The Cat of Columbia Square
“The Davenport House was built in 1820 by master builder, Isaiah Davenport. The house is designed in the Federal style commonly seen in the New England area where Mr. Davenport was born and learned his craft. The focus of this museum is to provide an accurate portrayal of a middle-class life in 1820’s Savannah. If you’ll follow me, we’ll explore the drawing room, foyer, and office.”
I obediently trouped behind the group of tourists and wondered what had possessed me to take the tour. Historical restoration and ‘living history’ museums were my sister Anne’s, idea of fun. I smirked. My preferences leaned toward the living and the night life.
“You’ll notice the rooms on the first-floor feature more elaborate moldings, fireplace mantels, and furnishings than those of the second and third floors. This is because Mr. Davenport used the home as a showcase for his business and he entertained prospective clients in these rooms.”
I tuned out the docent’s spiel and surveyed the room. The house was beautifully restored, right down to the foyer’s floor cloth painted to resemble black and white tiles. I scratched my head.
If memory served, there was something similar in the upstairs hallway at Oak Point. I rolled my eyes. It used to be there anyway. No doubt my father’s trophy wife had pitched it into a dumpster as part of her ‘modernizing’ of our family’s two-hundred-year-old plantation.
I grimaced at the thought of what I might find when I returned home to St. Stewart’s Island. If Tiffany, the bimbo’s, I refused to think of her as a Stewart, redecorating of the Stewart townhouse on Pulaski Square was any indication of her plans for Oak Point, the Stewart ancestors would be lined up at the Pearly Gates with sharp knives in eager anticipation of my father’s arrival.
“In 1955, seven civic minded ladies founded the Historic Savannah Foundation after learning of plans to demolish the Davenport House to construct a parking lot. Saving the Davenport House was the catalyst for the organized preservation movement that has turned Savannah into an international tourist destination. The foundation has helped to save over three hundred and fifty buildings. We’ll now move upstairs to the family rooms. Note the cantilevered staircase …”
The docent spun around and glared at me as the theme from the Twilight Zone rang out from my purse. “Ma’am, cell phone use is not permitted during the tour. We specifically ask our guests to turn them off.”
I flashed a tight smile and rummaged through my bag. I groaned as I read the caller id. Mouthing an apology to the docent, I pressed the green button and retraced my steps down to the gift shop.
“Paige? Where are you?”
I grinned. “I’m in Savannah, how about you?”
A snort from Clay sent static through the speaker. “Don’t be flippant, Paige, you know what I mean. You are supposed to be at the Seventeen Hundred Ninety Inn, yet I get a call from my secretary saying the reservation was cancelled. Mind explaining that?”
I drew a deep breath and counted to ten so I didn’t bless him out. I was still uneasy over what occurred in room 204. “Certainly. If you’ll explain to me how I came to be booked in the so-called haunted room.”
Clayton chuckled. “So that’s it. Were you scared to sleep alone Paige?” His tone softened. “Want me to come down and keep you company through the night?”
A shiver ran down my spine and it had nothing to do with ghosts. A vision of Clay’s toned body entwined with mine rose before my eyes. I gulped and blinked the image away.
Clayton Moore was my boss and I had no intention of mixing business with pleasure, at least until I finished the Spectral Savannah series anyway; after that … all bets were off, and clothes too, if I were lucky.
“Paige? Cat got your tongue?”
I dragged my thoughts away from their carnal fantasies and tried to recall the gist of the conversation. “Yes …, er, no! No, Clay, I don’t need you to protect me from things that go bump in the night.”
“Sure? It would be fun …”
“Umm hmm, I’m sure it will—I mean would! It would be –“
“Freudian slip, Paige?”
I flushed at the knowing tone in his voice. Please God, open a hole in the floor so I can crawl in!
I cleared my throat and attempted to get the conversation back on a professional footing. “Did you just call to tease me or was there something you needed?”
“Oh, I need you all right …” His sexy laugh filtered down the phone line sending a wave of desire coursing through me. I’d wanted him from the moment we met two months ago but I’d denied myself; knowing business and pleasure didn’t mix.
I’d even tried convincing myself he was a naïve, ghost hunting fool; Good looking and charming, but a little shy of a full deck. I sighed and faced the fact that the effort had been futile. My body was intent on overriding my brain.
“Paige, you there?”
I drew a deep breath and told my rebellious body to chill; I had a job to do. “Yeah, Clay, I’m here. Look, I’m missing this tour so ….”
“What tour? Are you digging up some good ghost stories to replace the Seventeen Hundred story you chickened out on?”
I gritted my teeth. “I did not chicken out; those people were nothing but two bit con – never mind. I’m touring the Davenport House Museum. It has an interesting history and the restoration had a tremendous impact on the city –“
“Uh, that’s great Paige but … is it haunted?”
I huffed. “I don’t know Clayton and to be honest that isn’t my first priority at the moment – “
“Well it’s mine! I hired you to write ghost stories. My readers don’t give a damn about the –“He laughed. “Geez, you know how to push my buttons.”
I laughed. “Well I don’t mean to.”
“Good, bodes well for our future! Look Paige, you’re a damn fine reporter and everything you’ve turned in so far has been excellent, so I have no reason to doubt you this time. Besides, I don’t want to fight with you …,” He chuckled. “I actually called to see if you were free for dinner Friday.”
