the same place as before, beyond the fireplace. While the sense of another presence in the chamber roused him, the play of light and shadow revealed it to be genuine. The form of the head and shoulders rose out of the general gloom of the corner.
He couldn’t help blinking his eyes a few times and wondered if he wasn’t asleep and merely envisioning the same silhouette from the night before. Slipping a hand under the pillow, he grasped the knife; steel seemed better at warding off the specter of one’s father. Pistols dealt with flesh and blood intruders. Slowly, Paul sat up in bed; his eyes never leaving the corner.
“Who are you? What do you want?” he asked, modulating his voice to be heard but not to disturb the neighbors.
The shape didn’t move so much as the surrounding area pulled back. Darkness twisted and distorted, then parted to reveal his father at its center, a younger vision, as he had determined. A version Paul had first seen just about the time he learned to walk.
The specter didn’t answer, but the figure assuredly moved and drifted closer to the bed. It avoided the small slit of light from the window and stopped short of crossing the beam.
Paul felt vulnerable in bed and slowly shuffled from beneath the covers to right himself on bare feet. He faced a sooty and cheerless outline of a man that couldn’t exist.
“He will come to Bristol.”
Paul wasn’t certain that the figure’s lips had moved. Perhaps he only heard the words in his head; his visitor communicating his sentiment merely by thought.
“Who?” he asked.
“The heir,” the figure answered.
Paul stared at the dark eyes of the face across from him. Realization dawned that this wasn’t his father, but his brother, gone from England for twenty years. All the children but Barbara had their mother’s brown eyes; his father’s had been green.
Was his brother dead? Was this his brother, the same visitor from before, returned from the grave to communicate some final issue? If so, why hadn’t Richard remained and spoken the previous night? But Paul speculated that if he had trouble locating Holden-Smith, his brother must have been exhausted by attempting to locate him and was bereft of any ethereal energy.
He sensed that Richard’s attempts to visit and contact him were laborious for the recently deceased duke. Somehow, getting his departed brother to answer questions seemed beyond the specter’s capabilities. This ghost could only impart the information it came to divulge, not answer specific questions Paul wanted to ask, ones about his final days.
“The heir is coming to Bristol?” he prompted.
“I will go to Bristol,” he assured his brother’s spectral figure in a firm voice. That seemed the appropriate thing to do, though he didn’t know the expectations in such a situation. He stared at the face—it was so like his father.
The visitor looked like an ordinary person standing across from him in the room, with the semblance of someone living. Paul couldn’t believe otherwise. He couldn’t believe it was a ghost as ghosts were supposed to be pale and misty, artificially constructed—this man appeared solid and incarnate. His last memory of Richard was of a youth, pale and sickly and being put on a ship to sail away.
A rush of memories overwhelmed him, his knees buckled, and Paul dropped to the floor.
He was twelve when his older brother left. Though Richard had been ailing, they were still playmates and shared a bond. For more than a year after his brother sailed away, dreams of Richard plagued him. Nightmares of his dying at sea, but others of his health improving, color returning, of him growing. Paul supposed they had an everlasting connection because they were the only two sons, despite the years apart.
But this man, sharing the room with him, had lived a lifetime of experiences which Paul would never hear about, and it pained him how much he had lost. He had forged ahead with his life, forgetting Richard. He hadn’t missed his brother until there was no hope of reconciliation.