“It’s perfect,” exclaimed Walter.
My heart felt like lead in my stomach. ‘No!’ I wanted to scream, ‘It’s everything but perfect. It’s horrible, dark, dank, and gloomy. You won’t find me dead in a place like this.’
“We’ll take it,” he continued.
That spontaneous exclamation could not be helped. The estate agent nearly jumped out of her skin, while my husband looked at me with a surprised lift to his eyebrows.
“We’ll only sign a six month contract,” he said softly to me, “the atmosphere is just what I’m looking for, and if I finish my novel sooner then we can leave sooner.”
I surveyed the huge entrance hall, the enormous kitchen which extended onto a pantry through one door and a scullery through the other door; obviously they had never ever heard of take-away. At least the kitchen boasted a shiny new gas stove which looked incongruous in that setting. Climbing the wooden staircase which showed the wear of hundreds of shoes, we came to a passageway which seemed to extend forever in both directions.
“There are six bedrooms on this floor, and you are welcome to use all of them. This is the main bedroom,” the agent said, pushing hard against the large oak door which obviously resented the intrusion. With Walter’s help the door creaked open revealing a large room which would have been sunny if it were not for the heavily brocaded curtains that were pulled closed, shutting out every bit of light from the outside world. A large four-poster bed dominated the room, and my spirits lifted slightly as I had always dreamed of sleeping in a four-poster with silk drapes hiding the bed; it seemed so seductive.
“You will need to bring your own linen,” continued the agent.
“You got that right,” I muttered.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” she said.
I immediately wanted to bite my tongue. I was so busy hating this mansion, and by extension, this rather sweet elderly lady who was only trying to make a living.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, “It is just that there is a layer of dust everywhere.”
“It will be sparkling clean before you move in,” she assured me.
The staircase to the next landing was boarded up.
“Why?” asked Walter, giving the wooden boards a nudge with his shoe.
“The rest of the house is unsafe, the committee is only renting out this portion.”
It surprised me that he did not pursue the matter. The fact that we would need an unstable generator to run the electricity, did not faze him in the least, never mind that there was no internet connection; that brought a grin to his face.
My days were spent walking with my little daughter, Amy, down to the village which had an internet café, buying fresh produce and chatting with the villagers. Although they were friendly, they were evasive about ‘the house on the hill’ as they called it.
“How is little Amy?” each shopkeeper would ask, looking at her curiously while offering her something appealing to eat. My protests fell on deaf ears as they all insisted that she was too skinny.
Because of the unreliable generator, Walter ditched the computer and started writing his novel in cursive. He no longer bothered to shave, hardly bothered to eat, and became more and more withdrawn. The man I knew and loved seemed to be changing day by day. At night I could hear him pacing up and down the long corridor. We had moved Amy’s bed into our large bedroom, now she had taken to crawling into bed with me. We both found the room intimidating, so I bought meters of brightly coloured silk material with which I covered the four-poster, and with the sun streaming through the windows, we were in our own rainbow tent.
One morning I awoke to find that Walter was already up. Looking for him in his empty study, I picked up his handwritten notes and started scanning through them. The top page was written in beautiful calligraphy, but the words were dark: ‘I will need three coffins, and one for a child. They will have a proper burial, not like the others.’ Scanning through the pages, I stopped about halfway through, the handwriting was not quite as well formed: ‘The moat must be filled in. Beatrice is too fragile. It pains me to see her fading away.’ I went to the bottom of the pile, page one started with Walter’s fast scrawl which was almost impossible to read: ‘This manor is imposing and dreadful, and the moat makes it inaccessible.’
I looked out of the window. Did a moat once surround this imposing manor? From this angle I could discern where the vegetation was more fertile. And even a little stream running down the far side of the hill.
“What are you doing?”
It was not a shout, more like a menacing whisper, I turned to see the man who was my husband, all bearded, wild eyed, and unkempt, coming towards me; in my frightened state I dropped all his notes, spilling them on the floor. With shaking hands I stooped to pick them up, but Walter was faster, grabbing them out of my hands.
“Why are you behaving so strangely?” I asked.
It was Walter’s turn to look puzzled.
“Look at your handwriting,” I continued.
“Oh, it’s the whole character that I am absorbing.” Then, taking my hand, “I want to show you something.”
I allowed him to lead me past the barricade, up the flight of stairs to a room on the next level. “Look,” he said, “A treasure trove.”
I looked at a massive bureau upon which was a diary. Walter donned soft gloves before he gingerly turned the yellowed pages. I recognised the beautiful calligraphy: ‘This villain is no Christian, death by drowning shall not suffice.’
To say the least, I was not excited like my husband, rather, a sick fear crept into my stomach, and I made my way to the village determined to find the estate agent. Was the house haunted? Why was my husband changing into someone else? These were the questions that I could not ask, so I politely enquired about the history of the mansion.
“As far as I know,” she answered, “the manor had been in the Walters family for generations…”
I needed to sit down. “Did you say the Walters family?”
“Yes,” she answered quite happily, “Isn’t that a coincidence? Another strange coincidence is that the last lord of the manor also had a child named Amy.”
“What happened to them?” My throat was so constricted that I uttered those words in a shrill squeal.
“It was very sad. The little girl fell into the moat and almost drowned. The gardener saved her, but she never quite recovered, and slowly wasted away. Of course Beatrice, the mother, pined so much that Lord Walters sent her to France to recover. There were no telephones in those days, and Lord Walters would send messengers to find her. He waited and waited for news, but she never returned.”
“What happened to the gardener?”
“Some say he was fired, then there are those who say that they were lovers and he ran away with her. The gossipers had their own ideas, the favourite was that Lord Walters drowned both of them in the moat that once encircled the manor, and then had it filled in.” Looking at my ashen face, she said: “Don’t look so worried, after all, you don’t have the same name as the lady of the manor.”
I gave her a weak smile. Didn’t she know what Trixie was short for?
Walter refused to leave until he had finished his book, so Amy and I caught the train home and waited for his return.
Today we have the telephone. I have contacted the estate agent numerous times, as well as the police. People say that sometimes at night they see a light flickering in the house on the hill, but no one dares to go and investigate.