Beneath this stone lies more than one
Who saw too soon life’s setting sun
Alyda here is softly sleeping
Her brief pilgrimage is o’er
And she bade her young babe join her
Both not lost but gone before
Alyda Teasdale was only seventeen, a single mother in Port Carlyle on Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy, when she died under mystifying circumstances in 1897. Rianne Tavener, a writer who has returned to the village in the summer of 1972 to oversee upcoming bicentenary celebrations, has long been captivated by the words etched into Alyda’s gravestone. She resolves to profile the Victorian-era girl in tours of the old graveyard in which she is buried.
Owen Sweeney, the eccentric curator of the museum in Port Carlyle, has in his possession a damaged journal that once belonged to Alyda. When Rianne learns that Mr. Sweeney also knows personal details about Alyda’s life, she insists on reconstructing the journal entries with his help. Rianne also re-establishes her friendship with Ben Allenby, a close friend from childhood, and he and Rianne take on an assignment to re-map the old graveyard.
Rianne experiences deep feelings of kinship with Alyda, a well-to-do English girl who mourns the death of her sea captain father and is forced into an intolerable family situation with her mother’s sudden marriage to an authoritarian preacher. Caught up in the confrontations between Alyda and her stepbrother, and in the trysts between the girl and her farmhand lover, Rianne begins to envision Alyda. Is she seeing an actual ghost, she wonders, or are the images creations of her own imagination?
Convinced that the source of the stories is Mr. Sweeney’s 91-year-old mother, Alma, Rianne finds a way to befriend the old woman. And on a climactic Thanksgiving weekend, during which she must also confront her feelings for Ben, Rianne finally learns the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Alyda and the fate of her newborn babe.