37 of 100
Leonora cursed, loudly, as she slowed down and steered her car, abruptly, off the busy road and pulled up on the grass verge.
A speeding lorry thundered past and the driver ‘beeped’ in annoyance as he swerved to avoid colliding with the rear of her vehicle. She stuck up her middle finger in a crude gesture and cursed again.
” Bastard !”
She may as well admit it …… she was lost !
It was so typical of Jason to foist this job off on her. She never did the ‘Country House’ valuations, he always kept the most lucrative, high-end, properties to himself. But it was a Saturday afternoon …………and he was playing golf with some important client, so Leonora had drawn the short straw.
She sighed again and tapped at her ‘Sat-Nav’. It was still resolutely telling her to take a right turn; but surely it was wrong ? This area was unfamiliar to her, but she was sure there were no side roads on this busy route.
She pulled a map out of the glove box and swore again as a pile of advertising mailers and old brochures cascaded to the floor. ” Damn !” ……. ” Bugger !” Struggling with the many folds and creases of the map was impossible in the confines of her little car, so she opened the door and stepped out onto the spongey, wet, mossy verge.
The heavy rain had now stopped but a slight misty drizzle filled the air. A car, towing a swaying caravan, flew past her like a bullet and spray splattered her immaculate grey skirt,
” Oh great, now I will look like some scruffy hill-billy” she sighed. Leonora was thoroughly pissed off !
The sound of the vehicles, thundering past, abated for a while and she thought that she could hear the sound of running water. Taking advantage of the lull in the traffic, Leonora ran across the road to peer over a dry-stone wall. The view took her completely by surprise.
The ground fell steeply away from the road, into a deep gorge which was lined with tall, impenetrable evergreens and thick gorse bushes. A waterfall tumbled over black, shiny rocks and splashed and gushed to the valley floor, far below.
Leonora gazed at the torrent; part of it roared through a fissure in the precipitous cliff and she followed the flow with her eyes as it disappeared from sight, hidden by the trees and undergrowth. And there it was …… perhaps ? Yes ….was it …? Was that a tall chimney she could see, camouflaged by Scots pines and mist ? Had she found the elusive house ?
Rushing back to her car, she drove slowly along the main road. Ignoring the gesticulating, angry drivers who were stuck behind her in a seething, crawling traffic-jam. Yes !!! There was a little lane to the right, practically hidden by bushes ! She indicated and pulled across the road; then gasped as her car began to descend, rapidly, down a bumpy, pot-holed track.
” This will have to be widened and covered in Tarmac ” she muttered to herself.
Finally, after a few minutes, the track leveled out and, through a gap in the trees, she saw the grey, front elevation, of a huge house.
The waterfall was to one side and, after its noisy, tumultuous drop, it calmed and flowed away in a beautiful river. ” Gorgeous backdrop ” she thought; already making mental notes of how the place could be marketed.
A red Range Rover was parked on the weed-filled gravel, by the entrance to the house and a weedy, sly-looking man was leaning up against it, smoking a cigar.
” At last !” he shouted, ” You’re late. I thought we agreed on 3pm !”
Leonora rolled down her window and offered her apologies. Then, taking her camera, clipboard and handbag, she got out of her car, smoothed down her stained skirt and put on her most professional countenance.
The house loomed high and forbidding as they made their introductions and exchanged pleasantries. Leonora noted how much colder it was in this mist-filled valley. Perhaps some of the trees could be cleared to let more light reach this hidden mansion.
The man, Mike Harris, was anxious to get on with business,
” Well, what do you think of the place ? Been in my family for hundreds of years.” he said, eagerly, ” My Great Aunt Maud lived here, but she died a month ago. I’m the only one left, so…………… its all mine ! Can’t be bothered with the old pile. D’you think it will fetch a good price ?”
Leonora smiled, ” That’s what they always want to know ” she thought, ” Money, money, money”
She considered the exterior, it had certainly seen better days. But it looked fairly solid, though you could never tell until it was surveyed.
” Well, it has been neglected ” she sighed, eyeing the crumbling mortar and the thick ivy that scrambled up the walls and threatened to choke and cover every window. ” But it is in a wonderful location. So secluded. I bet no-one knows it is here.”
