Country Interlude

Submitted into Contest #64 in response to: Set your story in a Gothic manor house.... view prompt

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Adventure Historical Fiction Mystery

A Country Interlude

James was enjoying the day.  Odd circumstances had brought him to the Scottish border town, but the day was cloudless with a mixture of the scent of peat and new-mown hay wafting from the moors.  His rented Mini-Cooper ate up the narrow country lanes like a hungry beast.  He could not help but wonder at the circumstances that brought him to the United Kingdom.  Only yesterday he was commuting to work in Manhattan along the choked highways of New Jersey.  Then he received the call that changed his immediate future. 

 Aunt Tilde, really matronly and reclusive aunt Matilda Crumley had passed in the small hamlet of Kirkley on the Moor.   He had never met aunt Tilde though he knew her by reputation.  She had fought for women’s rights long before women were burning their bras.  She had annually campaigned for Scottish independence before that was fashionable as well.  At 102, she had lived alone till she was found deceased in her little Merlin Elf, an underpowered collector’s item of a vehicle dating to the forties.  The little red car was found on the moor for which the community was named.  Her intended destination was a mystery.  

James was shocked when a solicitor called him at the agency where he worked and informed him that Matilda had requested for him to come to Scotland and take possession of her numerous papers.  He supposed that she had somehow heard of his occupation as an editor.   He arrived in the village, almost regretting that his journey was over.  The driveway was more of a wide pathbv for horses and carts than automobiles.  Even his small Mini-Cooper brushed the vegetation on both sides.  The driveway was easily over a quarter-mile.   The house was much as he expected.  It could have been a great setting for a movie based on a nineteenth century novel.  Multiple gables were crowned by a steep moss-covered gray slate roof.   The walls were a brownish brick when it could be seen through the English ivy.  He supposed that aunt Tilde would call it Scottish ivy.  The windows were the two over two tall thin type of the last century except for the diagonal mullioned windows surrounding the front door.  

James had not even come to a complete stop when the solicitor stepped out the front door to greet him.  “Malcom Brown?”  

“Yes, Malcom Brown, Esq., at your service Mr. Crumley.”

Brown was a small mouse of a man who appeared to be in his sixties.  He turned his head from side to side as though he was expecting intruders.  “Mr. Crumley, please come in and let me show you the documents Matilda left for your guardianship.”  He obviously was anxious to get his duties preformed and behind him. 

The house had a stale odor with faint overtones of what James had often heard referred to as Granny grease.  Brown led him through a maze of rooms as he held his hands high to help disrupt the cobwebs.  James noticed that the electrical switches were the push button type that were easily over one hundred years old.  Brown explained that the house and estate had been willed to local nieces and nephews who were engaged in extensive legal actions and manipulations likely to cause massive legal fees to the extent that the entire estate would eventually be sold to pay inheritance tax and costs of litigation.  

After ascending two narrow stairs, they reached a small door that even Mr. Brown, Esq. had to stoop to enter.  The dusty room had a desk, chair, and a large open cabinet.  In the cabinet were rows of journals neatly marked from 1935 to 2019.  There were other notebooks filling a third shelf.  Mr. Brown, Esq. swept his hand across the room, “Mr. Crumley, this is your legacy.  You can spend as much time as you need or wish here perusing Matilda’s papers, and when you are ready, I will arrange to have them shipped to you across the pond.  Now here is the key.  I must leave for an appointment and I’m sure you can let yourself out.”  Mr. Brown, Esq. made a hasty retreat.  James could hardly blame him.  But he dusted out the chair and took down the first volume, 1935.  

1, Nov. 1935:  My solemn prayer is that the reader of my simple journal will be reading from a time of less strife than present.  The peat has been harvested, and is on its way to Edinburgh.  The sheep and lambs are secured for the season.  The fall hay has been stacked, and the fall garden is in the ground just before the snow.  My thoughts are turning to the holiday. Mum says that we’ll have a harvest gathering soon and I expect to see the handsome lads of Kirkley, including Jamie, heavenly Jamie.

