She couldn’t even be sure that Dot hadn’t made the whole thing up, something to disquiet a newcomer, a trial by “ghost story,” to test an outsider’s mettle. Still, she felt something in the old dining room. An urgency? A loss? Who knew what life had thrown at the generations of Websters who had called this house home? The present tarp-blue of the room did not aid her thoughts. But the work on their new home would be done soon enough and the antique dining room, the oldest part of the house, would be unwrapped and life would flow into it and every corner of the Old Webster Place, renewed.
And as the weeks and months of work progressed, the rest of the house was coming to life. The family was pleased with the local contractor’s work. They were pleased with their new jobs and the children’s school. But as the season edged into late fall, the Smith-Joneses could not help but find fault with the weather. Shouldn’t there be snow? The temperatures were so mild that even Dot was exclaiming that she had never seen the like. The contractor and his workmen were overjoyed. The mild weather was helping them meet an impossible deadline. The family would move into their home before Christmas, and no one was more surprised by it than the contractor himself!
And come the middle of December, the house was emptied of hammers and measuring tapes, tools and the blue tarps that had protected the old dining room’s beautiful painted-paneled walls, mantle, and settles, and swept clean of all the mess and debris. In every room, except the old dining room, the woodwork and walls had a fresh coat of paint. The house seemed to glow with anticipation as a moving van backed into the drive and the family’s furniture and books and pots and pans and bed linens that had been in storage for the long months of work were carefully unloaded into their new home and fitted in with the odd pieces of furniture left behind by the ancestral Websters. New and old objects alike seemed to settle into useful companionability. The Old Webster Place had once again become a home.
The Smith-Jones family moved in on the 20th of December. And come the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Ms. Smith-Jones was out cutting holly boughs from the overgrown bushes. These had survived centuries of regeneration and a decade of abject neglect as old Mr. Ernest Webster had been unable to tend his garden for almost five years before his death. And it had been another five years before the family had arrived to set things right again.
Ms. Smith-Jones carried her large bundle of holly across the gravel drive at the side of the house while overhead a streak of gray issued across the leaden sky from the fireplace in the old dining room that had been cleaned and checked by the local chimney sweep and put to work. Then from one moment to the next, it began to snow. Great columnar flakes fell as certain as the silent afternoon. Ms. Smith-Jones hurried to the door and called to her children, who dressed and tumbled out into a winter-white world. She stepped inside and lay the holly boughs on the old dining room table, which was low and solidly build, an old Webster piece, when her thoughts suddenly turned to Sarah Webster, the first Mrs. Webster, whose sad story she had not thought of throughout the weeks leading up to the move. But now the enormity of her tragic loss in the snow on this very night so long ago bowled through Ms. Smith-Jones as if it was this night and the lost infant was not Sarah’s but her own dear children in the snow. She knew she was being ridiculous. She could hear the two of them out in the drive laughing and calling out to one another. But intermingled, too, she thought she heard the cries of an infant, insisting on being found.
She had intended to tack the holly above every entrance to the house, on every door and window, to keep home and hearth safe, as the old wives had done. But in her mounting panic, Ms. Smith-Jones abandoned every idea but to run to her children, and left the holly where it lay and rushed out the door to her dear ones who were tossing handfuls of snow into the already snow-filled air for the dog to leap and snap at like a pup.
Relieved, she gazed back at the house and was surprised by the rapid onslaught of snow. She could see how it might be possible at night in the colonial darkness to easily lose your way. But there was her new home, safe and inviting, not lost in a whiteout but yellow-lit as if by candlelight, an illusion created by the stippling effect of snow. Was the old Webster Place at peace as last, she hoped? Surely they loved it as much as any Webster ever had, and would care for it and keep it for years to come. And yet there was something—she still felt it—that would not hold a form, much like the falling snow.