I gulped and tried to ignore my quickening pulse, and his use of the word ‘our’. “Umm, this Friday? I thought you were in New York.”
“I was, but I flew into Charleston yesterday. We’re looking at doing a series on their ghosts after your Savannah articles run. So, how about it? I’ll drive down Friday afternoon. We’ll have dinner and, since I don’t have to be back in New York until Monday, I thought you might give me a tour of your island.”
I laughed. “St. Stewart’s isn’t my island.”
“It’s named after your family …”
“Yes, but we don’t own it, well not all of it anyway.” I glanced at my watch and jumped.
“Oh! Clay, I’ve got to run. We’ve been talking for thirty minutes, and the tour only lasts an hour. I’d love to have dinner with you Friday night, but we’ll have to wait and see on the island tour, okay? I’ll talk to you later – “
I started to click the phone off but stopped as Clayton yelled my name. “Yeah Clay, whatcha need?”
“Sorry to keep you from your scintillating tour but … I don’t know where you’re staying.”
I laughed. “Oh, sorry! I’m at the Kehoe House on Columbia Square, catty corner to the Davenport House.”
“I know it. I’ll pick you up around 8:00. Enjoy your tour!”
I turned my phone off and muttered, “I will, if it hasn’t ended!”
I ran up to the second floor and paused to catch my breath. The tour was nowhere in sight and the house was silent. I wandered down the hall, peeking into the rooms in hopes of slipping back into the group.
The last thing I wanted was another scold from the guide. I glanced into what I assumed was the morning room and found it empty. The master bedroom also yielded no results. I frowned. One room left, and the door was closed.
I hesitated, wondering if the room was off limits to guests but, hearing someone singing, I opened the door.
A young girl, dressed in a period costume, similar to the docent’s, sat on the floor playing with a grey tiger striped cat. I smiled and bent to stroke the cat. “Do you know where your mother took the tour group?”
The little girl pointed to the floor above.
“Thanks!” I scratched the cat’s chin one last time and headed for the stairs. Half-way up, I paused. The Davenport House was a museum filled with priceless antiques. While a child dressed in period attire certainly added to the atmosphere, I doubted the foundation intended the child to be left unsupervised.
The docent would likely be reprimanded for letting her daughter wander and it might even cost the woman her job if they found out her child had let a cat inside.
Considering it my good deed for the day, I made my way back to the bedroom, intending to bring the child back to her mother, but the room was empty. I tried.
I shrugged and returned to the staircase, just in time to receive another glare from the docent.
“Ma’am. At the start of the tour, I clearly stated that visitors were not to wander off alone. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
That’s the thanks I get for trying to save your ass?
I bit back the retort and offered a smile “I’m sorry. I had to take a phone call. I was trying to find you when I stumbled upon your daughter playing in a bedroom. She told me you were upstairs, so I started to join you but then I came back down. It occurred to me that she isn’t supposed to be up here alone either, and I’m sure her cat isn’t allowed inside at all.” I smiled. “I was going to bring her to you so you wouldn’t get into trouble, but I’m afraid she’s run off.”
The docent frowned. “Ma’am, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a daughter and there had better not be a cat running loose in here!”
“But I …”
The docent pointed toward the basement steps. “Please, I think it best you leave.”
Confused and embarrassed that the other tourists were staring at me, I followed the woman down to the gift shop. It made no sense. I’d clearly seen and spoken to the little girl. Hell, I’d pet the cat! The woman was obviously lying … but why? Annoyed, I walked over to the cashier’s desk and leaned across the counter.
The docent sighed and halted her conversation with the clerk. “May I help you?”
My eyes widened at the woman’s hostile tone. What on earth had I done? “Look, I’m sorry to bother you but … I know I saw a little girl and her cat upstairs. She’s dressed in costume. Now, if she isn’t your daughter, don’t you think – “
“Oh for goodness’s sake!” The docent rolled her eyes. “Please stop. You’re not funny and that gag is getting old.”
“What gag? I’m not trying to be fun- “
“Ma’am, you’re not the first to come in here and try to pull this stunt. The story of the little girl and her ghost cat is hardly new. The Davenport House is not haunted by the daughter of Isaiah Davenport or a cat. We are a serious history museum. If you wish to hear, or tell, ghost stories I suggest you take the haunted hearse tour. Now, for the last time, please leave the premises!”
My mouth dropped open. I stumbled outside and walked over to Columbia Square and sat by the fountain. I stared at the Davenport House, trying to make sense of what I’d just heard.
I wanted to believe the docent was lying but, after years as a journalist, I knew the truth when I heard it. Which left me with no acceptable explanation; I’d been hallucinating or …
I jumped up and gave myself a shake. The only reasonable explanation was the power of suggestion. Clay had put the idea of ghosts into my head right before I hung up and imagination took it from there. That was the only reasonable thing to assume. I either accept that or get fitted for a straight jacket.
A nap was in order. A long rest would put my mind at rest. I walked toward the Kehoe House. Half-way across the street I stopped and stared. My eyes widened as the tip of a grey tail disappeared through the brick wall surrounding the Davenport House’s garden; a child’s delighted laughter drifted on the wind.
I rubbed my eyes with a trembling hand and wondered what size jacket to request.
Intrepid reporter Paige Stewart may be fictitious, but the history and lore of the Davenport House are all true … to one degree or another. I wonder if Paige will get her nap. Children apparently like her … and the Kehoe family had 10!