The house on the hill – a short story

cold-nature-people-walking

It was early evening in late autumn.  John and his sister Marisa were on their way home from the village.  Their mother had sent them to Martinborough on some errands as the family were expecting relatives from London to come for the weekend.

The fog was starting to build and it swirled around their horse and trap.  Marisa felt a little scared and grabbed her brother’s arm for reassurance.

As they travelled along Marisa pointed out that she could see the top of the old house peeping through the mist.

“It looks so eerie…” Marisa whispered to her brother.

“It does a bit,” replied John.

cold-nature-people-walkingAs they got nearer the big house they could see the outline of two figures.

Marissa grabbed her brother’s arm tight again.

“It’s ok sis, I am sure everything is fine,” said John feeling a bit nervous himself.

Suddenly out of the fog came a man’s voice.

“Ahoy there, I don’t suppose you have seen a dog by any chance on your travels?”, he called out.

“Ah no sorry,” said John as he drew the trap closer to the man.

“My brother Tim and I have spent the evening looking for our old dog Flex but are unable to find him,” said the young man.

“Oh I see, sorry we can’t help but we will look out for him on our travels home”, replied John.

“Much obliged sir, thank you, “said the young man as he tipped his scruffy hat to Marisa.

Marisa just smiled.

As they rode off Marisa remarked to John, “They must live at the big spooky house, do you think?”

“I think possibly they do”, he replied to his sister.

After traveling about ten minutes down the road John pointed out to Marisa that he could see a dog lying on the side of the road ahead.

“We must stop”, said Marisa, “Go and see if it’s alright please John”.

With that John hopped down off the rig.

“He seems to have hurt his leg, if I pick him up can you hold him and we will take him back”.

Marissa agreed nervously.

The poor dog looked sad but he was well cared for.

As they approached the house John called out to the young men, who were standing outside.

“Young sir, we have found your dog, he is injured but alive”.

“Oh thank you so much”, replied the older man, “Oh by the way my name is Charles, my brother Tim here and I appreciate your kindness.  Not many people around here would have bothered simply because of the house we come from”,

“Happy we could help, now we must bid you goodnight and get home to our parents, they will be concerned as to where we are.”

As John and Marisa drove off they waved goodbye to Charles and Tim.

“They seem reasonable enough young men don’t you think Marisa.” John said.

“Yes they do seem polite”, replied Marisa.

**

On arrival back home John and Marisa’s parents were worried as to their whereabouts.

“Your father was just about to set off to look for you both”, their mother said in a worried tone.

John quickly explained what had happened.

“Goodness me”, replied their father “I always wondered who lived in that old house.  They certainly do not mix with the rest of the folk around here”.

**

The weekend arrived and John and Marisa’s Aunt, Uncle and cousins Sarah, Bertie and Sam came to stay for a couple of days.  Sarah and Bertie were of a similar age to John and Marisa, while Sam was only fourteen.

The cousins always had fun together and often spent holidays either in London or at their home in the country.

On the Saturday afternoon after lunch John suggested they take the horse and trap out and go for a ride across the moors.  The view out over the ocean was stunning and the fresh air would do them all good he thought.

On their way back they passed by the big house on the hill.  John told his cousins what had happened a few days earlier and how they had found the dog.

As they got further down the road John saw Tim in the distance.  He decided to stop and ask after the dog.

“How is Flex getting on?  I hope he is better”, John asked.

“Gidday sir, yes thank you Flex is much better.  We bandaged his leg and he is walking with a bit of a limp but is doing well.  Thank you again for your help the other day”.

“Our pleasure, glad we could be of some help”, replied John.

“Maybe you might like to come and visit us sometime up at the house…” Tim suggested.

John looked at his sister, not sure what to say.

“Thank you, yes we would like that”, he replied in a non-convincing manner.

“I know what you must be thinking, the house looks pretty dreadful and there is no way you would like to visit, but I assure you we are quite harmless and you would be welcome”, Tim said with a smile.

With that John gave a nod and said he needed to get everyone home for dinner.

**

The weekend spent with their cousins was lovely.  Marisa and John always enjoyed having their cousins come to stay.  They sat up late at night and played card games and just generally enjoyed each other’s company.

The next week Marisa and John went back to the village to get more supplies for their mother, and John had to take his horse to the blacksmith for a new shoe.

While he was their Tim and his brother Charles came in with a horse.

“Haven’t seen you in the village before”, John called out to the young men.

With that Charles walked over.

“True, do you fancy going for a cup of tea or a pint while we are waiting on our horses?” he said looking at John hopefully.