The rest of 1935 was rife with the musings of a fifteen-year-old.  James was struck by her occasional observations much more mature than her age and her complex sentence structure.  He turned to 1940 expecting more mature text and subject matter.

5, June, 1940:  Our darkest days are upon us.  We in Kirkley are relatively spared, but our young men have deserted us for the war leaving the females to plant, harvest, shear, cut the peat and tend to all the usual masculine chores.  Worst of all is the heartache I suffer for Jamie.  My Beau, Jamie, felt the call and enlisted straight-up.  He wanted to be a RAF pilot and I know he will be brave and smart and strong.  But I miss him all the same.  I can only pray for our brave soldiers on the shores of Dunkirk.  Lord, help us to survive the terrible times and keep our soldiers out of harm’s way and bless Mr. Churchill who knows we are the last bastion of freedom.

James read on.

14, Aug. 1941:  My heart has died inside my body.  My dear Jamie has been lost over the channel.  My greatest hope is that I could die with him.  If my life must go on, let me dedicate it to cherishing his memory.  Reading on, James could see her intense grief as well as her fervent patriotism.   Volume after volume was a poignant and talented description of Matilda’s long and meaningful life.  It was a mixture of an almanac, history as well as a continued love story for her long-lost Jamie.

A glance at his watch indicated he had been sitting at the desk for five hours.  It felt like minutes.  He got up from the desk to get back to his hotel before continuing his literary visit with Matilda the next day.  He strolled to the door and totally had forgotten the short lintel.  He took a solid wallop to his frontal skull and the world went black.

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“Jamie! Jamie lad!  Waken ye up and speak to me lad!”  James heard a muffled voice in the distance, but it gradually got louder till it was a scream in his ear.  His forehead throbbed and his vision was clouded, but gradually cleared.  James looked up to see a burly man in a straw hat and a blousy shirt.  He managed to say, “Who are you?”

“Why, I’m your big brother Hamish you ninny.  I was sure you were a goner.  You’ve been out cold for at least fifteen minutes.  Here, let me help you up.”  As James got up, he noticed a huge hay stack, easily 30 feet tall.

“Ye fell right on your noggin Jamie lad.”

James rubbed his head and looked around.  He saw a wagon with a hay frame with two draft horses, he knew from beer commercials they were Clydesdales, hitched to the wagon.

Hamish helped him to the hay frame and drove it back to the manor.  The movement made James dizzy, so he closed his eyes and still felt every bump as the wagon trundled to the house.   When the wagon stopped, he dared open his eyes and saw the house where he had just spent five hours, but it was different.  The garden was in full bloom, the windows were cleaned and open to the air and there was fresh laundry on the clothes line to the rear of the house. 

Then—then, running from the house was a thin sprite of a girl.  Older brother Hamish took command.  Your beau, Jamie here, has taken a bump to the head.  I reckon a bit of your ministrations will restore him to perfect health.  Jamie looked up and there, unmistakably, was Matilda.  He could only choke out a hoarse, “Tilde, is that you?” 

“And who else would I be, you silly farmer? You’ve gone and done something foolish again, I’ll bet!”

James didn’t want to sound more foolish than he already did, but he had to ask, “What year is this?”  

“Why, it’s still 1934, just like it’s been since New Year’s Day.”

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Six month later, the whole village has heard of Jamie’s head injury and that he is ‘a bit’ daft.  But they couldn’t deny that he seemed to be physically fit, smart as a whip and as happy and in love as any lad in the village.  Jamie and Matilda were betrothed and ceremonially official as soon as could be done without scandal.  The war came and went.  Jamie enlisted, but used his secret knowledge to migrate to the intelligence services rather than combat.  His life was filled with meaning and love and with time he all but forgot about his secret. 

October 19, 2020 02:32

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