She gazed around at the huge gardens. They were all completely overgrown now but they must have been glorious, long ago. Old-fashioned Bourbon roses, now covered in bindweed, must,once, have filled the air with their heady scent. Herbaceous borders, now straggly and brown, would have dazzled the eye with their colourful beauty.
” Perhaps the place needs pulling down ” she said, ” But it would make wonderful holiday apartments, or something like that ” she added, turning to smile at Mr Harris.
“Which would make the most money ?” he snapped, ” Come on, lets go inside ” he grinned, his mind already full of the thousands of pounds he would receive.
The huge door creaked reluctantly and swung slowly open to reveal a vast entrance hall. A dirty, tarnished crystal and silver chandelier hung from the high ceiling and an elegant, curved staircase rose up to the floors above.
It had been beautiful, that much was clear, but now the house was dark and damp. The dank air filled Leonora’s lungs and she placed a hand on the nearest wall to steady herself. The wall felt cold and clammy, like uncooked pastry and a great sense of foreboding filled her heart.
” No !” she shook herself, ” Don’t be silly ” But she could have sworn that something was watching her and the old house seemed to shudder and murmur as she walked from room to room, making notes.
” I’m afraid the electricity isn’t very reliable” muttered Mike, as the lights flickered ominously.
” H’mmm, that’s often the case, in these old houses ” replied Leonora. But she wished the late autumn afternoon was brighter and that the windows were not so heavily covered in ivy. ” No worries ” she added, far more brightly than she felt, ” If this place is developed, rather than pulled down, it will all be completely rewired !”
Mike wandered off, so she got to work. The huge, well proportioned rooms were shadowy and forbidding but she got out her tape and began to measure them; calculating the floor space and mentally dividing the place into separate units. The wooden floor-boards creaked above her and she smiled wryly. Mr Harris was up there, inspecting the 12 bedrooms.
” No fear of over-crowding here,” she thought. ” Even divided into 6 apartments,there will be lots of room “
She glanced at the blackness in the corner of the drawing-room; had she seen something move ? But no, on closer inspection, it was just the yellowing wall-paper, slowly peeling from the fusty, damp walls.
Nevertheless, Leonora shivered and wished she had brought one of her thick, cable-knit cardies with her, instead of the thin suit jacket. It had suddenly turned very cold.
She wandered into the next room. Mike Harris was going about, inspecting all the furniture; seeing what was worth selling and what should be discarded, so, many of the dust covers lay on the floor. But one or two remained in place. Grey and dusty they shrouded desks and sofas and took on an eerie appearance in the fading light. They seemed to stare at her, accusingly …….menacingly.
She looked around and tried to imagine what this house must have looked like in its hey-day. She thought of the family that had occupied this grand place through the years. She could imagine them all …… their portraits hung on every wall. Generation upon generation. All looking down at her through the gloom. An icy draught ran down her back as she felt their disapproval.
Suddenly she knew the plans for this great house were not welcome here.
A noise from the hall interrupted her reverie and she rushed through the bleak, morbid rooms …………..
Mike lay at the foot of the great flight of stairs, his body hideously twisted. She crouched by his side, fear rising in her throat,
” You pushed me……. you bitch…… why……why ? ” he whimpered, weakly and then was silent …… he was quite dead.
And, as Leonora rose from the dusty floor, a scream on her lips, the lights finally failed and darkness fell ……….
Hundreds of feet above the valley, the traffic rushed along the busy road, in the glorious, late autumn sunshine. The drivers never noticed the waterfall that flowed into the dark valley below ……..
Today I have used my ‘Photo a Day’ as inspiration for my entry for the Countdown Word Game. This game was invented by Matt and details can be found on his page at http://miblodelcarpio.blog.co.uk
The words to be included in the game this week are ;
MAILERS, FISSURE, SPONGEY, BULLET, POUNDS, CROWDING, AVOID, CARDIES, FOIST
I hope you enjoyed it. Why not try it for yourself ?
Oh …… in case you are interested, the photo was taken by me at Bridge of Feugh, near Banchory, Aberdeenshire.