“Sure that would be nice, are you alright with that Marisa?” John asked his sister.

“Not a problem.  I have some errands to do for mother.  I can meet up with you all in the pub in an hour”, replied Marisa.

After finishing her mother’s errands Marisa walked across the road to the old pub.  She had never been in on her own before and felt a bit intimidated.

John saw his sister come in the door and went over to meet her.

“Charles and Tim have been explaining to me while we have not seen them in the village before”, John told his sister.

“I see…”, replied Marisa looking curious.

“Well as a matter of fact both Tim and I have been in London for years studying, Our parents wanted to travel and also wanted us both to have a good education so we didn’t come home very much”, Charles explained, “Our parents went to Spain a lot as mother enjoyed the warmer climate and two years ago while they were there our father passed away suddenly”.

“Oh no that is so sad, we are so sorry to hear this.  How awful for you poor mother”, replied Marisa.

“Yes she has taken it very hard.  Our father was her life and they lived for each other and travel”, added Charles.

Tim then spoke up as he could see his brother was getting upset.

“After Mother returned from Spain she seemed to give up on life.  She let the house go and all she had for companionship was her cousin Bertha, who looks after her”, Tim said looking sad, “Charles and I have come home to see if we can help mother and try and get the house done up for her”.

“That’s really good, I am sure she will appreciate having you both around, if we can do anything to help, please ask”, said John looking at his sister for confirmation.

“Of course and I am sure our parents would be happy to help as well”, Marisa said smiling.

“That’s very kind of you both, thank you so much; it’s nice to know there are some good folk around here and people who don’t judge us by the appearance of our house”, said Tim feeling relieved.

After Marisa and John arrived home and were sitting down to dinner, John brought up the subject of the family who lived in the old house.

“Oh dear, maybe we have misjudged that family…” said their father, “I feel we owe them an apology.”

“You were not to know.  The house looks terrible from the road and it was easy to assume the worst”, John told his father.

**

Two weeks later John and Marisa made a trip into the village to get some errands done for their mother.  When they arrived they saw Tim and Charles at the blacksmith.

John called out, “Hello lads, if you have time, how about meeting in the pub for a quick pint or a cuppa?”

“Sure”, Charles called out, “can’t be for too long as Mother is unwell”.

Marisa and John made their way over to the pub to wait for their friends.

“So sorry to hear your mother is feeling poorly”, Marisa said to Charles upon their arrival at the pub.

“Thank you, we shall pass on your kind wishes Marisa,” Charles replied.

“We would like to invite you and your mother to dinner one Sunday night soon”, said John.

“That is mighty kind of your folks that would be really great, I shall inform mother”, smiled Tim.

“We will talk to mother and let you know”, said Tim as the pair downed their ale.

**

A few days later Marisa answered a knock at the door.  It was Charles.

“Sorry to intrude Marisa, I was just passing your gate so I thought I might drop by and accept you kind dinner invitation.  It will only be Tim and myself, mother still prefers her own company”.

“That’s fine, we understand.  Maybe one day she will feel like coming to see us.  Shall we make it this Sunday for dinner at six?” said Marisa smiling.

“We look forward to it, thank you again,” said Charles as he tipped his hat to Marisa upon is leave.

Arrangements were made for Charles and Tim to come for dinner in two weeks’ time.  Marisa and John’s mother cooked a large roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings.  Berry Pie was the desert.

Both Charles and Tim showed their appreciation by bringing a bottle of wine and some flowers they had picked from their mother’s garden.

The evening went well; Charles opened up and talked about the sadness his mother felt after the passing of his father.

“Father was our mother’s whole life.  They enjoyed travelling and spent a lot of time in Europe so did not really spend a lot of time here at our house”, Charles explained.

He went on to say his father had been ill for only a short time and both he and Tim did not get chance to say goodbye to him before he passed away.

“Mother is quite broken, and Tim and I are trying to help get her back up on her feet.  We want her to enjoy doing the house up and be involved in the community, that is what our father would have wanted for her”.

“Anything we can do to help we would be only too happy to”, replied John’s father.

“Maybe I could go and visit your mother one day Charles?” suggested John and Marisa’s mother.

“I would like that, and it would be nice for our mother to have some company, she has been sad and lonely too long”.

**

About ten days later John and Marisa’s mother baked an apple pie and told the family she was going to take the rig over to see Charles and Tim’s mother.

Marisa asked her mother if she wanted her to accompany her and it was decided the two ladies should go together.

When they arrived at the big house both women felt a tad nervous.

“It will be fine I am sure, and hopefully Charles or Tim will be home”, said Marisa to her mother, trying to put her at ease.

