“Step this way please, Mr. Gambonni.”
The maid led me to the dark-paneled and coffer-beamed library. Disoriented by the abrupt change from bright hallway to dim library, I bumped against a table, jostling a vase of fresh-cut lilacs. Their heady-sweet fragrance suffused the atmosphere,...
<p>“Step this way please, Mr. Gambonni.”</p>
<p>The maid led me to the dark-paneled and coffer-beamed library. Disoriented by the abrupt change from bright hallway to dim library, I bumped against a table, jostling a vase of fresh-cut lilacs. Their heady-sweet fragrance suffused the atmosphere, but could not mask the telltale odor of old books. I suppressed an urge to cough, my allergic reaction to the molds in the air.</p>
<p>Adjusting to the scant lighting, I was amazed by the size of the room. It was spacious enough to host a gathering of fifty or more. The sound of rain pounding on the roof reverberated through the ceiling while heavy showers fell in earnest. Caught off guard, I was blinded by flashes of lightning. Window panes rattled in their muntins, and crystals in the center-placed chandelier clinked with each peal of thunder. But I smiled, for today’s weather would be my ally in reinforcing the illusion of a frightful, enigmatic spirit world. Restraining a chuckle, I felt a twinge of embarrassment at how easy it was to pull off a convincing séance in this setting. For sure, it would be my finest performance.</p>
<p>As we moved toward the fire in the hearth, I noticed that several designer furniture pieces – the sinuous style of Art Nouveau, all top quality and expensive – were arranged throughout the room. Somewhat passé for the 1920s, they revealed, however, the refined taste of the Winnafords. Soft spotlights bathed original oils in illumination around the imposing fireplace. I was drawn in particular to the larger-than-life-size portrait above the mantle.</p>
<p>“The woman in the portrait, is that Mrs. Winnaford’s sister?”</p>
<p>“Yes, Sir. ’Tis Emma, Sir. She died four years ago. And heartbroken she was.”</p>
<p>“Mrs. Winnaford. ’Tisn’t a day goes by that she don’t come and stares at the portrait. Sometimes, she talks to it. Creepy like. Had it painted soon after… well… you know. Kinda big, though. Can’t miss it when you comes in the library.”</p>
<p>I stood for a moment, taking in the portrait. The artist’s skill was quite evident in capturing such a realistic likeness. The shadows were photographic-perfect, as were the highlights. The choice of colors so enhanced the woman’s image that I...