Marisa rang the doorbell and Charles came to the door.

“Hello ladies, what a pleasant surprise this is.  Do come in, I will take you to the drawing room.  Mother is just having a rest but am sure she will be pleased to see you both”, he said.

“Oh we do not want to disturb her”, Marisa said looking to Charles.

“It’s fine.  She won’t be a minute, just make you comfortable and I will get Bertha to make some tea”.

A few minutes later while the ladies were drinking their tea, into the room walked a strikingly beautiful older woman.

Her hair was dark brown and it was tied back with a crimson bow.  She looked so elegant.

The lady walked over to Marisa’s mother and held out her hand,

“My name is Clementine and you must be…” she asked.

“I am Francesca Burrows, most people call me Fran, and this is my daughter Marisa”, she replied with a warm smile.

“It is very kind of you to call, most people are put off because of the run down state of the house”, said Clementine as she sat down.

“It really is a lovely home”, replied Francesca.

“The inside is still in a good state of repair.  It’s just the outside, it needs a lot of work and my husband and I mostly lived abroad and it got run down.  The boys are encouraging me to have it repaired to its former glory, so I am hopeful that it will happen eventually”, said Clementine.

“My husband and some of the townsfolk would be happy to lend a hand.  The people here are very kind and friendly, and we would like to have your family as part of our community”, Francesca said smiling.

Charles and Tim entered the room towards the end of the conversation.

“I told you our neighbours were lovely people”, said Charles looking at his mother.

“Yes I can see that, and it was very kind of Francesca and Marisa to bring us some baking”.

After spending a couple of hours chatting Francesca could see her and Clementine would become good friends.

Francesca relaxed and talked about her late husband Erik and about how her world came crashing down when he died suddenly.

**

Some weeks later when the spring weather started to kick in, some of the menfolk of the town gathered together and went to the big house to start helping Tim and Charles with the repair work.  It was going to take weeks, maybe months, so they wanted to get it started while the weather was good.

Charles and Tim and their mother Clementine were ever so grateful to the people from the village, it was going to be the start of a new life for them all.

Francesca helped Clementine make new curtains while some of the ladies from the village helped revive the flower gardens.

By late summer the house was completed.  It was painted white and had navy blue window shutters and doors.  The flower beds looked stunning with the wonderful array of roses, fox gloves, lilies and other pretty plants.

Charles and Tim also started preparing a vegetable garden and pruned the trees.

‘Adderton’ looked stunning.  It had been returned to its former glory and as a ‘thank you’ for all the work the people had done for the family Charles and Tim talked their mother into holding a ball in their honour.

At first Clementine was nervous about holding such an important event but in the end she realised it was important for her to show her appreciation.  She also realised how many people cared for the family and they were no longer alone.

Francesca had become a good friend and neighbour and she now saw it was not a mistake returning to England.

On the night of the ball, the summer setting was perfect.  The ladies came along in their beautiful ball gowns, while the menfolk all looked smart in their tuxes.

Marisa wore a dark purple dress which looked lovely, with her lovely long blonde hair falling down over her shoulders.  Her mother wore an elegant blue gown, and Clementine wore a yellow dress with black lace trim.

During the evening Vicar Downey asked Clementine to dance.  At first she was hesitant but when Charles gave her the nod of approval she agreed.

Marisa danced with both her brother, Charles and Tim.  She had a wonderful evening.

Tim had been keen to dance most of the night away with Vanessa, who was a local school teacher.

Charles tried to fit in as many dances as he could with Marisa.

“We owe all this to your family,” he said to Marisa with a big smile as they whirled around the dancefloor.

“I am so happy we could help and it all ended up like this”, she smiled back.

“I have not seen mother so happy in so long.  Father would be pleased”, mused Charles.

“That is good, she deserves to be happy”, replied Marisa.

“Now things have settled down I would like to ask your father if I may court you”, Charles said to Marisa nervously.

Marisa blushed, “Why…I would be delighted”, she whispered shyly.

**

Summer came and went; Clementine started spending a lot of time with Vicar Tom Downey.  He was a widower, a lovely man.  He made Clementine smile again, and took her to London to the theatre.  It was good to see her happy again.

Romance blossomed for Marisa and Charles, and now they were engaged to be married the following summer.

Tim was courting Vanessa, while John had just started seeing Prue who had just moved back from London.  Prue was going to be a locum doctor at Dr Barrett’s practice.

Life was good for everyone.  It had been a challenge, but challenges are what life is all about.

 

By Kay Rayner

Kay is a writer and film producer.

Read more from Kay here